"The whole idea of this tour is to write the new Travis record," announced Fran Healy as he and the group's guitarist Andy Dunlop launched their back-to-basics North American tour Thursday at San Francisco's ornate Swedish American Hall. The month-long trek is officially called take a deep breath "A Chronological Acoustical Journey Through The Travis Back Catalogue: Laugh Out Loud Stories, Scottish Accents, Handsome Scottish Men, Naked Torsos."
Just in case anyone wasn't clear, Healy outlined the formula for the night after walking up to the stage down the center of the room armed with a laptop: The duo would pluck choice songs from the band's six albums, throw in some rarities, strip them down, muse a bit about their origins and, yes, there would be a slide show.
"It's going to be a long night," the singer cautioned.
Who knows if Travis will actually be able to map out its future by revisiting its past via an unsanctioned episode of VH1 Storytellers minus the cameras and Pier 1 candles? Even though the Scottish outfit already toured the states as a full four-piece earlier this year, this intimate two-hour-plus concert offered fans a peculiar thrill a reminder of everything they loved about the band in the first place.
More than a decade has passed since Travis released its breakthrough sophomore disc, the Nigel Godrich-helmed The Man Who, scoring the 25th best-selling album of all time in the U.K. and inspiring a whole wave of hand-wringing British rockers like Coldplay, Keane and Snow Patrol. Everything Healy and company have done since has inevitably paled, particularly last year's hastily recorded and independently released Ode To J. Smith.
But hearing the scruffy frontman unleash his choirboy falsetto against Dunlop's drifting guitars in such close quarters it all came back the sense of wonder, grace and all-round good vibes of otherwise moribund tunes like "Turn" and "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?"
Drinking red wine and waving around three different set lists while working up an improbable sweat, Healy made for an endearing if slightly flustered host. He spent a good deal of time on the floor fiddling with the laptop. He flubbed the words and chords to several of the band's more recent tunes (apparently even he finds them forgettable). And then there were the anecdotes that set up the songs. The rambling introduction to "Writing To Reach You" included a visual presentation involving pictures of a gas heater, Franz Kafka and Oasis' Noel Gallagher with a cigarette plastered to his bottom lip.
The duo will probably work out some of the opening night kinks as it moves onto four more sold out dates in Los Angeles tonight and continues across the rest of the country through November. The mistakes weren't nearly as upsetting as hearing them trudge through their career and watch the quality of the material plummet just as things were taking off. After The Man Who, the music's sweet emotional turns were replaced by lyrical clichés and mundane melodies that the band continues to struggle with.
Before closing with an encore that included Healy's irrepressible take on Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time" (an old b-side) and pledging to stick around to sign autographs for any takers, the pair revealed a new song called "Holiday." How was it? Let's just say we're hopeful this road trip will yield slightly better results.
In the meantime, Healy announced that the current shows would probably be available via CD in a few weeks time. Like everything else about the night the details hadn't been quite worked out yet and that was just fine.
More Than Us
All I Wanna Do Is Rock
Only Molly Knows
As You Are
Writing To Reach You
Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Last Laugh of the Laughter
Flowers In The Window
Blue Flashing Light
Love Will Come Through
Before You Were Young
...Baby One More Time