Stereophonics @ The Forum, Melbourne (04/05/08)


We get to the Forum nice and early so as to claim a decent seat, and after being unceremoniously ejected from the reserved booths (hey, you’ve got to have a crack, right?) we set up camp at one of the tables at the front of the first tier.

A brilliant vantage point to the stage, we are able to take in the beauty of the venue, although I do bemoan that there’s been no attempt to think of a new way to hang the scaffolding and ceiling amps so that the gorgeous stage faíƒÆ’킧ade is unencumbered.

The first support was a bizarre four-piece who didn’t seem at all sure of their identity. Winding from alt-country to actual-country, to Alabama blues to heartfelt but totally cheesy Australiana-tinged pop/rock tunes (“This is a song about Lake Eildon”) half the band looked like a lounge act (naff suits, slick hair), the other like they were actually interested in being in a rock band (shredding guitarist, Napoleon Dynamite drummer).

As I scribble frantically, trying to keep up with my whirring brain, my friend leans over and asks, “How can you use so many words to describe boring?” Harsh. Despite a rigorous search on Google I cannot find out who these dudes were, but it hardly seems relevant.

British India were a kick-arse surprise. Since FL reported that they were supporting, I should have known they were going to be there, but after the first act, it was even sweeter to see the boys. I am never disappointed with British India. If possible, I am usually more impressed with each performance than the last.

They gallantly pushed through some real sound issues, but to their credit, there weren’t many times that it was obvious they having problems. They delivered in their standard (but never average) ball-tearing fashion. Great stage presence, awesome performances all round – you can tell these dudes play a lot of gigs. They’re one of our premium bands, I reckon. It’ll be interesting to see how big they get.

After a serious rock show I swear Declan Melia yells “Clap!” into the mic as he rips off his guitar without strangling himself with the strap, thrusting it into the air without letting go of the mic stand. They’re good enough to demand applause and the crowd happily obliges.

As amazing as I reckon British India were, Stereophonics [ Kelly Jones – vox/guitars, Rich Jones – bass and Javier Weyler – drums] stride onto stage and with white spot lights strategically placed behind them giving a stadium feel, blasted our boys right out of the water. And this isn’t just a case of a successful overseas act charming an Aussie crowd. Everywhere you went throughout the venue, you could hear the lilt of the Welsh. With dragon banners held aloft by fans, Stereophonics were red hot – leather jackets, cool hair, hot guys.

Classic UK rock delivered with whiskey vocals had the audience falling for the false ending to their opening track, and when the band kicked back in the legions of delirious Welsh roared all the more. I know there were other nationalities represented besides the Welsh, don’t get me wrong, but when the entire theatre erupted into the chorus of A Thousand Trees with that gorgeous Welsh accent the differentiating tone, it was something more special than usual.

The two Welsh blokes now sharing our table were feeling it and their delight and enthusiasm was totally contagious. In no time, we were sending just one representative from our table to the bar for refreshments and they were helping me out with the song names I wasn’t familiar with (N.B. From here on in, it’s their fault if there are errors). After cracking through Superman, Kelly barely drew breath before launching into another track. Sadly, the ex-pats on our table had no idea what the song was, and I had naught to offer. Suffice to say it was fucking awesome – with driving guitars from Kelly and Rich, raunchy Strokes -y lyrics interspersed with quality rock roars and a fat, drippy groove over the bridge.

The guitar techs keep coming back and back throughout the gig, but who fucking cares? This is a band who is in a different class – the venue was awesome, the sound where we were holding position was phenomenal, and by the time they blast a couple more anthemic songs out at us, the rampant crowd in general admission is screaming, “Fook yeah!” and even I’ve got one finger pointed out the ceiling, arm up past my head.

The simple, tightly executed lighting was a beautiful companion to the driving drums and fierce onstage musicality, and while I’ve already said it – to have a couple of thousand strong Welsh choir behind you is nothing to sniff at. Kelly chats in between songs, telling us that not only have they been coming here for about ten years, he “bought this jacket here actually.”

They promise to play a few oldies and the crowd goes wild, waving beers and cheering madly. The room is electric and I am amazed (as usual) at what a three-piece can do when they’re really fucking great. As Stereophonics are doing much smaller shows than they would at home, there is a feeling of gratitude – if not only from me – that we are able to see such a full-blown rock show in such a gorgeous venue.

The lights make shadows of the mass of punters in front of, and just below us, almost making me forget I’m not in a stadium. The band, in cahoots with the excitable nostalgic audience, is making a shit load of noise. It’s total mob rule: everyone is having a brilliant night. The atmosphere is friendly, loyal and celebratory.

The gig grinds to a halt with the feeling of a homecoming. People are waving Welsh flags and banners around the joint like no one’s business and girls are fawning at Kelly as he croons away in a cigarette voice that threatened to – but was never going to – break. The band promised to hang around for beers and I had no doubt they would. All in all we all felt proud to be Welsh. Even if just for a couple of hours.