New Century Hall is a first floor concert venue at the foot of the CIS tower near Victoria station in Manchester. Opened in 1963 it has recently been restored to its former modernist glory and has spectacular wooden panelled walls and a ceiling filled with hundreds of painted lightbulbs. Back in the day Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Tina Tuner played there. In 2009 I saw Billy Childish play the venue (though I think it was downstairs, it wasn't in the upstairs room). This week it's hosted a week of gigs to celebrate its re- opening. On Thursday night The Charlatans played there.
The band were playing two sets- a one off performance of their 1992 album Between 10th And11th in full, some songs not played since the 90s, followed by 'the hits'. The album is a curious one, caught in a no- man's land between Madchester and Britpop while grunge raged around them. The first flush of fame following Some Friendly and the success of The Only One I Know was behind them, guitarist John Baker was out of sorts and eventually left the group, replaced by Mark Collins. Bassist Martin Blunt was episodically unwell, the arrival of Collins led to some songwriting tensions and they were a little unsure about whether they'd alienate their fanbase by moving on from the sound that secured their rapid rise. The exact conditions in which make a record which then feels a little overlooked, an album of mainly album songs and one which is probably a fan favourite but was panned by the music press at the time and left behind by an audience moving elsewhere. Perfect then for re- appraisal in a live environment three decades later.
With support from DJ Andy Votel playing all manner of 60s psychedelia, weirdness and exotica, The Charlatans take the stage just before nine, clearly excited to be in the building. They launch into Between 10th And 11th's opening song I Don't Want To See the Sights, a full on swampy groove, 1992 dance/ psychedelia, the organ and guitar swirling around Martin Blunt's thick, upfront bass. Tim Burgess is having the time of his life, grinning, waving, cheer leading and in very good voice. The song's layered and dense sound, long lyrical lines and subtle choruses are mirrored by the lightshow and projections- footage of the band across the years, album covers, the bands name, images of posters and gig tickets (including one for the gig at Liverpool Poly, March 1990 that I attended) and the circling oil wheel of 60s live gigs. Between 10th And 11th sounds played live now like a lost 90s gem- I think it probably always has been- but in the New Century Hall tonight its alive and present, layers of sound twisting around each other, guitars and organ/ keyboards with driving rhythms. Can't Even Be bothered gets a big cheer. The album's single, Weirdo, a genuine Charlatans classic with that woozy Hammond, is massive. Chewing Gum Weekend is a blast, an ode to youthful excess. They alter the order slightly, moving The End Of Everything to the end, a long, powerful psychedelic groove that brings it all to a climax.
They leave the stage for ten minutes and then return for a perfectly pitched, emotional second half, beginning with a gloriously funky and melodic Let The Good Times Be Never Ending from 2015's album Modern Nature (their best from recent years) and then throw back to 1990 with a rocking version of Then, with its pumping rubbery mod bassline, indie dance drums and Tim's sweetly threatening vocals. The 70s Stones/ disco of You're So Pretty/ We're So pretty and Oh! Vanity follow, temperature rising, the band grinning at each other. The joyous title track from 1997's Tellin' Stories is played, fist pumping from Tim and the crowd singing along. 'Good that one isn't it', Tim says as it finishes.
Then they play North Country Boy. I was expecting they would and was steeling myself for it. The single has always been an Isaac song for me. A friend bought it on 7" for Isaac not long after he was born and we played it at his funeral last year which has given it a massive resonance for us. When we walked into the chapel and the drums and guitar kicked in I did wonder if I'd ever be able to listen to it again. Crying at gigs has become a regular thing for me since he died and North Country Boy works its utterly sad magic, reducing me to tears, sucking all its emotion in and crying it out. I'm still in a state when they blast their way into One To Another, an inclusive outsider anthem, Bob Dylan meets The Chemical Brothers at the Heavenly Social. Next is another Modern Nature highlight, Come Home Baby, and then the finale, a long, trippy, stretched out and loud romp through Sproston Green, everything in its right place, a song to close a set with as good as any from the period that any of their contemporaries wrote. As a friend on Twitter said, 'Blimey, this looks like it was sensational!'