Stereophonics, Shepherds Bush Empire, London


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The Independent Culture

You would think Kelly Jones would have to more to say at his first gigs in a year, yet, true to form, half an hour passes before he can muster a simple “Here’s one for ya.”

Then again, his connection with Stereophonics fans lies deeper than mere repartee. They have come out in force for a three-night stint here that represents something of a Christmas gift, given that the foursome have been off the radar for most of 2011.

Jones surfaced recently to record a tribute to Wales’ deceased national football team manager Gary Speed, a take on ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ that has been received more positively than his band’s last album, 2009’s solid if uncompelling Keep Calm And Carry On – their first since the band’s debut not to top the UK charts. Currently between labels, to coin a phrase, the band have otherwise been shaping new material both in Brussels and at their new studio round the corner.

No sign of that tonight, as Jones’ guttural howl comfortably fills the venue, the band content to chug away anonymously beside him, apart from the odd perfunctory solo from guitarist Adam Zindani. The singer’s bellowing delivery links the many genres Stereophonics have adopted over nearly two decades, from plodding acoustic ballads to full-on headbangers. Mainly, they rely on trusted indie rock, usually reduced to straightforward terrace chants that even Noel Gallagher would find gamine. The crowd, though, lap them up, in full voice from the second number, forceful early single ‘A Thousand Trees’, and continuing even through such rousing obscurities as ‘Last Of The Big Time Drinkers’.

Over an hour and three quarters, there are plenty of moments when the band show their limitations. They fail to disguise Jones’ clumsy, petty sniping on the likes of ‘Superman’ and ‘Mr Writer’ (admittedly a catchy tune). More grating still is the banal picture postcard of ‘Have A Nice Day’. Still, Jones has regularly shown a sure demotic touch over the years, best appreciated in those anthems for the disaffected ‘Pick A Part That’s New’ and ‘Just Looking’. There are, though, two clear highlights: the sharp-focused depiction of small town grief in ‘Local Boy In A Photograph’ and the surging ‘Dakota’, its glittering melody shining through despite tonight’s grungy guitars and thunderous drums. The audience’s contribution is about the loudest I have heard here or at any London venue.