Stereophonics, Electric Brixton, London
This brand of dirge-rock can feel like being drenched in cheap lager at the end of a Rod Stewart tribute night
Tuesday 05 March 2013
The rock survivors, who have stubbornly outlived the likes of Shed Seven, Supergrass, Oasis, hit their commercial and critical peak in 2006 with the punk-fuelled, Queens of the Stone Age-like number one "Dakota". The pulsating track, from Language. Sex. Violence. Other?, is the highlight of this patchy experience.
The Welsh outfit will forever be associated with the late 1990s: the fag-end of Britpop, soundtracking The Office, the egregiously addictive "Have a Nice Day" (which is oddly absent tonight), their pretty singer-songwriter Kelly Jones duetting with the likes of Rod Stewart, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and so on...
The gravel-throated Jones and his late thirtysomething cohorts are showcasing their moderately more robust, ever so slightly more grown-up new album, Graffiti on the Train, released on their own label, Stylus Records, at an intimate venue where everyone appears to recognise each other. Jones certainly doesn't deem it necessary to connect with his adoring, raucous (one stranger pinches my bottom) punters with between song chatter. On the rare occasions he does, he's incomprehensible.
The word "cinematic" has been bandied about quite a bit in connection with their new, more solemn record and tracks such as "Graffiti on the Train" and standout number "Violins and Tambourines" (with the mordant lyric "Looking out the window/ Staring at the road/ Doesn't really matter/ Which way to go/ Everything is changing") certainly feel more epic in scale. But they're hardly Muse.
What they are is an indisputably well-oiled, technically proficient act with an accomplished lead singer. You can easily imagine the Stereophonics wowing a summer festival crowd, anywhere in the world, for a one-hour set. However, at their grimmest, the quartet's brand of dirge-rock can feel like being drenched in cheap lager at the end of a Rod Stewart tribute night. More often than not they're lyrically crass (witness new song "Indian Summer"), charisma-free and soulless.
However, the Stereophonics are redeemed by some deliciously anthemic pop-rock tracks such as "Maybe Tomorrow", crowd favourite "Just Looking" and, best of all, 1998's evocative "Local Boy in the Photograph".
After a generous set dominated by tracks from the new record, the Stereophonics deliver a forceful four-song encore, which includes two tracks from their debut album, Word Gets Around, "Billy Davey's Daughter" (which sounds like an Oasis B-side) and their beery chant-along "Traffic". They end with far and away their best live song, "Dakota", on which Jones wails "I don't where we are going now?" They don't appear to be going away anytime soon.
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