Stereophonics + JJ72

Devon Powers
Stereophonics + JJ72

Stereophonics + JJ72

City: New York
Venue: Irving Plaza
Date: 2002-02-06

What Comes After Britpop? Or, the Stereophonics Take Your American Hype and Shove It While much of his fellow UK fraternity are busy trying to be Chris Martin of Coldplay, Kelly Jones, frontman of Welsh band the Stereophonics, simply wants to be. He said as much with the laissez-faire swagger that carried him onto the stage during the second to last show of their recent US tour; the denim jacket and jeans he donned were more truckstop and Sunday afternoon than high-energy New York City show-wear. Oh, and then there were the shades: shielding his eyes from the crowd, or perhaps shielding the crowd from his eyes, the dual function that sunglasses can assume on hungover mornings or at funerals. I can't be sure about hangovers, but the concert was a funeral, of sorts. Britpop has been officially dead since the mid-1990s, pushed to ridiculous excess with Blur's 1995 The Great Escape, and forcefully whooped by Oasis's What's the Story Morning Glory of the same year. And ever since, rock music in the UK has been searching -- fruitlessly -- for an identity, a savior, or maybe just a bodyguard. These days, the gimmick seems to be fully without gimmick -- to be naked emotion, pearled with the softness of soul-searching self-reflection. Even in its earnestness, though, the marketability of this schtick may slowly be burning out; after all, how many noveau-folk lovesick British lads can the public take? And then, there are the Stereophonics, who that night, as always, fell in the minute category of bands who seem wholly unaware that there even is a gimmick to be adopted. And in this climate, that's a refreshing stance. This isn't to say that they're without die-hard followers or critics willing to write the history of their albums as The Answer; this simply means that, since their first release in 1997, the Stereophonics have been less pretty-boy prima donnas than proletarian workhorses. With an unpretentious, unflinching style, the Stereophonics music is replete with rootsy truisms, and wholly void of the trickery of trends. This brutal honest may give them niche appeal in the States (after all, we like our Brits to be novel), but it gives them a cache that is rare on both sides of the Atlantic. The Stereophonics were preceded by JJ72, an Irish band of early twentysomethings who seem a maudlin hybrid of Echo and the Bunnymen, early Suede, and New Order. Or, in other words, they will wail and you will like it. However, this evening's angst-fest was lead singer Mark Greaney alone, since a family emergency of bassist Hilary Woods prevented the full threesome from performing. Greaney played a brief, but intense, acoustic set. Opening the night with dramatic version of "Snow", from their 2000 eponymous debut, Greaney poured on the sorrow, stitching every word with reflective agony. His body shimmied and he nodded his head back and forth as he artfully crescendoed and decrescendoed, coating every line with a thick vibrato. On "October Swimmer", a song that on the album comes off with a Cure-ish manic depression, the mania was completely gone. As Greaney sang "I want to be a happy boy," the audience was left wondering how such a sweet-faced boy could be so terribly sad. When the Stereophonics entered the stage, they were both more peaceful and more powerful than the set that had just come before. It was as if a younger brother had just thrown a screaming tantrum; now, big brothers were coming to calmly kick ass. The stage was awash with big lights, big presence (there were five on stage, though the band is a trio) and a big Stereophonics logo as a backdrop. They also -- immediately, forcefully -- packed their performances with enough hormones to turn Greaney's banshee singing into the cool, low crooning of Barry White. An easy explanation for this again, goes back to Kelly Jones, who is both laid-back and forcefully sexual in the same, confident sweep. They opened the night with a pulsing rendition of "Mr. Writer", from their 2001 release Just Enough Education to Perform. The song is a slow-cooked masterpiece, fleshed with meaty guitar licks that fall off the bone of soulful drumming and bass. Jones' vocals, added in, complete the smoky stew; heard live, this song moves and shakes, rousing the concert hall to full on, throbbing mammojammer. They rammed hard into the verses and choruses, Jones stomping the beat into the floor as he strummed, with bassist Richard Jones off to the right, following suit. The number closed with a standard rock and roll drop-kick jam, Jones singing suddenly high and crazy, stretching over notes, as the frenzy that backed him faded into a hazy hum. The Stereophonics later dove into a rabble-rousing version of "A Thousand Trees", a favorite from their 1997 album Word Gets Around. This number electrified new fans as well as old, as the Stereophonics dealt a clever hand of exacting, palpable guitar lines and anthem-worthy lyrics. And while we're on anthems -- halfway through their set, the band pulled out two trump cards: "I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio" and "Have a Nice Day", which were tarted up with tempo changes (Radio) and eye-popping silences (Nice Day). There were few words exchanged; mostly matter-of-fact introductions and mumbled thanks yous for the appreciation. Again, such taciturnity seemed appropriate for a band that simply does what they know how to do, no frills. (The longest intro came before Just Enough Education to Perform's "Step in My Old Size Nines", which Jones straightforwardly described as "a song about an old man who asks an old woman to dance, and she says no, my feet hurt, and he says, 'step in my old size nines.") And their fans responded by behaving almost as if they were witness to a work of art: politely clapping, quietly singing, and experiencing the import of the moment respectfully, together. Even on favorites, like honky-tonk "Nice to Be Out" or soaring "Just Looking" the crowd was never crass; they were like they obviously in it for the long haul, without the flightiness of those drawn in just for singles. The Stereophonics come off as almost immune to the hype machine; they've had plenty of it, but it's left them virtually unscathed. Their mission isn't to rule the world, or get overplayed on MTV, or even to write a prescription for British music. Simply put, the Stereophonics want to play a good show for their dedicated fanbase -- and maybe that attitude is just the remedy that British rock needs.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.