Teenage Fanclub (photo: Patric Carver)
Britta Phillips brought a quelling familiarity onto the stage, as if we were all regulars a bar where she headlined frequently. Because of this, the space between performer and audience seemed to evaporate, leaving listeners in this suspended state of readiness. Phillips, joined on stage by Luna bandmate Dean Wareham took full advantage of this with an eight-song set that was passionate and provocative without being punchy. Her disarming vocals were reminiscent of Carly Simon, if Carly Simon had been educated by the wonders of synth pop before embarking on her singing career. Phillips’ voice is one parts sweet and three parts strong, all with this modern packaging that’s hard to define but unmistakably there.
Wareham’s guitar playing and vocals on Galaxie 500 song “Tugboat” were solid and engaging. The final song of her set, a cover of The Cars’ “Drive,” was better than the original. Phillips’ handed her bass off to Wareham for this song — I don’t know what exactly it was about that moment, but it seemed to only intensify the intimacy of the song. It isn’t a song that I would have paired with Phillips, but she performed it beautifully.
Teenage Fanclub brought their own brand of delicious dichotomy to the stage — they were both charmingly humble and possessed a demonstrative intensity packed into their splendid, soul-feeding harmonies and launching, consummate guitar solos. Fanclub is one of those rare bands that can devote fractions of an hour to one song without the substance wearing too thin, and it’s one of the reasons seeing them live is essential. To put it into perspective, usually my notebook is drenched with notes after a show. Fanclub was so captivating, there were long stretches where I simply couldn’t pull myself away to jot anything down. Blank pages, save for a few frantic scribbles between songs, are testament to their allure.
Fanclub is an earnestly evolving band, and their set played like a sonic tour of their rise to maturity. Songs like “Star Sign” from their heavier days evoked that beautifully dumb passion of youth that projects barbs in all direction, including inward. With bounding guitars and a respectful nod to the low end, “Star” holds up as the anti-pop pop song that the genre of alternative rock can’t quite agree on whether it wants to except as one of its own. The same can be said for boredom-meets-bubblegum tune, “The Concept.” That breakdown after doses of campy, sing-song chorus — it’s just as jarring now as it ever was. More recent work like “Thin Air” from their new album, Here, held a content wisdom that is has been tumbling around in patches of the band’s work for years. Stirring and up-lifting in its solidity, “Thin Air” is the auditory realization of the moment of clarity we all hope will accompany our old age.
There were several high points to the band’s set. “It’s All In My Mind” contained a droning force that blanketed the crowd in sonic dissonance that was so melting it caused one person in the crowd to call out in a booming voice, “That was beautiful!” I believe the ultimate moment, though, was their final song of the night, “Everything Flows.” A relic from their first studio album, A Catholic Education, “Everything” is practically carnal in its palliative nature. Oh, and that chorus. That chorus that washes over the listener like high tide — it’s enveloping. The lyrical content is timeless in that it wrestles with the commonality of feeling adrift as life passes, but the music, the music is eternal. The music sticks with you in a profound way.
Teenage Fanclub was one of the bedrock bands of early ’90s alternative rock that managed to build upon their foundational years. For over a quarter of a century, they’ve been adding layers to their story and sound. In a world where everything seems disposable, it’s good to see the someone is still holding on to the things that matter.