Stereo MC's - Manchester Academy 2 - 18.2.03

The Stereo MC's are at the crossroads and there seems little they can do to decide their fate. With a Greatest Hit's album "Retroactive" recently released the band will simply have to wait to see if the kids raid their older siblings record collection and they have a renaissance or the album simply fades into obscurity after their core fanbase have bought a copy for the nostalgia factor. Tonight in Manchester, a city where they've always felt at home, there is an element of nostalgia hanging in the air and even your correspondent in his mid twenties is definitely veering towards the younger side of the scale here. Even so during the last 2 years when they've played Manchester they've still managed to blow the joint up like no other hip-hop band can...and by that I mean from any side of the Atlantic.

If anything they're somewhat handicapped tonight from the very start by the fact they're losing key member Cath Coffey for this tour due to illness and the space she leaves on the stage really is a huge gap to fill. The other girls try their best, but it really is like Destiny's Child trying to forge ahead without Beyonce and as such front man Rob Birch has to try and take it all in his stride. When he bounds on stage he's even more energetic than usual, but look in his eyes and there's a world-weary look that admits defeat despite his vocal protestations. Saying that though Stereo MC's on 90% power are still better than most Urban acts out there so if you hadn't seen them before burning on all cylinders you would still be dancing in the aisles without a care in the world. To fit in with the album release they play songs from each of the bands four albums including a storming version of the recent "Deep Down And Dirty" single which proves they can still match their glory days. "Connected", "Step It Up" and "Lost In Music" - staples of the MC's set list - are given extended remixes and to be honest they simply could have played these 3 songs in rotation for the rest of the night if it wasn't for the quality of their album tracks and earlier work. "Fade Away" and "Elevate My Mind" are still timeless classics and their isn't a filler track played in the set.

When you consider that the Stereo MC's have been together for a decade and they can still compete with any urban or hip hop group out there in terms of live performances it's pity that today's younger stars don't take note. With Run DMC in retirement following the murder of Jam Master Jay, Public Enemy playing about once every 12 months on these shores and UK Urban Acts such as So Solid Crew banned from even performing where are we supposed to look for quality live hip-hop. Eminem's just a novelty act, the likes of Xzibit and the Dr Dre B-Listers are merely going through the motions and Ms Dynamite still hasn't really proved herself on a full UK Tour. The simple fact is the Stereo MC's are the only band worth seeing and if they can return with an album to put them back at the top of the game later in the year they're gonna take over the UK just like the old days.

Alex McCann

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