THE STONE ROSES : London Finsbury Park 07 June 2013
It's been 18 years since The Stone Roses played a headline show in London. 24 years since the original line up appeared there.
Bullshit corporate gigs in tiny rooms last year, for trainer companies, by the way, don't fucking count.
This is miles away – in every way – from the last time I saw them. For 2 decades I could proclaim with some mild envy that yes, I saw The Stone Roses. At the time - 28th November 1995, fact fans – I was bedridden with flu, and stumbled sweating into the gig because I never knew if I'd ever see them again. Wolverhampton was sharp, finely honed and trained music machine, with an enormous, aggressive sound, and replacement drummer Robbie Maddix banging the drums, and a set made almost exclusively from the under-rated “Second Coming”, playing to 2000 people in a sweat drenched room. Here – 60,000 people in a huge field – The Stone Roses have transformed utterly from the last time I saw them. Here, they are legends, at last and live in the flesh, not seen in public for decades, legends better and bigger than Oasis and up there with The Beatles. It is so different. And The Stone Roses themselves haven't changed, as such, but the crowd have. The band are tighter now, more fluid, with Reni back on the drum kit. Squire no longer an alienated and unhappy man communicating solely with his guitar. When the band play live, it doesn't feel like one of those fake gestures. It feels genuine.
London is awash. Thick accents, bucket hats, old Oasis t-shirts. People of all ages, from 60 year olds who were there – just – at the time, to teenagers who weren't born when this band last released a note of new music. This music is the classical repetoire for generations around us, walking, breathing 1812-Overture's in the flesh. The pubs are packed, blaring out the debut album all day at ear splitting volume, people spilling into the streets, t-shirts, lager, cider, poppers, anyone for poppers? (hell, even the drugs are making a comeback). Damaged men with bad tattoos, or in sports wear with that haircut that has remained the same since 1990, who don't know the b-sides and are only here because Oasis aren't. But also, a one-day holiday from reality. Anyone for another Fosters? A half-hour queue for food? An hour for a £5 paper cup of alcohol? 40 minutes for the toilet? Poppers, anyone? 1989 music at 2089 prices!
Strip away all the other stuff, and the band themselves are great. At the time, this was music that gave a glimpse of something different than the world our parents had planned for us. We may not have lived that dream, but at least we had a dream to live. And still have those dreams, even if the waking world doesn't quite match up to what we hoped. For 60,000 of us, seeing The Stone Roses is a dream that we never quite thought we would get to experience again. Admittedly, Friday has to endure the Courteneers (or “Cortinas” as everyone I speaks to calls them), and the superenthusiastic Dizzee Rascal, who is surprisingly enjoyable, though not at all the type of thing I go for. Saturday gets the much more appropriate Johnny Marr, and Mr Lydon's splendid PiL. The sun sets over London in the summer. Girls and boys dance, laugh, drink, flirt. The stage is set for the comeback that we thought we may never see, being as likely for a decade and a half as the return of The Smiths.
They open with “I Wanna Be Adored”, as they always have. The crowd are even singing the guitar solo. It may be solid daylight but the band are ablaze with a solid and fluid musical communication. If nothing else, the band are conquering heroes resurrected. The set has also been revamped from last year “Breaking Into Heaven”, “Going Down”, “Elephant Stone” and “Elizabeth My Dear” are all back in the frame.
Around 10 minutes into “Fools Gold”, the band slip effortlessly into the under-rated “Driving South” from the second album for a few bars. Ian Brown – not, to be fair, the best singer ever – spends huge chunks of the evening pacing the stage and rattling an inaudible tambourine. Reni and John lock eyes, and the band move into a small box as they forget for a moment that there are 60,000 people here and they've sold £3,000,000 worth of tickets. Or, around £30,000 per minute on stage. Thankfully, there is no pretence that 1995 never happened : “Ten Storey Love Song” and “Love Spreads” are greeted with open arms and the expected, enthusiastically tuneless bellowing. But does that matter? Not really. People are lost and in love with music again.
Set wise the evening veers up and down. The enthusiastic triple punch they open with of “I Wanna Be Adored”, “Elephant Stone” and “Ten Storey Love Song” falls flat before long with three album cuts and b-sides. Whilst the band play as solid and fluently, the crowd have their initial euphoric rush fade into the case of “Oh, we're seeing The Stone Roses” as the band play “Going Down” which is now, a quarter century old b-side.
On the other hand, as soon as Squire peels out “Waterfall”, and the field erupts in tune, all seems well. But don't kid yourself, most of us would be just as happy with “Sex On Fire” or “Wonderwall”, or a million other songs. The band lean effortlessly into “Don't Stop”, and what is obvious is the Roses somehow forged a combination of precise and largely elegant songwriting with the ability to explore – in sometimes tedious detail – the possibility of the endless groove. Quick. A fight!
How typical. Cannot have this many people in any one place without an argument. Men protective of their girlfriend and men who just want to kick back argue. A few yards away, a great band veer into a classic of modern music. Some else gets on someone's shoulders and lights a flare. They have “Made Of Stone”, which sounds as transcendent as hoped, so much better than the lumpen 1995 live version.
And though we have 100 minutes, it is all over so quickly : by the time Reni starts up the amazing “Breaking Into Heaven” for the first time on British soil, it's already gone ten o'clock. This song, the huge, and unstoppable eleven minute roll into the glory of the afterlife and the lure of the romantic tragedy, is my favourite Roses song, as Reni and Mani hold down a solid beat, and Squire layers endless and precise solos, endlessly lapping over each other in a crescendo of sound, the crowd reach to the skies as the darkness rolls in, and the music explodes in my ears. Seconds later, we're straight into “Elizabeth My Dear” as 59,000 voices plead for the beheading of royalty and seconds after that, it's “I Am The Resurrection”, lasers, fog, smoke bombs, apocalypse now, the end of the world, alien invasion, the power of levitation, and, of course, the most accurate reproduction of acid house wig out freak out by guitar ever. Finsbury Park is clapping, singing, falling over – right to the back. There's a middle-aged, out-of-breath moshpit behind the burger vans several hundred yards from the stage, flares and hyperbole. Reni is a drummer who never really appreciated how utterly, gobsmackingly good he is. He makes it look so damn easy. The lights blare, the sound roars, “Resurrection” is a stadium rock version of a end-of-the-night acid-house rave, complete with drum solo, that makes for a arrogant 15 minute climax. But glorious. The guitar lacks slightly the razorsharp edge of the Second Coming tour, but keeps the same lurching attitude. Look at what we could have won, look at what we could have been, look at what we are now. In the end, it's an unexpected tale, the return of an old friendship, repaired by coincidence and tragedy (the band reunited, by and large, at a funeral), the reclaiming of the bands legacy from a sad and ignominious end, the redefinition of a gang that changed and was broken by the everyday and mundane into less than it was, now reforged into something bigger and better, an adult connection, no longer the mere arrogance of youth. It's natural to lose friends. Harder to get them back. Rarer to keep them a long time. These songs are old friends.
Come the end, it's all over by 10.30. Turn left. The tube is closed. No buses. No cabs. 60,000 are spat out into the street with a contemptuous gaze, and it is an hour walking – and three miles later – we find a tube station. Thanks a fucking bundle, London. It's bullshit like this that lets London down. The streets are crowded with thousands, roads closed, no signs, dodgy bootleg tshirts, and Poppers Anyone? And it looks like some kind of enmasse on-foot exodus from a cursed indietown. Policemen sit on horses. The directions are shit – Highbury turn left, Camden straight on, Holloway Road down there, left, then right. They don't tell you – even though they pretend to on the signs – that Camden is 60 minutes walk, Holloway Road 30 minutes, Highbury & Islington, god knows, too long. Three long miles without signposts, without buses, without tubes, without trains, just cold and wind and a long straggling queue of tired middle aged people where in the living fuck the next Tube station is. It takes too long, and destroys the euphoria of the evening with unnecessary bullshit. At the end, though, that memory will fade. What will remain? The moment where the lights go up, the lasers ejaculate liquid gold in our eyes, guitars roar, and “I Am The Resurrection” breathes again before our eyes. A fitting way to be.
I Wanna Be Adored – Elephant Stone – Ten Storey Love Song – Standing Here - Going Down – Shoot You Down - Fools Gold / Driving South – Somethings Burning – Waterfall / Don't Stop –She Bangs The Drums - Love Spreads – This Is The One - Made Of Stone – Breaking Into Heaven – - Elizabeth My Dear – drum solo – I Am The Resurrection