The Stone Roses review – a vast house party

Etihad Stadium, Manchester
They’re still riding their reunion wave on the strength of two new songs, but seeing the Roses live these days is more about the fans than the band

Ninety percent of everything is awful, or uninteresting. Of course it is. How could you live in a world where everything is amazing? You’d never get anything done. In memory, nostalgia feeds from the remaining 10%, building an idealised history in our monkey brains. When the Stone Roses first emerged, pop nostalgia barely existed. Rock music meant the thrill of the new, even in the etiolated 80s. And these maverick Mancunians were more thrilling than most, mixing heritage rock with acid house’s pioneering, unifying spirit, promising that “the past was yours but the future’s mine”.

Yet the new always becomes old; our future is always turning into our past. The Roses wilted, died, disappeared, as they were always supposed to. Why, then, are they so popular now, selling nearly a quarter of a million tickets in their home city alone, with just two new songs in 20 years and a back catalogue remixed into meaninglessness? Isn’t this some desperate cabaret of nostalgia?

No one stops to ask. Manchester is at play on a warm, cloudy summer evening. No one mentions that tonight is the 20th anniversary of the bomb that destroyed Corporation Street, the obscenity that destroyed and remade modern Manchester. Instead, there’s a giddy, unreal excitement coursing through the city centre and pulsing into the stadium. Touts with the craggy faces of Ancoats gargoyles haggling furiously; men in bucket hats who haven’t danced since their daughter’s wedding bouncing in crazy shapes; women in lemon-print band T-shirts writhing like toddlers jacked on Irn-Bru. From the moment the band set sail on the buccaneering bassline of I Wanna Be Adored, it’s more like a hopelessly vast house party than a pop concert.

Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, bassist of the Stone Roses.
Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, bassist of the Stone Roses. Photograph: Music Pics/Rex/Shutterstock

No one’s here to gawp in awe at Elvis, an Ozymandias in rhinestone. This is us facing towards, and dancing with, each other, as much as we stare at the stage. We’ve come to bear witness to ourselves and our shared history. Lyrically the Roses were always the most blasphemous band of their era, playing with Christian symbols and imagery, and tonight’s pilgrims are keenly aware that the focus of any adoration was always us. Observants set off giant multicoloured flares to acclaim their favourite songs, creating Pollock paintings in the air.

The foursome tear through the opening half, clattering ocean-sized songs like Elephant Stone and Where Angels Play into three-minute pint pots a little too breathlessly. Still, what others find incomprehensible, this audience cherishes: a singer as incapable of hunting down the right notes as a forgetful lecturer; a bassist (Mani) standing stock still in brilliant white double denim; a guitarist (John Squire) hiding behind hair curtains and lost-at-sea beard; Reni the bucket-hatted drummer’s constant manic grin at a joke only he can hear. In place of stagecraft, frontman Ian Brown adopts the vaguely belligerent stance of a man entering a pub that he was barred from last Christmas.

None of it makes sense, until it does. Which is somewhere during the 11-minute rapture of Fools Gold, bleeding into the knockout triple combination of All for One (far less brittle than its studio twin), a menacing, euphoric Love Spreads and a breathtaking, sweeping version of Made of Stone, full of mystery and dark northern poetry, while the clouds lour closer and the rain arrows downward.

True, Brown lacks the emotional bandwidth tonight to give us much more than gruff non sequiturs. “Got any requests?” he inquires, before confirming, “we don’t do requests” and peeling into a sensational Waterfall, then dedicating Man United anthem This Is the One to the watching David Beckham at the home of Man City, something only this group could get away with.

It would feel insanely stupid to criticise the Roses’ unlikely rebirth when the squalling sound of a band at its height grows and swells across the darkened skies during traditional set-closer I Am the Resurrection, its false endings and restarts shaking the stadium’s stands underfoot. When the foursome hug each other and take their leave of a delirious, drenched crowd, it’s a chance for us all to celebrate the mending of severed alliances, a beautiful advertisement for friendship after adversity, an acknowledgement that the bonds between us may sometimes slip and fracture, but will never entirely break.

Damien Morris is on Twitter: @pixapumpkin


Damien Morris

The GuardianTramp

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