After 16 years, they somehow finally got their act together, and it feels like we’re all in the gang together again. Tickets for their UK shows sold out within minutes, shows around Europe are being posted on YouTube, displaying crowds singing along to every word of every song like anthems. Having only produced two albums and then disappeared, this reappearance of the Stone Roses seems both unexpected and long awaited all at once.
The people watching outside the purpose-built venue in Amsterdam, the Heineken Music Hall, was telling in and of itself. Mod haircuts and retro tracksuit jackets and Reni-style bucket hats appeared on faces that were too young to have been alive when the self-titled album came out in 1989 (and that still makes them 23 years old!) as well as on faces that were rougher around the edges and grey on top. There were looks of anticipation and conversations of reminiscence; it was truly an entertaining way to start the night. And once we were inside and waiting for the main event, the soundtrack coming over the impressive sound system was all of acid house and dance tracks from the early 90s, getting us in the mood. We made bets on which song the Stone Roses would open with – we agreed it would be a pretty clever tongue-in-cheek act to open with I Am The Resurrection, but it was clear I Want to Be Adored was the obvious choice – and they didn’t disappoint.
From Mani’s first quiet bass lines to John Squire’s confident guitar strains, the familiar tune sent an explosion of energy through the crowd and, indeed, every word of the song was sung by thousands of people who had been waiting for this moment for so long. Despite the smoking ban in all public buildings, a strong waft of weed truly filled the hall within seconds of the first few bars of the song. People had clearly come prepared to enjoy the Stone Roses as they remember enjoying them a few years back.
One thing that has changed dramatically since their last round of concerts in 1994 is that everyone has their own personal recording devices. Yes, it’s kind of cool that you can take great quality pictures and even film the band playing, and upload it onto Facebook before the concert event ends. But there is something annoying in the number of people standing carefully still with bright little screens in their hands, arms raised and blocking my view, as they record the concert rather than just being in the moment and enjoying the live act before our eyes. I was guilty of it too for the first couple of songs, I have to admit…but after a while I just wanted to experience the concert I had dreamed of being at when I was 18 years old.
Bassist Mani looked a little uncomfortable for the first half of the concert. I had read that the opening concert of the tour in Warrington, England, was impressive, if a little endearing, as all four band members looked nervous at standing in front of such huge crowds for the first time in a long time. Apparently, they picked up quite quickly, and rode on the high of the crowds’ enthusiasm. A similar vibe was in the huge Music Hall here, although I’m not sure if Mani was having to work hard at playing because he had indulged in local Amsterdam wares, or if his bass guitar just looks big on him all the time.
It’s always interesting to see famous faces reappear after being out of the spotlight for a while. For some reason it’s a surprise that they have aged a bit. I somehow expect these young, fresh-faced Manchunians to still look young and fresh-faced. Instead they have the same haircuts – except drummer Reni, who now has impressively long dreadlocks – and a similar style of dress, but they’re now in their 40’s.
That really didn’t seem to matter to guitarist John Squire, who is clearly up there to just play and do his stuff. He pretty much carried the entire show, although Reni’s energy and distinctive drumming was key as well. The Stone Roses wouldn’t be the Stone Roses without Mani’s bass lines and Ian Brown’s poetic lyrics, but the real musicians are Squire and Reni. They gave their all to every song and looked like they’ve been doing this forever…
Whether or not that is the case is hard to say. Author Malcolm Gladwell said in ‘The Tipping Point’ that to master anything it takes 10,000 hours of practice. Apparently one of the reasons The Beatles were so phenomenal is that they already had booked 10,000 hours with their small concerts in Germany and Liverpool before they were even slightly well known, so that by the time they became a household name they had already mastered their art and were capable of pushing new boundaries. I couldn’t help feeling tonight that although the energy and the love was there, this was certainly not a band who have had 10,000 hours together, in the studio or on stage. They have missed out on years of building a synergy and becoming truly great. It’s like they are finally getting to be as big as they had the potential to be 15 years ago…but clearly 15 years has passed! Despite Squire’s confident and colourful guitar playing, the energy overall was a little stayed and there were a few moments where it sounded like an unpracticed mish-mash, where they just missed each other, before Reni would catch them and they would pick up again.
Their setlist focused on the songs from their debut album, rather than the Second Coming, which many fans will agree was a wise choice. Sally Cinnamon was their second song, which was their first LP and actually pre-dated their self-titled album. They followed with Mersey Paradise, getting the many Brits in the hall, and particularly the scousers, on side. A few songs later we found ourselves being teased into a secretly familiar sounding bass and drum combination that worked its way into the addictive beat of Fool’s Gold. I tell you, the boys played this song exactly the way you want it to be, and I rocked it blissfully with an entire crowd who, I had no doubt the whole time, were on the same page as me. It lasted almost 18 minutes and it was the high point of the night, Squire and Reni bringing it to a climax more than once and then continuing to roll along Mani’s relentless bass. It ended in an explosion and at that moment I turned to the cameraman who was filming in the crowd and said into the lens eye “welcome back!”.
I recently watched a documentary on the short rise and sudden fall of the Stone Roses, called ‘Blood on the Turntable’. It points an unashamedly accusing finger at the band’s manager Gareth Evans, a crook with the banter of a caricature second hand car salesman, for embezzling money, signing the band’s rights away on highly questionable contracts, and basically suffocating any chance of success. One does have to wonder at their naivety for signing up with him in the first place, but then, they were the fresh-faced kids from Mersey Side…Fools Gold could be the title of their career.
It did seem, though, that they have found the gold nugget now in this reinvention and in the loyal enthusiasm in the crowd. The Stone Roses and their contemporaries like the Happy Mondays and The La’s, never made it as big in some European countries or in North America as they did in Britain and Australia, but to those of us who know them, they are the originators of the Britpop wave that produced Blur, Pulp and Oasis. Now that it’s long enough ago to be retro, it seems the Stone Roses may have hit on the right timing to fulfill on the promise of greatness that they never fulfilled in the 1990s. There were plenty of British faces and voices in the crowd able to sing all the lyrics who had most likely flown across the channel to make this concert, given that the tickets in the UK sold out so quickly, and a new generation of followers are ready to join the ranks. We were all in the palms of their hand tonight, lapping up all of it…at least, for most of the concert.
As they moved into some of the songs from The Second Coming, Ian Brown and Reni struggled to find one key to sing in. They couldn’t match each other to the extent that Ten Storey Love Song actually became painful to listen to. Thankfully, the music was just plain enjoyable, but it was clear they were having trouble hearing eachother. It may have been a technical problem as Brown kept signalling to the sound desk and to someone off stage to make adjustments, and kept talking to Reni between songs. They managed to improve for a fantastic rendition of This is The One (the crowd jumping up and down as we sang along “this is the one I’ve waited for…” Oh you have no idea, Mr Brown!) but Reni was clearly irritated.
So much so that after we got a good old guitar banging and sing-along to Love Spreads, and the band left the stage one by one to wildly grateful cheers, and Ian Brown encouraged us to really make a noise if we wanted them to come back…they didn’t. After about 5 minutes, the expectation growing – clearly NOW was the time to play I Am the Resurrection, as an encore – Brown came back alone and simply told us that the drummer had left. “Seriously, he’s gone home. Go on, boo him! The drummer’s a c*nt.”
And that was it. We were left dumbfounded. In fact, we were in disbelief. People started to leave but we were convinced it was all part of the act, and we just needed to keep cheering and stick around and we’d be treated to the encore we’d been waiting for since 1994. But it never came. That really was it.
I have to say, it was a stinker of a way to end a concert that had had such a build up. We were fans returning after more than a decade, we had paid 55 of those falling-in-value euros for the pleasure, we had sung along to every word of every song, we had rocked it out with the gang like the old days, we had even forgiven the out of key singing…and then they just left us.
If it was an attempt to pull a rock ‘n’ roll attitude thing, or carry on in the style of Oasis’ Liam Gallagher, I’m sorry but Liam out-arseholed you back then and it doesn’t sit well with the fans who have come back to you to be left in the dark – or in fact in the fluorescent light of the rapidly emptying Music Hall. It was a disappointing and somewhat bitter end to a concert that had raised our hopes and had made us wonder what’s coming next.
I really hope that it isn’t a repeat of their disappearing act in the 1990s. I really hope this isn’t a sign that, in fact, they are and always will be the band that could have been really big and just never quite made it. But maybe it will stay at one truly great album, one less-celebrated one, and short-lived comeback. We will just have to wait and see if they do get around to the ‘Resurrection’ and to creating something new.