Last Night: Travis, Republic Tigers at the House of Blues, Anaheim

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Photo by Andrew Youssef

Last Night:
Travis, Republic Tigers at the House of Blues, Anaheim; April 9, 2009.

Better Than: Seeing Travis Barker or Randy Travis (I've only seen the former, but I'm making an educated guess).

Least Appealing Snack Offer: "Delicious Parmesan potato chips basket for $2.00," which was just store-bought potato chips scooped from a bowl. Very eight-grade dance, but sort of odd for a big-budget operation like the HOB.

In an parallel universe somewhere, Travis is the biggest band on Earth (or whatever they might call "Earth" on a parallel universe). The Scottish band are well-polished practitioners of the same U2 anthems meet The Bends-era Radiohead melodies formula that led to Coldplay selling millions of records and becoming, essentially, the biggest band on Earth. Except Travis have been doing it even longer; their first record, Good Feeling, came out back in 1997.

But we're stuck in our universe, where Coldplay did the Honda Center last time they were in Anaheim, and have a date at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine in July. Travis are stuck at the 1,050-capacity House of Blues. Our universe isn't always fair.

Not that any of this seemed to bother the band in the slightest, who appeared to be pleased and a little surprised with the turnout--not a sellout, but close--and  the response the crowd gave them. "I didn't expect so many people," said lead singer Fran Healy. "I figured you'd all be in the queue for Space Mountain." (Disneyland references are kind of obligatory for House of Blues Anaheim shows.)

Based on the HOB fans, you'd expect Travis were indeed one of the biggest bands on Earth, or at least much more beloved stateside than they have been recently, as their last few albums haven't done much chart-wise after hits like "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?" and "Sing." Those hits were warmly received, sure, but there were also spirited singalongs to less famous tunes like "Closer." This fervor can be chalked up to the songs in part, but huge credit also goes to Healy, who charismatically engaged in fun rock star antics like singing in the crowd for "Falling Down," and charmed with between-song banter ("I wanted to do a song alone so I could have the spotlight all to myself," he said before performing b-side "Sarah" as the encore kickoff). 

Not that he wasted time--the band whipped through 21 songs in under an hour and a half. The emotional climax was a stirring version of "Side," from 2001's The Invisible Band, but the most notable moment was probably the funny yet not campy cover of Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" during the encore, an acoustic duet between Healy and guitarist Andy Dunlop imbued with splashes of playful homoeroticism.

Travis covered "Hit Me Baby One More Time" in what was a decidedly different pop era, and it's good to see that they can slide right back into that same territory. Much like that Britney Spears cover, they took what could have been a "wink-wink, this is crazy, right?" cover of a disposable pop song and made it actually kind of good.

I was stuck at work and couldn't make it to see opener Republic Tigers, but photographer Andrew Youssef shared these words:

"The potential of breaking out of Kansas does seem daunting. Just ask the Get Up Kids. The Republic Tigers may make the leap out of Kansas with their debut album Keep Color. It also doesn't hurt that they have Alexandra Patsavas as their label boss since her role as music supervisor on Gossip Girl earned them a spot on the soundtrack.

Floating harmonies and watery keyboard lines propelled "Golden Sand" into the stratosphere led by Kenn Jankowski's vocals. The spaced out vocal effects and acoustic guitars lead "Buildings and Mountains" through windy roads accompanied by its toe tapping beat.  The surprise of the evening was their pitch perfect cover of Blondie "Heart Of Glass". Well played gentlemen. Their seven song set came to a close too soon as they closed with "Feelin' The Future". I think most of the crowd was feeling it."

Yay for Andrew!

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I reviewed Ode to J. Smith, the latest Travis record, last fall, and I was kind of lukewarm on it--I've since opened up to it a bit more, especially after hearing tracks like "Something Anything" and "Chinese Blues" live last night.

Random Detail: Lady coming up to me when Travis was on their second or third song: "Hey, who is this on right now?" So not all the fans were that great.

By the Way: Travis plays tonight at the Wiltern in LA.

Setlist:

"Chinese Blues"
"Writing to Reach You"
"J. Smith"
"Selfish Jean"
"Re-Offender"
"Something Anything"
"Long Way Down"
"Love Will Come Through"
"Closer"
"Driftwood"
"Side"
"Falling Down"
"Sing"
"The Humpty Dumpty Love Song"
"All I Wanna Do Is Rock"
"Before You Were young"
"Turn"

Encore:
"Sarah"
"I Kissed a Girl"
"My Eyes"
"Why Does It Always Rain On Me"

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