Does anything symbolise the passing of youth quite like a gig in which the main space has been given over to seats? More than 19 years after Travis released second record ‘The Man Who’, the heartfelt Glaswegians are touring the album that reached number one in the UK, backed by more than 2.6 million sales. It is, as singer Fran Healy notes against a visual backdrop of a sparse country road, full of numbers that evoke emotions. Old songs of this quality, he adds, hold different memories for people who have listened to them over a period of time.
Healy, evidently, aims to elicit an exact kind of response from his compositions. These are songs, he explains, to cry rather than dance to, and his band shoots for the heartstrings at every possible juncture. Their ambition usually results in the kilted Healy standing in front of drummer Neil Primrose, back turned to the audience, wrenching his guitar and belting out choruses with the vim of a choirboy performing a national anthem. Often, the songs would be affecting without this heavy-handed orchestration: the bedsit yearning of opener ‘Writing to Reach You’ is, like much of Healy’s craft, a superb piece of songwriting, as is the instant chorus of ‘Why Does it Always Rain on Me?’, which tends to have far more abstract connotations for Travis’s fans than the damp-squib-of-a-holiday meaning Healy claims it carries for him.
Everything about watching Travis live feels immaculately controlled, and there’s a resolute politeness about proceedings even after the crowd first rise from their seats in numbers. Healy breaks ranks for a great story about being summoned to play a track when they supported the then-all-conquering Oasis (“lovely guys”) during a tour in 1998. A bus-dwelling Liam Gallagher, he recounts, was moved to tears by a rendition of ‘Luv’, which is perhaps understandable given the simple beauty of the song here, even if Gallagher couldn’t resist calling Healy “weird” through his tears. Healy also offers some occasionally sweary political sentiments that anyone with a conscience would agree with, although his blithe conclusion – that the US is simply suffering from the equivalent of a bout of the flu – could be construed as a peculiarly convenient way for an affluent musician to shrug off the world’s problems.
As a band, Travis’s earnestness never ceases. A cover of Britney Spears’s ‘…Baby one More Time’ is as apparently sincere as it is nondescript. Lead guitarist Andy Dunlop surges along the front row near the end, downing most of a bottle of beer in a style suggesting he believes his actions are a near-reincarnation of Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister. On high, people sway like they have sung along to these songs on a thousand motorways, and couples clutch each other in a manner redolent of early dates or first wedding dances. There’s dad dancing, with the easy listening nostalgia only interrupted by a fan who appears so besotted by the band that they make a series of outbursts in between songs and wind up being escorted out.
That’s an extreme manifestation of the fondness Travis are held in. Still, you suspect their carefully cultivated, comfort blanket approach has a few more years of seat-filling to come.
Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Wednesday 20th June 2018.