Saturday 26 March 2022 is a date that will live long in the memories of music fans across the world, being the date (for most) that heralded the news of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins’ death at the age of just 50. A desperately sad day, though made incredibly special & poignant as the tributes rang in from other musicians in their own concerts worldwide – it’s something I’ve never really been in the privileged position to experience before, and at the Brighton Centre I got two for the price of one.
First on the bill was Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall – someone I’ve been a fan of for about 18 years, but never managed to see perform live before. And I never expected it to finally happen as a support set for the Stereophonics! I’ve been pretty lucky as far as supports on Phonics tours go; from Tim Burgess back in 2003 and The Courteeners in 2008, to The Wind + The Wave on their most recent arena tour (& Kelly Jones’ solo tour in 2019). KT Tunstall is easily up there with the best of them, bringing her trusty lockdown ‘band’ with her and getting Brighton properly in the mood for their headline act. With such a significant back catalogue to choose from and only 30-45 minutes to play with, it’s a wonder she could whittle things down – not only did she perform her own material, but she also included a few covers too.
Tunstall’s streamlined festival set (that’s probably the best way of describing it) spent most time back in Eye to the Telescope territory, which was a good bet for most of those who arrived early; they’re probably the most widely-known songs in her armoury, and that’s something that definitely helps to get a crowd warmed up. It was both a chance to get the vocal cords going (Black Horse and the Cherry Tree/Seven Nation Army in particular), and an opportune moment to test out those mobile phone torches (Other Side of the World – one of my all-time favourites, which I wasn’t expecting to hear). Tunstall also decided to do us Phonics fans a favour and bolster the number of their songs being performed with a great solo version of Pick A Part That’s New. However, the most wonderful & moving surprise was her cover of Times Like These, which was such a great choice of tribute – much appreciated by all in the arena.
The first part of the night over, and anticipation for what lay ahead began to rise into a heady buzz that filled Brighton Centre. (Though I still don’t understand people who don’t make an effort to come and see the support act, especially at arena prices – why wouldn’t you want to get your money’s worth?)
After a pretty efficient turnaround from the crew, the lights went out and snatches of Do Ya Feel My Love? started to fade up through the room, as the band made their way to the stage and kicked off with the full song – which is quite possibly my favourite from the new album. I had half-expected them to blast off with Hanging On Your Hinges, but full-throttle rock ‘n’ roll instead made way for power, precision & drama. That worked perfectly to set the tone for what was to come during the rest of the set; a decent chunk were taken from Oochya!, which is probably the most representation a new record can get when a band has been going for 25 years and has 12 albums to choose from! Personally I’d have switched in When You See It for Leave the Light On, but the latter did fit with the slightly more sombre mood of the rest of the set (and the day itself).
Getting their tribute to Taylor Hawkins fairly early on was a good plan, for both the audience and for the band – this must have brought some painful feelings to the surface, as Kelly remarked that they know what it’s like to lose a band member. A pared-back version of Best of You was a nice touch; the lyrics felt incredibly pertinent, and this style allowed them to really sink in – though powerhouse drummer Jamie Morrison would have absolutely gone to town on a more like-for-like cover, that wasn’t the time for it. Maybe Tomorrow coming straight after almost felt like a moment of catharsis.
Following this, the band took a bit of a tour around some of their more recent output, with highlights including live favourite Geronimo (I really hope this remains a permanent fixture in their sets), Graffiti on the Train, and Fly Like An Eagle. It wouldn’t be a Stereophonics gig without Mr and Mrs Smith, a great song made infinitely greater by Jamie making his way to the B-stage to do his ever-impressive drum solo – and this, of course, then allowed them to segue nicely into their Word Gets Around mini-set, bringing the quartet out into the middle of the crowd. On this occasion they performed Traffic, A Thousand Trees, and Billy Davey’s Daughter – a song which I haven’t heard performed live in 15 years. I’m glad the band have embraced the B-stage idea over recent arena tours, as it shows they’re thinking about the audience’s enjoyment as much as it giving them the opportunity to strut out there as rock gods (Kelly, Adam & Gavin all make the most of it for various solos); if you’re stood or sat near the back, it’s heartening to know that you’ll be able to see the band without squinting for at least a short time. Yes, there are massive screens either side of the stage, but it’s not the same as watching the real thing.
I’m glad to report that AC/DC-esque stomper Running Round My Brain was included in the set – it would’ve felt like a waste had it been missing, as you can tell from listening to the album that it’s made to be played live. Putting this within reach of The Bartender and the Thief (via Indian Summer, Have A Nice Day, and Handbags and Gladrags) helped to round off the main set in a manner befitting one of the best live rock acts out there – and it gives me a strange feeling of glee that, after all these years, “the ace of spades, the ace of spades!” is still there in the bridge to the final chorus.
It’s getting genuinely tough to work out what will make it into the encore (barring the obvious set closer); the vibe has ebbed & flowed over the tours that I’ve been to, from slower-paced anthems to fast-paced rockers, but always ending with something that will give the crowd that final adrenaline boost they’ll need to see them on their way. It was the turn of the ‘lighters in the air’/’belt your heart out’ songs this time, with Just Looking followed by Make Friends With the Morning. You don’t really need me to tell you what the very last song was, as it’s been the same since 2005. Dakota really is one of those pieces of musical magic that you can’t quite explain, a pocket of euphoria lasting around five minutes that leaves you soaring out of the arena onto the chilly streets outside. I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.
Stereophonics were at The Brighton Centre on 26 March 2022 as part of the ‘Oochya!’ tour – full details can be found on the official website.
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