The Stone Roses: the second coming in Sydney
Stone Roses concerts during 1989, that brief year in which they were the greatest band in the world (at least to a pocket of Northern England fed up with rising unemployment under Thatcher and buoyed by the belief that Manchester may just be the new musical mecca) are spoken of in hushed tones, as life-changing events, as the second summer of love, where the UK exploded into a utopia of love and colour and optimism. Well, I wasn’t tripping the light fantastic in a muddy field flooded with ecstasy and baggy pants or chewing my face off while waving a glow stick at an endless warehouse rave, but I have seen the video footage and I have studied the scriptures and I’ve got to say, the second coming: the more level-headed, in-it-for-the-money, so-much-water-under-the-bridge 2013 edition of The Stone Roses are a better live band then the 1989 version could have ever hoped to be.
Ian Brown has learned to pitch, for one. While the first Roses album, and the flurry of singles and B-sides that orbited it, contain pristine melody lines, the fact that they skip around proved detrimental when Brown attempted to recreate them live. The fact that he’d often inhaled more marijuana than Bob Marley’s village beforehand can’t have helped with this (note: Redemption Song was pointedly played over the speakers at the end of this show). These same melodies posed no such problems this time around, with Brown skipping wonderfully through tracks like Mersey Paradise, (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sisterand Sally Cinnamon without missing a note. The band were ridiculously proficient as well. Reni has long been one of the most inventive drummers in popular music, Mani’s long stretch with Primal Scream has only seen him add more elasticity to his playing, and John Squire was able to recreate every note from their recordings perfectly: raining jangle, manipulating feedback and wah pedals and switching between parts without breaking a sweat. This isn’t to say the band simply trawled through the tracks as if they’d rote learned them. The Roses have always been one of those bands that breathe: with songs swinging in and out of a groove, with parts pushing and pulling against each other, with the entire song lifting when necessary. Place a click track against any of their recordings–live or not–to see what I mean. Technically, as time-keepers, the Stone Roses are a mess. But, of course, this was never–nor should ever be–the point.
Set-wise, it was a greatest hits collection, which is as reductive as a term can get when your catalogue amounts to two records and an odds and sods collection. Predictably the only tracks to be featured from their much-maligned The Second Coming were the soaring Ten Storey Love Song, and lead single Love Spreads. The rest were plucked from the unassailable debut album, with a handful of B-sides, early singles and the standalone classic Fools Gold thrown in the mix. The band even attempted Don’t Stop–the backwards counterpart to the chiming Waterfall–and…well, it sounded backwards. This was the moment when it became apparent just how great a band they are. Reni’s drums sucked the air out of the beat, Mani’s bass line was awkward and stabby, Squire sounded like an Eastern orchestra and Ian Brown garbled approximated backwards lyrics. It was a beautiful thing.
As the set closed with the greatest/saddest kiss-off couplet ever to end an album (“I am the resurrection and I am the light/ I couldn’t ever bring myself to hate you as I’d like”) followed by the extended outro, Ian Brown simply said ‘Stone Roses!’ as if a triumphant catch-cry, the band hugged like FA Cup winners, then held hands and bowed like Beatles. Stone Roses!