Travis brings good feeling to Milwaukee

Now here are a bunch of clean-cut lads; they're The Beatles to Oasis' Rolling Stones. With a self-effacing singer so un-bad, that he ponders whether the fact it rains on him all the time (metaphorically speaking) is due to a lie told as a teenager.

Travis are not throwing TVs out hotel room windows or feuding publicly. The Scottish quartet, touring in support of its second LP, "The Man Who," released here in late spring, performed last night at Marquette's Varsity Theatre and showed why they have been the biggest band in Britain for more than a year.

The crowd was as good natured as the band, leading singer Fran Healy (suffering from the flu, but too nice to tell the crowd -- it might make them feel bad) to comment, "I feel dead comfortable. It's like playing in your front room."

Kicking off the with bluster of "All I Want to Do is Rock," from their first disc, "Good Feeling" (see a trend here?), the band quickly moved into the alluring acoustic guitar fueled songs from "The Man Who," much to the delight of the crowd. And despite the stated desire to "rock" and do nothing more, the quartet -- augmented by a keyboard player on a number of songs -- remained in complete control, always on a steady burn, rarely flaring up.

"Driftwood," with its pure '70s California FM radio pop luster, drew cheers from the first chord as did "As You Are," with a melody and smooth Lennon-style vocal recalling "Across the Universe."

Healy introduced the album's single, "Why Does It Always Rain On Me?," by saying "you know this one," and when the crowd sang an entire verse a capella, it proved true.

There's likely no way to say this without sounding nasty, but many elements of the songs from "The Man Who" remind this reviewer of The Carpenters (not an insult, I mean it!), and when Healy recounts a tale of his grandfather ("a wee baldy man") singing along to the saccharine '70s duo, it all begins to make sense.

But there's more to Travis than just smooth '70s pop. A new number, "Coming Around," has a descending Byrds-style bass line and jangly 12-string Rickenbacker. Another, called "Flowers in the Window," would fit nicely on Elvis Costello's "Armed Forces."

"Good Feeling" has an almost Eastern European lilt. And, of course, comparisons between Healy's plaintive voice to that of Radiohead's Thom Yorke are inevitable.

After a baker's dozen, the band left the stage to hoots and hollers, leading to an encore clocking in at more than one-third the length of the set. Among the five songs were an acoustic cover of Britney Spears' "…Baby One More Time;" "Twenty" was a Fran solo; "Happy" from the first album; and a note-perfect cover of The Band's classic, "The Weight." A raunchy, wailing version of AC/DC's "Back in Black" was as astonishing for its authenticity as for its humor.

Radio-friendly rockers Remy Zero opened the show with a high-energy set of songs that could serve as a soundtrack to a teen television drama. Melodramatic and obviously in love with U2, these guys have all the hallmarks of a million-selling band -- an ear for an alt.rock hook and a good fashion designer.

Seeing a show in the Varsity Theatre was a rare treat. With no cigarettes, no beer, good sightlines, a great not-too-loud/not-too-quiet mix, great acoustics and smooth, rapid set changes, other local venues could learn a thing or two.


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