The Charlatans / Chikinki - Manchester Apollo - 27.5.04

When Tim Burgess released his debut solo album last year and his band mate Mark Collins played with Starsailor on their nation-wide UK tour, you could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps The Charlatans were coming to a natural end. After all they'd been together for over fifteen years, their last album "Wonderland" was made three years ago and Tim now lives in LA. Any doubts of the bands commitment to their fans were quashed as details of their new album "Up At The Lake" were announced followed by a tour.

Tonight the Charlatans are playing the first of two nights at the Apollo supported by Bristol rock / dance crossover act Chikinki. Their new single "Ether Radio" is the best song in a rather drab and unengaging set. These scruffy herberts have two keyboard players who add that squelchy synth sound to the track "All Us". The vocals are a little bit whiny and the overall impression is of apathy of a forgettable support act who fail to deliver the goods.

As usual for a Charlatans gig the audience is predominantly male as the Cheshire collective make their long awaited return to Manchester. The youthful, cheeky cherub Tim Burgess is beaming from ear to ear, a much more confident and relaxed frontman than before as he patrols the stage in his own inimitable fashion. "Up At The Lake" is a fine start displaying the bands more rock n roll side. Another new album track "Feel The Pressure" is a heavy, dance fuelled song which works brilliantly live. We also get to re-live a couple of crackin tunes from the past like "I Can't Even Be Bothered" and the title track from "Tellin Stories". The greatest hits segment of the gig when the crowd really enter into the spirit of the gig is unforgettable, especially when a fan evades the burly security guards, clambers on to the stage and manages to give a bewildered Tim Burgess a tender hug. "The Man Needs To Be Told" and "Weirdo" show off Tim's enigmatic vocal and Mark Collins underrated guitar playing.  "Try Again Today", the bands next single is another belter of a tune.

For the obligatory encore keyboard player Tony, now accepted with open arms as a fully fledged member of the Charlatans takes the lead vocal on "Loving You Is Easy" and is joined by Tim on some nifty mouth organ action. I foolishly expected the band to climax with their breakthrough hit "The Only One I Know", but instead they decide to play the less well known, but equally as dazzling "Sproston Green" which ends a superb gig of effortless showmanship.

Nicholas Paul Godkin

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