A sell out crowd rolls into the Leeds O2 from the cold. A strange mix of jacket and jeans types and hoodies, all eager to bear witness to the return of the Welsh poster boys of 90’s indie.
The lights go down and the band make their way out to a swell of cheers. They get stuck straight into the set, front man Kelly Jones’s voice fills the room in that unmistakable Rod Stewart on a Springsteen road trip style of his.
As early as the second song there are old favourites being tossed in, ‘The Bartender and the Thief’ really getting the party started bringing nods of approval from the people stood nearest to me. Is it 1998 already?! This is followed by ‘A Thousand Trees’ and the first of many sing-alongs of the evening. The opening few minutes have been an exercise in getting the audience into proceedings and making sure they are on board before the introduction of the first new song of the evening, and title track of their new album, ‘Graffiti on the Train’ – it could be put in the same bracket as songs like ‘Mr Writer’, a slow, more moody number that has that melancholic air about it that makes up a surprising amount of the Stereophonics’ repertoire.
The mood soon gets lifted again when ‘Have A Nice Day’ finds its way to the surface and the crowd give out a wealth of “ba-da-ba’s” as this little bit of sunshine breaks out in this very dark room. I defy anyone not to be taken away to a sunny pub garden as this particular tune rings out.
Another new one – well, a new old one – ‘You Been Caught Cheating’, which was rescued from a pile of demo tapes during a drinking session, creates a nice departure into the blues and goes down well. There are a lot of people who think of this band as fairly one dimensional – more than likely those who have only really heard the songs that have made it to airplay – but at times like this they show a much more diverse approach to song writing. ‘Superman’ underlines this – a song that seemed maybe a little bit too slick on the album is given an altogether more grimy, filthier edge live; the dirty bluesy lick that runs through the verses coming across with much more character face to face than via a recording. The chorus has more about it live as well – you can almost taste the grim motel that it should’ve been written in.
‘Mr Writer’ allows Jones to really unleash that famous, gravelly drawl that has been so fundamental to the overall Stereophonics sound over the years – this is another track that presents itself really well live and it causes some of the biggest crowd vocals of the evening.
It may be true that some of the material can be a little bit ‘stock’ sometimes and it’ll probably never win any awards for originality – in fact the more radio-friendly tunes are a lot less engaging – but there are plenty of moments through the set where the band transform from a chart, Britpop act to a bunch of lads who know how to just plug in and rock out a bit and I guess that is really all you need a lot of the time.
The evening begins to rev up towards its close with more and more old favourites being played, ‘I Wouldn’t Belive Your Radio’ brings back the riotous singing from the fans and then things manage to launch themselves to another level when the opening lines of ‘Local Boy in the Photograph’ lurch out towards the mass of bouncing bodies.
The encore brings out shovel loads of nostalgia and dumps it all over the crowd – ‘Just Looking’ is received as if it does actually have the power to take us all back to a world of TFI Friday, long summers of football tournaments and drinking cider in fields. The excitement is running high so it’s no wonder the rafters are given a good wobble when Jones announces “we’re coming back in November to play that fucking big arena thing you haven’t finished building!” I imagine they’ll not struggle to sell that gig out either and I’m almost entirely convinced they won’t when ‘Dakota’ is greeted with near frenzy. It’s the last song and the roomful of, otherwise, fairly respectable looking folk do their best to destroy their vocal cords on one last anthem – to a man, the whole room is singing.
I was pleasantly surprised tonight. The songs that I liked on the albums didn’t disappoint and there were others that I’m not that fussed about that were given a good kick up the arse as live versions, giving them a new lease of life. Stereophonics are a band that will always sell tickets based on their 90’s success but people indulge in nostalgia for a reason – it feels good. So, if you fancy a healthy flashback or two, why not grab some tickets for the November show?