The critics ROCK: The Stone Roses: a turn up for the books

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHAT can I say about the Stone Roses at the Cambridge Corn Exchange? Fantastic! Unprecedented! Miraculous! Yes, the band turned up.

This had seemed as likely as a Beatles reunion or something daft like that. After five years' absence from British stages, the Roses cancelled a tour earlier this year when the prospect of actually doing something prompted the departure of their drummer, Alan "Reni" Wren. Their headlining slot at Glastonbury fell through when guitarist John Squire fell off his bike and broke a collarbone. And so, only minutes before showtime last week, we were still half-expecting an announcement that Ian Brown had been eaten by a bison in Corporation Street.

Never mind that last year's The Second Coming (Geffen) was a let-down; the band's eponymous debut album of spring 1989 had them trumpeted as the best rock band since - you guessed it - the Beatles. Seven days may be a long time in politics, but seven years is a short time for forever- smitten fans. The Roses tried to make it seem shorter by beginning with three of their debut's best tracks: "I Wanna Be Adored", "She Bangs the Drums" and "Waterfall". Squire's plangent guitar washed over us, brimming with melody, and we adored them without any difficulty at all.

Next was "Ten Storey Love Song", the only one of the (relatively) new tracks that retains the melodic charms of yore. After that, it's "Breaking into Heaven" (presumably via a Stairway), the first of the Roses' epic, prog-rock numbers. And by no means the last.

It can be only a matter of time before Squire's album-cover paintings are populated by motorcycling thunder gods and blue-skinned Amazons in chain-mail. Reni's replacement, Robbie Maddix, bangs the drums as if he's afraid the microphones aren't working. Squire is a phenomenal, volcanic guitarist, but he makes the classic quality/quantity mix-up. The fans dance wildly to each solo, for the first couple of hours at least, until, like toys that haven't been fitted with Duracell, they run down one by one, and look at each other as if to say, "OK, that's enough, can we have some vocals now?" Then Ian Brown starts singing, and we realise why Squire was reluctant to curtail the fretwork.

It's well known that Brown's vocals stretch the definition of the term "singing", but the encore, "I Am the Resurrection", had easily the worst, most out-of-tune singing I have ever heard, karaoke nights included. His frontman qualifications are confined to his Jim Morrison-patent supercilious gaze and perma-pout. Bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield - and the Roses are one of the few bands around whose bass-lines can prompt a yell of recognition - bobbed and nodded. Squire, with hair like a bearskin helmet that had slipped down over his eyes, concentrated on his playing. What is it about Mancunian bands? The Roses, Oasis, Black Grape ... have all the showmen from the city got together and formed Take That?

Still, the lighting was stylish and original, the new keyboard player, Nigel Ipinson (sporting the Reni memorial hat), sprayed the more overheated songs with boogie woogie piano, and an acoustic section excavated some tunes that had been buried under mounds of instrumentation. The Roses proved that they are still on the Britpop A-list. If they want to top it, they'll have to put in some work, and considering their history, that's not very probable.

Shaggy owes not only his name to a cartoon (his namesake was Scooby Doo's right-paw man), but his last No 1 single too: the quirky, jerky, robo- rhythmed "Boombastic" was chosen as the soundtrack for Levi's recent claymation ad. His previous hit was "In the Summertime", given the toasting (reggae rap) treatment. If any song is less appropriate for a snow-pelted night in west London, I've never heard it.

Fortunately, at the Subterania club on Tuesday, Shaggy was something of a cartoon character himself. Jumping and waving a towel as if pioneering some Jamaican morris dance, he chatted like a cross between a stand-up comic and a Southern preacher. In contrast with the markedly inferior Pato Banton, it's not God's word he preaches, though, but his own unspiritual feminism. "This is the Nineties. If your man doesn't treat you right, tell him to take a hike." Because you don't need a partner to provide some illusory validation? No ... "Because Mr Lover-Lover's in town!"

Shaggy sends himself up after every spurt of flirting, so you shouldn't take him too seriously. Having said that, the girls in the front row kindly keep him warm by rubbing their hands up and down his tracksuit trouser legs. The rest of us were kept warm by his fast-talking persona. Toasting indeed.

Stone Roses: Reading Rivermead (0115 934 2046), Mon; Norwich UEA (01603 764764), Tues; Leeds T&C (0113 244 4600), Wed; Liverpool Royal Court (0151 709 4322), Fri; then touring.

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