“We came from the independent sector, and we rose.” These were the words I found myself saying out loud amongst a crowd of people shortly after sniffing a line of an unspecified white powder, shortly before The Stone Roses took to the stage on the third and final of their 3 sold out shows at Heaton Park.
Naturally, I had been quite excited about this gig for some time – the tickets were first bought around 250 days prior. It meant that the question, “Are you looking forward to it?” on the day before the gig hardly merited an answer. I had been “looking forward to it” for about 2 thirds of a year, so on the day before, of course I was in a mild state of euphoria about the event which was now just hours away.
The powder which a random bloke in the crowd had presented me with seemed to have little other effect than possibly to just calm my nerves slightly, and even this might have been a placebo effect. I’m not sure if I even snorted up much of the stuff – it was more of a hesitant “smell” of it, rather than a sniff. But calming was definitely what was required. I had feared that I might cry at some stage during the performance, and to my relief this didn’t happen.
Instead, I have to admit to finding myself feeling slightly underwhelmed. People say of their heroes that they’d be happy to hear them simply reading the phone book, and this was perfectly true in my case – just to see the band on stage was sufficient to fulfil my own happiness quotient. But while friends around me seemed to be jumping around in delight, I was quite content to remain fairly static and just watch. Perhaps I’m showing my age. But as someone who has owned the debut album for a little over 23 years and has listened to it endlessly, I feel no need to prove my adoration for it by jumping around and singing all the words that I’d learned from lyric websites.
It certainly is true that Stone Roses lyrics were never the easiest to learn, perhaps due to Ian’s vocals being slightly soft in the mix. And there were songs that I certainly did not know the lyrics to, particularly songs like “Where Angels Play”, which as it was a b-side to a single I never got around to buying, I never got around to bothering to learn the lyrics. I think I know just about all the words to “Second Coming” as the vocals are much clearer on this record, but only two songs were played from this album in the Heaton Park set.
Fans who went to see them at Heaton Park more than once were probably disappointed that they didn’t vary the set list as they had done on earlier dates in Europe. I suppose with there being so much pressure on them to impress at these gigs, the added burden of including more songs might have added unnecessarily to this pressure. Reports do indicate however that Sunday was the best performance of the three nights however.
But what exactly does that mean anyway? Many people talk about how great a bassist Mani is, how wonderful a guitarist John is, what a mean drummer Mani is, but I honestly think anyone who bothers to comment on the proficiency of The Stone Roses as musicians is entirely missing the point. If you want to see proficient musicians do their thing proficiently, go and see Coldplay or Muse for God’s sake. The Stone Roses, as stated, come from the indie tradition of who gives a fuck what it sounds like, so long as it’s cool. They may have spent a fair bit of their time in the early days denying that they were an indie band, but I think this was just because they thought that sounded cool and might enable them to become successful and make some money. But there was never any guarantee that they were good at being musicians.
Much as I love Mani, John and Reni, I must admit that I found myself watching Ian far more than the rest of the band. He really is a genuinely fantastic character and frontman. One thing that is underplayed is The Stone Roses sense of humour, and I really do find Ian funny – I always wonder what ridiculous thing he is going to do or say next. Not that he doesn’t also come out with some pretty profound and interesting things as well.
Despite the fact that, as I say, I wasn’t really that bothered what they played, I do think it’s a bit disappointing that, despite the Love Spreads rap (the slaves do need something to feed on!), there was zero new material. In answer to the very first question in their press conference to announce the comeback, Ian states that they are writing new songs, “and it’s not just a trip down memory lane”, yet 8 months later, barely even a whisper of anything new. It does seem to be quite common for bands to do this now – announce a comeback, a promise of new stuff, and then just do a tour of all the old stuff (The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine, who have both reformed in recent years have still to release anything new). And in some ways, despite all the hype, this Stone Roses tour is just like any other band doing a tour of a classic album. I would argue that with the Stone Roses it is a bit more than that however, as being a fan is definitely a bit like being part of a cult – donning a Reni hat is almost as essential as wearing a pair of comedy breasts a la Lord Melchett in a particular episode of Blackadder. Anyone who is a Christian and also Stone Roses devotee might have a slight dilemma with regard to the notion of “worshipping false icons”, but perhaps they are not false icons after all?
I think the question as to whether you can rightly say that The Stone Roses are an incredible and important band, rather than just were an incredible and important band is telling though. Until they release new material and start doing a few new things, I don’t think they can be rightly said to have any real significant role to play in the current music scene. Even Mani’s now old band, Primal Scream, still regularly release new records of some distinction. The Stone Roses once were the trendsetters, now it almost seems as if they’re just following their own fashions, or those of others. Teenagers might almost have laughed at Ian’s low-rise jeans. It was slightly disappointing that they felt the need to try to replicate past gigs rather than bring in new elements, and I’m not just talking about the music. Just like at Spike Island, we had Ian bringing on a globe-design beachball at the end, and we had fireworks. It was never going to be the same though, and maybe a few more different elements might have spiced it up a bit – Mani’s Toby jogs on the stage were hardly a prominent feature.
There were also no “Spike Island moments” for me. I remember walking into the main arena at that gig to the sound of “The Only One I Know” by the Charlatans over the speakers, which I think was the first time I’d heard the single, and that was pretty impressive. Perhaps the closest thing was the Justice Tonight Band, featuring Pete Hooton of The Farm singing “Altogether Now”, not exactly a song I ever liked as a single, but me and my mates quite enjoyed singing along to that as part of the build-up.
But I really shouldn’t sound so cynical. Apart from the fact that I spent a fair bit of the gig worrying about where a friend had got to, I did really enjoy it. And although I’ve said I wasn’t that bothered about how the band sounded, I have to say, I do think they sounded pretty good. “Fool’s Gold” was an unexpected highlight – so often it’s said that it’s not a great track live, but on this occasion, it worked very well indeed. On the flip-side, “Waterfall”, which, bar “I Am The Resurrection”, I personally would say is the best song on the album, didn’t come off so well for some reason, I didn’t think. If anything, “Don’t Stop” somehow worked better. It was the only song that seemed to disconcert the crowd slightly – perhaps they weren’t sure whether to sing along, how/whether to dance – and I liked being suddenly in a slightly chaotic situation. I’m sure a good 99% of the crowd knew exactly what this song was about, unlike one Joseph Barton who said on Twitter, “Either I’m losing the plot or they’ve just played waterfall forwards then backwards! Including the words!” What a totally twattish thing to say, and yet he still gets into the VIP area I expect. He might regard himself as important, but he’s hardly important as far as being a Stone Roses fan is concerned (and after all, this is the man who, it could be said, was partly to blame for the Roses’ main team, Man Utd, not winning the title last season, after being sent off against Man City on the last day of the season!).
I wonder if I might have preferred them to stick to the traditional Adored/She Bangs/Waterfall trio to start, but I suppose if they definitely wanted to play “Don’t Stop”, that would have meant then playing the first four songs from the album in order, and this might’ve been a bit much.
“Shoot You Down” was another high point. I actually think this effortlessly beautiful song was one of the main reasons that the album became popular, even though it is not generally a track that’s talked about much. Tonight it is rendered well, and well received.
I did not really get to see “Standing Here” properly, one of my favourite Roses tracks, as I’d decided mid-way through the previous song that I should have a last look for my missing friend (who we fortunately found by the pre-arranged meeting point afterwards, mobile phone signals not working on the site). So while the song played, I was wandering through the crowds outside of the fenced off section at the front which we were lucky enough to have secured wristbands for (they stopped issuing them after around 6pm). I have to say, I think most reviews of this gig will be written by people from within this section, and anyone outside of this section may have felt a little short-changed – you really did not get a good view from any further back as I briefly discovered – but I suppose more fool them for not getting a wristband (I saw one guy trying in vain to run past the security into this section later on, and saw another guy being led away by 2 security even before the band had played a note who I had some sympathy for).
“Elizabeth My Dear” is another example of a sentiment that perhaps has less resonance than when it was first sung over twenty years ago. Back in the days of the Madchester movement and the whole feeling of people at the time, I’m sure there were many, like me, who genuinely felt the monarchy might be overturned. These days, no amount of protest it would seem will be effective in dethroning the Queen, but that does not mean to say that protest should not still be made, especially in the year of the Diamond Jubilee – it’s fitting that The Roses should be back this year – and it’s pleasing to see Ian sing the words with some amount of passion.
Another reason for my slightly muted response for much of the gig was that I was basically looking forward to hearing “I Am The Resurrection” which for me is head and shoulders above all the rest, even if “all the rest” does not include a single inferior tune. The chances of this song not being played at the end of tonight’s set were about the same as lightning striking the stage, with the latter being about the only thing that might also have prevented the occurrence of the song. When it did come, I sang along gleefully. I think I might even have taken my top off at one stage, but did not go fully nude like a gentleman at one of their earlier gigs. I swapped hats with a girl next to me, but it’s possibly fitting that, unlike back in the day when I think the exchange would have been made with willful abandon, at the end of the gig, she politely asked if we could swap back because she did actually wear hers quite a bit.
The band left to hugs and applause before Ian came back on smiling from ear to ear, and it brought out a broad smile in me also. The band who brought so much happiness to me in my younger life had definitely brought happiness into my life once again. Some people say they’re doing it for the money, and while I’m sure that’s a factor, they’ve also done it for the fans. It’s often said that they were a band that broke down the barriers between fans and musicians. When Ian speaks enthusiastically about The Stone Roses being back on the stage, it’s as if it’s a fan talking. Just a shame that some us fans then had to trek the streets for a couple of hours to find an effective method of transport back to our hotel!