Early in the evening, I got a phone call from two friends in Atlanta who’d arrived at a Bruce Springsteen solo acoustic concert and were arbitrarily escorted to front row center rather than to the nosebleeders they’d paid for. The call was pure ecstatic jubilation with exclamations like “He shook my hand twice!” All I could return was, “I’m about to see Teenage Fanclub”—which didn’t quite resonate with the starstruck.
The Bowery Ballroom on July 23 was certainly more intimate than Springsteen’s arena show, though: just Teenage Fanclub—hardly teenagers anymore—and their fortysomething fanatics (hooligan sing-alongers who somehow jostled arrhythmically to the Werther’s Original pop) and fair-weather fans (who ran home to catch the end of Saturday Night Live, missing nearly half of the two-hour marathon set). Early in their 16-year career, Teenage Fanclub mastered the formula for a pleasing pop song by analyzing Big Star records: short, twinkling intro; a voice singing expectant, reassuring lyrics; a second voice of similar pitch joining in (how three songwriters with the same range and dynamic sensibility got together is a mystery); a solid three minutes of good vibes; a strum-fest outro.
The band’s set was heavy on old favorites—many, like “The Concept” and “Sparky’s Dream,” appear on the cheater comp Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Shortcut to Teenage Fanclub. Holes were filled with newbies off the band’s latest album, Man-Made—which, though cut from the same worn cloth, had to battle chatter among the fans.
TFC looked so prim and proper I couldn’t believe they once shared a label with Nirvana. (In 1991, Spin named their Bandwagonesque album of the year over Nevermind.) Singer-guitarist Norman Blake even mentioned that he hadn’t had a beer pre-show—and he’s Scottish, damn it—because he didn’t want to risk a mid-song belch. That fits their shiny, happy image as much as sanguine, if not naive, refrains like “I know the world will be OK.”
But that sentiment seems a little anachronistic, especially considering the news events of the last few weeks, from the London bombings to the G-8. Maybe it’s time to listen to artists who are a little more realistic. Maybe it’s just my jealousy talking, but how about the Boss?