After a long absence, devoted fans of the band Travis agree their return was worth the wait.
The floor of Webster Hall was filled during the opening act for Travis on a balmy Monday night in New York City. Even the merch table sold out of a few sizes before the band took the stage. When it was mentioned that the group was actually milling about outside, there was no heading towards the door, as it would mean giving up allotted spaces held by simply standing in place. All this loyalty was well rewarded, as the crowd went home happy after a sprinkling of new songs were embedded in a set full of familiar hits spanning the decades. There was plenty of audience participation – singing, clapping and gladly whooping it up on cue over and over again – in a venue full of mostly couples, with many fans holding their hearts in the universal gesture of emotional submission.
The show began with Fran Healy entering in a spotlight, strumming an acoustic guitar. As the vocal force behind the band, he opened the night with “Mother”, the first track off the new album, Where You Stand. He donned his trademark sandy colored felt hat and a black Travis t-shirt referencing the song “Why Does It Always Rain On Me,” their pivotal moment obtaining band cred as it actually did rain on them during the 1999 Glastonbury Festival. The song was a gentle intro to the new album and a reintroduction to their seductive format of a quiet beginning that explodes into a full-band sound that has worked so well over the years. Without hesitation, the group led into perhaps its biggest hit in the U.S., bringing a fresh urgency to the melodic exercise of “Sing”. Next up, the rocker “Selfish Jean” kicked things up to get the place moving, both on stage and off. The new single “Moving” also appeared early in the set without any of the polished production of a studio recording, but it brought the proceedings into the present with another soaring melody that sears the soul.
Beginning by honoring countryman Ivor Cutler with an audio of his poetry before the show, Travis is deeply rooted as a Scottish alt rock band that doesn’t shy away using pop hooks to address the big questions. They are known for deeply romantic tunes such as “Love Will Come Through”, (exploring the push and pull of relationships), “Side”, (embracing mortality) and “Turn” (with lyrics that lament, “I want to live in a world where I belong”). These established songs were revisited during the concert with a fresh outlook, as the years have brought along adult responsibilities. A sweet moment came with the song “Reminder”, as Healy explained how he wrote this laundry list of a life well lived for his son. It includes basic advice such as “celebrate” and “don’t be late,” as well as deeper challenges, such as “be the change you want to see.”
Healy defended the absence since the last album, 2008’s Ode to J. Smith as the humble pull of family life. But he gushed how good it was to be back and the sentiment was obviously echoed by his bandmates. Bass player Dougie Payne held tight to Healy as he contributed back-up vocals and guitarist Andy Dunlop enjoyed matching up guitar movements on the other side while not playing banjo. Neil Primrose held the songs together from the drum riser behind his mates until it was time to join them for a Travis concert tradition. The four of them huddled together on the edge of the stage for a heart warming, unplugged rendition of “Flowers In the Window” during the encore. They dug deep into the archives for the scrappy “Good Feeling” and “All I Want To Do Is Rock” before concluding with “Why Does It Always Rain On Me”. Everyone was smiling and singing along -- without fear of getting wet.