It’s a bitterly cold night in Glasgow but it hasn’t deterred a huge crowd from descending on the Hydro to welcome the Stereophonics. There’s a jubilant mood in the air after Scotland managed to secure a victory over England in the Calcutta Cup match earlier in the day. Unlike the crowd for the Morrissey gig a week earlier this motley bunch probably quite like sport. The misfits, mis-shapes and mistakes of the Pope of Mope are at home in their box rooms. There are, instead, rugby shirts, Stone Island jackets and a surprisingly high number of grey haired lads and lasses which, I think, says something about the ability of Stereophonics to write songs that have an everyman quality and universal appeal. Clever boys.
From my padded seat high up in the Gods it’s noticeable too that the upper levels of the venue are open tonight meaning that there will be a considerably bigger crowd. Latest album “Scream Above the Sounds” has clearly hit the mark with listeners but it’s the back catalogue of crowd pleasing anthems and pop hits that remains the biggest weapon in the arsenal of this band.
Things kick off with “Chances Are” and Kelly striding out onto the walkway that leads into the crowd…it’s just him and the thousands of fans staring at him. Armed only with a guitar and the confidence that comes from knowing you are about to bludgeon the audience with a set so filled with melody and hooks that Stock Aitken and Waterman would murder their own families for them. Eventually the song builds to a full band number and by its end I know exactly why they have sold so many records and why so many people are here.
“Caught by the Wind” is built around the sort of earworm hook and sing-along guile that has seen Stereophonics outlive and outsell so many of their peers from the late nineties.
2015’s “Keep the Village Alive” was another number one album and it’s from it that “Cest la Vie” is pulled. A machine gun splatter of words and beats drives the audience into a state of near frenzy.
“More Life in a Tramp’s Vest” transports me back to the V97 festival when I first saw Stereophonics. Here I am 21 years later with about £2.73 in the bank and less hair than an Action Man doll while Kelly and the gang are millionaires and have enough hair to make a bald man’s convention positively livid.
We return to “Keep the Village Alive” for “Lost With You” after which Kelly works the crowd wonderfully by mentioning the rugby!
“You did alright at the rugby today didn’t you?! We’ve been coming here for 21 years…you never fail us.”
When you witness the way the crowd react to “Have a Nice Day” you understand why Kelly was able to face them alone at the start of the gig. Put simply the entire crowd loses its mind. All live music events have a quasi religious bent to them…the common purpose, the worship, the communal singing…but this is a near orgy of praise and thanksgiving.
“All in One Night” slows the tempo a little…to begin with but it builds to a crashing, roaring, shuddering wall of noise by its end and the sense that you are watching a group of genuinely gifted musicians is difficult to shake off. The ability to write and play like this is about more than hard work.
“Superman” from “Language Sex Violence Other?” is a big hit with the crowd and shows off the full range of stadium friendly guitar solos, fist pumping and general rock and rollery that you need to play venues of this size. It’s a blast.
“Geronimo” is another song from the latest album and it’s already a firm favourite judging by the reaction of the Hydro crowd. It also features the first appearance of the evening of Gavin and his sax! Liam Gallagher may well be suspicious and wary of the instrument but not the boys from the valleys.
“Maybe Tomorrow” sees an outbreak of mass singing that is genuinely moving. It’s a strange thing the power of music…it’s ability to, quite unexpectedly, release emotions and make you feel.
“I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio” sees the entire band move to the end of the walkway and be flanked by two lamps of the kind that used to adorn my grandmother’s sitting room. Even in an enormodome like the Hydro this move makes the venue seem much more intimate and that’s a clever trick.
When Mike d’Abo wrote “Handbags and Gladrags” in the 60’s before producing the Chris Farlowe version he couldn’t have imagined the new life that Stereophonics could breathe into it nearly 50 years on. It’s become a Stereophonics song.
“What am I running from, I used to be fearless.” sings Kelly at the start of “Boy on a Bike” which is a plaintive, heartfelt and rather delicate song. The answer to the question is that he’s not afraid of anything…how can he be with so many people urging him on, singing his words back at him and loving him?
“Mr Writer” is a sleazy, bluesy number and it is also the moment when you realise that Kelly really is possessed of a voice that stands up alongside some of the greats…Rod Stewart is the obvious comparison but that’s quite the compliment so I won’t apologise.
“This is a song about when you’ve had too much beer…too much everything…it’s all gone fucking tits up.”
“Crying in Your Beer” is a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in one of the Vegas era Elvis shows. A bit rockabilly and a lot of fun. Go dig out your copy of “Scream Above the Sounds” and try hearing Elvis sing it…see, it’s not mad!
Two tracks from “Graffiti on the Train” are up next with “Indian Summer” and the eponymous title track both being played along with “What’s the Fuss All About?”. Each one a crowd pleaser…each a little gentler in tone, tempo and pace. That’s just as well because what comes next is the musical equivalent of GBH.
“Sunny” leaves the entire crowd a sobbing, shuddering, sweating and grateful mess on the floor. It’s epic stuff. Pure rock and roll. Turned up to eleven…maybe one louder. Rock star poses. It’s the highlight of the set for me and I hadn’t really heard it before.
By this point I just want the show to be over. It’s already exceeded my expectations and I’m worried that anything that comes next is going to ruin what has been a great night. Those worries are unfounded as the band decide now is the perfect time to play “Just Looking”, “Traffic”, “Local Boy in the Photograph”, “A Thousand Trees” and “The Bartender and the Thief” one after the other. Just think about that for a second. Imagine being the sort of band who can play for nearly an hour and forty five minutes without playing songs that well known and loved. My stomach flipped, my heart leapt and my toes tapped. Glorious.
By this point they have been playing for two hours and I’ve heard more great songs than I have any right to expect and I could have left utterly satisfied. These boys don’t want to leave you wanting more…they want to give you more so after a short moment off stage they are back to send us all home with enormous grins on our faces with a gloriously uplifting version of “Dakota” before they wave goodbye and leave everyone in the room convinced that this is what life is about…good times, happy times, love, music and feeling better at the end of things than you did at the start.
Bless their Welsh hearts.