There are certain shows, I realize, I've imbued with much more significance than nearly anyone else would deem reasonable, and one such gig is the Ben Folds Five/Travis double bill back in 1997, which I happened to catch at the Fillmore almost exactly 10 years ago (give or take a week). OK, there are likely numerous Ben Folds fans who consider the band a major stepping stone in that particular singer/songwriter's development. But Travis? Weren't they just Oasis wannabes or, just as bad, forerunners to Coldplay? Didn't they, like, cover Britney Spears once? Has the NME ever considered them cool? And which one is Travis? Regardless, I stand by my proclamations.
Travis, The Fillmore, November 20, 2007: This show had originally been slated for the Warfield, which surprised me on two levels: That the promoters would schedule a Travis show at a venue of that size when the band hadn't exactly rescaled the heights of popularity they enjoyed back in 2001, which remains the only time they've played the room; and that Travis was coming back to San Francisco at all! When they were last here in May, they didn't sell out the Fillmore, despite the buzz around their long-awaited (by some) return.
As a fan, it didn't bother me one bit, and by all appearances, it didn't affect the band either. Their enormous lighting scheme was clearly meant for a larger room, but that may have been the only vestige of greater expectations. In fact, the band proceeded with what I gather to be their original plans for a grand opening: They dimmed all lights in the room, save for the massive spotlights onstage; cranked up the intro music (the 20th Century Fox theme, followed by the Rocky anthem); traveled the perimeter of the dance floor; and emerged at the opposite end of the stage in bright boxing robes. They had no plans to back down.
From there, they launched into a similar set to the one they did last May, though with maybe a slight emphasis on material from The Boy With No Name. I can't recall the exact differences, though I remember being struck by the inclusion of two tracks from the often overlooked 12 Memories ("Re-Offender" and "Beautiful Occupation"), and Fran said they were trying out "3 Times and You Lose" for only the second time or so that night. He did, in fact, mess up one line, but he took it with a self-effacing grin. We managed to get in a hearty singalong to "My Eyes," but apparently, the old favorite "Why Does It Always Rain on Me" was less familiar to the audience, which probably says something about Travis's changing fan base.
Another welcome title revisited was "20" unplugged, but the audience had an odd reception to it tonight. In May, we listened raptly to pick up Fran's every word and note, but this evening, a few voices in the audience were less willing to go along with the premise, loudly (and drunkenly) posting their protests. Fran took it in stride, though, and simply sang. In the process, he attained the desired effect: the room's full attention.
Early in the show, when it looked like not too many surprises were in store for the night, I thought to myself that I don't mind not traveling to see them anymore. Then they had to work their magic and pull out a few asides that gave me some pangs and made me sort of want to hit the road again.
Top of that list would have to be the busker-style "Flowers in the Window." After "20," the other band members rejoined Fran onstage and gathered around a single mic. While Neil kept time on the tambourine, Fran sang the verses, and Dougie, Andy, and Klaus (the keyboardist) joined in on the chorus; of course, we in the audience helped out when we could. This unvarnished performance not only revealed the song's melodic lilt, but also highlighted the chemistry and--I'm gonna say it--love among the band members. Hands down, it was my favorite part of the show.
The other element, which permeates every second of nearly every Travis show I've seen, is the band's exuberance. Actually, it goes beyond exuberance; it's their bonhomie, as well as the evidence of their ties to each other, and in my experience, no other band comes close to matching their levels of joy and delight in simply sharing the stage with one another.
I suppose you could make an argument about, say, musicianship trumping these warm 'n' fuzzies, and I'd understand where you're coming from. But at this point in my concert-going life, I know that what moves me to catch repeat performances from specific artists is the spirit they bring to the stage. When it comes together, it's as real as any instrument the band is playing or any note they might hit.
OK, enough of my sputtering and back to the music. I would've loved to hear "Battleships" again, and I missed "Happy" too--not so much for the song itself, but for the Mexican jumping bean impersonations it brings out in Fran, Andy, and Dougie. Alas, there was no "U16 Girls" tonight, but they wisely kept "Good Feeling," complete with mid-song spotlight on Klaus. Of course, "All I Want to Do Is Rock" made the list as well, but I don't think they'll ever stop doing that one--nor would I want them to.
Before, during, and after the show, we heard lots of people talking about how many times they've seen Travis and how far they've traveled to make the gigs. We allowed each other snarky asides, but I hardly blame those fans, and this is a band I can't feel jaded about. I'm unlikely to join these fans in their long-distance endeavors, but I'll certainly be back to see the band again.
Maximo Park opened the show, and though I wanted to like them, they did little for me. I couldn't even remember their one song that caught my attention a couple of summers ago, though I think it might have been the penultimate song on their setlist. To their credit, though, they grew on me as their show proceeded. What I originally interpreted to be preening and grandstanding on the singer's part came across as less of an ego exercise and more of an attempt to bring the audience into the show by the end of their performance. Mainly, though, their show drove home the point that an entire generation of British music has pretty much passed me by--and I don't regret it one bit.
» give in, into that good feeling