Live Review – Stereophonics At The Royal Albert Hall

I don’t get out to see many bands at the moment. Partly it’s due to sheer incompetence in getting tickets – especially because, in London, up-and-coming acts have a tendency to sell out before you’ve bought tickets unless you’re really on the ball. Partly it’s that there aren’t many bands I’d like to see that I haven’t already seen yet. And partly there’s the financials. When you’re unemployed, you think , “Right, it’s £30-40 for two tickets, plus some food, and the babysitter, which in total ends up near £100 to watch a band surrounded by people who don’t seem to understand the concept that being out in public, watching a band, is very different to listening to the band at home. In that you CAN’T TALK LOUDLY ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE SET LIKE YOU DO AT HOME.” I once shouted at some people at a Mogwai show to “SHUT THE FUCK UP!”, to cheers from the people around me. And some baffled looks from the band. Sorry, rant over.

Anyway, when a friend told us she’d got tickets to see Stereophonics doing the Teenage Cancer Trust show at the Royal Albert Hall, it would be rude to decline. Whilst I can’t say they are my favourite band ever, I was sure it’d be a good night out. And so, here are some things I learnt tonight.

First of all, aren’t some of the songs off “Word Gets Around” just fantastic? They started off with “More Life In A Tramps Vest” and “A Thousand Trees”, which along with kicking the show off in top style, and confusing the people who were only there for “Handbags and Gladrags”, also reminded me what a great songwriter ‘lil Kelly Jones is when he puts his mind to it. “More Life In A Tramps Vest” in particular is one of the best songs about life in a small town I think I’ve ever heard. The line “Lose my rag and tell them take your bag and shop down there” is just beautiful, the way he fits it into the rhythm of the guitar, before having a quick rant about the one-way system. The sadness of some of the songs, such as “Local Boy In The Photograph” (touchingly introduced as “The song that started it all”), and “Billy Davies’ Daughter”, bring home the desperate lives of some of the inhabitants of Aberdare. Two songs about suicide on your debut album – what are you, the Tindersticks?

The second thing I learnt is that “Dakota” is extraordinary. If one is being honest, Stereophonics at their best have made some great tunes about small-town life, and to me at least, have never quite followed them up. *Cough* Mr Writer *cough*. But I still remember hearing “Dakota” come on the radio and saying to myself “What the fuck?”. It’s like Bob Dylan teaming up with Girls Aloud. It’s so different from the norm that you wonder what on earth was going on in Kelly’s head when he wrote it. All I can say is, please, please make some more songs like this. You’re a talented guy, with a great voice. You’ve done it once, now do it again. Go on, go on, go on, go on. Oh, and playing it as the last song was a nice touch. Starting with my favourite song of yours, and ending it with my second favourite is a good way of getting in my good books, you know.

And thirdly, the Royal Albert Hall is a fantastic building, which I love going to, but it’s just not right for rock music. Once you turn the gain up above, oooh, 2, the sound just gets all mushy. “The Bartender And The Thief” just disappeared into a morass of noise, and not in a good way. Thankfully, most of their best songs don’t rely too much on volume. “Have A Nice Day” worked pretty well, as did “Last Of The Big Time Drinkers”; even if it’s quite raucous, it doesn’t have that Les Paul/SG guitar assault thang going on. Muse suffered the same thing last year at the TCT. Richard Hawley, the man whose guitar amp blew up there, plays with a pretty clean sound, so it worked quite well. Joanna Newsom? Well, she’s got a harp, so she was golden. But if you like a nice dirty sound, then if you ever get to play there, tone it down a bit, eh? It just sounds rubbish.

And lastly. What a voice. It’s like Rod Stewart, at his finest, but better. On the way out you could hear people talking about it. He really does have a cracking set of gravelly tonsils on him. What is it with the Welsh and belting it out? From Tom Jones to James Dean Bradfield, top belters. Must be something in the water in the Valleys.

So, a good night out was had by all. In response to our friends generosity, we’re taking them to see TV On The Radio. I don’t think they are going to know what hit them.

Oh, and just to point out – it was a charity show, so please visit the Teenage Cancer Trust website and make a donation. As the excellent films before the show demonstrate, teenagers often get the rough end of the stick in cancer care, and this charity have done an amazing job in easing suffering of thousands of cancer victims.

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