Rock & Pop: Pleased to meet you ... again

The Rolling Stones Murrayfield, Edinburgh Gay Dad: Leisure Noise London Records Geri Halliwell: Schizophonic EMI
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The Independent Culture
The Rolling Stones' ice-rink-sized stage is flanked by golden pillars, and these are decorated in what is, I imagine, a Babylonian sort of way, in honour of 1997's Bridges To Babylon album. To complete the theme, a bridge pokes out from under the stage an hour into the show, and extends like a fire-engine's ladder to a square platform in the middle of the stadium. The Stones bound across to this life-raft in the sea of heads to play a couple of songs.

There. Not the most mouth-watering opening to a concert review, but the trouble with the Rolling Stones is that there's nothing new to say about them. Friday's show in Edinburgh was their first in the UK for four years, but all that really changes from tour to tour is the stage sets. I could comment on how spectacular it all was, from the strobing images on the circular video screen during "Satisfaction" to the confetti blizzard and the fireworks display with "Brown Sugar". But you'd expect nothing less. I could make the old jokes about how old the band are: Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both 55 and Charlie Watts, who has just turned 58, could pass for Wilfrid Brambell in Steptoe and Son. But people have been sneering about the Stones' age for decades.

The only new thing to say about the Stones is that yes, they're still going - but I suppose that in itself is quite an achievement. The bands who have been touted to replace them, from Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses to the Black Crowes and Primal Scream, haven't been up to the job. But the Stones, after rolling for an unprecedented three-and-a-half decades, are still delivering the goods.

Richards may resemble Godzilla dressed up as a pirate, but by God he looks cool with it. Watch him slouch from one pose to the next and it's obvious that the older he gets, the more rock'n'roll he gets. Jagger, on the other hand, never gets any older. He was almost continuously peeling off layers of clothing during the concert, so we could see quite clearly that there was no excess fat anywhere in his body, lips excepted. And it's understandable. He strutted, jumped, danced, writhed, skipped and jogged non-stop for more than two hours. He is the most shameless, tireless performer alive, as many a dusky European fashion model will attest.

What is just as miraculous is that the music is just as young and vigorous. The computer hasn't been built that can calculate how often the Stones have played "Paint It Black", "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Sympathy for the Devil", but the songs still have a rough, grungy vitality. The usual supporting cast of pianists, brass players and backing singers fill out the sound without smoothing off the edges. On Friday, the music was as gnarled, leathery and cool as Richards; as lean, energetic and professional as Jagger.

It's customary at this point in a Rolling Stones review to quote the first refrain Jagger and Richards wrote together, "This could be the last time"; so here we go. If the Stones were to tour again, the Sixties survivors would be in their sixties, so maybe this is the last time. But if I had to bet which band would be around a decade from now, I'd go for the Stones over almost any other. And if I had to bet which band would be putting on the most enthusiastic shows in 2009, I'd go for the Stones again. Maybe we should finish by quoting "Time is on my side" instead.

It would hardly be fair to review any other concerts after that, so let's look at a couple of albums. The first is the debut from Gay Dad, a band whose promotional campaign has been so ubiquitous that Paperchase's poster designers have parodied it for their "Straight Dad" Father's Day window displays. This does not put Gay Dad in an enviable position. When hype builds to such a level, you don't have to live up to it as much as live it down. Leisure Noise (London) almost does both.

It's a bright, assured, deftly played rock record; if anything, it's too honed for its own good. (Some of the songs have apparently been polished for several years, and in the process the band's identity has been all but wiped off.) The slam-bang glam pastiche of the first two singles, "To Earth with love" and "Joy!", continues on several other tracks, but journalist-turned-singer Cliff Jones has grander ambitions than merely to fill his heroes' stack-heeled shoes. Partly this means that he copies various other Seventies and Eighties pop sources besides Roxy Music. But partly it means that he reveals his more poetic, less flashy side, too. Leisure Noise is still too referential to allow you to make much of an emotional connection with it, but it is intriguing and unusual, and you'd be just as foolish to be put off by the hype as to believe it.

Speaking of hype ... Schizophonic (EMI) is the first solo album by former Spice Girl, UN ambassador and game-show dolly Geri Halliwell. As the rather groovy title would suggest, it has a split musical personality. There are soft-focus ballads, smoky torch songs, a flamenco track, some Britpop, some disco, and all the other stuff Halliwell was already doing in her old group. But - and here comes the controversial bit - she does it more convincingly than they ever did. Thanks to her producers, Paul Wilson and Andy Watkins, Schizophonic is considerably more sophisticated and more obviously packed with hits than either of the Spice Girls' albums. Given that the lyrics are self-obsessed psychobabble and that the last track, "You're In a Bubble", appears to be a mean, unprovoked attack on the friends she walked out on, it's tempting to crown Halliwell the New Robbie Williams. However, she is not the natural entertainer he is - and she is certainly not the vocalist. The best that can be said for her horribly weak voice is that it might pass muster if four other women were singing along.

The Rolling Stones: Sheffield Don Valley Stadium (0114 291 9392), tonight; Wembley Stadium (0181 242 9595), Fri & Sat