The Wonder Stuff At The Academy – Photos & Review
Formed in 1986, Birmingham’s The Wonder Stuff were kings of the U.K. indie scene from 1988 to their split in 1994. Stadium gigs, festival headline appearances at Reading, Phoenix and Feile, and a number one hit with ‘Dizzy’. In the early 1990s, as sales of singles declined, artists could break into the Top 40 with relevant ease, meaning indie bands like Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Carter USM could be found just as easily on Top Of The Pops as in the racks of underground record shops. The Wonder Stuff were no strangers to the BBC’s flagship music programme and helped pave the way for Britpop a few years later when alternative rock became mainstream pop.
Celebrating 30 years as a band, they drop in on Dublin’s Academy to treat fans to a set drawing heavily from The Eight Legged Groove Machine, Hup, and Never Loved Elvis. The crowd is a mix of 40-something lads with thin hair and thick waists, couples on date nights and younger curious fans who perhaps didn’t get to see this band first time round. A tape plays nostalgic snippets of old songs and interviews as Miles leads his merry men out for ’30 Years in the Bathroom’. Halfway through, the striking figure of violinist Erica Nockalls walks out in perfectly choreographed time for the fiddle solo. Following up with ‘Play’ from 1991’s Never Loved Elvis, Hunt stops to berate a fan who keeps shouting ‘Aston Villa’ at him before dedicating ‘Caught In My Shadow’ to said fan, although that’s not exactly what Miles called him (CLUE: Rhymes with Miles’ surname). The hits follow; a furious ‘On The Ropes’, a mellow ‘Circlesquare’, an audience-aided ‘Golden Green’, and the glam stomp of ‘Size Of A Cow’. ‘Welcome To The Cheap Seats’ is dedicated to the late Kirsty McColl who sang on the original. The current line-up is tight, with special mention to ex- Jesus Jones drummer Tony Arthy whose energetic performance behind the kit reminds us what a phenomenal drummer Martin Gilks was. Hunt’s voice has lost none of its power or range. As usual in the Academy, the sound is bang on and the volume is noticeably louder than most recent gigs I’ve been to. As a result, no audible yapping. Or maybe this generation of gig goers are more respectful towards the artist onstage? Save that argument for another day. The momentum continues with ‘A Wish Away’, ‘Radio Ass Kiss’, ‘Donation’, ‘Unbearable’ and ‘Give Give Give Me More More More’. Old limbs fill the moshpit in admirable defiance of the aging process, and are visibly knackered after a few songs. At this point, if only for a breather, some slower stripped-back tunes like ‘Room 411’ or ‘Sing The Absurd’ would have been nice, not just for a change of pace, but to demonstrate Hunt’s ear for a hook and his underrated wordsmithery.
Ending on ‘Ten Trenches Deep’, as epic a song as you’re gonna get from The Wonder Stuff, The Academy is a cauldron of military drumming, buzz saw guitars and screeching violin. Returning after a well deserved break with ‘Can’t Shape Up’ and the Beatles-esque ‘It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby’, Rob Jones’ spirit looms large as the menacing bass riff he created for traditional set-closer ‘Good Night Though’ gives the hordes one last dance to oblivion. Hunt channels manic streams of consciousness through his megaphone like an insane indie rock dictator. And so ends a night where we celebrated 30 years, and remembered absent friends. God bless the f**kin’ lot of us.
Photos by Tudor Marian
Review by Keith McGouran