The Fanclub have become a grand old institution, and the Astoria was crammed with their rather sensible and well-mannered supporters - apart from a small hardcore, who eventually started throwing themselves around in front of the stage towards the end of the set.
The band launched themselves with the keening harmony-pop of Always on My Mind, their layers of vocal harmonies and ringing guitars slotting into place with practised ease. It seems an aeon ago that their album Bandwagonesque beat both Nirvana's Nevermind and REM's Out of Time in Spin magazine's 1991 best-of-year poll. Subsequently, Fanclub have evolved into a kind of jukebox of vintage Americana, delivering facsimiles of the Byrds and the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and Moby Grape. Don't Look Back was surely conceived in homage to Brian Wilson's Don't Worry Baby, while the buzzing guitars and stomping beat of Neil Jung tell their own story.
With the front trio of guitarists Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley and bassist Gerard Love deftly swapping lead vocals and juggling harmonies, this was a showcase of prime Fanclub moments, from singles such as Ain't That Enough through the REM-ish Mellow Doubt, to an extended conclusion with The Concept (which, despite its title, mostly goes "oh yeah" and "ooooo").
Unfortunately, they weren't helped by the damp fug of sound in the Astoria, which rubbed the bright edges off the guitars and swamped the high harmonies. The result was that the songs tended to blur into one long jangle, in which you could hear some of the words and bits of the music and had to use your imagination to fill in the gaps. Hence, changes of pace were welcome, like the slow, cycling Planets or the 5/4 rhythm of Did I Say.
For an hors d'oeuvre, we got a glimpse of Eugene Kelly, who seemed to make a favourable impression on the crowd with his droll folk-pop philosophising. I'm Done With the Drugs was a speeded-up strumalong, but Kelly can also do a nice bit of melodic and wistful, and he has a protest song about Starbucks ("destroy Starbucks today!"). Listen up, A&R persons - he doesn't have a deal yet.