The Stone Roses’ comeback tour reaches London, where the band prove they still have what it takes to bring the party, writes Piers Barber.
Despite last summer’s two hugely successful shows at Heaton Park, which were captured in all their glory for Shane Meadows’ recently released film Made of Stone, the Stone Roses have been tredding on shaky ground throughout their much-discussed comeback tour. The threatened re-emergence of old internal animosities, a lukewarm reaction from a baffled Californian crowd at Coachella earlier this year, and fears about the band’s continued relevancy in the 2010s have all occasionally threatened to derail a tour which had in itself been utterly unthinkable for years.
Shallow reunions motivated by little more than financial greed and characterised by sterile, commercialised outdoor venues and poor sound have indeed become all too common in recent years. Fears that tonight’s Finsbury Park show may end up following a similar path are not helped by a bizarrely composed support line-up, comprising Rudimental, the Courteeners and Dizzee Rascal, who appears almost as bemused as the crowd during his overly-long set showcasing some really quite terrible pop-rap.
Yet the presence of such peculiar Radio 1-fodder as support is powerless to dampen the spirits of this boozy and expectant crowd. Nor are fears that the main attraction might fail to sparkle after a bitter, complicated breakup that now occurred over two decades ago. Indeed, after fittingly entering to The Supremes’ classic ‘Stoned Love’ (“A love for each other/Will bring fighting to an end”), bassist Mani launches into the first bars of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, and suddenly, all infighting and any lingering disappointments regarding the Roses’ later career are laid to rest, for another two hours at least.
Probably three-quarters of tonight’s crowd are men, the majority of whom are over 40, often accompanied by their keen-eyed yet slightly bewildered offspring, willingly led to Finsbury Park by proud fathers keen to pass down the legacy of this important group. The Roses occupy a vital position in pop hierarchy not necessarily because of their back catalogue, which, after all, is limited largely to their fabled self-titled 1989 LP and a second widely-derided 1991 record, The Second Coming. Instead, their legend centres from what this greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts foursome ultimately found themselves embodying: one of those rare instants in youth culture history when fashion, drugs, location and music coalesced perfectly, briefly appearing to offer a cocktail of utopian possibility for the group’s youthful followers.
Tonight, over a quarter of a century since the release of their eponymous record, it feels little has changed. Mani, who appears as static and uncomfortable on stage as he did during his band’s pomp, together with fisherman-hatted drummer Remi demonstrate throughout how they remain one of the funkiest rhythm sections around, whilst John Squire, all moppy long hair and baggy camouflage shirt, proves he remains a strikingly fluent and versatile guitarist. Tonight he sparkles particularly during the rarely-played ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ and the gorgeous ‘Waterfall’, which is extended into a thrilling ten-minute jam that tonight possesses more exhilarating dynamism and intricacy than the famous funk-fuelled ‘Fool’s Gold’.
Their legend centres from what this greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts foursome ultimately found themselves embodying: one of those rare instants in youth culture history when fashion, drugs, location and music coalesced perfectly, briefly appearing to offer a cocktail of utopian possibility for the group’s youthful followers.
At the centre of it all is frontman Ian Brown, still complete with ballsy strut and bowl haircut, which has been copied to a tee by numerous members of tonight’s crowd. His years away from the Roses have failed to improve the quality or consistency of his voice, but tonight, entirely aware of his technical limitations, he affectionately and uselessly resorts to waving jingle stick tambourines for the majority of the show, assuming the role of a proud band conductor crossed with a delighted cheerleader.
The songs remain immense. ‘Love Spreads’ continues to awesomely growl and fizz, whilst sing-alongs ‘She Bangs The Drums’ and ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ are delivered with the same delicate touch and affection that make them such formidable tracks on record. Elsewhere, there are rare outings for ‘Something’s Burning’ and fan favourite ‘Elephant Stone’, although the band declines to road-test any new songs from a third album rumoured to be in the works.
By the show’s end, the joyous crowd are whole-heartedly bellowing the lines of each song, making it impossible, and entirely irrelevant, to ascertain whether Brown is reaching his notes. During an ecstatic closing ‘I Am The Resurrection’, when Mani and Remi lock into a heavy extended groove that forms the backdrop to some fearsome guitar work by Squire, Brown jumps down from the stage to meet the group’s adoring fans, but also, it briefly seems, to take a second to admire his remarkably talented bandmates and friends doing their thing above him.
On tonight’s evidence, it is clear that despite their undoubtedly unfulfilled potential and acrimonious downfall, the Roses remain an intensely important artefact of popular culture, the creators of music infused with the hopefulness of youth and a simple determination to bring celebration to its listeners. As the band exit and Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ rings out across Finsbury Park, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that their reunion has been motivated by far more than pound signs. Besides, when the tunes are as unifying and expertly delivered as they are tonight, few members of a crowd exhausted from two hours of ecstatic dancing possess the energy to care either way.
Follow Piers on Twitter @piersbarber18