Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow
With founder member Gerard Love leaving after this tour, Teenage Fanclub spent three nights revisiting the bubblegum glory of their classic years
Reliably wry ... Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer
Harmony has always been a useful word when it comes to describing the evergreen appeal of Teenage Fanclub. What other band can boast three gifted songwriters – in the form of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love – whose individual voices remain distinct yet still combine so irresistibly? Thanks to their sonic democracy, the beloved Scots rockers have, over the course of nearly four decades, evolved from anarchic scuzz-grunge longhairs into elder statesmen of earnest power-pop.
But it was announced in August that founder member Love would be leaving “amicably” after this UK tour, apparently preferring not to commit to far-flung dates in Japan, Australia and the US already announced for 2019. In such unsettled circumstances, three nights at the Barrowland Ballroom, a similarly cherished and storied Glasgow institution, would seem as fitting a send-off as any, even if the bassist’s imminent departure added an uneasy psychic charge to proceedings; “Don’t go, Gerry!” was a repeated cry.
Billed as The Creation Records Years, the structure of playing five classic albums in chronological order was presumably inspired by their recent remastering on covetable vinyl. But it also ended up feeling rather like a raucous fuzz-pop variation on This Is Your Life. As well as longstanding multi-instrumentalists Francis Macdonald and Dave McGowan, the band were variously joined by the ghosts of Fanclubs past, including string arranger Joe McAlinden and former drummers Brendan O’Hare (madcap, mischievous) and Paul Quinn (patient, measured).Magisterial ... Teenage Fanclub – with departing Gerard Love, right. Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose for the Observer
The opening night showcased the scruffy but swaggering albums Bandwagonesque and Thirteen, the former still a glorious rush of bubblegum melodies bundled in layers of dazed distortion, the latter a perceived artistic misstep increasingly being reassessed as a lost classic 25 years after release. While Love singing – a lullaby amid the squall – was an elegant standout, the irrepressible O’Hare threatened to steal the spotlight by mimicking a heart attack after the furious drumming required for , one of Thirteen’s most energised singles.
If the first night was emphatically sold out, the second night seemed even more crammed. Grand Prix and Songs from Northern Britain are commonly perceived as the band’s two cast-iron masterpieces, the sort of records we should launch into space to convince aliens humankind might be worth saving. With Quinn installed on drums, it was a magisterial procession through a series of overwhelmingly big-hearted love songs, even if Blake, a reliably wry frontman, was happy to poke a little fun at Grand Prix’s rarefied reputation. “This is the album we started using capos on,” he winked, ahead of a chiming .
After two such joyous nights, the final date was geared more toward hardcore Fanclub fans, pairing their solid but relatively unspectacular 2000 album Howdy! with a pot pourri of B-sides. Broken, a plaintive semi-instrumental soaked in regret, set up the emotional finale of Love singing the Flying Burrito Brothers song , a B-side from the Thirteen era acquiring new layers of resonance 25 years later. With a shy salute from Love, the band left the stage with no encore, an ending so abrupt it seemed to leave some fans shellshocked. There were even some confused boos. But for a group that has always kept things low-key, it felt like a bittersweet yet fitting sign-off for their classic incarnation in their hometown.
• At Manchester Academy, 5-7 November, then touring.