Four songs into the Stone Roses’ homecoming reunion show last night, frontman Ian Brown looked out over the 75,000-strong crowd in Manchester’s Heaton Park and nonchalantly declared, "As you see, we’ve still got it. . . ."
In truth, the crowd had been convinced of the band’s continuing worth and relevance long before that – probably even before the initial bassline of traditional set-opener "I Wanna Be Adored" had swirled out into the damp evening air. The first time around, high profile Stone Roses shows had a tendency to end in either myth-enhancing triumph (as with their Spike Island mini-festival in 1990) or reputation-damaging disaster (as with the band’s dying swansong at Reading Festival in 1996). But their second – or should that be third? – coming was carried out amidst an air of awestruck celebration from start to finish.
There was no sign of the tensions that had seemingly resurfaced earlier on the band’s reunion trail, specifically the June 12th Amsterdam Heineken Music Hall show, where drummer Alan "Reni" Wren failed to appear for an encore and was called "a cunt" from the stage by Brown. Instead, the band seemed almost as overwhelmed at their return as the crowd at the first of three sold-out hometown shows, its first U.K. gigs – aside from a surprise one-off in nearby Warrington last month – since a messy split in 1996.
So, bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield – back from over a decade of service with Primal Scream, which earlier played a support slot – wore a look of bemused incredulity throughout. And Brown at one point surveyed the euphoric scenes in the crowd and asked, in ironic disbelief, "Where did it all go wrong?"
While Brown’s ability to talk the talk has never been in doubt, his ability to walk the walk – or, more accurately, sing the song – has long been the Roses’ Achilles’ larynx. After a strong beginning, his vocals did wobble alarmingly on "Bye Bye Badman" and "Ten Storey Love Song," but whereas that Reading ’96 performance with a depleted line-up had left him brutally exposed, here the superb musicianship of his bandmates and the enthusiastic vocal support of a 75,000-strong choir were on hand to shore up any further shortcomings. At times, it was almost impossible to hear him over the massed singalongs, leaving him free to concentrate on swagger and attitude; adding a Roses-deifying rap to "Love Spreads" and, in a Diamond Jubilee-referencing twist, dedicating anti-monarchy song "Elizabeth My Dear" to the "dirty parasites 200 miles down the road, celebrating 60 years of tyranny."
The dazzling interplay between the musicians spoke every bit as clearly. John Squire’s guitar playing was a master class in understated brilliance all evening, particularly on his extended, Led Zeppelin-esque wig-outs during grandstanding renditions of "Fools Gold" and "Love Spreads." Meanwhile, the funkadelic harmony between Wren (wearing his trademark "Reni hat" over a dreadlocked wig) and Mounfield on "Waterfall" and "Don’t Stop" highlighted the inventiveness and instinctive dance sensibility that made the Roses such a revelation the first time around.
There was no new material on display, although the band has announced its intention to finally make a third album. But, for any younger fans perhaps perplexed at how the Roses have proved such a lasting influence on British rock despite the relative scantiness of their back catalog (a classic debut album, a hit-and-miss follow-up and a handful of one-off singles), the run of superbly executed classics at the end was proof of the equally enduring quality-over-quantity argument. "Made of Stone," "This Is the One" and "She Bangs the Drums" built up to a colossal final "I Am the Resurrection" that stretched the song out to epic proportions and the audience reaction to new peaks of fervor.
"What did you think of that?" inquired Brown as the band triumphantly embraced at the end – the singer and Wren sharing a particularly affectionate bear hug, as if to prove any problems were now resolved. "Not bad for a bunch of old cunts," laughed Mounfield, as a huge Spike Island-style fireworks display lit up the night and Bob Marley’s "Redemption Song" played over the PA. The Stone Roses’ own redemption, meanwhile, had long since been assured.
"I Wanna Be Adored"
"(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister"
"Where Angels Play"
"Shoot You Down"
"Bye Bye Badman"
"Ten Storey Love Song"
"Made of Stone"
"This Is the One"
"She Bangs the Drums"
"Elizabeth My Dear"
"I Am the Resurrection"