Coming on stage dressed in suits (and a t-shirt and black kilt for Fran) in subdued lighting with only the album cover backdrop lit behind them, immediately the low hum guitar which starts opening track ‘Writing To Reach You’ kicks in. Soon the lights are up and the show is underway.
Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall (the venue for this momentous occasion) is a modern concert hall, which inside reminds of other similar venues such as Gateshead Arena and Glasgow’s own the Royal Concert Hall. The benefit of such a choice is that the acoustics are pretty perfect from the get go, and fittingly the band have a four-piece string section to accompany them for the play through. This addition brings a layer of depth and authenticity to recreating the sound fans of the album know.
Travis seem to have taken the task of playing the album in full very seriously, with little to no gap between the songs, and at first definitely no talking. It isn’t until almost halfway through the 10-track album was there much of a chat beyond a cursory, “Hello”. After playing the rarely played ‘Luv’, and given we were in Manchester, Fran told an amusing story about touring with Oasis in 1997 and Liam Gallagher forcing him to perform a song in the band leader’s dressing room (the just played ‘Luv’)!
An even rarer song to hear live, ‘She’s So Strange’ is introduced as, “the first song we ever wrote together”, which grates with me as they’ve always claimed ‘All I Wanna Do Is Rock’ held that accolade. (I do know ‘…Strange’ precedes Travis to their Glass Onion days, so perhaps a little poetic license for this evening?)
Almost too soon we are on the beautiful acoustic strings of the opening of ‘Slideshow’ and then the album is over; the band walking off the stage. Of course as anyone knows the album well will know, there’s a secret track which starts a good five minutes after the end of ‘Slideshow’.
Five minutes after walking off stage a wailing guitar starts bathed in much distortion. The album cover backdrop falls to the floor and there is a bank of blue lights from top to bottom rotating and “flashing”. The band walk back to the stage and launch into the 11th track of the album, ‘Blue Flashing Light’. This is epic and works so well; the band really do take recreating a playing of this album very seriously.
Straight after Fran starts strumming an acoustic guitar and we are treated to ‘More Than Us’ from debut album Good Feeling, which segues into another rarely played song, ‘Last Train’.
As it turns out, the day of this show is 20 years to the day that Travis released their debut album Good Feeling and to celebrate we get the title track. With many setlist closers already being played in the album section, this leads us hearing a very different than usual setlist for the rest to the show.
There is (interestingly given the nod to debut Good Feeling) no ‘All I Wanna Do Is Rock’, or recent hit ‘Magnificent Time’ or other similar stalwarts. However one extra special moment is as the band walked to the front of the stage to play their usual acoustic take on ‘Flower On The Window’.
Just as the first verse is about to start Fran stops playing, asks the sound engineer to turn off the PA and addresses the crowd sans-microphone. Commenting on the beautiful acoustics of the building and asking everyone to be very, very, VERY quiet, we are treated a (frankly sublime) version of the song with no amplification. Just an acoustic guitar and a venue of backing singers for the chorus. It will likely never be attempted again, but is beautiful to witness. An amazing moment with a crowd almost entirely silent throughout.
To finish we are taken back to their debut as they stomp through ‘U16 Girls’. Afterward Fran discusses how it feels dodgy now singing those lyrics at 44. Dougie quips, that if you think about it, it was dodgy singing it at 23! After an awkward laugh the band move into show closer ‘Sing’.
I love seeing Travis live, they always seem to be having as much as fun as the audience. Tonight was very special indeed and they appear to be revelling in revisiting not only an album which signalled the ascension of their career, but a choice of rarer deep cuts which don’t see the light of day in a regular setlist.
(It would be truly amazing for me if they decide to play debut Good Feeling in full; after this I hope they consider it!).