BY THOMAS CMAR
From the very first time I heard the new Travis album, The Invisible Band, which was released this past summer on Epic Records, I have been telling anyone who will listen that it is “bottled happiness, burned onto a CD.” Not that I was particularly sure what that meant. But after seeing them live for the first time last Friday night at the Orpheum Theater downtown, I somehow understand.
From the set’s opener, the recent single “Sing” (featuring the chorus, “For the love you bring / won’t mean a thing / if you don’t sing / sing, sing, sing”) to the final number, a song off their first album, Good Feeling, that is simply entitled “Happy” (in which lead singer Fran Healy repeatedly sang, “I’m so happy, ’cause you’re so happy!” while jumping up and down as if on a pogo stick), Travis was intent on imparting their own special brand of mirth to the packed house at the Orpheum. And from the enthusiastic ovations the band received throughout the evening, the crowd of fans that had assembled was just as intent on receiving it.
It was in these interactions between songs that the special relationship between Travis and its fans became apparent. Not everyone has heard of Travis, but among those who have, the band seems to inspire a uniquely devoted following. This included the gruff, slightly balding man in the seat next to me, who looked better suited for banging the glass at a Bruins game than attending Britpop concerts. But when, during the encore, the band busted out “20,” a little-known b-side off the first album, he had an oh-my-God moment and began frantically waving his arms in the air as he sang along with all the words.
At one point, Healy confided that the band had not been sure of whether it was appropriate to undertake a tour of America in light of recent world events. But then, Healy said in his Scottish brogue, the band checked with their fans on their web site: “And everyone was like, for Christ’s sake, just come!” Healy would frequently indulge in miniature monologues between songs, transitioning seamlessly from a thickly accented speaking voice to an immaculate, anglicized singing voice.
Travis is the kind of band, rare in contemporary music, whose music always leaves you smiling. The Glaswegian foursome has developed a pop-rock sensibility that harkens back to the days of Beatlemania. Just like the early Beatles, Travis has mastered the art of the deceptively simple pop song, delivered with disarming sincerity. What sets Travis apart from other groups who have followed in this grand tradition is the vocal talents of Healy, whose voice is so pure and soothing that even the most jaded consumer of post-modern pop culture cannot deny its authenticity.
Travis is certainly not the second coming of the Fab Four, but they are one hell of a pop band. Healy, who quixotically sports a miniature mohawk (which he had dyed pink for last Friday’s show), is so gosh-darn cute that he can’t help but draw the lion’s share of fans’ attention. On this particular night, he was sporting an orange Charlie Brown t-shirt tied around his waist that proclaimed, “I Need All the Friends I Can Get!” In the stage-presence department, bassist and backup vocalist Douglas Payne comes in a clear second, smirking and shaking his hips back and forth while he takes turns making eyes at individual members of the audience. Payne showed off his own vocal stylings on a cover of David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes.” (Unfortunately, this was the only cover of the evening; I had been hoping to hear the band’s infamous version of “… Baby One More Time.”)
Faced with these antics, the band’s less flashy half could not help but be overshadowed. Lead guitarist Andy Dunlop roamed his corner of the stage as if in a daze, connecting with the crowd only through the occasional solo, during which he would grimace and stare blankly over our heads. And while I vaguely remember what drummer Neil Primrose looks like, I do not think I had occasion to look at him once during the entire show. Travis’ style does not exactly lend itself to memorable drum solos.
What their music does lend itself to is, quite simply, making the world a little bit brighter place to live. Some may call this (and Travis themselves) a cheesy sentiment, and under most circumstances I would be inclined to agree. But not with Travis, whose music is so earnest — and honest — that it never fails to cut through my cynicism. Seeing them live was cathartic, in the truest sense of the word. And that would make even Aristotle happy.