Stereophonics - MEN Arena - 19.11.03
There's been times when we've loved the Stereophonics. There's been times when we've never wanted to see them again. It's one of those great big messed up affairs where your friends tell you it's wrong, but ultimately you can't help ending back at their door again making promises you'll never fall out again. It was back at Radio One's One Big Weekend this summer that we made a promise that no matter how bad things get we'll work it out and carry on regardless. We had baggage, the last time the Phonics played the Arena for example they were totally lost in the environment as Travis had been earlier. But "You Gotta Go There To Come Back" seemed to indicate a renewed sense of purpose and that's what we felt it was best to look to in times of trouble.
As soon as the opening riff to "Madame Helga" awakens crowd sleeping form a lacklustre performance from solo Charlatan Tim Burgess it's clear that Cable or not the band are set to deliver a blistering gig. Kelly dressed in a grey combat jacket, perfect hair and every inch the rockstar projected in vintage black and white it's hard to imagine how anyone could ever call him a croaky pub singer. For the first few songs it's hard not to look at the drum riser and see a bland faceless void (who could possibly be from the Black Crowes for all we care) instead of the grinning oaf that was Stuart Cable. Never has the village idiot been so important for a band than Cable was, musically maybe not so, but visually he was always a distraction when things got a little tiresome during Kelly's acoustic moments. It takes 5 songs in though until the acoustic is brought out for "You Stole My Money Honey" and far from being the point where we switch off it actually resonates across the whole arena with the rasping vocals maturing as Liam's did in a similar point in his career. "Nothing Precious At All", one of the stand out tracks from their recent album, features a beautiful piano motif which suggests the band were aiming to write their own close relative of "Handbags And The Gladrags".
Until you actually witness a Phonics gig it's hard to forget just how many hits the guys have had. In today's music industry it's almost expected that they should have released the greatest hits album by now and buggered off back to Wales. Listening to a 6 strong run of "Hurry Up And Wait", "Bartender And The Thief", "Have A Nice Day", "Just Looking", Local Boy In The Photograph" and "More Life In A Tramps Vest" what a great collection it will make when they inevitably release it. The rest of the set veers between the downright tiresome "Mr Writer" and "Step In My Own Size Nines" to the sublime "Traffic" and a crowd pleasing "Handbags And Gladrags".
The Stereophonics are a band who can still sell out arenas despite the fact that critics as a rule of thumb would probably place a bullet in Kelly Jones head above that of George Bush's or Tony Blair's. Where they go without Cable is anyone's guess as musically his dismissal doesn't change the group, but there's a sense that the dynamic simply isn't there now and it will put undue strain within the ranks. It's almost a given that at one point Kelly Jones will go solo. Maybe just maybe we could see that move sooner rather than later and if tonight was to be their farewell tour they've gone out with style and their heads held high.
Photo's by Karen McBride - www.karenmcbride.com
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