It's fair to say that the lead up to these three homecoming shows by The Stone Roses divided opinion amongst music fans and commentators. Outside of Heaton Park in Manchester there may have been no shortage of detractors, critical of the backwards-looking nature and sceptical of the motives. Inside the park however 75,000 fans (225,000 if you combine all three shows) witnessed and partook in what was ultimately a special, if simple event - an iconic band that people love, playing songs that people love. T-shirts were worn as badges of honour, proud displays of allegiance, with many driven by a deep feeling that they simply had to be here.
Sure, it is important for music to move forward and provide people with new points of reference and new experiences - the enjoyably relentless stream of excellent new albums across many genres already released this year more than supports this - but to wilfully disregard music from other eras does seem to risk overlooking things of real value.
Upcoming Manchester band The Dirty North opened, followed by The Mick Jones Justice Band (playing songs by The Clash and The Farm) and dub-reggae favourites The Wailers. In what could have been a potentially difficult slot immediately before The Stone Roses, Plan B (hand-picked by Ian Brown) did a commendable job, proved by She Said and Ill Manors registering the biggest reaction from the crowd of the day so far.
The moment everyone has been waiting for soon arrives, the band taking to the stage as the sound of Stoned Love by The Supremes fades away. I Wanna Be Adored quickly establishes something of a template for the rest of the night, namely that the crowd will act as the fifth member for the rest of evening, singing along to every word, bassline and guitar solo.
Mersey Paradise and (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister follow, and see the band tentatively find their feet. The latter maybe suffers more than most from the sheer size of the event, sounding comparably quiet and slight. Sally Cinnamon marks the point where the show truly achieves lift off - the first of many overtly emotional connections to be made between band and crowd. Two of their older B-sides also provide evidence of the innocence embedded within much of their music - Where Angels Play still sounding gentle and demure, whilst at the end of Standing Here Brown sings the line "I should be safe forever in your arms" and it could easily be seen as a genuine reciprocation of the love he's receiving from the masses in front of him.
Brown owns these songs in his own way, no-one is better placed or qualified to deliver them. Mani meanwhile, normally the most extroverted and boisterous of the four seems almost a little nervous in comparison, deep in concentration. Reni is an integral force on drums (as he always was), holding the band together, whilst also bringing a carefree, mischievous element to the performance. Squire remains a withdrawn, semi-isolated presence, lost in his imperious guitar playing (and still representative of the sense of mystery that propelled the band to the special place they now occupy).
There may have been moments where the sound wasn't as perfect as it could have been (largely due to the scale of the show) but what is lost in some areas, is undoubtedly gained in others. There is a real sense of occasion throughout, a heightened feeling of shared experience and communal spirit.
Fools Gold and Something's Burning appear halfway in, together making up the keystone of the set. The former sees Squire assume centre stage as the dynamic palpably shifts, diverting the crowd away from singing to dancing as one collective mass. The latter is more understated, allowing Mani's bass to take prominence. Only two songs from The Second Coming make the cut, in some ways a generous recognition that their earlier songs are their most loved yet Ten Storey Love Song and Love Spreads are two of the highlights of the show, very much confirming the classic status they have achieved. The trio of early singles meanwhile - Waterfall, Made Of Stone and She Bangs The Drums - elicit a rarely matched melodic euphoria.
The exultant, drawn-out crescendos of This Is The One give way to Elizabeth My Dear, justly ensuring every track from their debut album is played. It sees Brown and Squire on stage alone, and is a poignant moment - theirs has always been the most fractious of the individual relationships, the biggest contributor to the band's problematic history. Later, their embrace at the end of the show arguably provides the most moving moment of the night. Of course, it's not impossible that the relationship might head in less cordial directions in the future but tonight it's a nice moment. It comes after a rapturous I Am The Resurrection, the outro further elongated as if the band are reluctant for the gig to end. When it finally does, it is marked (slightly unnecessarily) by a fireworks display.
We may still be unsure on how the story will ultimately end but for three nights The Stone Roses gave their fans what for years has been longed for. Their elevated place in guitar music and Manchester culture has never really been in doubt, but these shows served as an emphatic reminder of their brilliance and the special, unique regard in which they are held.
The Stone Roses played: I Wanna Be Adored, Mersey Paradise, (Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister, Sally Cinnamon, Where Angels Play, Shoot You Down, Bye Bye Badman, Ten Storey Love Song, Standing Here, Fools Gold, Something's Burning, Waterfall, Don't Stop, Love Spreads, Made Of Stone, This Is The One, She Bangs The Drums, Elizabeth My Dear, I Am The Resurrection.