Travis, live @ Oxford Brookes University, March 19, 2007
When Travis played their last gig, 18 months ago, they were a band with newly lit fire in their bellies.
Fran Healy (pictured) and Co threw themselves behind the Make Poverty History campaign, denounced the Iraq war, and took on the unlikely task of trying to politicise their happy-go-lucky fans while touring their uncharacteristically moody album, 12 Memories.
Now, the memories have faded, the flames extinguished.
What has changed? Parenthood for one; Healy became a father to Clay a year ago.
And so, where once he would talk in between songs about the Iraq war and global-political insanities, now he talks of “not firing blanks” and fashion inanities.
Front man Healy was never the most eloquent of Bush and Blair bashers, but 2003’s cri de couer, Peace The Fuck Out, carried the anti-war message he seemed so gripped by.
Four years on, the band seem to have rejected their last album, treating the Oxford audience to just one track from it, the radio-friendly Love Will Come Through.
Their new material, which will be released the summer as The Boy With No Name, seems to be a return to the smiley style that ran through their first three albums and made them famous, but it feels like a retrograde step.
And maybe the rock gods agree; their debut of Selfish Dream (or Jean, or Gene?) had to be halted after a few seconds because of a broken guitar string and, similarly, forthcoming single Closer had to be restarted when a misplaced capo had Healy playing in a different key to the rest of his band.
But choosing the Helena Kennedy Student Centre for a low-key outing of their new material was an ideal, intimate venue, filled with a friendly audience, quick to forgive any rustiness.
Healy told his fans that playing the new songs was like trying on new clothes and, clearly, some fit better than others. My Eyes, a soppy tribute to Clay, on first listen is probably best kept for Healy-household consumption.
But other gems such as Colder and Battleships sound more like future singles – even if nothing was devastatingly brilliant.
Also making his debut was “Claus from Sweden”, on keyboard, who added a fuller sound to the new tracks and also earned a mid-song ovation from his new band-mates for the solo during oldie, Good Feeling.
And a good feeling, if not a great one, was what most people left with after Travis promised to be “back around” before finishing with their Britpop anthem Why Does It Always Rain On Me?