Ever since The Stone Roses announced that they were burying one of the most un-buryable hatchets in music history and getting back on stage together, a certain word has cropped up at regular intervals. That word is ‘laddism’, and it’s a troublesome one. The Roses stand accused of giving birth to a movement or aesthetic that would later evolve into Oasis, or The Libertines, or Kasabian; a lineage that (according to the argument) was backwards-looking, musically conservative, or that appealed to questionable notions of nationalism, tribalism etc. But whatever demographic the Roses appeal to (and let’s not even begin with the implicit classism that can be detected in a lot of that discourse), it shouldn’t distort perceptions of the band to such a dismissive degree.
This is a band who paid homage to Jackson Pollock on their record sleeves, who played with situationism or Paris riots imagery, and who took mischievous shots at the monarchy. This is a band whose debut album was, if anything, feminine-sounding; characterised by shimmering Byrdsian riffs and poetic imagery. They may have created a sound with a wide populist appeal, but the subtlety and beauty of that sound shouldn’t be overlooked as a result.
Then, of course, there were the quite legitimate concerns about their live reputation. The argument goes that those rose-tinted accounts of Spike Island etc, were coloured by the cultural giddiness of the era, a veil being consequently drawn over just how shoddy the Mancs could be. With the re-union circuit now busily populated and punters’ scepticism at understandably high levels these days, there would surely be no hiding from a poor show at Phoenix Park.
In the end, it turns out we needn’t have worried. As that ominous bass rumble announces opener ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, you get that odd mixture of excitement and is-this-actually-happening disorientation that accompanies something you’d long convinced yourself you were never going to see. Constantly misunderstood as a self-aggrandising statement of intent, its religious imagery points to its actual thematic matter, sin and its consequences; adding further dark vibes to its industrial, haunted feel. Live, the middle-eight in particular has an extra muscular heft. It’s quickly followed by the chiming ‘Mersey Paradise’, Ian Brown delivering his fey lines with gusto.
All good so far? Not quite. There’s a strange feel to the early stages, maybe due to the fact many people are still negotiating the obscene queues for the bars, maybe due to that surreal feeling mentioned earlier. It’s not helped by a plodding version of ‘Sugar Spun Sister’ (never one their strongest songs admittedly), or by John Squire’s occasional tendency to flirt with parody during the instrumental jam segments.
Nevertheless, the pacing of the setlist gives the lie to any notions of a testosterone-fuelled lad-fest: ‘Where Angels Play’ (switching seamlessly from dreamy to anthemic), ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ (Manchester’s version of ‘Everybody Hurts’?) are all given an airing in the first half of the set, while there’s not much room for the Zep-homages of Second Coming (save for the fine-by-us ‘Love Spreads’ and a quick riff on devil-on-the-crossroads number ‘Driving South’).
‘Fool’s Gold’ marks the point where the show steps up a gear. And then some. Although Squire’s guitar licks sound a bit out-of-place compared to the recorded version, it’s a monster of a track all the same, stretched out to its full 9-minute-plus glory and showcasing the telepathic, irresistibly limber rhythm section that is Mani and Reni. The latter, sporting nifty headgear as always, dazzles throughout the set; the unmistakable heartbeat he provides all the more evident in the flesh.
When the opening chimes of ‘Waterfall’ ring out, the timing could not be more perfect: the sun has gone down and the climax is upon us. Brown’s vocal limitations mightn’t be as big an issue when you have thousands of people providing vocal accompaniment. What of the thousands accompanying Squire’s timeless, lilting guitar riff? It’s a majestic performance of their finest song. The instrumental breakdown at the end of the song proper, with the enraptured crowd matching it note for note, will last long in the memory.
No more doubts: what we have now is a victory march. ‘This Is The One’ provides another spine-tingling moment, a folk anthem of sorts; its wistful melancholy giving way to an irrepressible build. ‘She Bangs The Drums’ is mistakenly introduced as ‘Elizabeth My Dear’? No matter, we can live with that. It’s left to perennial Fanning’s Fab 50 favourite ‘I Am The Resurrection’ to wrap things up, its steadily growing intensity and its measured spite ringing with conviction. That superb instrumental coda – the sound of a band believing in its own invincibility, while somehow knowing deep down it’s not going to last – could go on for 20 minutes more and no-one would complain. The future may no longer be theirs, but to paraphrase another gang of dysfunctional Mancunians, dreams never end.
Photos by Paulo Goncalves. [nggallery id=612]