Something to address before we proceed. When selling tickets for legendary, and most likely miraculously reformed bands from Britain, the touring English backpacker should be forbade from purchasing tickets until we Orstralians have had our fill. Then and only then should they be permitted to pick at the scraps or hunt for the precious gig passports on Gumtree. Sit on the beaches, drink in the pubs, hit on our ladies (or men) if you must, but go see your own bands on your own turf.
Strange accents from John O’Groats to Land’s End were in the air then amongst this trembling throng of 200000 tourists and several locals, all vibrating in anticipation of what they hoped would be the equivalent of a Catholic grandma spotting tears running down the face of a Virgin Mary statue in a bathroom in New Jersey.
In rock mythology, Oasis are still relegated to a distant second behind the Roses. Pulp, Primal Scream and Blur don’t really cut it. The Stone Roses were the monsters of pre-Brit-pop pop. The band who, with a lot of hubris but no common sense booked an island for a gig. The anarchists who communicated with an uncommunicative label boss by throwing paint over everything he owned, including his face. (An early work of the Jackson Pollock-inspired guitarist John Squire.) The Roses reputation was larger than life and like most oversized entities it blew up in their faces. The follow up to the stunning 1989 debut album was almost insultingly late, of dubious quality and ultimately led to the official dissolution of proceedings in 1996.
How long can feuds last? Often they’re never resolved; Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, Stalin and Trotsky, Tupac and Biggie, but we can estimate now that rock bands will average 12 to 15 years of sniping and denials of any possible rapprochement, before the bitch fights gradually dissolve into the past, and the former insults no longer carry their original heft. This lot, they’ve left it longer than most but, Madchester’s resurrected and reconnected deities, are here in unlikely collusion again. The band that artist Damien Hirst described (with a straight face) as “better than Picasso” are going at it again. But what sort of Stone Roses were we to witness? Some terrible apparition of the early nineties, gasping their way through music now consigned to history and “best album” lists? A listless, half-interested money-making machine?
It was hot. Faint and fall over hot. “I’ll try and use my driver’s license as a fan” hot. There are gigantic ducts running along the roof of the venue but they do fuck all. Perhaps they pump in heated air from outside
You hoped against hope then that the band would distract you. They did, of course, and I’m not sure there was ever doubt. Swaggering onstage with the lazy gait subsequently plagiarised by Liam Gallagher, Ian Brown applauded us for showing up as proceedings are ignited by the slow burn of Mani’s bass riff on’ I Wanna Be Adored’. Song one, side one of an album voted by critics and musicians in The Observer in 2004 as the greatest ever. A little hyperbolic –a few songs don’t really cut it – but in any case the band do come weaponised with some pretty outstanding tunes.
Now it’s a well known fact that nobody in the Stone Roses can sing, especially their singer. Brown’s pitching was hit and miss – mostly passable, occasionally laughable, but it didn’t matter because in a sense it was the audience who were the providers of choruses, participants and stars in their own right, and Brown was sometimes merely the conductor And these are some of the greatest choruses in pop history. Never in this terrible room I’d guess has a crowd exercised their voices so wonderfully in unison; 'Made of Stone', 'Ten Storey Love Song', 'She Bangs the Drum'. Roof-lifters the lot of them.
The success of the Stone Roses, the sound, the melodies, the arrangements, the arrogance can be attributed to the extraordinary John Squire. (The other members provided the trimmings: some attitude and presence; a strong enough image to invent Oasis.) It’s incredible to think Squire quit playing the guitar altogether in 2007 because he wanted to concentrate on his painting. One of his lesser … let’s say crap, artworks is a chunk of iron with the following decree scrawled on it: “I have no desire to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses”. In other words a reunion wasn’t pencilled in his diary for 2009 or any year beyond. In an interview he said, "When it's just a get-together for a big payday and everyone gets their old clothes out, that seems tragic to me."
Whatever backroom negotiations and reparations of broken love it might have taken for this tour to happen, desecration is not how you’d describe the vibe of this reformation. It takes more than personal equanimity to succeed with these comeback tours. It requires genuine affection within the band and The Stone Roses, unlikely as it sounds, are clearly enjoying each other’s company.
Squire’s guitar spot-welds Jimmy Page’s sex-soaked Led Zep riffs onto Nile Rodgers’ sprung-loaded funk. 'Love Spreads', one of the few standout tracks from the problematic sophomore (I’ve always wanted to say that) album The Second Coming, steams in with a slide blues riff which is classic Page, built on a modified 12-bar blues, but reconfigured in order to intersect with a northern English pop sensibility. (Squire and Page have over the years formed, inevitably, a mutual admiration.) The extended lead break in the finale, 'I Am the Resurrection' feels like it might segue into ‘Le Freak’ or maybe ‘Black Dog’. With Mani’s pulsating bass lines and Reni’s nonchalant funkadelic beats locked together, the Roses create a kind of dance music which makes the prospect of a twenty-minute song an uncommonly attractive proposition.
With rumours of a new record gaining traction there’s the tantalising prospect of some new music to be created, something with more coherence and concentration than The Second Coming and more reminiscent of the self-titled debut. Tonight, the evidence of four guys who seem to actually love each other and love playing gave us reason to get our hopes up.