With The Stone Roses initial reunion dates now completed, we asked Simon Spence, author of new band biography The Stone Roses: War And Peace – and the writer of our Q312 cover story on the band – for his verdict on their live return. So was it resurrection or damnation?
The Stone Roses reunion had everything that great drama eats up: danger, jeopardy, high emotion, complex psychology, conflict and suspense. And when the truth about why they did it finally emerges, the sense of pure theatre they generated will be further underscored by a potency and purity that is Roses to the bone.
For now, we can certainly say it was an unmitigated success – on so many levels. If the fear was that they were selling out their legacy – as the band that never sold out – for a quick dollar, or that the whole thing would be a nostalgia fest for 40-somethings, the reality proved definitively otherwise.
In War And Peace I call the Roses the last of the great bands: they have now risen above that, beyond comparison with other bands, and belong alongside other breakout cultural figures such as Philippe Petit, whose 1974 high wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Centre, as captured on film in Man On Wire, was described as the art crime of the century.
Although, typically, they weren’t (still aren’t) making it easy for themselves and perhaps an apposite title for Shane Meadows‘ eagerly anticipated film documenting the reunion shows, might be Band On Wire. And, like Petit, the Roses didn’t just walk the high wire without falling off; they show boated up there with a breathtaking self-assurance.
It was always going to be the greatest hits set – a nod to a new maturity (an appreciation of who and where they were in time – with approximately half the audience made up of people half their own age or under and virgins to the live Roses experience) and commercial sensibility (and given their backstory who could begrudge them that).
But it was peppered with enough of the old pugnaciousness; Mersey Paradise (Mani), Something’s Burning (Reni) and Standing Here (Brown) to satisfy the other half of their audience (even if those tunes weren’t really suited to the size of the gigs).
A truly eye-watering ten-minute plus version of Fools Gold perhaps best captured the essence of the melding of the old and new Roses, but in a big, open, field, This Is The One, could not be beat.
Even when the band wobbled on the wire precariously, on and off stage, bloodthirsty critics could not fail to be impressed by the strength of the bond between the band and the people – the sea who kept their boat afloat and whose collective spirit one enterprising soul claimed he had bottled and was auctioning on eBay (making national news in the process).
In truth, there was no need for hucksterism. There was none from the band. They used to be able to make magic happen. At Heaton Park, which was the main event, they proved they still could. That was the real surprise. In fact, it was astonishing to see. And when all is said and done it was worth the £55 (yes I paid) to be there.
Above all, the Roses stayed true to who they always were and emerged from the summer enhanced, stronger in many ways than at any time in their history. Did it sometimes sound like money? Occasionally, to be honest, it did. But even that could be seen sign of a new inner resolve within the band and promise for the future. It is a new world and a new reality the Roses exist in. Not everything will be fairytale any more.
So, they faced down and tamed their own myth and rode it afresh. And bar the odd jacket malfunction (Squire’s three-button tartan number?) they all still looked great too; Reni’s double bass drum a sign of weakening knees but a great new visual hook.
The Belfast Telegraph summed it all up with a quote by Tony Wilson from the film 24 Hour Party People: “F Scott Fitzgerald famously said there were no second acts. But this is Manchester, we do things differently here.” Not only did the Roses triumph; leaving the stage, and us, with dignity intact, they created a great appetite for a new chapter. The shackles are off now they have done this; they are free from the past and all roads are open.
We know there will be an album in spring 2013 (Brown rapping on Love Spreads was warmly appreciated by all and to be encouraged) and new dates too. They were offered but declined a small fortune to play Coachella this year – and it is likely that will be a platform for them in America in 2013. The Future Music Festival in Australia – and Glastonbury, are also muted as possibilities for 2013.
As a combination of aura, image and sound, they remain untouchable. More than that, and remarkably, they remain untainted. The future is theirs. To throw it away again would take some doing. But that’s the Roses. Anything could happen.