The endearing Scottish lads of Travis returned to Chicago for a sold-out show at the Riviera, where they sold out just a year before. Sometimes the fans screamed in such frenzy, it felt a little like Travismania. Other times, it seemed the band was riding on a buzz from the success of their last album, the multi-platinum The Man Who, even if they were touring in support for The Invisible Band. They were just in town in July at the Rosemont Theater playing second on the bill to headliner Dido (Emiliana Torrini opened).
At both shows, the quartet rotated between the 2 releases, shifting between the spark-fueled rock on their sophomore effort, which garnered the most response, and the simmering pop songs of their latest. Perhaps the only rock band to have a single featuring the banjo, Travis kicked off the show with “Sing.” With his electric guitar swung over his shoulder, lead guitarist Andy Dunlop finger-picked his way on a propped up banjo during the verses. He only returned to the bluegrass instrument for “Flowers In The Window,” which will be released as the 3rd single.
The crowd not only screamed for charismatic crooner Fran Healy, sporting a pink mohawk this time, but also pretty boy Dougie Payne (no insult here), who often swiveled his hips back and forth to the beat. Dunlop, who can play understatedly or with bursts of kinetic fury, provides the right punch to Healy’s melodies. And Neil Primrose’s adequate beats suit both the up-tempo and slower numbers. Most of the time the quartet had help from keyboards and special effects.
After each song, white lights shined above the stage, spotlighting the fans. The lights seemed more a gesture to indicate the audience was just as important as the band, reflecting their populist ideology. Later on, Healy even said if the band rocks, so does their audience: “It takes two to tango.” Furthermore, Healy thanked the crowd for supporting them even though they aren’t played on the radio. (3 radio stations have included Travis singles in their rotation, but on a minor level.)
Alluding to the September 11 terrorist attacks, Healy said, “There is always one group of people that fuck it up for everyone else… This is for peace.” Then the group launched into “Turn.” The crowd roared when Payne sang the second verse. His vocals in “Carry the News” during the encore sounded like a well-oiled melancholic John Lennon. The band rocked up the verses but Healy and Dunlop shared the vocals on the chorus, making a beautiful harmony. Though Healy doesn’t share songwriting duties with anyone (except on The Invisible Band’s extra tracks — I was disappointed myself that Payne’s “Ring Out the Bell” was left off the set list), it becomes clear that everyone in the band brings a special touch to the songs.
The fans ate up the references to the band’s other songs in “Last Train” (“Rain on the brain/Now there’s flowers in your window” is how the song begins). And it felt a little like Storytellers (which the band taped in the UK) when Healy explained “Indefinitely” was about how time doesn’t really exist. In life, the most important things are about memories, songs, and moments, he said.
The succession of “Last Train,” “Indefinitely,” and “Follow the Light” was perhaps the set’s weak moment. Although the songs are fine-crafted, full of more melodic subtlety in structure and lyric than most of the songs on the radio today, they are all mid-tempo and similar in composition. With its sweeping rock melodrama and coveting love theme, Travis fared best with “As You Are.” It is the only song with a real guitar solo, too, which is more distinctive live. The band doesn’t need such ego-puffing tricks as solos, but Dunlop shines just as much in the spotlight as he does in the backdrop.
The crowd also cheered with the opening chords of “Flowers in the Window,” which has an early Beatles romanticism laced with an uplifting tempo. Admittedly, it is nice to hear a “rock star” croon about being in love and wanting to settle down. Another high point was watching Healy and Dunlop jump like pogo sticks during parts of “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” During the song, Healy extended his mic out to the audience for the refrain; “I can’t sleep tonight/Everyone is saying everything is alright/Still I can’t close my eyes/I’m seeing a tunnel at the end of all these lights.”
Though we like the band’s gentle side, it was just as gratifying to hear the sinister “Blue Flashing Light,” especially with the blue lights racing around the stage like sirens. It was especially fun to hear sensitive Healy say the politically incorrect lines “Call me a name and I’ll hit you again/You’re a slut/You’re a bitch/You’re a whore” with no apology. It also takes on anthemic proportions as a song about kids from “the sticks,” who have no plans for Saturday night.
From Good Feeling (Travis’ debut and most aggressive outing) Healy played “20” as an acoustic solo. Then, the lovable band closed out the set with “Happy.” The forthright song was an enthusiastic goodbye to the crowd.
Written by Gala M. Pierce.