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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Stereophonics and Razorlight bring rock thrills to Party in the Park

While the fresher material failed to electrify this casual crowd, there were more than enough vintage cuts to go around.
Stereophonics perform at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday. Satish Kumar / The National
Stereophonics perform at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre on Friday. Satish Kumar / The National

“Why don’t you tell it like it really is?”, singer Kelly Jones challenges the journalist in his lyrics to the Stereophonics hit Mr Writer.

Alright Kelly – this writer will do his best. Eschewing eclecticism, the second Party in the Park festival offered a crowd-pleasing, Brit-centric guitar-heavy bill.

Headlining the Dubai Media City venue were Stereophonics, who served up a tight and tidy set mixing new and old.

While the fresher material failed to electrify this casual crowd, there were more than enough vintage cuts to go around.

A Thousand Trees might be the band’s finest moment and here it was dispensed with early and anthemically. Shortly after came Just Looking, that angsty backswipe at commercialist culture, sounding particularly pertinent in the land of malls.

There was little time for chat, but plenty of tunes: acoustic dirge Maybe Tomorrow prompted an amicable crowd singalong, while The Bartender and the Thief – much like Blur’s Song 2 – remains an incongruous moment of abrupt, throwaway silliness that still thrills 15 years later. The quartet saved the best until last, encoring with the duo of early singles Local Boy in the Photograph and More Life in a Tramp’s Vest, before the closing battlehorse Dakota, the band’s sole UK number one.

There was some competition on the night: while a lot has been said about Razorlight’s frontman’s Johnny Borrell’s reportedly gigantic ego (the Dylan comparisons, etc), what’s surprising is that ten years later, a lot of the songs hold up – and there’s more of them than you remember. Three years ago at Gulf Bike Week, Razorlight appeared as a moody, reluctant, lame duck, with no new record and a chip on their shoulder about dining out on the hits.

There’s still no new music, but now Borrell appears to have embraced the riches, artistic and otherwise, of his vintage material. In the Morning, Golden Touch and Up All Night were jolting visceral thrills and as exciting as anything Stereophonics played. The Patti Smith-inspired, Gloria-esque breakdown also offered a primal rock and roll wig-out the Welsh lads would be incapable of providing.

Neither as inventive as The Strokes nor as ramshackle (or notorious) as The Libertines, Razorlight have been historically overlooked.

With promises of a fourth album on the way – finally, after seven years – there may be some surprises on the horizon. Which we really can’t say about the last four Stereophonics albums. 

rgarratt@thenational.ae