Words by Norm Quarrinton
The Charlatans haven’t had an easy ride,—embezzlement, addiction, death, and lacklustre record sales are just a few of the ailments from which they have suffered at various points in their 26 years of existence. Tragedy struck during their last US tour, when the band’s drummer and founding member John Brookes suffered a seizure onstage. The seizure was caused by the same tumor that ended his life three years later. They’d be forgiven if they decided to call it a day, but they stuck it out, released a new album, and have returned to the US for the first time in five years.
Frontman Tim Burgess was in high spirits when I chatted with him before the band’s Thursday evening show at the Howard Theatre. “This is a beautiful venue. We’ve never played here before so I’m excited that we get to cross it off the list!” That excitement didn’t wane, and three hours later, he sauntered onto the stage with a spring in his step as the band kicked off the show with the demure, but exquisitely composed “Talking in Tones”, the opening track from their most recent album, “Modern Nature”, which was released in January. Next up was their early nineties Britpop anthem “Weirdo”, which had everyone in the venue–staff, security, and concert-goers alike–nodding their heads thanks to its block-rocking bassline.
As is typical of most “Madchester” bands, The Charlatans’ repertoire contains many mellow jams, and it would have been easy for them to turn this gig into a two hour chill-out session, but despite peppering their set with a few stoner rock numbers, The Charlatans continued to captivate with back-catalogue favorites and recent album deep cuts in equal measure. As the evening progressed, Tim’s trademark lightbulb-esque blonde bowl cut grew damper, but his energy levels never dwindled, and the crowd seemed more than happy to reciprocate his enthusiasm.
Tim and I covered an array of topics in our 20 minute conversation—we bonded over our mutual love of coffee and David Lynch, and then discussed how Tim was able to combine those two loves by creating his own coffee brand, “Tim Peaks”, the profits of which are donated to the David Lynch foundation. He also told me that, despite receiving overwhelming critical acclaim for his 2012 solo record “Oh No I Love You”, the thought of The Charlatans breaking up never once crossed his mind. Considering how close they’ve come to demise, and the number of opportunities they’ve had to disband without fear of being labelled quitters, it was refreshing and inspiring to see these guys in their prime. Burgess exudes charisma, and is arguably the most likeable man in rock music—he belongs on a stage, and never looks more comfortable than when he’s on one. His duty is to entertain, and he carries it out with modest aplomb.
They ended the bulk of their set with “Come Home Baby”, another track from the excellent “Modern Nature”. Burgess, still swaying around onstage as he had been doing for much of the evening, thanked the D.C. crowd, whose delight was so evident that they were treated to a four song encore consisting of “You’re So Pretty”, “Here Comes a Soul Saver”, “Bad days”, and one of their earlier hits, 1990’s “Sproston Green”. The night was a triumph—they came, they played, and they dazzled.