How could it ever come to pass? All four of the Roses, onstage together again… in our lifetime? This wasn’t in the script.
So many of us missed out on The Stone Roses at their pinnacle the first time around; those glory years when they were what the world was waiting for – standing on the verge of going stratospheric – those days were long gone.
And yet, for that whole new generation, the Roses became an obsession. There was a mystique about them; a less-boorish quality to them than, say, Oasis; a real gang, a phenomenal look and most of all, truly unbelievable songs.
It was truly disheartening, but understandable, to hear Ian Brown spend over a decade refuting reformation rumours: “Not for Mars and Jupiter” would the Roses reform. Meanwhile, John Squire’s artwork blatantly spelt out the same sentiments – we would never again get to see The Stone Roses.
And then it happened. The reunion was on.
All cynicism and sneering aside (the oft-stated financial rewards proving too tempting to ignore of course), this was some of the best news to hit the music industry in a long, long time. A last hurrah perhaps whilst the ‘filthiest business in the universe’ (TM Ian Brown) is slowly brought to its knees. Quite an irony.
So, it’s Sunday 1st of July. The Stone Roses have already come through their first two residencies at Heaton Park and your reviewer is worried – worried that Brown’s notoriously temperamental/patchy/horrific (delete as applicable) vocals will not hold up after a few nights’ work. YouTube has been avoided, as have reviews. Friends waxing lyrical about their attendance on the previous days also murmured about organisational, logistical and crowd behavioural issues. This one it seems, could go either way.
Anticipation builds as showtime nears. The hush is almost reverential as the Resurrection pt. 3 approaches. ‘Stoned Love‘ by The Supremes blasts through the PA to a fade and here they are, strutting onstage as a unit, as The Stone Roses once again. The roar is deafening.
A paisley-bedecked Mani interrupts the adulation with the rolling, rumbling bassline of ‘I Wanna Be Adored‘, there’s no turning back now. Squire’s mellifluous lead guitar lines paint delicate brush-strokes around Mani and Reni’s locked groove and then it kicks in: the field full of 70,000 people sing out that famous riff in unison, almost drowning out the band. Which other band gets their guitar riffs sang back to them? No one, that’s who.
The moment of truth: Brown nails it. Possibly aided by his cast of thousands on backing vocals he hits the notes with ease. Rather than the hushed tones found on record, he adopts the Mancunian bellow familiar to those who’ve witnessed his solo performances – one of the good ones.
Live, The Stone Roses lose the glossy, reverb-soaked sheen of their classic eponymous album. Onstage, they’re heavier, there’s more punch and yet still the same melodious twists and turns. And none more noticeable than ‘Mersey Paradise‘, which powers sweetly along from its jangly source to its frenetic river-mouth ending.
‘(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister‘ follows before fan-favourite ‘Sally Cinnamon‘ is unleashed. Again the crowd singing along to Squire’s guitar and with good reason, he’s in confident mood. His trademark jet-black hair still resplendent and in tartan jacket, he adopts the odd default ‘guitar god’ pose throughout – a far cry from the days when he’d barely acknowledge the crowd.
The set consists of their debut in its entirety (though not sequentially of course), a smattering of ‘classic-period’ non-album A and B-sides, whilst ‘The Second Coming‘ is the most under-represented with only two songs, the Zep-aping ‘Love Spreads‘ and the innocent ‘Ten Storey Love Song‘, both performed excellently and received rapturously. That they could even leave out such classics as ‘Elephant Stone‘ and ‘Going Down‘ is proof indeed that the band possesses a back catalogue strong enough to support these massive gigs.
There are times when there seems to be a bit of a lull, though this could be due to the crowds’ calming down during the more underrated or underappreciated tracks such as ‘Bye Bye Badman‘ and ‘Something’s Burning‘. So intrinsic is the crowd to proceedings that when it’s really cooking, the sound, the performance and the atmosphere all merge into one amorphous entity surging onwards into the night.
Enter ‘Fools Gold‘. Over-played and over-saturated on TV and radio, the track takes on a new lease of life as Squire’s wah licks are flung forth by Mani’s dub bass. Reni, widely recognised as one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, is in imperious form. To see his effortless shuffles, fills and flams in person is something else. To hear him lock with Mani’s deep bass grooves is incredible, this rhythm section is tight. They jam onwards, like they’ve been rehearsing all day every day for all the intermittent years. They are, most definitely, back.
Such is the standard of The Stone Roses’ musicianship; Brown has always been derided as the weakest link technically. However, the only really noticeable moment of notes straying comes during ‘She Bangs The Drums‘… but who the hell cares? It was never about that anyway. The mystique, the presence, the effortless cool – that was the Roses.
The mass sing-along of ‘Made Of Stone‘ is a spine-tingling burst of euphoria, whilst the thunderous ‘This Is The One‘ raises the bar yet further. We know where this is heading to, but first a monarch-baiting Brown segues into ‘Elizabeth My Dear‘ and then we arrive at the night’s finale, ‘I Am The Resurrection‘.
Tonight’s performance personifies everything the Roses are about. Ecstasy-rushes of melody surge forward as verses spiral onwards and upwards. Building and building as they tease us with the promise of a chorus that never quite arrives until, when at breaking point they deliver. Brown, maybe wisely, allows the crowd to take this one. His quasi-religious imagery may be a couple of semi-tones too high for him to sing these days, not that anyone complains, mind. And then comes the jam. As soon as Squire, Mani and Reni hit their stride, the crowds’ heads bow and the dancing gets that bit more intense until squalls of feedback signal the end.
In line with their original manifesto, there’s no encore. All four embrace on stage in triumph. The fireworks dazzle and dance across the sky to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song.
They depart. They delivered. They’re back. This is the one.