I have never been a fan of Stereophonics and I am a long term fan of Manic Street Preachers. This put me in the position to write something about what irritated me quite often: reading the two bands compared.
I hate lazy music journalism. The same that listens to a song once and reviews a career, judge a change in the haircut to trash a band, sees two Welsh bands playing guitars and links them.
Fact is that the distance between the Manics and the Stereophonics, both Welsh, both rock, is as big as the one between Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kelly Jones. Both Welsh, both Jones.
Manic Street Preachers, if you take your time to go beyond Nicky Wire provocative image or to be fair, including Nicky Wire look, are much more than a Welsh rock band.
Read through their lyrics and you will discover someone second only to Rage Against the Machine in terms of most uncompromising political statements of the last 2 decades.
They are also one of the few contemporary bands aware of the existence of contemporary art and use it on covers and in their conceptual design.
Despite I agree that not all Manics music is exceptional, they have been delivering a constant flow of rock anthems for the last 20 years and, at present in their third youth, are still one of the best live band throughout Britain.
Their first youth started with Richey Edwards, left the Astoria trashed, their masterpiece The Holy Bible in record shops and ended with Richey disappearance leaving fans devastated.
The second joined Brit-pop, added a political edge to it, saw those devastated fans become a contemporary art project by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller (called The Uses of Literacy) and didn’t end with Brit-pop. It actually ended in Cuba.
“Can you believe it, while Noel Gallagher was dining with Tony-fucking-Blair, we were meeting Fidel Castro” (Nicky Wire)
Third youth is this millennium. Send away the tigers sent them to the NME godlike genius state. Headlining at Reading and Leeds saw people leaving the Killers set to catch Manics. I can’t really see any progression in this period, but it is clear that beyond them only Oasis and Radiohead, not Stereophonics, survived the golden age of Brit music with a bunch of coherent material.
I am not in the position to comment, with the same level of details, on Stereophonics but from what I listened to, quite a lot, there is nothing that gets even close.
After a couple of interesting albums, Stereophonics have chosen the large, bright, shiny and golden mainstream-rock path. I am not blaming them for this, they can do whatever they like but their music got dull, conventional and less interesting release after release.
Kelly Jones has a peculiar voice and his tone is without question the recognisable bit of the band. I would appreciate if someone told him that when he tries to rock, there is no point to imitate the bleating attempts of Liam Gallagher.
This said, I got to what I see as their main influence. Not Cardiff but up north, Manchester: Oasis.
What Stereophonics have always reminded me of is a weaker version of the Gallagher bros, with a difference: where Liam Gallagher wants to be hated, Kelly Jones wants to be loved.
Apparently the opposite, in reality the same thing, the same desperate rockstar’s need of being esteemed and exposed.
Ten years of activity, five UK number ones out of six albums, what next move would you expect from an ex-indie-now-mainstream pop band?
A Best of album (Decade on the Sun – The Best of Stereophonics) and a Christmas Greatest Hits tour along British arenas.
Of course, the best of will contain a couple of new songs, there will be a special edition and a DVD. Music industry needs alternate version to worm money out of fans that already have all the albums and wouldn’t have any reason to buy a greatest hits.
They are not the first, won’t be the last. If a formula delivers (money) is repeated. From Oasis, 18 songs – fourteen of which from the first 2 album/2 years of activity four from all the rest of the decade - to, even more outrageously, The Libertines; with the complete discography that would easily fit on a single CD, they have a best of in shops. Indie legendary label Rough Trade is the one to blame, which is even more disappointing.
Indie-ness is long gone. Everything is corporate, foreseeable, expected. To know big band next releases instead of NME is better buying the Financial Times and have a look at the share prices of majors. The only change allowed is the title. It can go from “The Best of” to “Greatest Hits” sometimes even as far as “The Singles”. Wow!
To keep things rolling, before such a “risky” tour, Stereophonics played it safe and booked some low-key summer dates to warm-up the machine and oil the tour bus.
Officially, looking at the jealousy kept stickers (I’ll explain this in the Photo tip), it is still the Pull the Pin tour. In reality it is a greatest hits set, conceived and planned without a song you would not expect in that exact moment.
Another difference emerges here, Manic Street Preachers don’t ever duplicate a setlist, they have practically the entire repertoire and many covers always ready. Anything can come out from their amplifiers. From the raw power of Of Walking Abortion to the mellower La Tristesse durera; from Nirvana to Rihanna.
What doesn’t changes at concerts are first rows filled up with dozens of screaming girls.
An interesting point. Whichever the band, I noticed that the “screaming aspect” is largely a peculiarity of girls. If they are boys they love them, if there is a girl they ape her.
The boys, usually not interested to blokes, are too proud to show too much admiration for a successful same age girl, they keep the feeling inside, we still inhabit a patriarchal society.
Talking with a photographer in the pit just before the gig, two of these girls caught that I am not in love with the band, definitely not as much as they’d want me to.
Surprised as if I was missing the meaning of life, they asked me why and, after stating that my delusion is caused by the lost of identity they achieved moving towards mainstream marketing, I bounced the question back.
I didn’t get anything beyond some description on how handsome Kelly Jones is, how they love him and bla bla.
This stresses another interesting point. Mainstream pop artists tend to privilege the image over the content, the form over the substance.
Whoever identifies with them is moved by a feeling of desire, of “I wanna-be like them”. Artists don’t do more than giving their fans what their fans want: the fairytale, Cinderella.
There is not empathy between the person on stage and the admiring. They show off their amazing life. Their audience can’t identify but can dream of being like that. It is an uneven dialogue.
Indie, on the contrary, is mostly about bands that talk to their fans and sing about their same problems.
Fans identify with them, behave as them, dress like them, live as them (or at least reckon to). They can afford their lives, share experiences. They can be in touch, talk to them. In the end whoever is on or off the stage, it is all about being part of the same group performing a kind of ritual together.
This is why any band that gets to chart success loses its indie fascination (and fans) for a pop glamour seeked by a totally different audience. Identification leave space to admiration and the “customer” changes.
Exactly what Stereophonics did. They left the “indie” attitude for “plastic pop”.
Their gig parades all of this quite clearly.
Kelly Jones appears as every fan expects him to appear: leather jacket, sunglasses, jelly hair, glittery guitar and sexy attitude. Indeed a “Welsh Elvis”.
The concert begins with Bartender surrounded by a surprising light show.
It will continue for a couple of hours with huge screens projecting any sort of effects, sexy videos, colours. The weaker the song more remarkable is the work of the guy at the light mixer.
The lead guitarist does a big job to keep the sound on the rock bank of the music pond, but to me even that looks like a clever attempt to reassure early days fans that not everything is lost. It is.
You don’t have time to get used to a harder, more genuine sound that a milky way light effect goes along with a sugary ballad, the crowd adds unconvincing “stars” snapping with mobiles. My nostalgia goes to the good old times. Before 9/11, before the smoke ban, when thousands lighters used to wave flickering flames inside packed stadium.
Very strong backlights drive crazy both the audience and my cameras, forcing me to play around with silhouettes and other tricks. The concert carries on (rock’n’)rolling its list of crowd pleasers. A break in the middle leaves Kelly Jones space for Maybe Tomorrow and Billy Davis played solo-acoustic. He gives fans what they want, those girls go crazy.
The band rejoins until the final with Drowning. Even if it had been my first concert I would have felt something was still to come.
That something is titled in sequence Traffic, Local Boy and Dakota.
Standing ovation, posters, postcards and ridiculously expensive T-shirts to compensate the global crisis of CD sales.
Stereophonics machine is oiled and working well. The arena tour will be a success; the Best of will be another number one; the fans would love the new songs and sing along the goldie hits. It is a well known story. Too well known.
At the end of the concert I think at the brilliant Cooper Temple Clause. Some of the Stereophonic stuff reminded me of the first band I ever photographed, it has not been as fortunate they split, Stereophonics are still around, Manic Street Preacher as well, though!
Stardom always goes along with bizarre things.
Photopass stickers are usually unattractive piece of paper issued by the venue or the promoter with the name of the band wrote with an exhausted marker.
Rarely some big bands with bigger budgets issue coloured, decorated and quite nice passes.
My compulsive obsession to collecting passes or tickets of the gigs I go (three jealously kept huge photo albums full and still counting), made me quite happy when I saw Stereophonics sticker belonging to the prettier, second version.
Sad bit is that their management wanted all the photographers to give them back after the 3 songs slot. We were allowed to stay in for the gig, but couldn’t keep the sticker. Why? Apparently some photographer tried to sell it outside the venue infuriating the band PR.
I don’t know if this is true, fact is that the security was strict and wanted them back exiting the pit.
A suggestion, if you are a photographer, don’t resell the photo pass sticker outside the venue, it doesn’t look professional, does it?
A reflection, with thousands of tickets being sold online at twice the official price; with tenths of them being sold in front of the venue by shady touts who exploit both the sellers and the buyers; why bands’ management waste time to hassle a single oddity and leave people who indeed damages the live music scene untouched?
I got a pinky guest pass along with the green photo pass, so in the end I came back home with at least one sticker, my compulsion was satisfied!