Sunday, 20 March 2016

981 THE WONDER STUFF, The Wedding Present, The Lottery Winners, Bristol O2 Academy, Thursday 17th March 2016

A real sense of occasion surrounding this one tonight; the 30th Anniversary tour for enduring Indie legends The Wonder Stuff, also coinciding with their aptly-named new CD “30 Goes Around The Sun”, signalling a renewed assault on the nation’s eardrums by Miles Hunt and his gang of reprobates. An added advantage to this one is also hopefully meeting up with their roadie tonight, my facebook friend Russ, Miles’ brother and a gentleman whom our mutual friend and former Gigolo Aunt Phil Hurley introduced me to some 20 years ago (yipe!), and with whom I’d crossed paths with infrequently but always very convivially since. So, a couple of key plus points for catching up with a band whom I’d seen 10 times before but, rather disgracefully, not for 10 years (Bierkeller, March 2006, gig 695 in fact). So, it’s hup hup hup tonight for The Stuffies!

Another plus point for The Stuffies is that they played a pivotal part in mine and Rachel’s burgeoning relationship (finding out early that Rach’s first gig was The Stuffies at Brixton Academy in April 1994, my gig 265), so happily Rach joined us tonight, along with the ebullient Mr. Gould and old Lev 3 friend Robynne. An early departure at 6 saw an enjoyably chatty journey down, hitting traffic into Bristol but parking up at 7.15, wandering in midway through early openers The Lottery Winners, plying a nice brand of upbeat and optimistic wide-eyed pop to a sparse crowd. I should have paid more attention to them, but by then I’d bumped into Russ and was otherwise occupied catching up briefly with a thoroughly nice and self-effacing bloke. Good to see him again! He warned The Stuffies were “on fire” – we’ll see...

Quick drink in the bar before taking our usual stage left spot, being joined by Rich, Jared and Nathan, and also gig buddy and former “big boss” Matt in the process! So a happy band of folks welcomed main support, and Stuart’s main reason for being here tonight, The Wedding Present, on at 8. Another band I’d not seen for awhile (July 2008 at the 12 Bar, gig 751 in fact), they kicked off with a couple of crowd-pleasers in oldies “You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends” and “Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?”, but despite upping the tempo for a subsequent choppy “Kennedy”, their brisk indie guitar rock left me strangely unmoved. Vocalist David Gedge’s loose-limbed guitar work was as dextrous as ever, but the sound, pindrop perfect in this venue as ever, did them no favours, leaving it all sounding thin. As the mid-set drifted, the performance, for me, went from perfunctory to pedestrian and, well, a bit dull really, enlivened only by a late “Dalliance” and a final “Brassneck”. Like a veteran pitcher who’s lost the pace of his fastball, but hasn’t replaced it with any guile or craft. All quite… blah, I’m afraid…

Nevertheless, the Stuffies were due up next, –and duly took the stage at 9.30 after a radio announcement intro tape (including old Peelie, god rest his soul). Miles Hunt, a raffish presence in billowing white shirt and combats, stomped onstage with an, “Oi! Oi! Bristol!” and led the band into chuntering opener, “30 Years In The Bathroom”, the striking Erica Nockall’s violin work immediately to the fore, remaining so for the tumbling rocker “Play”. Miles requested, “give me your voices, this is “On The Ropes””, before a thrilling, dramatic rendition of my favourite Wonder Stuff song, then remarked to all and sundry, “we’ve been friends for 30 years now; my plan was to make 1 album, 4 singles and then fuck off!”

Miles was in fine form from the outset, laid-back, entertainingly profane and ebullient, setting the tone for the band’s performance in kind. Whether challenging the crowd with, “what are you in the mood for?” asking them to “boo along in the key of “D”” to solitary new number, the fine and hooky “For The Broken Hearted” or touchingly dedicating the jig-along “Welcome To The Cheap Seats” to, “Bass Thing, Gilksy and Kirsty MacColl,” then re-starting the number after an off-key opening few bars (“they’d never forgive me if I played it out of key!”), Miles had the crowd eating out of his hand tonight. The, “good old Country and Western hoedown,” of the fiddle-powered “Golden Green” got the crowd ignited into a happy twirling mosh, and “millstone” pop number “Size Of A Cow”, with its jolly fairgroundesque middle 8, was dispensed with, “let’s get this one over and done with…”. But the final 1/3rd of the set saw them really crank up the ante; a hectic, galloping “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently”, launched into a superb, slightly-delic “A Wish Away”, then POW! A flippant “Radio Ass Kiss”, BLAM! A titanic “Unbearable” SLAM! “Give Give Give Me More More More”, and finally the knockout SMASH! of an utterly incendiary, pounding “Ten Trenches Deep”, the lengthy and increasingly fiddle-embellished noisy crescendo a perfect finale.

“If you want encores from me, it’ll be pitiful broken hearted songs from when I was 21 – pitiful cunt that I was!”, announced a fulsome Miles before a 4-song encore capped with “Goodnight Though”, swirling strobe backlighting the band peeling off, one by one, to complete a blistering performance, totally fitting for the occasion, with that final 1/3rd of the set as good as I’ve ever seen the Stuffies. Fact. Russ warned they were “on fire” – boy, you were spot-on, my friend!

The night wasn’t over yet though; after Russ sorted me out with a set-list and we (eventually) dragged Stuart away from Gedge’s ear, we chanced upon Miles holding court behind the venue on the walk back to the car! Quick pics, signed lists (me and Jared!) and brief chats with the surprisingly open and receptive “Star Of The Show” before heading off. A great evening; and on this form, I won’t leave it 10 years before seeing the Stuffies again!

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