The second greatest Welsh trio today (Manics being numero uno) show their wares and seasoned chops during this enjoyable, relentless double-disc collection of favorites.
It's been more than a decade since the Welsh trio Stereophonics formed, and in that time they've had one lineup change. But it was a big one. The departure of Stuart Cable seemed to mark the end of one era and the beginning of another with youthful drummer Javier Weyler at the helm. That change also brought with it one of the band's better and biggest albums to date, Language.Sex.Violence.Other?, a record the took them back to tighter, balls-out rock albums like 1997's Performance and Cocktails. Although they are currently off the road, the band is putting the finishing touches on a live DVD of their recent trek. But for now one has to settle with this double-disc live album that seems to hit the ground rocking.
Disc one kicks off with "Superman", from their last studio album, with the band's polished, well-oiled groove taking no time to get crankin'. Lead singer Kelly Jones is a tad more reserved than usual, not going for the raspy wailing or screams that he has virtually patented. The key here is the synergy between bassist Richard Jones and Weyler that lets Jones go off when he needs to. A thick, meaty groove makes this song come alive on stage, contrasting with the pristine, studio-perfected nugget on the original record. It's far from the testosterone riffs that plague "me play guitar loud, me have hot fire on stage" bands like Nickelback. Instead Jones opts for a tasteful bridge that suits the tone and mood. Almost seamlessly, the punkish but sinewy garage rave-up "Doorman" ensues that takes no prisoners. "A Thousand Trees" meanwhile is a pop rock tune that seemed to scratch the surface of what was to come.
Stereophonics, like their countrymen Manic Street Preachers, are equally adept at making the slow, infectious ballad just as pleasing and appealing as they are with harder rock tracks. This is proven with the closing "Local Boy in the Photograph". Here an up-tempo pop tune, the track works equally as well as it does acoustically on an earlier EP release. Ditto for "Traffic", which comes during the tail end of the second disc. And while "Devil" is another rather rowdy rocker, the group opts to slow things down briefly with "Mr. Writer", a shot across the bow at, well, people like me I guess, critics who can't tell one their proverbial heads from some other anatomical orifice. It's has a juicy chorus that builds and builds, perfect arena rock fodder as Jones' raspy pipes rise to the surface. The Crowes-like "Maybe Tomorrow" isn't too shabby either with the audible sing-along going on with Jones. The lone tune that seems like it's run-of-the-mill is "Pedalpusher", which is basically rock-by-numbers. It pales next to the up-tempo, frantic wallop packed by "Deadhead".
Another plus to this live album is that each disc is roughly album-length, not the 65 or 75 minutes that one live disc often is nowadays. As a result, the album(s) never sag at any moment with each touching on different studio albums while not favoring new material too often. This is evident on the second disc that begins with another one of their staples "Hurry Up and Wait", which sounds like it could have been a hit for Bryan Adams. Starting slow, and no doubt causing many to grab their cigarette lighters, the song glides along with no rush or urgency, just building things up gradually on the brawn scale. The lone complaint with this one is it could have been fleshed out or jammed on a tad more. A few of the songs are only adequate though, including a murky, Southern-fried "Madame Helga". Perhaps the surprise of the 20 tracks presented is a rousing and rollicking "Carrot Cake and Wine" which was a b-side to "A Thousand Trees". The tight, poppy ditty relies less on the guitars and more on Richard Jones' bass.
Stereophonics manage to make some songs from You Gotta Go There to Come Back work well, as the funky "I'm Alright" seems to indicate. The lone new tune is the mid-tempo "Jayne", which falls along the lines of their latest album with the chorus being the key to the song's success. Another strong moment comes during "Too Many Sandwiches", which seems to be the set closer, all three jamming like maniacs. The "encore" contains one of their older tunes "Just Looking" before closing off with a bang during the bloody bombastic "Dakota". While they are hailed across the pond and one of the bigger bands there, this is a great look at a band that hasn't made that big, uber Coldplay-ish breakthrough over here. Not yet anyway.