Few gigs begin with the greeting squeals of a bagpipe player, and end in a moment worthy of Braveheart, with the lead singer holding aloft a guitar adorned with the Scottish flag. Then again, not many bands appear to be this keen to embrace Glasgow with as much Scottish soul as the city that championed them during their infancy. Even Frontman Fray’s trousers are an imitation tweed. As the climactic chorus of ‘Are You in Love With A Notion?’ hits, the entire arena stamps their love and approval.
Yet, a Scotsman steals the attention in what couldn’t be a better choice of supporting act. Gerry Cinnamon is a puckish Bob Dylan; lyrically bold, musically striking and energetic on stage, he smashes his guitar to pieces mid-set. Marching on the spot, hips swinging, Cinnamon faithfully captions himself in his performance of ‘Sometimes’, proclaiming “and I’m a renegade of sorts…hunting idiots for sport.” ‘What Have You Done’ is a painful ode to unshakeable addiction to “a bag of snow”, while ‘Diamonds In the Mud’ is a tribute to the gloriously grubby patchwork character of Glasgow-the only place “where ‘a c*nt’ might not be a put down”. Such a charged performance is certainly hard to follow. Unless you’re the Courteeners, of course.
Armed with crowd favourites like ‘Cavorting’ and ‘Bide Your Time’, fans are taken on a nostalgic trip back to the angst of young adulthood and the pitfalls of being centre stage, while ‘Small Bones’ and the later solo acoustic ‘Please Don’t’ from Fray, provide the emotional peaks of the show.
The band’s enduring ability to resonate with the trials and disappointments of being young (or maybe just of existing) is perhaps why such a range of faces are sweating in the Hydro tonight. From fifteen year old lads trying to sneak in pyrotechnics, to parents with sons and daughters; everyone is accounted for.
“This one’s about someone being a prick” announces Fray as the band kicks off with ‘Has He Told You That He Loves You Yet’, followed by a few knowing smiles flashed at the front row and some fervent attempts to wipe away sweat. But apart from their classic anthems (for who are the Courteeners without ‘Not Nineteen Forever’), the band seems to be undergoing an evolution with their new material.
Emotionally raw and stripped back musically, Fray stands alone in the spotlight, “trying to be a better man/ whatever that is” and seeking to prove to himself and the arena that “nobody’s perfect”. The tongue-in-cheek tone of earlier songs appears to have evolved into a more sober exploration of fraught emotional reality; though Payne’s piano also sounds symptomatic of some hobnobbing with Blossoms.
Sirens welcome the band back onstage after the interval for what is the most radically different of their new songs. ‘Heavy Jacket’ retains the identifiably Courteeners’ guitar and drums, along with Fray’s soft Mancunian vocals, but equally moves into experiments with funk and groove.
Unafraid to continue re-inventing their style, the Courteeners confirm their place amongst the icons of Manchester-born Brit-pop.
Image: Wladimir Labeikovsky via flickr