Teenage Fanclub aging nicely

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

October 6, 2010

By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

What if your favorite band never imploded on stage? What if it never dissolved because the lead singer was insane? Or he OD’d? What would it be like if your favorite band wasn’t now just a bunch of hired guns and the bass player and they played suburban street fairs? What would happen if your favorite band reunited for a reality television show and had disturbing facial hair? Or no hair?

What if your favorite band never broke up but grew old, just like you did, and they continued playing music together, contently and in union, like life was a dream and we all lived happily ever after?

A taste of all the above might have taken place Monday at Lincoln Hall with the appearance of Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub, the members of which are no longer teenagers although their fan club remains. The show, the first of two nights, the second of which is Wednesday, was rooted in a sound this band did not invent, but helped sustain, moving it from Badfinger and Big Star in the 1970’s to Nada Surf and Death Cab For Cutie.

Fans checking in for the first time since 1990, the year of its debut album, likely noticed the band didn’t deliver the grunge-era energy of its earlier years. Replacing it was a more buttoned-down aesthetic in both stage banter (singer and guitarist Norman Blake apologizing for what he felt were lackluster guitar solos) and song fare (a new song, “When I Still Have Thee,” may be the greatest, if only, song about chivalry).

The music cut deeper but was no less showy, a dynamic that remains this band’s strength. With three guitarists and sometimes up to four voices harmonizing, the band created a rich, dense sound that didn’t swallow the various components but resonated on all levels.

There were radiant choruses that crashed through ruminating verses (“Don’t Look Back”), big guitar riffs that chopped in heavy syncopation (“Baby Lee”) and beats stomping their way through a shower of fuzz guitars (“The Concept”). The duties between the band’s three songwriters and singers — Blake, bassist Gerard Love and lead guitarist Raymond McGinley — are more or less evenly split, but the attention to craft remained a constant.

Before playing “Our Love Is the Place Where I Come From,” Blake made note he was putting down his guitar for a handheld xylophone, but when it came time for his entrance, he only played five notes.

But they were essential notes and they made the song. It takes years of listening closely to get things that right.

New songs from “Shadows” (Merge), released this year, were introduced into the 20-song set; despite their radiant summer sound, the songs were encased in meditative moods. “You feel the sadness in her eyes/As the autumn wind and golden leaves starts singing/sometimes I don’t need to believe in anything,” Love sang. Life gets that way when your band never broke up.

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