Stereophonics - Oude Zaal, Melkweg, Amsterdam - 05/04/2005

"This is fucking Heavy Metal for fucks sake! And it's bloody fabulous too."


The band wander on stage, the new drummer is sporting a red and white t-shirt, but the other two are sporting black leather jackets and dirty denim jeans. "How you doing? Nice to be back," says Kelly with a smile. I half expect him to follow it up with, "And tonight Matthew we shall be The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club." Instead he gets straight down to business. They kick the night off with an old favourite, Looks Like Chaplin, but it sounds completely new, slower, sexier and a hell of a lot crunchier than I've ever heard them play it before. New track Doorman follows and, although it's a song that I can't help but laugh at on record, tonight it sounds nothing short of fantastic. Even the line, "Suck my banana, suck it with cream" seems to work here, although it does cause Kelly to break a smile. Kelly's rasping voice growls its way through the track and I can't help but feel shocked by how invigorating this is. They may have experimented with a new sound on their new album and made a change behind the drum kit, but these guys sound like a whole new band. After all, two guitar solos in one song doesn't often work on record, but do that live and it doesn't matter. In fact it's marvelous.


Superman is even better. On the new record it's a glossy, thrash metal song with Kelly doing a rather unexpected Vince Neil impersonation towards the end but here in the Melkweg the song is pumped through with so much testosterone that it throbs ominously from start to finish. Bathed in red light the band look cool as fuck and that lad behind the kit, Javier, is belting his skins in such a fashion as to make me wish he'd been their drummer all along.


Madame Helga is a disappointment though. Sure they play it with energy and look like they're enjoying themselves, but it's never going to impress me simply because I don't particularly care for the song itself. It starts off crunchy enough but it just doesn't go anywhere. They follow this with Brother, another track from Language. Sex. Violence. Other? and the one that reminds me of Shed Seven of all people. Well, not tonight it doesn't. It starts off at a hundred miles an hour and Javier forces the beat along at full tilt, forcing the front six or seven rows of kids to bounce up and down in mass jubilation. Myself and a few of the older people in the crowd (ie. the few of us who are over 21) are nodding our heads furiously like it was a Maiden gig. This is fucking Heavy Metal for fucks sake! And it's bloody fabulous too.


Devil, one of my favourites from the new album gets the night back on track, in fact whilst it's playing there's a part of me (perhaps a part of me that's under the influence of a few pints of Dutch lager) that thinks this may be the best song I've ever heard live. It's astonishing! Like most of the stuff they've played so far it works better than the recorded version. Pedal Pusher follows and all the gloss and electronic wizardy of the album version is changed into simple, raw power. It's sexier, it's louder and Kelly just screams his way through and I, for one, am screaming right along with him. Same Size Feet, which has always sounded fantastic live is rather quirky tonight, played at a slightly slower tempo than normal, but it still produces the first audience clap along of the evening, which simply means that everyone's having a good time.


Dressed in black, bathed in red light and screaming his way through Girl Kelly forces the image of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club back into my head but thankfully he's got a lot more presence than the whole of that band put together. By the end of the song the band are all laughing and it's great to see how charged these guys are. Over the past few years they've looked like a band that have been simply going through the motions on stage. Again, I don't know whether it's because of the new drummer or not, but they really mean business here tonight.


"So, you all wasted?" asks Kelly, after a poor Elvis 'thank you' impersonation before belting off a highly charged Deadhead. Kelly's sunglasses finally come off then, causing a bunch of young schoolgirls at the front to go into fits of hysterics. There's a strange moment in the middle of Dakota, which, despite Kelly messing up the first line is quite simply superb. I say strange because it's one of the few times when I've ever heard a song played live and wished that I could hear it in a bigger venue. This happened to me the other night at the Athlete gig too, but this song is quite simply too big for the Oude Zaal of the Melkweg. It's fucking brilliant, but it'll sound even better with 16000 people singing along to it. It's a privilege to see the band so close up, but their music deserves, and demands, a bigger stage.



Bartender and the Thief sends everyone into a frenzy, bodies start jumping up and down, beers start flying through the air and grown men start screaming at the top of their lungs (myself included), but again it could do with another few thousand people joining in to make it even better. I have to laugh when they slip in a bit of Ace of Spades and Kelly and Richard have to laugh when Javier gets so into the moment he starts adding extra drum fills in here and there, just for the hell of it. Local Boy in the Photograph seals the end of this short, but fabulous main set in fine style with the crowd clapping along in time, jumping up and down and screaming along with the words because they don't know what else to do to show how happy they are.


We're given the chance to gather our breath but we, the crowd, spend most of the time screaming and applauding for more, so by the time the band return my voice is nearly shot, I'm sweating like a pig and I'm dying for the bog but who gives a shit? I'm not missing a second of this show, no matter how badly I need a piss. Returning like a conquering hero Kelly smiles and introduces Too Many Sandwiches by saying, "This is a song about a working class wedding party." There's a party atmosphere in here, that's for sure. I can remember listening to this song when I first heard their debut album, which is nigh on a decade ago now and I can't help but be impressed at how exciting the band are tonight. They really have come back, not only with a new sound on record, but a new, more intense live sound and they're giving off a sense of passion and love for what they're doing that you can't help but be impressed by. If you could see Kelly jumping around the stage thrashing his guitar, inserting AC/DC riffs into the mix just for a laugh, or hear their faithful but still exciting cover of Iggy's I Wanna Be Your Dog, with which they close out the evening and I swear you'd be as impressed as I am.


The Stereophonics have come in for a lot of criticism over the years, some of it deserved, but I'd like to see anybody try and diss them now. The Stereophonics are back and they are, once again, fucking amazing. Catch them at a large venue near you when you can.


Words and photographs : Damian Leslie