The 20th anniversary of Word Gets Around, the debut album from Welsh rock fixtures Stereophonics, passed with relatively little fanfare last year. The band – founder members Kelly Jones and bassist Richard Jones, plus guitarist Adam Zindani and drummer Jamie Morrison – marked the occasion with one ramshackle gig at an 800-capacity student union in London, breaking up the vintage album tracks with a medley of AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Springsteen covers. By all accounts, it sounded as if the veteran ironmongers of flinty romanticism were finally having fun.
Perhaps emancipation has that power. For the past seven years, Stereophonics have been perhaps the biggest indie band in the world, free of record contract tyranny yet still capable of comfortably filling massive arenas and booking headline festival slots. A brace of new records on their own label charted impressively; their 10th album, Scream Above the Sounds, was released via Parlophone late last year and only missed No 1 because Michael Ball and Alfie Boe made an early play for the Christmas market.
Removing the major-label yoke of relentlessly producing albums and touring may not have pushed Jones’s songwriting into new realms of cosmic experimentation, but it does seem as if he has been listening to a lot of ZZ Top. The hard boogie of new song Chances Are is booming enough to fill this Aberdeen hangar and then some. It is accompanied by grindhouse footage of dirtbikes, hot rods and other symbols of revved-up Americana– an appropriate kickoff for a monster-truck-sized gig.
Jones’s voice – that impressive Rod Stewart rasp, albeit with the twinkle turned down – adds horsepower and heft to newer material, but there is a distinct uptick in energy whenever the band reprise their earliest hits. A rampant run through More Life in a Tramp’s Vest is greeted particularly warmly, complete with vintage pics and video of the band in younger, longer-haired days.
Things occasionally veer into arena-rock routine – with encroaching dry ice on All in One Night and a jiving baritone sax player on the grinding Geronimo – but there is little sense of self-indulgence. The overall vibe is of seriousness, although one perhaps unintentional moment of humour comes from an acoustic interlude on a cosy stage set where band members and their instruments are brought so close together you half expect them to knock each other over. They resurrect their Handbags and Gladrags cover from The Office, inspiring a happy punter to twirl a security guard beside the sound desk.
After that sweet acoustic detour, a run of middling, muddy songs threatens to derail the show, draining momentum. Even the return of the sax player, this time throwing a tenor around, cannot amp up new track Cryin’ in Your Beer. But after that longueur, there is a five-song run of classics – relatable, hardscrabble snapshots of life far away from bright lights and big cities – that serve as an impressive reminder of why Stereophonics became so successful so fast. While playing Traffic, Kelly dramatically pauses mid-strum in a moment designed to create tension. Instead, the gap is filled to overflowing with emphatic cheers, to the extent that he even cracks a smile.