It was billed as Manchester’s Woodstock and there was a festival feel to this long-awaited comeback from one of the 1990s most revered bands. There was mud, a chronic shortage of toilets and a refreshing dose of that decade’s hedonistic brand of excess. There was also a glowering sky but the long-feared rain failed to make an appearance.
But it would be wrong to say this was a nostalgia trip for school-run dad and yummy mummy, what with the Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, spotted lurking backstage. Still the prevailing demographic was 30-plus. The Roses sauntered on stage and there was a brief, tense wait before lead singer Ian Brown welcomed the 70,000 faithful stretching back into the long, bleak field. “Here we are… here we go,” he said before launching into “I Want To Be Adored”.
It was a football-crowd response so it took until the second track before we could hear Brown and his unique vocal talents at work. It is fair to say that the Roses’ frontman would not win The Voice in the unlikely event he should chose to take part.
He probably wouldn’t win a karaoke contest in a midweek pub even if he was the only contestant. But he has got attitude. All cheekbones, leather jacket and jeans half-way down his backside, Brown embodies the swagger of the age.
Yet while Damien Hirst might have described the band in the programme notes as “more important than Picasso”, Pablo could paint. Musically, the Roses were always considered a bit tasty on their instruments, although they were never exactly Weather Report and tonight there was plenty of noodling from John Squire and dancing bass from Mani.
It was very nice in places almost justifying Brown’s assertion that “as you see, we’ve still got it” – a comment which preceded the Brown-Squires hug that would once have been unthinkable.
“Fool’s Gold” was offered up as a jam with Squire carving “Day Tripper” into proceedings before the action gave way to a fractal display. The void between the Roses’ best material – their Mancunian anthems, as described by Brown – and their lesser work is large. “Waterfall” was, if anything, even grumblier than anything that had preceded it, the “down, down down” almost swallowed and inaudible.
But Brown warmed up some in “Love Comes Around”, ditching the bomber and even treating the audience to a spirited rap. They concluded with “I Am The Resurrection” and no encore. It seems Stone Roses tours are available in the city now. The first stopping off point is a building in the Northern Quarter still bearing remnants of the band’s 1983 campaign to get gigs.
Then the council sought to have them banned. Today, they throw open the gates of their finest park and lay on a park and ride. It is fitting that the city recognises the contribution of this moment and the cultural forces which helped fuel its renaissance.
A lot of people won’t agree but last night was all about the occasion.