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Courteeners @ Fat Sams, Dundee - 26/02/2013

by MartinStevenson
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on 05 March 2013 in Live
Rating 8/10

My first exposure to the Courteeners came through a Virgin V+ box I used to have. Not through Chris Moyles, Zane Lowe or Jools Holland. No, I just happened to stumble upon the band's videos in Virgin's music library, or whatever they called it, and was drawn to the laddish, festival dittyies – it fitted in perfectly as a backdrop to my preparation for a night on the tiles. This must have been 2008-2009 following the release of 'St Jude' – the debut album I subsequently purchased and promptly forgot about. 'Not Nineteen Forever', with it's inclusion on Pro Evolution Soccer 2010, rekindled my love for the band, with the track becoming a constant in my life for over a year. I can't hear the song now without associating it with those late nights scrawling the leagues for cheap left backs. Or, as was often the case, it formed the musical prelude to online bouts that mysteriously ended prematurely should I find myself facing insurmountable odds. Three goals down, strangely, seemed to be the signal for an abrupt, yet somewhat timely, end.

These references may seem obscure but for a band that, for one reason or another, appear to have been overlooked and perhaps dismissed by the mainstream media, they are all I have to hold on to. Take latest album, 'Anna', which is laden with quality. So much so in fact, that picking the next single, I believe, may have to be determined by garnering reaction on the road. Or failing that, out of a hat. Despite this solid collection there was somewhat of a shock when 'Anna' topped the mid-week album charts upon release – formidable competition from the likes of Jake Bugg and the Le Mis soundtrack saw them knocked down to sixth by the end. Perhaps rather astutely Mr Fray pointed to Bugg's appearance on Chris Evans' radio show, and his massive audience, as one reason his band would and could not sustain pole position. The Manchester four-piece are simply not afforded the same privileges, it seems. This may not be a big deal to the average indie band, or indeed fan, but Liam Fray and The Courteeners openly crave the spotlight and it's comparative lack of wrangles.

But what would one suggest to an aspiring band looking to make it big? Produce solid material, sell out gigs, and put on an energetic, entertaining, show? But in the case of the Courteeners what is that if not enough? This is a band who have sold out the Manchester MEN arena on two occasions. Yet, the triumph was dismissed as a cultish, local, and thus fiercely loyal, development. Fat Sams Live, a fairly big venue in Dundee terms, was jumping on this given night, with space at an absolute premium. This, I believe, is a fair indicator of their popularity among the masses. Perhaps, the lack of exposure, comes from the 'lad rock' label that appears to have become an albatross for the Courteeners.

It's a shame because there appears to be far more to the Courteeners than the label suggests.

The Mancunians started energetically with three songs from their latest album – 'Are You In Love With A Notion', 'Push Yourself' and 'Lose Control'. The opener is a thoughtful 80s synth driven track complete with sing-along lines and a shout out chorus. A pattern replicated in the next two. With 'Anna' there is an argument that this desire to court mainstream attention, and resultant move towards stadium-rock, has produced some bland efforts – namely 'Save Rosemary In Time' and 'The Sharks Are Circling' – but on this given night the newer material provides a nice pacey start. 'Push Yourself', for example, still retains elements of early Courteeners work in the anthemic build and throw away lines.

'Cavorting' provides the first song from St Jude and is met with universal acclaim. The place went mental. There is still a place for a little lad-rock it seems as further delves into early work, with 'Please Don't', and 'Acrylic' provide similarly raucous reactions. Mr Fray, in fact, does well to swerve the plastic, liquid filled, projectiles coming his way and retain a posture of nonchalance in doing so. There is a nice variety to the set-list. The two aforementioned tunes come sandwiched between the newer 'Van Der Graff' and 'When You Want Something You Can't Have' before the big guns from 2010's 'Falcon' album ('Sycophant' and 'Take Over the World'), are unleashed. Ballads 'Last Of The Ladies', and 'The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home' slow the pace right down providing the band, and indeed the crowd, with a well deserved break before the big finale: 'Here Come The Young Men'; 'Not Nineteen Forever', and, finally, 'What Took You So Long'.

Looking through the setlists from the tour illustrates the quality, and more impressively quantity, of tracks available to the Courteeners. 'Car 31', Kings Of The Road' and 'Money' appear sporadically from town to town, but, much to my disappointment, there is no place for 'You Overdid It Doll'. In Dundee, the band played eighteen tracks, so to leave out big singles like that, with no apparent loss in quality, is mightily impressive. The Courteeners are sure to be a force on the festival circuit this year and those who still regard them as 'lad rockers' may very well be in for a welcome surprise.

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