MUSIC REVIEW: Travis at Roadmender

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Seeing Fran Healy again for the first time in several years, I couldn’t escape the thought that here was his own older brother, who had started a tribute band.

Gone was the fresh-faced man who made the rain fall on cue at Glastonbury in 1999. In his place on the Roadmender stage was a grey-bearded sage with slicked-back widow’s peak and, of all things, a man bun.

What on earth would he sound like?

Well he sounded just like Travis, except harder, edgier, ballsier and louder than I’d ever heard them before.

Anybody trying to reel off their singles would conclude that ‘Sing’, ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Flowers’ are pretty safe soft rock efforts.

But, live, even these had new dimensions to them, with the powerful layers of sound the four-piece created perfect for the small, full-to-bursting venue.

It helps, of course, that they are great to watch, these experienced stage artists.

Floppy-haired bass guitarist Dougie Payne - looking like a suggestive Ian Thorpe-a-like - stood there riding the rhythms like a pony. Bopping, nodding, thrusting; he was the coolest man in the building.

Healey was also entertaining whenever he relinquished his instrument and by ‘Where You Stand’ was giving it the Michael Stipe-style ‘performing arts arms’.

He is graceful and, despite the maturer look, he looked fit, sharp and as lean as ever, whirling round with his guitar and adding terrific expression to the sound.

Song-wise ‘Turn’ was the most enjoyable, both for the crowd and band, with lead guitar Andy Dunlop bent over sawing away furiously at his strings. A wonderful moment happened when the crowd bellowed out the chorus for the first time and a few found themselves craning their necks looking for where Roadmender had concealed their football stadium.

They, like me, were overjoyed to be inside that noise.

Roadmender was packed to its limits and in between songs, Scotsman Healey showed why he inspires such loyalty utilising his genuine charm even while sharing his double grief that heroes David Bowie and a Star Wars character had passed away. He sounded like he meant it.

Another endearing link saw him enthusing that being back on stage was like being a dog who had been locked up for days and suddenly released into the world.

Travis took that canine energy and ramped it up steadily so that, by the time they reached ‘Blue Flashing Light’, Dunlop was ripping at the strings on his knees, offering his feedback-laden riffs to the speaker. By the end he was sweat-drenched and spent.

A short encore included ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me?’ with a bouncing front row grateful for the chance to channel Glasto.

Everybody went home both with expectations fulfilled and satisfyingly buffeted ear drums.

Who the heck cares what they look like. They still sound excellent.