Gig review: Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds

Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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“I offered this song to Amy Winehouse,” Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones half-murmurs when introducing the smoky slow-burner Been Caught Cheating around the halfway mark of a mammoth two-and-a-quarter hour-long gig at a sold out First Direct Arena.

He gives a rueful, almost wry shrug. “Then the boys heard it on a tape recorded. We got p***ed one night and cut it ourselves around three in the morning.”

Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

It’s a rare aside from the Welshman, who otherwise favours letting his songs do the talking across a rainy evening. It’s testament to the enduring everyman appeal of Stereophonics that even with over two-dozen tunes crammed into a high-end stage-show, they still could fill a hits compilation with the tracks that don’t make the cut. Critical anathema be damned; this is very much a band of the people.

They are in Leeds at the tail-end of a sizeable jaunt behind tenth record Scream Above the Sounds, an album entrenched in the same Radio 2-friendly furrow they have ploughed for the best part of this decade. Their latter-day affinity for uncomplicated arena-pop fare is cheerily, if predictably, effervescent; the beefy boogie of Chances Are and chugging groove of Caught by the Wind practically demand catchy clap-along accompaniment, whilst I Wanna Get Lost with You and Indian Summer pack in more hooks than a meat freezer, soaring on chunky power-chord patterns.

Stereophonics are at their best though when marrying Jones’ melancholy rasp – on rock-solid form here – to big-hearted music, both soft-strung and hard-edged. They offer both throughout; an acoustic detour serves up a terrace singalong for Handbags and Gladrags whilst a swampy, garrulous Mr Writer offers up the other side of the same coin. It’s a tight, well-drilled affair too; the group turn on a dime during Sunny, going from piano-power ballad to hair-metal soloing in the blink of an eye.

It’s when they step back in time to celebrate debut Word Gets Around that the crowd burst into boisterous bonhomie, bellowing along to the Bad Company-gone-grunge aesthetic of yesteryear that gave pub rock a kick up the arse. A Thousand Trees is bolshier than ever; Local Boy in the Photograph still packs the same visceral potency all these years later.

Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Stereophonics at First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

By the time Dakota roars them to a close, Jones’ poker face breaks to a grin; wreathed under house lights, he refuses to leave, crossing curfew to cheers with that small, wry smile again.