The Stone Roses
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- Heaton Park, Salford »
When Ian Brown, John Squire, Gary Mounfield and Alan Wren declared to the world's media in October of last year that The Stone Roses were to reform for a series of live shows the following summer, the response was mixed to say the least. While there were those already proclaiming said shows to be the events of the decade, there was also a degree of cynicism from many - me included - over whether this was one final desecration of the band's legacy. After all, those I've spoken to that actually attended the band's previous mega-gig at Spike Island have anything but good things to say about it, while past recordings of the band's live shows - even at their creative peak - shed them in anything but a good light. And the less said about that fateful Reading Festival headline slot the better. Then of course there's the question of the reasons behind such an unexpected reunion, particularly in light of John Squire's artistic statement just two-and-a-half years earlier.
Nevertheless, if money is the motivating factor - unconfirmed rumours suggest the four Roses are being paid a cool million pounds each for the three Heaton Park shows alone - then let's examine their past history. Ripped off by both former label Silvertone and ex-manager Gareth Evans, and an undoubted inspiration for the success of Oasis and the ladrock awfulness that appeared in their wake, maybe it is an appropriate time for them to earn one final pay day. After all, how would you feel if the likes of Kasabian and The Enemy were making a living out of the monster you'd created, no matter how inadvertently? Exactly. Also, the absence of Glastonbury this year has left a mighty hole in June's contribution to the festival season, so the return of The Stone Roses does at least provide something for many perennial Worthy Farm attendees to look forward to. Then of course there's the fact that very few people will have actually seen the 'classic' first album line-up onstage together first time around. Although they did play numerous shows between 1987 and 1989, its fair to say that after The Stone Roses blew up in the summer of '89, they barely performed live again. Indeed even yours truly can boast to having a ticket for their show at Nottingham's (then) Trent Polytechnic in the early part of that year, only for a former girlfriend to inflict me with a bout of glandular fever preventing my attendance. Shameful.
However, 150,000 ticket sales in just under a quarter of one hour kind of justified the demand for their return. Was this going to be a Resurrection or Second Coming, or not quite What The World Was Waiting For? Early indications from the Warrington warm-up suggested a band in good spirits, as did the Barcelona dates a fortnight later. Then of course came THAT infamous Amsterdam incident between Ian Brown and drummer Alan 'Reni' Wren and it seemed all was not rosy in the camp after all. Would the Heaton Park shows take place after all? Well, having returned to the stage at Stockholm's Hultsfredsfestivalen some three nights later, any internal rifts lingering appeared to have been resolved.
So, onto the three shows themselves. Half expecting a supporting cast of either Manchester's finest from the past - Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets both having recently reformed, The Charlatans still being a creative force in their own right - or its quite vibrant present - step forward Wu Lyf, Patterns and The Shinies respectively. It was shoulder shruggingly disappointing to see the likes of Professor Green, Plan B and Beady Eye named among the opening acts across the three nights. While those lucky enough to have secured a spot at Friday's opening night (i.e. DiS) found themselves treated to The Vaccines and Primal Scream, the other two nights looked on paper at least to be something of a genre/demographic mismatch. Or maybe it was a fair representation of The Stone Roses current fanbase after all?
As with every major event of this size there would be teething problems. Minimal catering vendors and a surprising lack of toilet facilities proving inadequate for the 75,000 folks who'd made the pilgrimage to Heaton Park. Fortunately the notorious Manchester rain held off for the duration of the event, even if the wind was to prove a major factor in causing sound issues throughout the evening.
Having arrived onsite too late to catch openers Kid British, DiS finds itself situated in a handy position near the sound desk for The Vaccines' late afternoon slot. Although perhaps under-appreciated by many on these pages, this scribe has developed a particular soft spot for The Vaccines over the past 18 months, and a rabble rousing set including four new songs - 'Teenage Icon' being the pick of the quartet - proves to be the perfect hors d'oeuvre for the main course later. Sadly, it seems several punters disagree, as we're later informed by a couple of photographers from the pit that they spent the first three songs dodging flying bottles of yellow liquid. Eurgh. It's a shame because The Vaccines are simply the best outfit on these shores at what they do; simple, uncomplicated yet abrasive guitar orientated pop.
After 45 minutes of reggae karaoke courtesy of The Wailers, it's left to Primal Scream to liven up proceedings. And how. All dressed in black, the band, led admirably by an insatiably hyperactive Bobby Gillespie launch into their set with a sprawling new song, provisionally entitled '2012'. Lasting almost ten minutes, it's a return to the primitive, krautrock inspired repetition of XTRMNTR if reproduced by Spiritualized, easily surpassing anything from their most recent Beautiful Future period. New bass player Debbie Googe takes up her regular position (to those familiar with My Bloody Valentine) at the back facing the side rather than front of the stage. A furious 'Swastika Eyes' follows, while Screamadelica favourites 'Movin' On Up', 'Loaded' and 'Damaged' engulf a distortion heavy 'Accelerator' in between. While the less attractive likes of 'Country Girl' and 'Jailbird' close the set, it still can't detract from the fact this has to be one of the most visceral, and energetic performances Primal Scream have delivered in a very long time.
And so, the hour is fast approaching that all those present have spent the last eight months patiently waiting for. But first, to dispel a few myths. Yes, there's no doubt The Stone Roses have attracted a modicum of 'lads' among their following down the years, not to mention a high number of caners and wasters more intent on getting off their heads than listening to any music. But if you're honestly telling me that this kind of attitude or behaviour is confined to guitar bands from Manchester then you're either a liar or someone that pays disproportionate attention to detail when attending such events, whatever the location. Saying that, the sight of fat forty-somethings in ponchos and cricket hats selling bottles of poppers at £5 a throw is somewhat hilarious.
Arriving to a pre-gig soundtrack of The Clash ('White Man In Hammersmith Palais', 'Tommy Gun') followed by The Supremes' 'Stoned Love', their entrance is greeted with a mixture of joyous tears and rapturous screams. Bassist 'Mani' Mounfield punches the air, Ian Brown stalking the stage like a leather clad tiger, John Squire looking like he hasn't aged a day since his last public appearance with the band back in 1995, drummer 'Reni' Wren having swapped his customary hat for a floppy bandana. As those first few notes of 'I Wanna Be Adored' resonate from Mani's bass, several thousand spinal chords tingle in unison. From the moment Brown utters the words "I don't have to sell my soul,", 75,000 voices join him in various states of harmony. Sure, question marks prevail about his singing - apparently he's spent the best part of this year undergoing intense vocal coaching - but boy, he has an unshakable presence on stage. Although not note perfect, there's very few obvious mishaps, and even if there were the noise whipped up by the audience that greets every utterance from Brown's lips masks any bum notes.
Not that this is a perfect performance by any means. The introduction to 'Fools Gold' is completely messed up to the point where the song is barely recognisable until halfway through the first verse, Squire's inimitable guitar solo rescuing it in the second half. While the inclusion of 'Something's Burning' in the set may have been greeted with cataclysmic glee by anoraks such as myself, but to many just wanting to hear 'the hits' it's greeted with both silence and a mass exodus to the bar by many of the parka-clad throng. Also, of the 19 songs they do play over the course of their one hour and forty-five minutes set this evening, there are two glaring omissions: early breakthrough 45 'Elephant Stone' and 1990's 'One Love', up to that point the band's biggest selling single. And the much-maligned follow-up to their near flawless debut, 1994's Second Coming, only finds two ('Ten Storey Love Song', 'Love Spreads') of its twelve tracks given an airing here.
That said, there are more unequivocal highs than lows, culminating in an incredible six-song finale that sees 'Love Spreads' segue into 'Made Of Stone' followed by 'This Is The One's puckish grandeur, through to the elegant pop fervour of 'She Bangs The Drums'. When Brown sarcastically dedicates 'Elizabeth My Dear' to "Those down the road, 700 years of parasites", it's met with a round of whoops and applause that literally explode into fits of joy when the first bars of 'I Am The Resurrection' spark up at its conclusion. Precisely ten minutes later, Squire's characteristic looped solo playing the song out, they're gone.
As we leave Heaton Park, someone in front makes a comment about this being the best gig they've ever witnessed. We wouldn't go that far except to say maybe the person in question needs to get out a bit more. Nevertheless, as reunion shows go (and let's be honest, there've been so many these past few years) this is up there with the best of them, which considering DiS walked in fearing a car crash of epic proportions and walked out pleasantly surprised, is no mean feat.
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