The Second Summer of Love returns to brighten up two wet, wintry nights in north London. Happy Mondays, after re-forming yet again at the start of the year, bring some baggy Madchester magic to the Roundhouse, stirring memories of dance-driven ecstasy and psychedelic rave from their heyday 20-odd years ago.
This may be the Mondays’ fourth incarnation but this feels more like the real deal as they are now performing as the original line-up for the first time since 1993: Shaun Ryder on lead vocals (of course), brother Paul on bass, guitarist Mark Day, keyboardist Paul Davis and drummer Gary Whelan, plus Rowetta providing additional vocals and, last but not least, ‘mover and shaker’ Bez. Unlike their sometimes shambolic comeback performances in the past, the band have now sharpened up their act and, even if youthful urgency has mellowed into middle-aged professionalism, they still put on a good show.
It is Bez who acts as MC to introduce the band on stage: “We don’t follow fashion, we fucking make fashion.” That may have been true in the late eighties and early ’90s, when the Mondays influenced a whole raft of bands such as The Stone Roses, The Charlatans and The Chemical Brothers with their distinctive mix of infectious dance beats and cool guitar riffs, though these days the emphasis is on nostalgia. Their last new album five years ago was disappointing, but their classic early material still feels fresh and gets the mainly forty-something crowd moving.
Their 75-minute set relies heavily on their 1990 generation-defining album Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, with its mixture of acid house, funk, northern soul and spaced-out indie rock. Songs such as the hypnotically grooved Loose Fit, the feel-good Kinky Afro and of course their biggest club hit Step On, as well as earlier songs like the laidback Hallelujah and iconic 24 Hour Party People, go down well.
Sporting shades and a black leather jacket, the now rather chunky and thinly-haired 50-year-old front man does not move a lot on stage, but he still makes his presence felt with his banter with the band and the audience. The edgy unpredictability is gone, but considering his chemical excesses from the past it’s amazing Shaun’s still here let alone performing. His constant checking of the setlist between songs – “What’s next? Oh, that one” – may or may not be a joke, but he certainly remembers the lyrics – even if they still don’t make much sense – and delivers them with just enough urgency.
Either duetting with or backing Shaun, Rowetta gives the songs that she sings on a genuinely soulful warmth. The still-wiry Bez, minus his trademark maracas for some reason, entertains with his ‘freaky dancin”, albeit intermittently and less manically than in his Duracell bunny days.
With a new album planned for next year, we will see if Happy Mondays are not just content to live on past glories but can still make a contemporary impact.