Stereophonics, Wembley Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

Eleven years ago, Stereophonics were the support band you couldn't miss. When the Welsh three-piece opened for The Who at Earls Court in December 1996, their yet-to-be-released first single "Local Boy in the Photograph" married Kelly Jones' raspy vocals to a wistful, impressionistic lyric and a soaring guitar melody.

Too late for Britpop, and the antithesis of Cool Britannia, Jones and co became unlikely chart-toppers through sheer determination, hard graft and a knack for writing insidious songs with everyman lyrics. A people's band, you might say, and those twenty-something fans are out in force for this arena tour, even if not too many have bought the back-to-basics Pull the Pin, the sixth Stereophonics studio album.

Recent download single and set opener "Bank Holiday Monday" has Jones sneering like Liam Gallagher over a taut guitar riff, but the crowd only gets jumping with "The Bartender and the Thief" – including a nod to Motörhead's "Ace of Spades" – and "A Thousand Trees", songs they know from the Chris Moyles show.

Two things are already apparent. Javier Weyler, the South American musician who replaced original member Stuart Cable in 2004, is a dynamo drummer, but otherwise very little has changed in 10 years. Despite working with seasoned professionals like the mighty Tom Jones, headlining the Millennium Stadium and playing Live 8, Stereophonics have acquired very little in the way of stagecraft.

After Jones' well-documented recent brush with a bouncer, his right arm seems perfectly fine as he blasts his way through the grunge psychedelia of "My Friends". They have Noel Gallagher's knack for borrowing elements from rock's illustrious past, and Weyler is arguably as good as Zak Starkey is with Oasis – and let's not forget he also drums with The Who – but too many chugging riffs – "I Could Lose Ya" – turn this meat-and-potatoes group into very thin gruel indeed.

Status Quo and the Ramones made a virtue and a career out of minimalism, and Stereophonics are occasionally reminiscent of both, most notably with the very punky "Deadhead", which is a real blast. But when Jones busks his way through a medley of "Hurry Up And Wait"/"Have A Nice Day"/"Traffic"/"Maybe Tomorrow", it only serves to expose his limitations as a lyricist further. Pull the Pin? More like pull the plug.



Touring to 29 November (www.stereophonics.com)

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