I seem to have a thing for Welsh bands. It might be because my mother made me listen to Welsh Male choirs when I was a kid (she was a sucker for a baritone). So I have ended up with 3 Welsh bands having a major impact on my musical appreciation over the years; the Manic Street Preachers, The Lost Prophets (although I’m torn on whether I should be listening to them these days) and of course, the Stereophonics. So I positively skipped down Flinders Street in Melbourne last night to the magnificent Forum, to get my fill of Taffy.
I love the Forum. It’s not just the statues, the star lit ceiling or the Romanesque architecture (or is it Grecian, I don’t know). It’s the wide and high stage, the many bars in convenient locations, the palatial toilets and the huge floor area. It’s the slight echo in such a huge space that adds to the atmosphere. I remember coming to the pictures here as a kid; so much better than your local Village or Hoyts and now as a live venue, so much better than many that Melbourne, or many other cities worldwide, have to offer.
By 7.45, it is already buzzing. A mixture of “old country” accents can be heard and I have no doubt that a red dragon or 2 will appear later on (that’s not a euphemism, by the way). I hope that Halycon Drive appreciate playing to a nearly full room, something you don’t often get for a support band.
Halcyon Drive are a 3-piece consisting of guitarist/lead singer, drummer and bass/keyboard player. Hailing from Melbourne, no doubt playing to such a large crowd in an iconic Melbourne venue is a career highlight for these young guys. They play the kind of inoffensive indie that JJJ love and the J’s describe their sound as “summer-soaked melodies and thriving rhythms”. The thriving rhythms were certainly evident in their final track which featured a drum and base sounding samples from the keyboards and danceable beat from the drums. A very strong way to finish.
In the break, I had a chance to look around the crowd, and they looked………….what’s the word………….OLD! Not everyone, but I reckon at least half are loading up their Super in anticipation of retirement in 10 years or so. But then I remember that I have been listening to the Stereophonics for nearly half my life, so perhaps, I’m the one who’s old. I don’t care, it’s an autumnal Tuesday night in Melbourne and anyone who gets out to a gig on a school night, is OK in my book, grey hair and beer bellies or not.
This place is chokkas and the anticipation is palpable. God I hope they play some old stuff. I have my Stereophonics mental playlist and 99% of that is from the first 2 albums when in a post grunge, pre Brit Pop world, these guys were different and so exciting.
The lights are still on but the volume has gone up and I think they are playing with us. Then all of a sudden, here we go. They walk on and open with The Bartender and the Thief followed immediately by Vegas 2 times. A very strong start, well done Boyos.
The next song up A Thousand Trees from their debut album Word Gets Around. Containing the best lines ever written “Only takes one tree, to make a thousand matches. Only takes one match, to burn a thousand trees”. Pure Friggin’ poetry. “This is what started it all.” Kelly tells us.
Kelly Jones is a poet. I can’t think of another song writer who paints such a vivid lyrical picture. Listening to the wordy verses of a Stereophonics song, I can smell the chip fat and vinegar of the chip shops of Cwmaman and hear the chatter of the village characters coming out of the local pub.
From my spot at the back of the Forum, I can barely see Kelly Jones over the heads of the crowd. At 5’6”, he cuts a diminutive figure on the stage with a gravelly voice that sounds like he has been brushing his teeth in Jack Daniels since he was 4.
The hits keep coming. Superman gave Kelly a chance of involving the crowd with a rousing hand clap and also a chance for him to show off his guitar skills with a couple of lead breaks. A paired back intro to Mr Writer builds into the chorus with backing vocals and a full and atmospheric sound.
Maybe Tomorrow from their fourth album You Gotta Go There To Come Back is my Grumpy Glaswegian’s pissed and homesick song and from the heartfelt sing along and Welsh flags that appeared during the performance, I’m sure he is not alone in that.
The set is a real crowd pleaser and I don’t think we’ve progressed beyond the first 4 albums and we’re 40 minutes in. All killer, no filler as they say. Handbags and Gladrags brings the keyboard player to the front and a semi acoustic version of the classic cover, first made famous by Rod Stewart, but written by Manfred Man in 1967 is very well received. And the hits keep coming. Step on My Old Size Nines, Have a Nice Day I don’t think they could have chosen a more hit filled set if they tried but there is still classic tunes yet to play and the crowd are hungry for more.
Finally, Just Looking, the song that in 1994 reached number 4 on the British charts and really launched Stereophonics on the world followed by the one I had been waiting for. I think Boy in a Photograph is one of the most emotive songs ever written. In the lyrics, the shared loss of a friend’s tragic death is beautifully portrayed.
After 90 minutes of bliss, they leave the stage with the promise of an encore still to come. C’est la vie is the first of the encore songs and the biggest flag I’ve ever seen has appeared in the middle of the floor, held aloft by an unseen group of countrymen who are bouncing along to every beat. Mr & Mrs Smith gives drummer Jamie Morrison his time in the spotlight with a 2-minute drum solo delivered with energy and enthusiasm.
There is only one possibility for the final number. Dakota was the number one hit from the Language, Sex, Violence, Other album of 2005. Achieving great success in the UK and other European countries, and probably launching Stereophonics onto the Australian music scene, this song is a winner and perfect, upbeat track to finish the show on.
So, I have three lessons to take home from this show:
- I am never again standing down the back at a gig…….it sucks
- I cannot understand a Welsh accent, no matter how hard I try
- Truly great musicians age beautifully (musically speaking, of course)
Review Contributed by Wendy Smith