Rarely could you hope to enter into as vivid a reenactment of the ostensibly halcyon days of a bygone ’90s as you doubtless will at any which worshipping at the illicit substance-laden altar of The Stone Roses. Their audience unchanging as a concrete flower patch, Liquid Gold poppers tip and spill into dejected cans of crumpled drunkenness; psychedelically patterned balloons deflate before again returning to a bulbous state of being split seconds later; and the scent of poorly fabricated roll-up cigarettes proves commensurately all-pervasive to the exuberant presence of the feds. For a weekend commencing prematurely come Friday afternoon, Finsbury Park is positively transformed into snaggletooth central that is nothing if not complimented with a blasé abundance of bucket hat. Once within, the merch stand touts a selection of three franchised designs as standard although it’s outside that this striking impression of nostalgic clinginess most apparently manifests itself. Everybody looks like a tout aside from the blind eye constabularies, and a few thousand in fact are while there are more Mancs than on most Emirates away days – not least when the ‘Roses’ beloved Citeh return hunking chunks of their ticket allocation on the grounds of oxymoronic exorbitance. Indeed were Q Magazine queerly instated as inapposite replacement for Her Majesty’s Government, one can’t help but sense the country would surely collapse into such a comparably patent state of disrepair within mere days…
With a capacity of some 45,000 and tickets sold at a going rate of £55, that there’s even a suggestion of Ian Brown et al. making more off the aforementioned merchandising this evening really is no mean feat but every other person flaunts a newly acquired tee professing an undying infatuation for one of the most ephemeral, and indeed mercurial British bands of all time. ‘I [INSERT IMAGE OF A SPLICED ROTTEN LEMON HERE] SR’ slogans abound and neatly, Alan “Reni” Wren’s double bass drum skins bear that exact same logo so as to resemble a decomposing citrus fruit slashed in half. The obligatorily lengthy delay ensures we’re better than well acquainted with spectatorial personnel and so too onstage configurations although as is with a seemingly interminable queue or a perennially rainy awayday, all wearying thoughts and feelings of fatigue are blown away by the band’s inevitable arrival.
First to emerge, strangely predictably, is Garry “Mani” Mounfield who raises his arms aloft triumphant to reveal two unmistakably sweaty patches. He is the ’90s incarnate, and he so unapologetically couldn’t give two craps as to who knew. Meekly following him out, a dawdling ‘King Monkey’ stations himself stage-centre from whence he frantically waggles two practically inaudible jingle sticks and continues to do so throughout. A flare sparks, effervescing perilous red over all in the general vicinity, before I Wanna Be Adored itself flames up. It lacks that same intensity of yore, as it sounds as though it has dampened with time as most things so infuriatingly tend to do and similarly, in such an enormous expanse, John Squire struggles to recreate those inimitably impressionistic atmospheres of before. Ultimately, the sound’s groggy as the now imminent Glastonbury which, all in all, feels mildly deplorable given that their diligent soundchecking can be heard for miles throughout the early afternoon and much of the previous evening. They never get it right, and nor is it ever genuinely loud enough with Brown’s vehement pleas for undying approval thus rendered atonal drones relocated right to the back of the mix.
Although this is perhaps exactly how The Stone Roses’ legacy was first carved in that where Brown flounders, his acolytes thrive as the green unites in vocalising its eternal maxim. “I don’t have to sell my soul/ He’s already in me” Ian burbles, his lyrics assuming a tormenting tone when so resonantly bellowed by thousands illumined only by the devilish reds of Reni’s despised United. Something may be burning, although it’s not until they dust down the Damien Hirst guitars and dress down Ten Storey Love Song that the litmus paper turns a similarly acidic shade: intimate as most front room performances, there’s a childish guile to Brown’s astonishingly selfless affirmations of abiding support. “Take my hand baby, I’m your man/ I’ve got enough love for two” he croons with bits of grit between the teeth and if he may not look like your huggably loveable hubby extraordinaire, then his terms of blinding endearment prove seduction set to song.
And that’s one of the many weirdly wondrous things with Brown, for the man’s an enigma on an Albarn scale of inscrutability. Shying away from lazy ’90s parallels, it’s more to do with the reality that the two frontmen are, in their own highly idiosyncratic ways, acutely paradoxical performers. In the one ear, they’re capable of the exceptionally smushy and yet in the other, they’re antagonistic fire starters of a despicably British distinction. Thus for every monolithic Ten Storey Love Song, we’ve a Standing Here during which Brown tonight looks discernibly stony as disengaged, he rattles his tambourines like a broken Bez and it’s this irresolvable dichotomy between the loutish and the incisively loving which so intensely surprises this evening. “It’ll all work out” he’ll later reassure during a wompy Shoot You Down and inexplicable as it may be, in spite of the two forces pushing and pulling so violently within him, there’s a beguiling reconciliation between the two at times. This could indeed itself have been a clearcut opportunity to take a pop at the chimp, although not only does he pull through unscathed but he truly pulls it together here on what is, to all intents and purposes, one of their more vulnerable recordings.
And with little visual aid other than some Photoshop 1.0 visuals and two gargantuan screens flanking the stage which so insistently showcase Hirst’s spotted masterworks, it’s perhaps aptly left to the music itself to paint that most vibrant of pictures. Yet although they’ve up until this point proven considerably more proficient than anticipated, there’s a niggling sensation residing deep within which longs for the four-piece to excavate some scintillating nugget or other and they duly do with an extempore, if unduly extended Fool’s Gold. Nonetheless again dulled with time and drastically restrained by its faint imperceptibility, it sounds like an initial 7″ pressing wound down through the hills for fifteen days. It’s the sort of supposed greatest hit which really ought to be hoofed right out the park and over toward the Arsenal but with Brown again indecipherable apart from the sporadic token slur and thereby sounding drab as his surname might insinuate, it’s ultimately limp as lasers in broad daylight. He looks shellshocked, and they’re in severe need of coaxing from their collective shell for as was with I Wanna Be Adored, it lacks that nebulous ambiguity of its recorded contemporary: it’s found to be bereft of properly clunky bass, whilst Brown looks peripheral at best once they embark upon a slightly extraneous, wiggy conclusion. It’s the sight of King Monkey at his most impotent, and it’s more than a little troubling.
As is this subdued decibel level: Haringey Council last year enraged residents with its impassioned intention to increase the number of enormoshows staged here in Finsbury Park and having worked extensively on minimising the impact of these two evenings on local residents, it’s tricky not to imagine certain licensing regulations hindering our hearing of the shows. But really, whichever way the wind’s blowing, they’re nowhere near loud enough from inside. Their rhythm section really should be deafening and so when it falls short, the feeling that this may well be a subtle flogging of some submissive cash cow again ambles into subconscious musings. Something’s Burning, during which Brown so pessimistically smoulders: “Don’t count your chickens, ’cause they’re never gonna hatch”, proves an exercise in glib self-indulgence and while it would be an obvious one for fireworks and frivolous pyrotechnics, the flares only seem to be incensed in commemoration of the intergenerationally relevant. And into that bracket, quite incontrovertibly, falls Waterfall. “This one’s for the ladies. As always” Ian softly intones, giving a cursory shimmer of his cymbal-based things. Once more he’s on a charm offensive and with the darkening sky dappling the park with the lurid shades of an enticingly artificial tequila sunrise, we come one.
Their staunch disciples, sprightly newbies and stumbling in-betweens tightly united, for a few albeit transitory moments I feel a real sense of belonging to a time I never really knew. The feel of Finsbury Park standing as some ’90s cultural stronghold again itself takes hold, this inherently tender standout imbued with a bygone gusto: “Free from the filth and the scum”, with it returns that unprecedented sense of social solidarity as Brown tells of his timelessly resilient protagonist before the song predictably dissolves into a rendition of Don’t Stop alas, bordering on the almost tuneless. Though to dip back into Waterfall a moment, it’s a subjectively contradictory number not least for irrespective of its innately emotive subject matter, it was one I first came into contact with via the inherently evil medium of The National Lottery back in the latter ’90s.
It’s perhaps due to this ineradicable affiliation that a terse She Bangs The Drums is tonight significantly preferable, although it’s the tear duct-tickling brilliance of Brown’s final salvo of irresistible affection, This Is The One, that prompts further explosive discharge as conflictual feelings of bittersweet celebration and crestfallen beauty are kindled within. The fuse now lit, the show and so too the song itself feel as though they could, and most categorically should go on all night – or at least until the footballers come home – although as has always been the case with The Stone Roses, all is destined to soon come crumbling down all about us. They might well have hit their stride a little too late in the day, but to bring down the proverbial curtain on what has been ostensibly branded the Fourth Coming we’ve an I Am The Resurrection to reawaken William Blake. It’s perfection itself and no matter how many more comings there may yet be, few would reject another helping of such coalescent vigour.
It prompts an omnipresent sense of enjoyment engendered by entertainment in its purest form and although this may not quite be a band back from the dead, then it’s an unadulterated joy to have them back from the brink to thrive in a 21st century few would ever have envisaged them witnessing as one. Yet there’s something strangely satisfying in seeing first-hand such notorious, and so too barefaced histories etched deep into the wrinkles of the four faces which this evening seem so distant. Conversely however, their songs have never sounded closer to our fervently palpitating sterna and the sanguineous contents therein for whatever happens now, and however potent any misgivings about the evening might well be, this will forever be the one to me. History was tonight made, and by Beezlebub was it a supernal delight to feel it bubbling away within…