Live Review: Teenage Fanclub & Euros Childs @ The Croxton, Melbourne

13 March 2024 | 2:13 pm | Andy Hazel

"The band's longevity has led them to be cherished even more with each passing year and tonight, the room is full of fans in love with its steadfast commitment to jangly guitars, distorted lead breaks and simmering harmonies."

Teenage Fanclub

Teenage Fanclub (Credit: Andy Hazel)

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During the 1990s, it was hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about Glaswegian quintet Teenage Fanclub. Kurt Cobain called them "the best band in the world". Liam Gallagher described them as "the second-best band in Britain" (after his own, of course). Since then, the band's longevity has led them to be cherished even more with each passing year and tonight, the room is full of fans in love with its steadfast commitment to jangly guitars, distorted lead breaks and simmering harmonies.

Before we could get to the Fannies, tonight's audience were treated to a set from the band's keyboard player and backing vocalist Euros Childs, once better known as the lead singer songwriter in Welsh psychedelic pop group Gorky's Zygotic Mynci.

Opening with the barrelhouse organ singalong style of Tete A Tete, Childs delivers a set that is heavy on surrealistic joy and humility. Songs like Bits Of Me (Falling Off) about a man whose body is disintegrating in socially awkward ways, to Happy Coma, about a hospital patient unable to ask his partner not to turn off a life support machine, a song about Richard Branson buying the moon (Virgin Moon), the Gorky’s cut Poodle Rockin' and the Kinks-ish Stunt Man, echo John Betjemen's blend of absurdism and observational pathos.

Childs uses his voice to powerful effect, investing his bizarre imagery with the gravitas necessary to bring out the humanity in his observations. To have heard Childs' songs feels fortuitous. It would have been some kind of crime to have kept a talent like his in the background of the ensuing show.

Arriving on stage looking like the last academics remaining in Glasgow University Library at closing time, Teenage Fanclub smile at the crowded room, a swathe of which is still made up of snaking beer queues. The band open with Home, the first of several songs from their 2021 album Endless Arcade. The moment lead singer Norman Blake and guitarist Raymond McGinley harmonise, the band's true distinctiveness is revealed. Many bands combine comfortable rhythms with jangling guitars and male vocals, but the Fannies' impact has always come from the combination of the voices of Blake, McGinley and Gerard Love and the deceptively simple and complementary melodies they share.

That Love left the band in 2018 means that any concert since that point misses not only his voice and basslines, the latter of which are amply covered by former keyboard player Dave McGowan. Citing an unwillingness to tour as reasons for his departure, McGowan, Euros Childs and drummer Francis McDonald are all fine singers, but there is a sense that this band can only be two-thirds of their former selves, a point driven home by the gulf between the quality of songs written and recorded in the 1990s and everything that came after. 

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Highlighting their latest album, Nothing Lasts Forever, and best equipped to play songs written since Love's departure, there is a lethargy and indifference to those newer songs, both in their execution and reception. "I just got 10,000 steps there," says Blake, glancing at his fitness tracker at the end of the band's most recent single, Foreign Land. It is about the most interesting thing about the performance of a song that looks back contentedly on a sunlit past.

Songs written in the last couple of decades, like Falling Into The Sun, I Left A Light On and Everything Is Falling Apart, are perfectly serviceable. But the moment the band begin one of the songs that Cobain and Gallagher fell in love with – I Don't Want Control If You, Alcoholiday or What You Do To Me – the place explodes. Arms are thrust aloft, joy blooms, even a few tears flow. It is heady stuff. While the band deploy the same amount of energy to play these songs (maybe the same amount you might when separating the recycling), their smiles widen and the band seem recharged by these receptions.

You can see Blake, McGinlay and McGowan thinking, "This is why we have travelled to the other side of the world.” After so many years singing together, this is a band empowered by performing live, the raw sound in the room brings an edge buffed off by the studio production. The sweetness of their voices becomes immeasurably more potent when it clashes with distorted guitars, a fuzzy bass and the occasional dissonance of a feedback squall. This is a combination they employed copiously with their early albums but missing from their more recent releases. 

“We’ve got a few more songs for you then we’ll go off and pretend that the show has finished," Blake helpfully tells us. "Then we’ll come back and play four more songs and then that’s the show," he smiles. "Have to keep you up to date with what’s going on.” The band launch into I'm in Love from their 2016 album Here, My Uptight Life, from their 2000 album Howdy, and close their set with The Concept, one of the greatest songs from the 1990s. A song so powerful that Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody knew she could use 20 seconds of it to perfectly encapsulate a character and then repeat those 20 seconds multiple times, safe in the knowledge it wouldn't be annoying.

The band return, as they told us they would, to play four more songs, the last of which is, as it almost always has been with this band, their first single, the orgiastic Everything Flows. “See you get older every year," Blake sings. "But you don’t change, I don’t notice you changing.” With most bands you would be disappointed by stasis. With Teenage Fanclub, we are impossibly fortunate to have them.