(Planet Me)
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
THE WONDER STUFF / THE WEDDING PRESENT : London Forum 18 March 2016 / Birmingham O2 Academy 19 March 2016

About 30 years ago – well, 30 years ago tonight, four Midlands teenagers got together in a room and called themselves The Wonder Stuff. 30 minutes ago, four men and one woman, still calling themselves The Wonder Stuff, rolled off a stage in London - or Birmingham. 25 years ago, nobody was thinking too much further. After all, all you needed to do was to be in the moment then. Not planning for a tenth, or a twentieth, or a thirtieth anniversary tour. Not planning for somehow having managed to escape being a grown up, an adult. And then it happens. One day you're an adult, all adulting, doing things like firing people for sexual harrassment, or filing tax returns.

And what matters is not just the old songs. What matters is that bands, as they grow older, become more interesting. The songs you grew up with are still there, but also, and forever, that the bands are still developing, still working, still exploring. At some point, probably a Tuesday, you become older than Kurt Cobain ever was. Or older than your favourite band was when they first split up. At some point, a band that started younger becomes older, and we become older with them, and eventually we're over it, we've gone past the event horizon, and things haven't gone to plan – so you change the plan – and you don't compromise, you don't give up, you don't become one of the people that makes the world a worse place, but you still work to being one of the people that makes the world a better place, on day at a time, one kiss at a time, one kind word, and one cup of tea at a time. You keep going. Keep smiling. You develop an armour, and that protects you from the waves and storms of bullshit, from the league of morons that can surround us, and we have that … resilience.. that of keeping getting up, of getting on, of never stopping fighting. If you fight, you might not win. And if you don't, you will not win.

And so much of life comes from knowing. From knowing that you may have already had the best sex of your life, the best first kiss, seen the best film, had the best night, loved the best person for you (and maybe, lost them), knowing your imperfections, being the best You you can be, doing the best you can in a flawed world, and not being young anymore. The nights were everyone was young and drinks were cheap, and they all looked like girls and boys flung from the Gods to the earth. And maybe you could even talk to them.

These aren't laughter lines. They're the scars of years, the marks of having seen so much.

And being young wasn't so great. Youth was no panacea, no magic bullet. We're old now... and if we're old, at least we can smile, dance, fuck, love, and hope like young people. We can still try to change the world, and we can still be who we wanted to be when we were young. For if we don't, others will.

Did it happen? Did we peak? Was that it? We are here. We are now. This is this.

And we're still so much further to go, years before we sleep. But whilst we grow old, we won't grow.. staid.

Where was I? I got distracted.

The Wedding Present are the main support. And, where The Wedding Present always elevated themselves from their peers was the combination of drama, of tension and release, of control, of the moment where everything stopped for a second, and then roared, and it all started again. Tonight, they perform two of their finest songs (“Dalliance”, which for a six minute growl without a chorus, is … as ever... possibly the most gorgeous cacophony, that sounds like a heartbroken, Spectoresque 'wall of sound' made of angry chainsaws) and the rarely-performed, but absolutely yearning “Interstate 5”, which is the sound of impossible wishes. Now, this sounds all flowery, but both those songs trade in what The Wedding Present are best at, the sound of longing, of not being able to be with the one you love and at the same time, not being able to not be with them. There are new songs, and old ones, a handful (three or four) from the coming-soon album due in the autumn, and a huge number of older songs – alongside the aforementioned – sit “Blue Eyes”, “Click Click”, “Brassneck”, “Kennedy”, and what is wonderful ; frustrating and fantabulous at the same time, is that The Wedding Present change their set with regularity, and the band can seemingly play any song in the bands body of work at the drop of a hat, and frequently do. I can't recall one song I've seen at every show they've played, and that in itself is a rarity amongst modern touring bands ; every band I know of has 5-6 'must have' songs they play every night. The Wedding Present have no such thing but the seeming ability to play anyone of their 201 songs at any time, which is wonderful. And frustrating, when the band play a song like “Skin Diving”, nobody knows it. They play like a headline band, with an hour that is worth more than most main shows. They're not for everyone, being near enough musical Marmite, but the band they are now, the one that they've evolved into, is one they always promised becoming.

You Should Always Keep in Touch With Your Friends
Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?
Click Click
Skin Diving
Interstate 5
My Favourite Dress
Broken Bow
Blue Eyes

Half an hour later, and it's The Wonder Stuff. I've seen them many times before, and I've seen good shows and bad ones, and this one ranks as – at least as good – as any other version of the band. To the casual observer, it isn't The Wonder Stuff – but the old line up of the band stopped working together twenty two years ago, and so this version of the band is the only one that can be anymore. With the newest album “30 Goes Around The Sun” out yesterday, it's no surprise they don't play several songs from that, as hardly anyone knows it.

And on the 30th anniversary of their first rehearsal, The Wonder Stuff release their eighth studio album ; “30 Goes Around The Sun”, their fourth album since the band reformed. Clearly, this is no longer a state of nostalgia (even if their setlists are made of mostly pre-split songs), but an ongoing and permanent state. The new materal is .. well, it's The Wonder Stuff, and it sounds like the band always did, the mixture of rattling guitars, fiddle, fluid and complex rhythms, and Miles' well known, grasping vocals. (And by grasping, I mean, there's always an aspiration to more, a reaching). It's more than the sum of the parts ; you can clearly hear the influences of The Waterboys, and Echo & The Bunnymen, and numerous others, but also, the way they are made and built and combined, makes it always and only The Wonder Stuff. Band members may come and go, but it's never been about anything but the songs to me. After all, who still sees the same girl you did when you were 18? Works the same job? Lives in the same house?

The new songs sound like old ones you haven't heard before. And whilst the sound of the debut, the spiky, post-punk pop, is here, it's also superceded by a newer approach, the wiser, smarter sound of years. I dread to use the word 'Maturity', but more.. the folly of youth isn't so obvious. The songs are driven by a compulsion, as the best songs are. That they have to be made and sung, not that they want to be. And the more you listen to them, the better they get. It's always the way for me, the first few listens the Wonder Stuff albums aren't immediate.. and then.. they are. This stands up with and next to, worthy of the band name.. the same, but different. With “In Clover”, “For The Broken Hearted” and “Weakened” as particular highlights.

Tony Arthy on drums fits perfectly, and it's hard to imagine him not in the band these days. Dan Donnelly on guitar plays like he has always been in the band. Then again, being a fan of the band.. and then joining the band, you're going to make sure the band is in good hands, aren't you? And it is.

Given that its the bands 30th Anniversary Tour, and I've seen the 20th, 25th, and 30th birthday shows, it's not like seeing the same band.. but it is the same band even if its not the same people. It's a frantic 100 minutes, with twenty five songs, the majority from big hitter albums “Never Loved Elvis” (when the band headlined stadiums), and “Hup!”. They are excellent songs – and the band have learnt from playing almost all of the albums in full in recent history by knowing which songs they didn't often play are still much loved. And, as ever, there's a sense of celebration, of being here and now, and having a great time, with 12 hit singles of the bands army in tonights setlist, and then without realising, I forget my problems and my worries, I'm surrounded by friends (over the two nights, probably 50 of them), and I realise that if this is what music does – if it heals, and makes us happy, and makes up keep going, keep living, realising One More Day, One More Day is all it takes, then sure, music has done its job? Life is amazing, and this is fun, and I'll keep on doing it, give it one more day, and keep fighting – and whatever it is, a cat, or a cuddle, or a band, - then that is worth the world.

30 Years in the Bathroom
Here Comes Everyone
On the Ropes
Red Berry Joy Town
Caught in My Shadow
For The Broken Hearted
Mission Drive
Golden Green
The Size of a Cow
Welcome to the Cheap Seats
Be Thy Name
Don't Let Me Down Gently
A Wish Away
Radio Ass Kiss
Give Give Give Me More More More
Ten Trenches Deep

Can't Shape Up
Cartoon Boyfriend
Piece of Sky
It's Yer Money I'm After, Baby
Good Night Though

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