It needn’t be rocket science.
Announce a show at 10.30am. Open the box office at midday. Ask ticket buyers to bring along a band t-shirt, record or some other item of memorabilia. Old fashioned, but in terms of creating an event and stoking anticipation, The Stone Roses played a blinder.
One of two small warm up shows in advance of four at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium, the decision to play Carlisle rather than a more obvious destination is a generous one: the TV cameras may have moved on after December’s floods, but hundreds of families are still living in temporary accommodation, their homes derelict and uninhabitable. Here were some strangers bringing the lemons; the locals would do their best to make lemonade.
Those opening bass notes of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ raise the hairs on the back of the neck. For most of the next 90 minutes, it’s a sensation that barely drops; from a relatively small back catalogue they pull the best, and even when a few cuts from The Second Coming show face and the intensity drops a notch, a jam is actually a welcome breather. The Sands Centre’s infamously shonky sound system means the (bearded) John Squire’s guitar fades in and out of the mix all night leaving Mani’s bass to root proceedings. Reni’s laconic style still makes drumming look like the easiest job on the world. As ringleader, Ian Brown commands, restlessly patrolling the stage edge like a pre-bout boxer. A dropped shoulder suddenly seems hilarious, a jabbed tambourine an invitation to ‘Bring it!’ When they toss out ‘Made Of Stone’ followed by ‘She Bangs The Drums’, it’s a one-two knockout punch that leaves the audience on the ropes and out for the count.
A new track, ‘All For One’, may not have thrilled the critics but went some way towards assuaguing the idea The Stone Roses were content to simply trade on past glories. Since their return in 2012, nostalgia has been the game, their past scrutinised, blamed for a rise in beery laddishness; that they begat Oasis and Kasabian and The Courteeners. And sure, there’s a hint on show (shorts? to a gig?) but really the charge is unfair, The Stone Roses offering something savvier, more street-wise than simple scally swagger. If anyone needs to know how their heart beats, you see it here: it’s in the bridge-building of ‘Mersey Paradise’ – so resonant this year of all years – and when Ian Brown wipes his backside not once, but twice on proffered flags of St George. The Stone Roses are not the band some argue they are.
In 30 years of gig-going you get to see a few ‘special’ shows: anniversaries, homecomings, re-unions, that kind of thing. That The Stone Roses still have a congregation is not a surprise; if their key markets feel left behind by traditional politics, fading trades unions, church and even big money football, one of the few remaining communal experiences is at evenings such this. Brown’s voice (which has been fine all night, by the way) may start to falter during ‘This Is The One’ but the roof is lifted heavenwards by the audience. I don’t recall before being in the midst of such happiness, such joy – and I doubt I’ll ever see it again.
No exaggeration, an ecstatic and moving experience, with band and audience genuinely sharing time and space. What seemed trite – “All for one, one for all” – now seems like a snatch of wisdom for tomorrow. Well played, everyone – well played.