9. Stereophonics – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London – 24/3/2001

Previously on Sweating With Strangers: Status Quo take it real damn sloooow, and we bid farewell to drummer Jeff.

An avid reader tells me “the world is praying for no more Status Quo for a while.” Really? I think the world has been praying for something along those lines since 1978, and even death cannot stop them, so I wouldn’t hold your breath.

That said, if you mean “no more blog posts about Status Quo”, then you’re in luck, because I’m about to stir the pot wildly, with a second post about the Stereophonics. Yes, nine gigs in and three is still our magic number when it comes to bands seen. But we’ve entered my car-owning and university years, where I start to branch out, so do keep reading if variety is your thing.

In hindsight, this gig represented my first step on the road to full-blown ticket buying addiction. When the first news started seeping out of a third Stereophonics album – Just Enough Education to Perform – I was on it like a hawk. When they announced a preview tour at theatre sized venues, I had to go. HAD TO! Nothing anyone could say would dissuade me:

“There’s no gig near here”? I’ll drive to London.

“They’ll be doing an arena tour later anyway”? I’ll be at uni in the South West then!

“You don’t have any friends to go with”? Fine, I’ll buy a ticket for a guy at work and drag him along with me.

“Mr Writer is rubbish”? You are WRONG sir!!

Just_Enough_Education_to_Perform

Despite all logic and reason, getting to this show was the most important thing in the entire world to me, so tickets were booked the second they went on sale. Then after much discussion it was decided that I would drive myself and my colleague Darren to Shepherd’s Bush and back in my clapped out old Renault 5, for the sake of a rock n roll show. Looking back, it’s easy to consider this a stupid and unnecessary idea, especially for someone who was supposed to be saving for uni life, but I can’t help but be a little impressed by 18-year-old me and his dedication to getting his rock on.

Getting to London was a laughably big undertaking. I’d been to the capital maybe three times in my whole life, and certainly never driven there before. I’d spotted a shopping centre car park a few minutes walk from the venue online, but with no sat-nav, and just Darren’s map-reading skills to guide us, we got totally lost and ended up in a completely different shopping centre miles away from the venue, and had to run to make it to the show on time.

But make it we did, and I was taken aback by the beautiful theatre in which we found ourselves. Up to this point my gig venue experience extended to one leisure centre, one athletics track and the NEC Arena, so seeing such an ornately decorated theatre style venue was a delightful change of pace.

3001558_Shepherds-Bush-Empire

It was also amazing to see the difference such a relatively small venue made, as even when standing at the back of the floor we were closer than I’d ever been to the front of a gig. Well, except for briefly at the start of the last time I’d seen the Stereophonics. Fear kicked in. Horrible flashbacks to near death in Swansea plagued my mind. The previous time I’d try to watch a Stereophonics support act and been near the front, I’d nearly crushed a small girl while being crushed myself by a medium-sized young man, who was in turn being crushed by a thousand sweaty Welshmen. Please God, spare me from another human wave!

I needn’t have worried, for while that last show featured a rabble rousing support slot from Reef, this featured the far more sedate – but far more impressive – Turin Brakes. They were absolutely brilliant, and became the first support band whose music I went on to buy. They also had a drummer who looked like Terry Nutkins, which should be a plus point in anyone’s book. Sadly I can’t find any evidence to support that, but imagine he wasn’t wearing a hat in this video and you’ll be halfway there.

I felt it was something of a statement of intent for the Stereophonics that they chose the acoustic duo to open for them on this tour. As was a flyer at the show which included quotes from Kelly Jones where he announced defiantly that he was “done with all that w**king on the guitar.” I’m not exactly sure what that meant, but it set the scene for the more ballad driven and acoustic sounding show that followed, and indeed the album it was promoting.

Since the last time I’d seen them, the Stereophonics had been busy alienating the music press with the first single off the album, ‘Mr Writer’. I liked it a lot, even though it was nothing like what I might have expected them to come back with. Although it starts based around an acoustic guitar, the organ melody adds more edge than their earlier acoustic songs. It also builds to a rocking crescendo, especially when they do it live.

So I loved it, but then I wasn’t a music journalist in the year 2001, and the song’s lyrics weren’t a giant and unsubtle “f**k you” to me and all my colleagues (although actually, as I was stacking fruit and veg for a living in 2001, that would’ve been hilarious if they were, and I would’ve loved the song just as much).

Like much of the new album – which turned out to be far more nuanced than their earlier releases – it actually struck me as something that might have impressed the critics, if only it wasn’t for the lyrics. Depending on how you look it, reacting to the press starting to turn against you by writing a song that explicitly tells them “I’d like to shoot you all”, is either a highly commendable nonchalance towards critical acclaim, or it’s really, really stupid!

The result was all too predictable, in that the music press savaged the single, and largely the album too, and it generally created a stain on their reputation with the critics. Indeed, there are plenty of reviews of this very gig available online, and even the complimentary ones start by addressing their hatred for ‘Mr Writer’, before going on to comment on the gig itself.

The contrast between this gig and the Morfa Stadium show couldn’t have been more stark. Yes, there was the colossal difference in size, but also the fact that so many songs were completely new, and that many of them were ballads or acoustic numbers, gave the whole show a really chilled out feel.

They started, brazenly enough, with ‘Mr Writer’, before playing almost all the new tracks and a sprinkling of old ones to keep us invested. Whereas the previous one had been a raucous party from start to finish, this gig involved a lot of standing, a lot of nodding along, and – on my part at least – a lot of watching Kelly Jones and thinking how awesome he was.

There’s just something about the guy’s voice that gets me, especially live. And without the fear of surging crowds or the distraction of rocking out, I spent most of this gig just admiring the man, and feeling honoured to be standing 20 foot away from him. As I mentioned in an earlier post, over-saturation of going to gigs has taken away some of wide-eyed wonder I felt at being in the same room as my heroes as a child, and this was the last time I can remember feeling that way at a show.

Set-list thoughts:

Stereophonics Setlist Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, England 2001, J.E.E.P.

  • There’s a lot of songs from the JEEP album.  Fair enough, that was the point of the show, but gigs like this can often be a bit awkward if the new tracks don’t cut the mustard. Fortunately I loved what I heard, and was too busy fanboying at Mr Jones anyway to notice if people were enjoying it or not.
  • ‘Have a Nice Day’ blew me away. This was the first time I’d heard it, and again, it wasn’t what I was expecting from the Stereophonics, but I just thought it was brilliant.
  • Kelly introduced ‘Bartender and the Thief’ by saying it was “a song about a lesbian… Anne Robinson”, who had apparently said some mean things about the Welsh shortly beforehand. Even in 2001 that was a bit jarring.
  • New single to start? Album closer to finish? Minus 20 Hodge Points for laziness! ‘Rooftop’ is very much underrated in my opinion though. and I’m sure I saw them end a set with it one more time, when it was a great surprise.

That’s your lot for this instalment. Thanks for reading.

Come back next time for a – probably very short – post about a gig I’ve just remembered I went to!

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