Friday, October 30, 2009

A Band Called Travis

Often I am moved to write a blog about a concert. Usually, I think twice about it then leave the reviewing up to the reviewers who "know" something. Many people think all I do is go to concerts. In actuality, it only looks that way because my passion for music makes me seek it out in faraway places. My travels often involve a band called Turin Brakes. To know me is to know how I feel about their music but I rarely write about it because words are not adequate -- when I try to write how much their music moves me, it sounds silly and gushing and I never publish it.

But today I am moved enough to attempt to write about another band -- a band that, much to my surprise and dismay, cannot sell out a small venue in Cleveland yet had to book six consecutive nights at Joe's Pub in NYC because of sell-outs. The band is Travis and they're from Scotland. In 2001, they appeared poised to become one of the biggest bands in the world. That was B.C. (Before Coldplay). It's an enigma to me as to why they didn't become biggest band in the world. It certainly wasn't for lack of talent.

I first heard Travis while driving home from work three jobs ago. In the year 2000. Their UK hit, "Why Does it Always Rain on Me?" brought me to tears when it was played on 91.3 The Summit, a station out of Akron that actually plays new music (not the norm in Northeast Ohio). The next day, I had the album, "The Man Who," in my hand, and it took up sole residence in my CD player for months. I didn't see them live until 2001, when I started a new job and found one of my cohorts was also a Travis fan. We shared our Travis passion in a little bubble - no one outside of us and our spouses seemed interested in the Travis "craze." Well, my husband Jim still needed a little convincing. It would only take one gig. We saw Travis at the Lakewood Civic Auditorium. We may have been the oldest people there, but the young people seemed to have "got the memo" about Travis. The guy next to us (apparently on his own) asked me if I had seen them before. Upon my reply, he gave me the essential information: Travis is a very endearing live band, impossible not to love once you see them.

He was right. Even Jim knew it (and now, Jim might actually be the bigger Travis fan of the two of us). Sadly, Travis didn't come back to Cleveland until 2009. We had to go to Detroit to see them. Twice. Each time, the same thing. In a word: "endearing." Travis is a great live band for many MANY reasons -- talent, performance, energy -- and they are, perhaps, the most fun band to witness live after The Flaming Lips. (Does anyone want to argue with that first choice?) However, the most endearing thing about Travis is that, even in a large venue, you get the feeling they are in your living room. That feeling is, perhaps, created mostly by singer/guitarist Fran Healy who instantly develops a rapport with audiences by telling hilarious tales as lead-ins to songs. Sometimes they're about the song, sometimes they're about something that happened that day. The humor is partially due to his wonderful Scottish accent but mostly due to his comedic take on an everyday situation. In a venue full of people, Fran seems to be talking directly to you. Telling you jokes. Additionally, he is extremely humble and never ceases to acknowledge the talents and friendship of his bandmates.

I'm telling you this because it brings me to the unique "Travis" gig this past Wednesday at the Beachland Ballroom. It featured only half of Travis: Fran and guitarist Andy Dunlop. Andy is..., like..., um.... the heavy metal guitarist in a pop band. Unlike Travis basist Dougie Payne, who constantly acknowledges the audience by eye contact and smiles, Andy rarely interacts. But don't get me wrong, he puts on one hell of a show at Travis gigs. I am mesmerized by his effortless guitar playing -- it's as if the guitar is an extension of who he is -- another limb or something. The end of a Travis gig finds him soaked in sweat with audience mouths agape in disbelief at some physical feat he has just performed (such as climbing amp stacks and jumping off while not missing a note). To use a cliche, you must see it to believe it.

So back to the Beachland gig... Fran and Andy -- alone together. It was a night of storytelling and music. A chronological book of Travis songs, complete with Fran's hilarious rolling-on-the-floor-laughing anecdotes (I call them "Franecdotes"), tender moments, Scottish geography lessons and nostalgic photographs. We even got a slide show complete with technical difficulties. The music was beautiful -- Fran's voice can be heart-wrenching at times -- and we were treated to the subtleties of Andy's guitar-playing. With feedback. Afterwards, Jim and I discussed that one of Andy's great talents is the ability to control the effect of feedback. When other guitar players get feedback, it can be downright painful, but when Andy Dunlop does it, it sends shivers down your spine. At the end, they asked for requests and had a "democratic" vote on which ones to play. We managed to get one of my favorite Travis songs, Funny Thing, to cap off the night. AND we successfully converted two friends into Travis fans that night.

After the gig, Fran and Andy sold their own merch, including a bootleg CD, signed autographs and posed for pictures with every last fan. As expected, they were humble, "genuine" people, smiling and hugging and taking the time to converse. We thanked them for the years of music. They thanked US for supporting them through the years. Heck, they make it easy for us.

Here is a video and a couple of photos from the gig:

Fran Healy:

Andy Dunlop:

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