The Forum – October 18th
It’s Saturday night and the diverse crowd assembled for the Happy Mondays followed by a Hacienda club night are mostly wrecked. One red-faced man can be seen slumped on a bench outside next to friend with an energy drink in his hand. His complaint is that the bouncer won’t let him in till he’s had a coffee and sobered up. Inside the venue a couple of older men are locked in an embrace, sweating and gurning vigorously. Tonight, Kentish Town 2014 is Madchester.
Except that it’s not. For a few, this night is an attempt to reclaim an irretrievable part of their youth. The audience are touchy about a lot of things. Attempt to shuffle past the wrong person and you’ll be met with a half-arsed challenge. It’s this kind of tetchiness that ruins the vibe at many similar reunions of British pop groups that once meant something to a lot of people: The Libertines at Hyde Park and The Stone Roses at Finsbury Park both had similar potential to be tinderbox travesties.
When the Happy Mondays do come on stage it’s easy to see and hear why people were charmed in the first place. Shaun Ryder arrives looking dapper sans hair, like what would happen if you crossed one of the Mitchell brothers with Vinnie Jones and gave him his own cocaine cartel. As soon as they launch into the psychedelic strains of ‘Loose Fit’ it’s easy to see what people saw in them. The singles are still great dance floor classics and they immediately turn the vibe to happy and uplifting. Bez was once Madchester incarnate, tonight he’s an un-self conscious showman and a cheeky chappy. He shakes his maracas, monkeying around perimeter of the stage pulling funny faces and soliciting cheers from the audience.
Perhaps the apex of tonight is the performance of ‘Kinky Afro’. It still has the potential to crack the hardest of nuts, and crack they all do. Everyone sings along to the refrain “I had to crucify some brother today” as they exorcise their chemical demons through dance. It’s affirmative music but there are weak moments throughout the set. There’s little to say about their rendition of ’24 Hour Party People’ which is a shame considering the fact that it chronicles an early stage in their development as a band. Similarly ‘Hallelujah’ is tired and bland. An excellent and energetic rendition of ‘Step On’ saves the rave and elicits much excitement from the audience.
In truth tonight borders on being a novelty, but it’s a happy novelty nonetheless. Sadly it’s not Madchester recreated, it’s simply too far removed from the context and circumstances, but it’s a welcome diversion from the rueful state of existence at the arse end of summer but not quite in autumn proper. Shaun and Bez are dab hands at turning a tetchy vibe into a united one, but that’s what they were always about.