Derided by many, criticised by most for ‘selling out’, my soft spot for the ‘phonics shows no signs of hardening just yet.
Date: March 5, 2010
Venue: Motorpoint Arena Nottingham
The burning question regarding the Stereophonics is whether or not they’re still relevant. Does anyone actually still care about them anymore? Once they were a band whose singles dotted the higher echelons of the charts; their bullish back-to-basics FM Rock a mainstay of the Top 40. But without a jaunty hair-cut or a pretentious and needless new change of direction, have the ‘Phonics become a little staid?
Well, no actually. For all you doubters out there – yeah we can see ya, hiding behind your angular fringes – quash your qualms and stack those preconceptions neatly in a pile, because The Stereophonics are still a 24ct pop machine forged from the inarguable, unstoppable power of the Top Tune, and to the near sell-out audience packed into the Arena they remain impenetrable.
The formula is simple, and in fact is pretty much unaltered since those heady days of the mid-to-late 90s when Kelly Jones and his boys really found their pop-rock jet packs (hirsute drummer Stuart Cable’s acrimonious departure is the one line-up change since their formation in 1992).
Kelly’s voice still sounds like the result of gargling wasps while simultaneously smoking the global reserves of Marlboro cigarettes but rather than resemble a withered pastiche of Rod Stewart it actually sounds fluid, even on newie ‘Stuck In A Rut’, which challenges him to dip deep into his larynx.
To his left is guitarist and backing vocalist Adam Zindani, whose birthday is victoriously celebrated with Champagne late in the gig, while Richard Jones oscillates freely clutching his bass guitar.
However, it’s that very instrument which almost inflicts permanent tinnitus on everyone within a 5-mile radius. For the first quarter of the gig it’s deafening, and threatens to hamper the sterling work being done elsewhere. Thankfully though, the Arena technicians push the right buttons and the problem is solved.
But it wasn’t the only faux-pa of Richard’s. The other, and most glaring, was his barnet – a slicked-back 50s binman style which is more Reg Varney than Buddy Holly.
The hair failure proves that they may not adhere to the pre-formatted fashion template tirelessly carried by today’s nu-indie elite. In fact the ‘Phonics are not ones to concern themselves with trending fashions. They’re all about the songs which, it should be stated, are unequivocally ace.
The hits are all present and correct. ‘A Thousand Trees’ and ‘More Life in a Tramp’s Vest’ are ushered out early (slightly and sadly tarnished by that pesky bass); ‘Pick A Part That’s New’, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ and the ineffably beautiful ‘Traffic’ wash the crowd with a coat of teary-eyed catharsis. Would they leave out the happy-as-Larry nod-along uber-hit Have A Nice Day? How could they, when its happy-clappy vibe transports everyone to a sun-dappled, freshly-mowed pasture where the World’s troubles have been remedied. “Come on it’s Friday!”, Kelly yelps enthusiastically, attempting to encourage every single person in the arena onto their feet before he continues with the refrain.
While these days the crowd demand to hear the favourites from years gone by, give it a few years, and they’ll be shouting for ‘She’s Alright’ and ‘Trouble’ from last year’s really rather good Keep Calm and Carry On LP, the latter a close relation to ‘Bartender And The Thief’ incidentally.
But while the new tracks perfectly dovetail the better known oldies, one of them fails miserably due its intolerable ability to make you recoil in embarrassment. ‘Could You Be The One?’ has a nice, lolling tune, but lyrically it has issues. Pulling off words like ‘cool’ and ‘fashionably hip’ in a sentence within a heart-felt love song is perilous, and unfortunately, Kelly falls on the wrong side of cringe-worthy.
Thankfully though, they still have ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’ and ‘Bartender And The Thief’ to redeem their crimes. The former would have been the highlight of the evening if it wasn’t followed by ‘Bartender…’, which surges with swollen-crotched promise and steals the show from its predecessor.
As closer ‘Dakota’ arches and froths with pent-up emotion and a beatific wah-wah quiver we’re left with a startling but unshakeable realisation: The Stereophonics are indeed still very much a force to be reckoned with even if the zeitgeist refuses to embrace them.
Some may bemoan their pretty, Radio 2-approved songs and try hard to stifle their sniggers at Kelly’s housewife-favourite image, but the band can – and will – withstand such petty snipery.
As nu-indie continues to bore everyone with its flashy, 80s-pilfering syrupy bounce, these talented Welshmen will continue to wear their rock ‘n’ roll hearts on their sleeves and prove once and for all their inherent relevance in the pantheon of British music.