Our Editor-in-Chief recounts one of her favourite bands performing pre-pandemic, in a sentimental ode to their nostalgic live act.
As soon as I hear the smoky undertones of Kelly Jones’ vocals, I feel a sense of peace wash over me; it sounds like home. The band has been around for longer than I’ve been alive, yet they’re timeless. I grew up listening to Stereophonics and even now, the second the sun comes out, I climb into my car, roll the windows down and let the warmth beat down as the soothing melodies of Have A Nice Day pack my brain with endorphins and I reminisce the lazy summer road trips with my dad, listening to those same songs.
The show had a strange start. The band began blaring out C’est La Vie, yet the main venue lights were still on, leaving thousands of people in the Hydro feeling exposed and confused. Mid-song we were plunged into darkness and the place lit up, unveiling a whimsical stage setup, like something you’d see in a kingdom of mermaids. Long strips of fairy lights draped down from the ceiling to surround a puffy white-curtained backdrop behind the band.
After roars and screams from the crowd following the first song, Jones strutted back towards the main stage from the small square stage that was protruding into the audience. I was squinting down to see if I could spy the trapdoor on the square, hoping for their signature reappearance through the floor later in the show. He started talking about his childhood back in Wales, reminiscing Sunday baths nights when his two older brothers would set up their silver Toshiba ghetto blaster and blare the likes of Dire Straights and AC/DC through the door. He recalls them moving out and him having to make up his own melodies “because the bastards took away the music”.
I Wanna Get Lost With You followed, and we were thrust into a fever dream as the band recreated the setup from the song’s music video with millions of rainbow-coloured lights showering the room from the spinning disco ball above. They then gave us a taste of their newest album with Bust This Town, released in 2019. The throbbing heartbeat of the bass drum in Geronimo beat in time to the pulsing of the hot pink and bright white lights behind them. The middle eight did not disappoint as Jones and a saxophone player stormed down the stage pathway towards the square, jamming hard together as the stage lights went crazy, flashing frantically in true rockstar style.
A line of heavy-duty lights then slowly sunk down from the ceiling to be merely metres from the lads’ heads, casting a sole spotlight on top of Kelly Jones as he began Maybe Tomorrow. Half-way through, Adam Zindani took to the square with a steely guitar solo before hyping up the crowd, beckoning us to cheer louder than we already were. The melody’s journey ended the same way it started, with Jones playing guitar alone under a simple white spotlight, only this time the whole audience was illuminated, and we sang in harmony, cherishing this moment of togetherness.
I finally got my summer song, closing my eyes and letting the sweaty heat of the arena replicate summer sunshine as I swung my head back and forth to Have A Nice Day – a song Jones remarks as being “stolen from a taxi driver in San Francisco.” With barely a moment to recover, we were flung from cheerful to eery as a moody blue and green scene unfolded and the oscillating wails of the Mr. Writer guitar drowned us in dark, unsteady vibes.
Pain was etched into the sides of Jones’ voice in Hungover For You, and I cast my sights to those around me, seeing people with their hands gripping the space over their hearts, eyes squeezed shut as they howled, “you don’t love me, don’t love me, don’t love me no more.” It was powerful and therapeutic, with many of us nursing broken hearts but finding healing through the collective pain of those around us. He sang for those of us who, for at least one song, shirked away from the sight of the surrounding couples who nodded absentmindedly with their arms wrapped around one another.
As the song ended and the stage went dark, Jones was left singing alone as the rest of the band disappeared. The concert was nowhere near finished, so I knew what was coming. He walked down the stage runway and a strip of lights on either side followed his path, like a shooting star streaming behind him. Reaching the square, he met the rest of the band who were huddled around the trapdoor drum kit which had arisen in the darkness. We had the pleasure of a 360-degree view as they transported us back almost a quarter of a century ago to their 1997 album, playing Local Boy in The Photograph then A Thousand Trees.
After that little blast from the past, they return to the main stage and slingshot us back to the present with Make Friends With The Morning from their most recent album. They powered through Indian Summer and Mr and Mrs Smith, with Scottish drummer Jamie Morrison finishing up on an epic drum solo, his shaggy hair flopping about as the booms of the bass drum echoed throughout the arena. Fly Like An Eagle, Superman, Don’t Let The Devil Take Another Day and Handbags and Gladrags followed in tremendous fashion; but then the lights dropped, the band left the stage again and Kelly Jones took a seat at the piano to play the heart-wrenching melody Before Anyone Knew Our Name, in memory of Stuart Cable - late drummer of the band who tragically died in 2010. Before he started playing, Jones fondly spoke about the early days with Cable; “We started this band from a dead-end street in the South Wales valley. I lived in number 54 and Stuart lived in number 62.” They had rehearsals every Sunday at 12 in the youth club down the street and Jones would walk up to Cable’s house, knock on his door “and the fucker was never ready.” He talked about opening for The Rolling Stones in Paris and finding Cable in Keith Richards’ dressing room with his three favourite things: “Beer, snooker and shepherd’s pie.” The melody then began with Jones hanging his head, “This one’s for you, Stu.”
Returning to the stage, the band played Sunny, with Jones taking a leap off the square stage mid-solo guitar to come face-to-face with a swarm of eager fans. He then screams, “let’s see you fucking jumping, Glasgow!” and the rocky sounds of The Bartender And The Thief ricochet off the walls, shaking your teeth and bones.
I glance at the clock and realise it’s fast approaching 11pm – nearly the end of the concert. I take a few breaths to absorb the performance I’ve just witnessed and prepare myself for the final pitstop on the emotional rollercoaster I’ve experienced. I know what they’re going to end with, and my heart is beating out of my chest with anticipation and nerves. The buoyant guitar strums of Dakota electrify the room, accompanied by the sugary vocals of Kelly Jones. This song hits home for me, being my pinnacle breakup song with a lyrical story closely matching my own recent reality. The band have managed to perfectly encapsulate the last five years of my life into five minutes, and I end the concert with tears streaking down my face, screaming “so take a look at me now” over and over and feeling my heart explode with a million mixed emotions.
In unison, the four musicians walk down to their stage square for a final time, taking a big bow as thousands of people cheer and applaud a phenomenal gig. Thinking back to it, it was probably one of the final large gatherings to occur this year, and as I sit here, alone in my flat and contemplating the dystopian world we’re living in mid-pandemic, I find joy in remembering the communion of thousands of strangers who found themselves all together watching the legends that are Stereophonics.