Travis/Ryan Adams/Starsailor : London Astoria

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The eagerly awaited War Child benefit kicks off this year's NME Carling Shows...

This is the show that it seems most of London wants to see. Touts are offering a king’s ransom for tickets and eager fans are gleefully snapping them up.

It’s NME’s Gig Of The Year, and it brings together [a]Travis[/a], one Britain’s biggest selling guitar bands, [a]Starsailor[/a], their heirs apparent and [a]Ryan Adams[/a], the most distinctive new voice in Americana for a generation.

It is a show with potential.

[a]Travis[/a]have been doing this for a long time now. Their live show sees polished track follow polished track. There is nothing left to chance. You’d think they would have become dull and irritating, that another chorus of ‘Why Does it Always Rain On Me’ would have everyone scaling the walls and screaming for respite. But it doesn’t.

Despite Fran Healy’s unabashed chirpiness, his dungarees – for which he is constantly heckled – and his kind word for everyone, he remains a curiously likeable and watchable frontman; [a]Travis[/a]spin around his good-hearted axis.

There are dull moments of course. ‘Flowers In The Window’ is a piece of saccharine floss that should have been clubbed to death at birth, and bassist Dougie Payne’s lead vocal on ‘I Know Nothing’ only serves to prove that he should have started and stopped his singing career on his band’s fine cover of ‘All The Young Dudes’ – a track that is absent tonight. But when they strike up ‘Writing To Reach You’ and the dark, insistent and bleak ‘Blue Flashing Light’, [a]Travis[/a]remind you that when they push themselves they are capable of songs of depth that can truly rock.

[a]Ryan Adams[/a], on the other hand, plays it tricksy tonight. Resplendent in a new suit and blood red shirt, the king of alt.country rock is going completely acoustic.

Aside from ‘To Be Young…’, ‘My Sweet Carolina’ and a spirited cover of Hank Williams’ ‘Lovesick Blues’ all the songs tonight are brand new. The crowd initially don’t like it. They are restless and talk a lot. [a]Ryan Adams[/a] throws a strop and plays deliberately low. But when he introduces a fiddle player and cellist and his undiluted quality begins to break through, the mood changes.

By the time [a]Starsailor[/a]’s James Walsh joins him for a song that neither man seems to really know, everyone is loving it. “This is like a skid row show,” smiles [a]Ryan Adams[/a] as he and the crowd begin to feel happily rowdy, “and it’s cool.”

Every show with [a]Ryan Adams[/a] is an event. They can as easily throw up moments of grand farce as genius. Tonight, both are freely available in equal measures. It all ends too soon.

[a]Starsailor[/a] have been touring the UK and the US with [a]Charlatans[/a] for the last couple of months and it shows. Tonight they are lean and invest their songs with a drive and purpose not always apparent before. ‘Alcoholic’ sounds properly haunted, ‘Fever’ meanly rumbles along and show closer ‘Good Souls’ now sounds gigantic, borrowing tips from[a]Spiritualized[/a]. It is a truly great song.

If [a]Starsailor[/a] get it right on the next album, they will not be caught by any of the following pack.

Gig Of The Year? Undoubtedly.

Frank Spooner