STEREOPHONICS @ Fremantle Arts Centre gets 7.5/10

Stereophonics @ Fremantle Arts Centre
w/ Halcyon Drive
Saturday, May 7, 2018


Welsh rock legends Stereophonics have a reputation for putting on great live shows, and on Saturday they reminded us why. The seasoned veterans know how to rock. While perhaps not as massive here, the band are well loved in the UK, and most of their 10 albums released over the last 20 years have gone to number one in their home country.

Frontman Kelly Jones is the consummate rock star singer/guitarist, all full of swagger, big riffs and an even bigger voice, and along with his band – the full touring party including original bassist Richard Jones, guitarist since 2007 Adam Zidani, new drummer Jamie Morrison and long time touring keyboardist Tony Kirkham – they impressed a packed Freo Arts Centre with a tight, tour de force performance that spanned their entire career.

One thing that took the shine off the night early on was the line at the bar. While FAC is a beautiful outdoor venue, and we were blessed with a relatively warm and dry night, it was an odd choice for a rock band used to playing stadiums. The mostly older crowd was made up in large part of UK expats, with many Welsh flags and rugby tops scattered around. They were always going to be a thirsty bunch, and were seemingly punished for wanting to enjoy the band they had paid over $100 to see.

You knew something wasn’t right the second you entered the venue and literally walked straight into the line for the bar. It stretched up the hill from the bar tent, all the way to the entrance, curling back on itself, causing confusion and no staff seemingly cared. Some that were asked blamed the band for wanting all drinks to be poured into plastic cups (as a sign also proclaimed behind the bar, as if this was outrageous request).

They said the line would move quite fast. It didn’t. It took almost an hour. Some punters who lined up during the support band, were still in line for the first few songs of Stereophonics. This isn’t your first rodeo FAC. You know how this works and how many people to expect. It’s simply not good enough. At least have someone walk the line explaining the situation and apologising. Hopefully a lesson is learned and they modify their bar setup, or provide adequate staffing, next time they decide to host a gig like this.

Halcyon Drive

But this shambolic effort should by no means reflect on the bands. Those who weren’t in line for their entire slot, got to witness a fine support set from Melbourne three-piece Halcyon Drive – a very polished, dynamic band who churn out sweet slices of indie pop pulsing with an electro beat.

The Birds is a great tune – all driving synth bass with shimmering guitar and falsetto. The talented keyboard player also played bass and sang backing vocals, while the drummer was a whirl of energy that really pinned the whole thing down. Another highlight was Crusoe, with its complex, intricate arrangement. The band seemed stoked to play to such a big crowd and gave big props to Stereophonics for having them along on this tour, letting us know that “we were in for a treat”.


And they weren’t lying. Stereophonics know how to craft and pace a set. A solemn piano riff built the drama and anticipation, before they burst onstage in a dazzling light show with Caught By The Wind, the euphoric opening track off their album of last year Scream Above The Clouds. From the moment they took the stage, the atmosphere was electric. Luckily for those still in line they came on a bit late, but it is testament to their greatness that any worries or bad vibes were soon washed away by their uplifting performance.

“This is our last show in Australia, so let’s make it a good one!” Jones proclaimed. Another new track Geronimo really rocked live with its stomping, bluesy beat and big chorus. But their classics still received the biggest cheers – an early highlight was Mr Writer – one of their greatest tracks from 2001 and ironically this here writer’s fav, as the tune is basically a diss to music journalists, written by Jones after the band received some bad press.

Another big gun pulled out relatively early (introduced as “a song we wrote in San Fran a long time ago”) was their magnificent anthem Have A Nice Day that had everyone singing along and smiling.


While some of Stereophonics stuff moves into fairly commercial rock territory, they have managed to maintain an edge to their music, due in part to Jones’ rough, raspy and powerful voice, as well as penning many great, and evolving, tunes over the years.

2012’s Graffiti On A Train has an interesting back-story Jones explained, about some kids who climbed onto his roof and he confronted. They explained they were just using his house to get over to the train station and do graffiti. The song has an almost Springsteen-like classic rock ballad quality.

New track All In One Night has a beautiful picky rhythm that drifted softly through the night air. Maybe Tomorrow drew big cheers on arrival with some big lead guitar work from Zidani on his Les Paul and double Orange stack combo.

The drummer (playing in socks, standing up) and keyboard player came to the front for I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio and a rollicking version of their famous cover of Handbags and Gladrags, the classic Mod track written by Mike d’Abo of 60s group Manfred Mann (also notably covered by Rod Stewart and featured as the theme song on The Office).


Step On My Old Size Nines was another welcome fan fav. Jones strutted the stage, playing some scorching lead on Sunny and thanked fans old and new for letting them do what they do for 20 years. “The song is the star of this band,” he stated.


They lifted a couple tracks off their 1997 debut Word Gets Around to finish with, two of their earliest hits, Local Boy In The Photograph and Traffic with Jones’ voice soaring – his whisky soaked howl as smooth as ever.

After a short break they were back for a few more, and a bit of banter, including an amusing tale about spotting a headjob in an open hotel window in Brisbane, sounding all the more amusing in his lilting, sing-song Welsh accent. It was of course then up to the epic Dakota, their biggest hit, to finish the night off in fitting style, with the crowd singing along into the night sky.


Photos by Adrian Thomson

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