Monday, October 12, 2009

not like all the other boys

After the hullabaloo of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the cloistered, controlled Swedish American Hall couldn't have been more welcoming. Leading the services, Fran Healy and Andy Dunlop of Travis brought to mind the band's own words of wisdom from many years ago: back to that good feeling.

An Evening with Fran Healy and Andy Dunlop from Travis, Swedish American Hall, October 8, 2009: If there's one discernible thread running through my musical preferences, I think it would go back to an interest in singer/songwriters and, arguably, folk(ish) music, even before I knew what they were. In that regard, my longtime fondness for Travis fits right in.

Travis, Swedish American Hall, 10-08-09

I know that not everyone will agree with me on the above point, and I understand that one installment of Storytellers does not a troubadour make. Heck, I don't really adhere to my own rules, and I suspect many of the artists whose records comprise my music collection would flinch at such a label. I certainly wouldn't have guessed that Travis would fill this niche all those years ago when I picked up Good Feeling (in 1997, to be exact).

But in this setting, Fran and Andy--working with a skeleton crew and a minimal amount of gear--were the very picture of wandering balladeers, albeit for the electronic age. Fran, ever garrulous, discoursed freely and widely through the promised chronological examination of the band's output, and Andy chipped in some punchlines and his essential guitar notes. In addition, Fran's slide show (oddly, however, they didn't play "Slide Show") included some hilarious images--even if they were doctored for our enjoyment--as well as more heartfelt pictures, such as one of his son. And though Fran apologized over and over for playing so long, no objections arose from the crowd.

Travis, Swedish American Hall, 10-08-09Once upon a time, I read every Travis interview I could get a hold of and repurposed them for public display. Thus, I probably know more than I need to about the band, but even for this former nutcase, Fran revealed some surprising and specific details, down to where some songs were written (Millport, Isle of Cumbrae, brace yourself), when they came about, and the very events that set them off.

For example, I had no idea that "As You Are" was written long before it showed up on The Man Who. Considering it remains one of my favorite of the band's songs, maybe that folk angle would've played out earlier had it been included on their debut. Also, Fran introduced a new wrinkle into the provenance of "Writing to Reach You." Joining the ranks of the better-known nods to Noel Gallagher and Franz Kafka were the musical stylings of American indie rockers the Connells. Who will he cite next? The Loud Family?

For those keeping score at home, the commercial breakthrough The Man Who garnered the lion's share of Fran and Andy's attention and efforts; they even played the album's hidden track "Flashing Blue Light." Every other album merited a couple of tracks each, except for the often forgotten 12 Memories, which got only one airing, with "Love Will Come Through."

Travis, Swedish American Hall, 10-08-09What I appreciated most was Fran's take on the nitty-gritty of writing music: finding inspiration, working through the throwaway ideas, and dealing with deadlines. Not that it was all muso talk--alcohol factored into several tales, as did Fran's repeated citation of Dougie as the coolest member of the band. And I'll never be able to hear the band's "Sing" the same way ever again.

When Travis played San Francisco twice in 2007, I was as perplexed--and delighted--as anyone. This date took me by surprise as well, but Fran and Andy admitted their ulterior motive: Their goal was to write a song for every show--and thus, the band's next album--while on the road. (They also explained why the other two members of the band were not with them. Dougie was being a new dad, and Neil was racing cars.) At the end of the gig, they tried out that new tune, a song called "Holiday"--an original, not a Madonna cover. Fran warned us it could be shit, but it was quite lovely.

Capping off an amiable and engaging gig, Fran and Andy worked up one final hook: They invited everyone who wanted an autograph or a photo or just a word with them to stay. They didn't even leave the stage--they simply met with the line of attending fans. I believe they took more than an hour to greet the masses, and I can guarantee you that every single one of them left with a smile. Also, I suspect with their generous gesture, Fran and Andy solidified the kind of loyalty that's supposedly so difficult to find among contemporary music fans. Come back any time, guys.

See also:
» what's a wonderwall anyway
» give in, into that good feeling

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