Stereophonics - O2 Academy, Glasgow, 17 Dec 2012
A flurry of hits at either end of the show save the Phonics from a lacklustre slump in the middle
It's the changing face of Welsh rockers Stereophonics that has kept its audience on their toes throughout the band's 20-year career. They began as fresh faced indie kids-next door - see their debut album Word Gets Around for evidence - then two years later had become an arena colossus. Performance and Cocktails (1999) went on to define the indie-pop climate of the late 90s and early noughties. Then came their hard to swallow hipster period - cue leather jackets, obligatory indoor sunglasses and unkempt straggly hair which contrived to align them with the likes of The Black Crowes while disposing of their previous knack for 3-minute injections of power pop in exchange for bluesy instrumentals and introspective lyrics.
While the band have covered a lot of bases throughout their varied career, it is hard not to feel sentimental towards the elements that made them great in the first place. A trio of confused twentysomethings bemoaning their youth while trying to come to terms with their own identity within the social landscape - a role that many could no doubt relate to - they became a cornerstone in British youth culture at the height of their prowess. Tonight at the O2 Academy we are reminded from the get-go just how good the band can be when at the top of their game. Blistering set opener ‘The Bartender and the Thief’ straight into fan favourite ‘A Thousand Trees’ sets the ball rolling before the set sluggishly grinds to a slow dirge on new track ‘Indian Summer’; a formulaic MOR ballad at best. However, it doesn't take long for the band to gather momentum again by sneaking in some surprise album tracks including the breezy stomp of ‘Plastic California’. Tonight's show is essentially an opportunity for the band to road test new material before their next album Graffiti On The Train drops in the spring and while their set may be littered with teething problems, trying to find the right opportunity to throw in a new track here and there, it is the flurry of hits towards the end which arouse the biggest response. ‘Local Boy in Photograph’ still sounding as angst-ridden and biting as ever while the pogo-inducing ‘More Life in a Tramp’s Vest’ romps its way through the huddled masses. Set closer ‘Dakota’ has the crowd singing gleefully in unison, however one can't help but feel a bit jaded when Kelly Jones utters the lyric 'Take a look at me now' whilst being reminded of a once mammoth arena giant whose midlife period seems to lack focus and an engaging sense of direction.