Ten years ago it would seem inconceivable that Stereophonics could play a venue like this without the place going batshit crazy – this is the comparatively tiny Electric Brixton, hosting a band that have sold out stadiums – particularly when they kick off with The Bartender And The Thief and follow it up with A Thousand Trees, two of the safest bets in a catalogue that now spans 20 years.
But time has marched on, and this isn’t an audience of indie kids anymore; everyone’s got a little older and a little more proper and as a result just over a thousand people stand stock still while the last genuinely massive band to come out of the Britpop era play two of their most beloved and anthemic singles.
In fairness, Kelly Jones and co are probably used to the lack of moshpit by now; they’ve been elder statesmen for a while. It’s some years since they’ve been huge, longer since they’ve been relevant and even longer still since they’ve been considered in any way cool (were we being unkind we could throw in “any good” into that mix as well). And in any case, belting out hits to the bouncing masses isn’t the reason we’re here. Today there’s a new Stereophonics album out and, startlingly, a it’s a relatively good one.
Some time off, a stint at screenwriting for Jones and the untimely death of former drummer and best friend Stuart Cable in 2010 have all impacted on a collection of songs that is often dark, cinematic and a good way more interesting than anything they’ve done in years. Tonight’s relatively intimate event is to showcase the new material, and the band obligingly play the entire album, though they’re sensible enough to smatter greatest hits throughout.
The new material itself is sometimes very good indeed. Graffiti On The Train, the album’s title track, is atmospheric and brilliant, the closing section of Catacombs sees the band channeling Holy Bible-era Manic Street Preachers in its compressed riffing and Been Caught Cheating is an acoustic Eagles-do-blues stomper it’s hard to dislike. Best of all is the slow building, intense Violins And Tambourines which sounds like a Fleetwood Mac Bond theme and packs some genuine menacing punch.
It’s not all gold though. Recent single Indian Summer is everything people started to hate about the Stereophonics back at the turn of the millennium, though tonight’s crowd seem enthusiastic enough. A female vocalist joins the band for Take Me, which aims for simmering and sexy but misses by quite some margin, coming off as “slightly odd b-side”. Still, if the mission tonight is to flog the album to assembled press and hardcore fans, then it’s probably been accomplished. The new songs translate well, the old sweeten the pill and despite the static audience the band feel robust and confident, notable as Local Boy In The Photograph closes the first section sounding every bit the bittersweet Britrock classic.
An encore of Billy Davey’s Daughter, Traffic and the re-energising glam of Dakota (we’ll gloss over a less than inspiring newie, Roll The Dice) seals the deal, but the job’s already been done. Time has indeed marched on since 1997, but it seems Stereophonics may be built to last after all.