This is the Stereophonics gig review which promoters Ticketmaster declined to publish.
Two years on from the duet of Hammersmith memorial concerts dedicated to former drummer Stuart Cable and you get the feeling there’s still a ghost on stage with the current Stereophonics line-up. True, the opener – “Catacomb” – is a reminder to a now aging audience that there was a new album out this year, but with a swift follow up of “Local Boy in the Photograph” (the most live-played track by the semi-Welsh group) you feel the guys might not be comfortable getting on with the set until they’ve tipped a nod.
The LG Arena gig at the NEC last week was the 10th concert in a 16 gig UK & Ireland arena tour to promote the “Graffiti on a Train” album released in March and it’s fair to say, that’s exactly what it felt like. Although you can’t knock the work ethic of a band that have barely stopped for a breather in the best part of two decades (2006 being the only year since 1996 without live appearances – resulting in the solo album debut of Kelly Jones – “Only the names have been changed”), there was a discernible lack of magic from the group which inevitably comes from playing the same set list night after night.
So what went wrong? Kitty Daisy & Lewis, the kooky family act from Durham started the proceedings with a botched attempt to warm up a bemused audience with a six song set that failed to nail any musical genre comprehensively. More seriously, 2 songs into the 24 song, 2 hour rock marathon, it was obvious something was wrong with the sound mix rendering some Stereophonics classics, like “A Thousand Trees”, frankly a little irritating. One can assume, I guess, generating acceptable facsimiles of tracks from a substantial back catalogue incorporating an array of styles, is never easy; but there were one too many disappointments for the average fan to be satisfied. Near-double-speed renditions of “More life in a tramp’s vest” and “The bartender and the thief” generate an impression the group were more eager to get the ‘must have’ staples out of the way and done with than is polite. A disturbing lack of female backing singer support on “Las Vegas two times” and a keyboard fail on their final encore track, “Dakota”, completed the lacklustre performance.
Did I say, lacklustre? Hmm – hard to put a nail on it really. Pint size front man, Kelly Jones, never disappoints in my humble opinion; his voice, if anything, is improved since Hammersmith in 2010. Indeed, with a little work on his keyboard skills, one can imagine him making a decent pension from Las Vegas cabaret in his twilight years. Two other issues, however, need to be addressed. In a group that have had more line-up changes than average, it was good to see Jamie Morrison providing a percussion service worthy of the group. It must be said, however, Richard Jones on bass and Adam Zindani on guitar simply lack the skill you would expect at this level. With self-indulgent performances demonstrating less technical ability than, say, Dave Grohl or Paul Weller possess in their little toe (by Jones’ own admission – “Indian Summer”, for example, merely requires the mastery of 4 notes), you can’t help thinking a fresh injection of axe-talent and (dare I say it) even an unsullied perspective on writing, would keep the band successful for another couple of decades.
The show is pretty much all about Kelly – and why not? He’s the one reliable constant and an engaging raconteur to boot. With supporting guitarists worthy of adoration from a new generation of younger fans, Stereophonics may just solve their other major dilemma – an audience so senior in years, the stage crew should consider erecting windbreaks in the mosh pit. Yes. The audience were to blame too. Even if many had bought this year’s album, few had revised it and instead of complimenting more recent tracks with disturbing video vignettes of relationship breakdowns, perhaps a good old-fashioned visual of lyrics complete with a bouncy ball cursor (karaoke style) would have encouraged more participation. Indeed, the release of oversized balloons into the audience to accompany “Indian Summer” suggested organisers were trying to compensate any fans who had missed a potentially more enjoyable bingo session in favour of the event. A pleasing light show didn’t make up for the sound quality and I left the arena feeling sorry for Kelly. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone.
Richard Jones demonstrates his prowess on the bass – how to play “Indian Summer” with the simple mastery of 4 notes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0HRI-XVP5g
Catacomb, Local Boy in the Photograph, Superman, Graffiti on the Train, We Share the Same Sun, A Thousand Trees, More Life in a Tramp’s Vest, Maybe Tomorrow, I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio, Vegas Two Times, Bank Holiday Monday, Mr Writer, In a Moment, Indian Summer, Have a Nice Day, Roll the Dice, Violins and Tambourines, Been Caught Cheating, Traffic, The Bartender and the Thief.
I Stopped to Fill My Car Up, Just Looking, Handbags and Gladrags, Dakota