Music Review: Stereophonics, Empress Ballroom

The Stereophonics at Blackpool's Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom.
The Stereophonics at Blackpool's Winter Gardens Empress Ballroom.
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IT’S more than 20 years since close pals Kelly Jones, Stuart Cable and Richard Jones formed a little alternative rock band called the Stereophonics in their home village in deepest mining country of South Wales.

There was nothing much to do in Cwmaman except play music, mess around with women and watch the world go by.

But this sleepy existence helped garner, back at the end of the last century at least, one of the UK’s most exciting bands.

A small man with a whisky-soaked mammoth voice became the mouthpiece for a post-Oasis generation – and boy was it exciting.

Riotous anthems of love and despair created a wave of followers that brought both mainstream success and the glowing praise of the hard-to-please critics.

But from the seismic impact of their first two albums, Word Gets Around and Performance and Cocktails, Stereophonics got angry – Mr Writer chronicling their dislike of certain sections of the music media – and then riff-heavy lumberings scattered among their follow-up albums.

Number one single Dakota aside, the early melodies were somewhat replaced by charmless and bloated fillers.

Graffiti on the Train, their eighth studio album, sees Kelly Jones and his mates in relaxed mood, jumping from string-laden trundlers to growling rock and on to contemplative acoustic musings.

It will do little to garner new fans, but their existing ones won’t give a monkeys.

This gig sold out in minutes – not bad for a band who have been around since Graham Taylor was still England’s manager.

Last night at the magnificent The Empress Ballroom, it was as if they had grown up and settled into their ‘lot’.

New album opener We Share The Same Sun proved a promising start, a starting pistol for a healthy smattering of new songs, most notably the radio-friendly Indian Summer and soulful Been Caught Cheating.

The album title track failed to ignite a crowd, many of whom looked like kids of the late 90s, now mid-30s veterans of those heady days.

Nostalgic and rose-tinted perhaps, but it took the old favourites, A Thousand Trees, More Life in a Tramp’s Vest and The Bartender and The Thief to threaten to light the blue touch paper.

But twice they failed to seize the momentum, even after the back-to-back classics of Just Looking and Local Boy in The Photograph.

The bizarre irony is that lead singer Kelly Jones, the focus of many a starry-eyed female in the crowd, was more chatty with the audience than usual, yet it failed to lift the mass crowd from its semi-stupor.

A rocked up Mr Writer and terrace-like Dakota ended the night triumphantly, but you couldn’t help think it was all a bit...well, safe.

So is this what the Stereophonics can expect from now on in?

Albums that cause a little ripple among the critics yet still bought in their thousands and thundering live shows that will always pay the bills.

They have earned the right to sit back and enjoy the moment.

The majority of the more than 3,000 sweaty disciples went home largely happy, albeit hankering for a dose of those halcyon days of old.

Backstage passes prize

WE had hundreds of entries for our Stereophonics competition. We offered two pairs of tickets to watch not only the band’s sell-out gig at the Empress Ballroom on Tuesday but their soundcheck in the afternoon too. In other words, just you and the band - not a bad prize.

Apologies to those who missed out but the two winners picked at random are: David Green, of Troutbeck Crescent, Little Marton; and Pauline Tonks, of Wendover Road, Poulton.