At the 9:30 club Monday night, you could see why the Glasgow, Scotland, band Travis was the pre-Coldplay front-runner in the tiresome "next U2" sweepstakes: Big, accessible sound? Check. A half-dozen kinda-memorable singles with pseudo-profound lyrics ("A circle only has one side!")? Check. A garrulous frontman who could probably power the sound rig on charm alone? Check, baby!
Plus, they're funny : As the PA blared Bill Conti's theme from "Rocky," the band, clad in satin boxing robes, made its high-fiving, back-slapping way through the crowd to the stage. (U2 did this first, too, on its 1997 PopMart tour, but it's an idea worth stealing. It won over the sold-out crowd before Travis had played a note.)
Launching into a vigorous "Selfish Jean," the best track on the new album "The Boy With No Name," singer-songwriter Fran Healy and company made it clear right away that neither sentimentality nor pomposity would compromise their mission: to reintroduce the band after a longish hiatus and an album -- 2003's "12 Memories" -- that was notably short on the infectious singles that had fueled their late-'90s rise. Travis's affable 22-song set, a half-dozen from the new record seasoned liberally with "oldies" circa 1997 to 2001, all but ignored "12 Memories."
New numbers like "My Eyes" and "Big Chair" sounded almost as good as anything from the group's heyday, and Healy looked genuinely moved by the crowd's embrace of the band. Travis found ways to keep the hits from feeling rote, too: Andy Dunlop's climb up a speaker tower to a balcony during "All I Wanna Do Is Rock" was amusing mostly for the guitarist's lack of grace. For "Flowers in the Window," Healy's four band mates joined him around one mike. Dunlop and bassist Dougie Payne pitched in on guitar, Payne strumming and Dunlop working the frets -- while Healy was still wearing it. It worked fine until Healy cracked up laughing.
During the encore, Healy's solo take of "20," one of Travis's innumerable non-LP tracks, and the aching "Humpty Dumpty Love Song" showcased his songcraft at its heart-on-his-sleeve best, which made the raunchy cover of AC/DC's "Back in Black" that closed the show sound all the more wicked awesome. As a famous British nanny never said, a spoonful of bitter helps the sugar go down.
-- Chris Klimek
"Where's Elvis?" shouted a fan to singer and pianist Diana Krall at Wolf Trap. Hopes that Elvis Costello, Krall's husband, might turn up for the sold-out concert Monday night soon vanished (perhaps he was busy with the couple's newborn twins). But Krall was in awfully good company just the same, supported by three supremely gifted musicians and inspired by the likes of Irving Berlin, Peggy Lee, Bob Dorough, Joni Mitchell and Nat King Cole.
The influence of Cole's small-combo recordings has always been evident. Krall has developed a wonderfully relaxed rapport with guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, and she provides each with plenty of space to shine. More important, she held her own while performing pieces that required a demanding yet seemingly effortless level of interplay. She brightly harmonized several melodies with Wilson and nimbly interacted with Clayton and Hamilton, who's a wizard with brushes.
Never one to conceal her piano influences, Krall wears them more lightly these days. Lacking a horn section, the Canadian-born artist wasn't able to duplicate the brassy luster and swagger that distinguishes her latest CD, "From This Moment On." But the cozy setting proved ideal for romantic ballads. Her hazy alto cast a quiet spell during a solo recital of Mitchell's "A Case of You" and the show's whisper-soft encore of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" sounded as if it were arranged for Shirley Horn. Mostly, though, Krall looked to -- and found -- inspiration in a delightful collection of vintage pop and jazz standards.
-- Mike Joyce