No guitar band splits opinion quite like The Stone Roses; depending on who you talk to they’re either the greatest band this country has ever produced or one of its most furiously over-hyped. For those pitching in the former camp, last year’s comeback shows in Heaton Park were probably the most highly anticipated in pop history.
More than 225,000 flocked to see their heroes reunited over three nights, so it’s testament to the unwavering loyalty of Roses fans that they’ve managed to sell out huge shows in London and Glasgow just a year later. Before the gigs, rumours were rife that the band were ready to unleash new material, but if the lack of new songs disappointed the crowd, they didn’t show it. There were no new songs, no surprises, barely any interaction with the audience, but no one cared; they were partying like it was 1990, and as long as Ian Brown and co were stood before them, they’d have danced along to anything.
It was up to the support acts to play nicely with the audience. This evening’s line-up was a little more on message with Roses fans (the previous night’s bill included Rudimental and Dizzee Rascal). Johnny Marr looked suave as ever; his slick suit and don’t-give-a-fuck-snarl almost masking the cringey Morrissey-oke of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and How Soon Is Now?, while Public Image Ltd would have got the crowd going, if only anyone had paid any attention to them. Despite his best attempts – “Wakey wakey, welcome to my manor, you’re very welcome; don’t be afraid of Uncle Johnny” – most of the audience seemed bemused by the poncho-wearing John Lydon. Not that he’d let a thing like that put him off; This Is Not A Love Song was menacing and venomous, even if much of the crowd used it as a bar break.
By the time the Stone Roses took to the stage at 8:45pm, the sun was setting, the beers had certainly been flowing, and the occasional clips of Shane Meadows’ new film about our headliners, Made Of Stone, beamed from the big screen, meant the crowd were already singing and jumping around. But nothing could match the roar that erupted when Brown first swaggered on stage to the opening bass notes of I Wanna Be Adored.
Their interpretations and re-workings were as outlandish as ever, giving Reni the space to cut loose on the drums while Mani and John Squire jammed in a way that only they can; it was groove heavy, acid-drenched euphoria. The mid-set placement of Fools Gold was inspired and the injection of a 10-minute jam might have brought it to a raucous crescendo, but Brown’s vocals felt half-hearted and weak, drowned out by a rather more impassioned crowd. That didn’t last for long though; he was on fine form for a victorious Waterfall, She Bangs The Drums and Ten Storey Love Song.
Tonight’s set list could, of course, have been written by any one of the 40,000 spectators at any time over the last 20 years – they don’t exactly have a lot to choose from – so the absence of Sally Cinnamon was noticeable but soon forgiven. When As Love Spreads segued into This Is The One, to be followed by Made Of Stone and Breaking Into Heaven, Brown gurned at the crowd with the aggression and hostility he traded on back in the day. But even he can’t avoid giving them a cheeky grin every now and then.
As expected, it’s I Am The Resurrection that really made the night. As flares set the sky above Finsbury Park a smoky red, the masses looked like they’re back on Spike Island; everyone’s a little bit older, the tie dyed shirts look a bit silly now and Brown’s voice certainly needs a bit of propping up by the others, but for a couple of hours that spirit is recaptured.