Teenage Fanclub: London Camden Underworld

Teenage Fanclub play the last of their three concerts which saw them move from electric guitars, to acoustic to, er, no guitars at all...

The last of Teenage Fanclub’s three-night London residency, and the anticipation is palpable. Following electric and acoustic shows, tonight is advertised as a guitar-free performance, charming frontman Norman Blake originally suggesting it would be inspired by Lou Reed’s notorious career sabotage LP ‘Metal Machine Music’.

But he’s joking, the wag. The band embellish old faves ‘Ain’t That Enough’ and ‘Verisimilitude’ with keyboard and xylophone, but Gerry Love blatantly abuses the evening’s spirit by playing his regular bass guitar. As the Fannies rip into the ’20th Century Boy’-style false start of ‘Hang On’, it’s apparent that the kings of wistful, romantic melodicism are going to gently rock the devotional throng’s socks off yet again. Norman later admits they didn’t have time to rehearse a full set, but then the Fanclub have never been anything less than a glorious mess.

Not that anyone’s complaining – it’s all fans in here, many attending all three nights. The Fannies rarely stray from the patented sonic blueprint which has stood them in good stead these last ten years. However, there are a couple of pleasant surprises: ‘A Catholic Education’, the title track of their 1990 debut, reminds us that the band’s roots lie in the sprawling chaos of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jnr, while the speeded-up three-chord chug ‘Metal Baby’ recalls The Ramones, entirely appropriate in the wake of Joey’s tragic death (on their first night, the band dedicated a quickfire version of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ to the great man).

Norman sheepishly refers to the guitar-free deception as “the meat in the sandwich”, the other slice comprising the pastoral ‘Planets’ and the cocktail lounge cool of ‘Cul-De-Sac’, complete with bongos, trumpet, mandolin, glockenspiel and keyboards. When the band close proceedings with the mantra-like strum of ‘Broken’, it’s clear how much people have actually enjoyed this, no matter what instrumentation they’re using. As the song’s glittering keyboard coda fades, the crowd sing [I]”Your heart has been broken again, it’s broken”[/I] over and over with such passion that cynicism is not a healthy option. Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated? Well yes, actually. And it was lovely.

Alan Woodhouse