The Second Coming? The Stone Roses @ Heaton Park, Friday 29/06/12
Bands reforming, eh? The last refuge of the scoundrel, or a legitimate chance for fans to see their favourite band, or one last big payday for the musicians involved? All of the above probably. The Stone Roses reformation has undoubtedly been something different to what Julian Cope once memorably described as “The Chicken in the Bunnymen circuit”, and the near-hysterical anticipation has been building steadily since record-busting ticket sales last October and the swaggering press conference that announced the burying of Manc hatchets.
But could they deliver? Judging by the multi-generational crowd at Heaton Park in Manchester for their first major show in the UK since 1996, expectations are high. So high that I fear for them, really. How can they possibly live up to all this hype? Can the personalities that led to one of the most acrimonious splits in rock history hold it together in front of 100,000 people? Are they just in this for a big payday and about to deliver a passionless set that will forever desecrate our joyous memories of the Roses in their pomp? Add all this to well documented question marks over Ian Brown’s abilities as a singer and the fragile nature of the band’s relationships and I do wonder about this show to be honest.
Getting into Heaton Park at about 5.00 pm on Friday 29th June I caught a valiant set from The Vaccines which was generally well received; and led me on to a train of thought which had them headlining their own revival show some time in 2032. You can tell I needed a drink. Compared to the legendary chaos and lack of facilities of the Stone Roses’ Spike Island happening, this event ticked all the boxes for available refreshment, merchandising and stewarding. Things would get a bit fraught in the beer tent later on, and there were severe bottlenecks leaving the event, but it was clear that planning had been carried out to a just-about-adequate standard. I’d been fearing a typical Mancunian downpour all day, but in the end all we got were a few squally showers that failed to dampen the spirits of a crowd that was, to use the parlance of 90’s Manchester, ‘Mad fer it’. An over-long and non-descript Reggae song from the Wailers threatened to get the Wailers set off on the wrong foot, before they eventually decided to play ball and give the crowd what they wanted and play lots of Bob Marley songs. After half an hour or so of lusty Bob Marley karaoke, the crowd was just about bouncing with excitement. Primal Scream‘s run through of their hits ratchets up the intensity another notch until, at just after 9.00 PM the Roses appear in the nick of time before this crowd spontaneously combust.
Now, I’ve been to lots of gigs were the crowd sing along, but what’s clear about 3 seconds into ‘I wanna be adored’ is that the crowd are singing along to the guitar parts. Some are also singing the bass lines. Everybody in this crowd knows and loves every note of this music. Despite his vocal limitations, Brown does what is expected of him, doesn’t reach for any notes and plays the crowd for all he’s worth. It’s hard to avoid words like shamanic when you see him move around the stage, lost in the music and his own belief in this band. If you hate him or think he’s a shit singer then that’s up to you but everyone here wants to be him. If that’s what Brown brings to the party then the rest of the band are each remarkable in their own right: Squire’s distinctive and almost beautiful blues-tinted riffs, the sonic equivalent of the Jackson Pollock colours he sprayed all over the roses artwork. Mani a 70’s footballer pub rock geezer who looks like he’s had way too many late nights on tour over the last twenty years with the Roses and Primal Scream, driving the songs along. But perhaps the real star of this band is the drummer, Reni. He’s funky, he’s heavy, he’s relentless but never over-fussy. I’ve never found myself playing air drums before and I was mildly embarrassed.
Brown is often credited with inspiring Liam Gallagher‘s stage act, but there’s really no comparison. Where Liam stands stock still, Brown is looser; karate chopping and pimp rolling around the stage. He’s constantly diving into the crowd for contact and love, shaking his percussive devices and gurning the celebrated monkey face to the front row. In short he’s an extrovert to Liam’s introvert.
The set mainly comprises of the first album, a couple of the stronger songs from the notorious ‘Second coming’ album, a couple of B-sides and songs I didn’t recognise that I’m presuming to be new. My guess is that playing too many songs from their second album would remind them of the bad vibes that led to their 1996 implosion. There’s a ten minute version of ‘Fools’ gold’ that causes some furious 90’s dance moves out in the crowd and doesn’t feel over-long. Brown mutters “Yeah, we’ve still got it” seemingly as much to himself as the crowd; He’s basically had two types of review over the last twenty years: derision or hero-worship, and that must be hard to mentally process.
I’ve been to enough of these reformation shows to expect a bit of a lull in energy at some point, but here it never really comes and before I know it we’re almost two hours in, throats hoarse with singalong euphoria. With almost self-parodying confidence, Brown announces that we are about to be treated to “four absolute Manc anthems” to end the show. For the record, ‘Made of stone’ then becomes only the second time in my long gig-attending life that I have completely lost track of who I was or where I was and just got lost in the sheer life-affirming joy of it all; and the other one was Madness when I was 13 and considerably less cynical than I am now. Brown takes time out to rail against the monarchy and “people 200 miles away celebrating 60 years of tyranny” before singing the incendiary call to assassinate the queen that is ‘Elisabeth my dear’. After ‘This is the one’, there is an inevitability that we are about to finish with ‘I am the resurrection‘, with its showcase of the band’s constituent parts in the closing jam. One thirty-something geezer near me is looking stage-ward and simply repeating the words ‘Thank you’ to the band. Arguably the most touching moment of the night comes when the once-divided band of brothers embrace each other with genuine warmth before trouping off stage. No encores, the Roses never did encores, but a firework display lights up the sky to the sound of Bob Marley singing ‘Redemption song’. Never mind the album, this was ‘The second coming‘.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.