Stereophonics At Royal Hospital Kilmainham – Photos & Review
Having experienced the dizzying heights of international mainstream success during the late 90’s and early 00’s, Welsh rockers Stereophonics’ failure to maintain their upward trajectory in the following years has since seen their legacy go somewhat under-appreciated. A series of patchy albums in the latter part of the last decade resulted in a downsizing of the fanbase. While he may not be as widely revered as Chris Martin or Noel Gallagher, the quality and consistency of frontman Kelly Jones’ work means he deserves to be mentioned amongst Britain’s very best songwriters of the last 20 years. Surprisingly, his band’s last two records, 2013’s Graffiti On The Train and this year’s Keep The Village Alive, have heralded a rather unexpected late career renaissance and with songs from their now envious back catalogue still sounding as strong as they did on their initial release, the Welshmen have continued to garner a strong live following. While Kilmainham may not be packed to capacity, tonight does see a strong turnout. Like fellow 90’s rock stalwarts Travis and Ash, It’s easy to forget just how big Stereophonics were in their prime. Each of the aforementioned bands topped the billing at the prestigious Glastonbury festival once upon a time, while the Stereophonics have themselves previously headlined Slane Castle, the biggest gig of all in the Irish musical calendar. As a result, they have stockpiled enough classic songs over the years to easily carry tonights open-air headline show.
Melodic garage rocker ‘C’est La Vie’ opens the show. A song weaker on record, it comes alive as a feel good uptempo show starter. It’s not long before the many classics are rolled out, with ‘Local Boy In The Photograph’, ‘Just Looking’, ‘Have A Nice Day’ and a wonderfully bluesy rendition of ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ all appearing early on in a hit-packed set. Now functioning as a 4-piece, the songs get the full arrangements they deserve, with the chugging riffery of ‘Vegas Two Times’ benefitting from the expanded setup. The music critic-baiting ‘Mr Writer’ may have put paid to any positive relationships the band had with the British music press back in 2001, but with Jones asking “why don’t you tell it like it really is?” and detailing how he’d “like to shoot you all”, it’s still a wonderfully scathing song all these years later. Said critics may have been withering about the more simplistic elements of the band’s musical direction over the years but the thrilling prog-rock stylings of new song ‘Sunny’ hint at a more sophisticated musical palette, with Jones taking centre stage for the song’s finale before unleashing a blistering guitar solo.
Many rock singers who perform in a similarly raspy fashion experience a gradual decline in the quality of their voice at this stage of their careers, yet somehow Jones’ voice is only getting stronger with age and cements his position as one of the great rock singers. His vocals come to the fore most noticeably on uptempo rocker ‘A Thousand Trees’. Ever since the Stereophonics debut Word Gets Around, Jones has frequently written Springsteen-esque tales of small town life with relatable characters. Standout new song ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ tells the story of a couple embarking on a secret affair who “meet every Friday night under false names” and how “she’s married to the banker man who only cares to dig for gold”, while Jamie Morrison’s powerhouse performance on drums makes it one of the standout new songs tonight (the sticksman celebrates his birthday during the show and is serenaded by a full throated rendition of happy birthday by the Dublin audience). Likewise, ‘Graffiti On The Train’ is a slow building epic about a boyfriend’s ill-fated attempt to spraypaint a marriage proposal on the side of a morning commuter carriage. Both songs, taken from their most recent albums are amongst their finest work, dispelling any fears that the band are a spent creative force.
Jones takes to the piano for current single ‘White Lies’, a U2-style epic which is also up with the very best ballads Stereophonics have to offer. Declining to walk off for the encore as a sign of gratitude for the fans who have spent all evening standing out in less than favourable conditions, they perform a beautiful rendition of the Chris Farlowe classic ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ which is met with one of the night’s biggest crowd reactions.
Returning to the back catalogue, the metal influenced ‘The Bartender And The Thief’ has the crowd bouncing as one before the night finishes with the all-conquering classic ‘Dakota’, the band’s first UK number one single which has been closing their live sets ever since its release in 2005. While the band have nailed the art of live performance (as you’d expect after a nigh-on 20 year career), the few negative aspects of the show are out of their control. The muddy and cold conditions don’t help the atmosphere while the sound system is patchy for much of the night. Low on bass and high on treble, it takes the impact away from tonight’s heavier songs and means the show doesn’t ever take flight in the same way it may have in an indoor setting.
The real pleasant surprise tonight is the strength of the new material, and when merged with the sheer quality of the band’s back catalogue it cements the Stereophonics position as one of rock music’s most reliable live bands. Maybe an indoor arena would be a more suitable location next time around?
Review by Gary O’Donnell
Photos by David Doyle