When Teenage Fanclub walked onto the stage of the Powerstation in Auckland, New Zealand, it represented many important milestones. On a personal level, this was my first high-profile concert, viewing and reviewing one of my favourite bands in the flesh. On a grander scale, this was the band’s first New Zealand show in their entire three-decade career - and their opportunity to prove themselves in what I’m tenderly dubbing the “Post-Love Era.”
Beneath the intense excitement surrounding the band’s international tour announcement - and the surprise that bassist Gerard Love would be leaving the band over said tour dates - I felt a pang of curiosity while waiting for the doors to open; what would the “Fannies” do without essentially a third of their output?
However, before we answer that, we must salute Kiwi indie rock band The Roulettes for stepping out and opening the show with a blazing display of distorted power pop... reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub’s Catholic Education era at points. Simon Nicholls (instead of Ben Grant) (bass/vocals) and Mark Queenin (drums) stalwartly kept each song chugging at a brisk pace, while Justin McLean (guitar/vocals) delivered affectionately nasal snarls and raucous riffs in tandem. Venus Burns, the title track off the band’s second album, was a personal highlight... switching into a space-rock ballad with soaring vocals and lyrics of love and affection for another.
The Roulettes play like every venue is an arena waiting to be filled, and their confidence on-stage - combined with the efficiency with which they jumped into every song - made for an exceptionally enjoyable experience. Even if the crowd wasn’t in the mood for head-banging this early into the night, the band still left with cheers echoing through the venue.
There was one noticeable technical difficulty between opener and headliner. The microphones didn’t have an equal audio level as the Roulettes ended their set on a couple of covers with noticeably inaudible harmonies. This mic issue carried over to the first song of Teenage Fanclub’s set, About You - but was thankfully fixed early into the song. Raymond McGinley (vocals/lead guitar) took it all like a champ... never faltering in delivering his trademark rasp, and he received a well-deserved round of applause for the strong opener.
On vocals and guitar, Norman Blake’s enthusiasm for audience interaction was infectiously warm... always taking the time between songs to joke about his laryngitis. Between the “comfort glockenspiel” and the wise-cracks about a “goat cheese and manuka honey enema” remedy, I’m not surprised this concert had to be labelled R18! While the other members didn’t interact with the crowd as much, the smiles exchanged between Blake, McGinley and Dave McGowan on bass during Catholic Education and It’s A Bad World ensured that friendly vibes remained intact.
You’d expect a band with such longevity to be trotting the “Greatest Hits” out at this point in their career, but the diversity in Teenage Fanclub’s setlist was a welcome and refreshing reprieve from that stereotype. At least one song from every Fanclub album was played, and it proves that the band love their material as much as their die-hard fans do. Blake’s laryngitis, while obviously obstructing a few high notes, didn’t stop him from performing both popular openers like Start Again from Songs From Northern Britain and deep cuts like The Cabbage from Thirteen.
It did mean that McGinley, who I see as the most reclusive of the bunch, had a chance to step up and dominate the setlist, and he nailed it in his modest yet earnest style. The Fannies have always been known for their wall-of-sound distortion and timeless melodies, and McGinley certainly delivered both in spades. Yet it’s his quieter, more contemplative ballads that impress the most; My Uptight Life’s gentle chords and soft delivery had the crowd swaying like flowers in the breeze. It was truly serene, and honestly a moment I’ll cherish for a long time.
This concert didn’t just reaffirm the strengths of Teenage Fanclub’s principle songwriters; it also solidified their restructured lineup. Dave McGowan moved from keyboards and guitars to fulfil Gerard Love’s bass duties, and he does so with the same grace and restrained proficiency that Love had. Euros Childs, formerly of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, also played well. While his organ-like sound overpowered the mix on occasion, it was never a glaring issue. His performance was very subtle, doubling up with Blake’s vocals and accentuating each song with dynamic keyboards - and he got his chance to shine, with a particularly beautiful solo in Planets.
Ultimately, there’s something pure about Teenage Fanclub’s timelessness, their determination to sound like no one but themselves.
Admittedly, the loss of Love threatened to shatter that ideal for a moment. Yet when Blake excitedly introduced the new song Everything Is Falling Apart - jokingly calling its title ‘apt’ - my worries slipped away. The Fannies have always weaved melancholy with triumph; it’s why The Concept overcomes the relationship regret in its lyrics with a deafening guitar solo. It’s why seeing parents dragging their teenagers to the Powerstation - and seeing everyone regardless of age grin widely as The Concept soared to the heavens - reminds me of why I fell in love with Teenage Fanclub in the first place.
Teenage Fanclub Set List
- About You
- Start Again
- Everything Is Falling Apart (new song)
- The Cabbage
- Thaw Me
- Only With You
- I Don’t Care
- Catholic Education
- Your Love Is The Place That I Come From
- It’s A Bad World
- Hold On
- I’m In Love
- My Uptight Life
- Everything Flows
- Heavy Metal II
- The Fall
- The Concept