Pop Live: Madchester united in the mire

HAPPY MONDAYS

BRIXTON ACADEMY

LONDON

DEBAUCHED, BOORISH, and up for a good time all the time, the Happy Mondays were the cream of Madchester. Legend has it that they bought most of their equipment with the proceeds of ecstasy sales at the Hacienda club, and frontman Shaun Ryder - think Andy Capp on smack - personified the anti new-man stance on which Loaded magazine was founded.

While it tended to be the drug cocktails and the Jacuzzi shots with page- three stunnas which made the papers, the music was often as special as Ryder's rants were quotable. By simply doing what came naturally, The Mondays forged an innovative, funky and irreverent sound which reached its commercial zenith on their much lauded 1990 album Pills `N' Thrills And Bellyaches.

Given that this reunion tour - six years after they fizzled to a drug- fugged halt - was inspired by tax bill demands rather than a love of treading the boards, some had predicted a rock'n'roll pantomime. Others had praised the band's honesty about their motives, and seemed glad to grant them one last blag at everybody else's expense.

When the curtain came up at the Academy, they were greeted like pop's lost saviours, and the crowd began dancing en masse. The dilated pupils of the couple to my right confirmed that although The Mondays might have curtailed their class A intake, their audience has not.

The PA mix was extremely muddy. Bass-player Paul Ryder might as well have been playing a tractor tyre inner-tube, and his brother Shaun's lyrics were often reduced to an indistinct rumble. Visually, they were better value for money. Buxom backing-vocalist Rowenta lashed playfully at the front row with her whip, while Bez, the band's maraca-wielding mascot, soon dispensed with his top hat and cane and began his trademark freaky dancing. Bez is undoubtedly the dynamo that lights up the Monday's on- stage party.

We got "Hallelujah", "Kinky Afro" and "Step On". Through the mire, the beats and tunes still sounded vital, but at times you felt like you were watching a tribute band or a high-powered karaoke night. In between songs Ryder came on like he had Tourette's, "fookin" his way through a selection of slurred rants and insults. He mumbled something about Elvis, then we got a verse and a chorus of "Suspicious Minds". It didn't work.

This was a somewhat slap-dash performance which relied on former glories. The autocues for lyrics suggested that rehearsal time had been minimal, and I think most of us could have done without Ryder's paedophile joke (I'll spare you the details). They might be great when their straight, but when they're strapped? Nah.

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