Stereophonics & The Vaccines – Belsonic 2016 – Titanic Quarter, Belfast
After seven successful nights from seven amazing headliners it was almost time for Belsonic to pack up and hibernate for two months, ready to return in August with 5 fresh acts. However, not before rock icons Stereophonics were to take to the stage and christen the new venue with a set covering over two decades of hits. With support from indie boys the Vaccines, a crowd young and old were certainly in for a treat that would draw the curtain on a month to remember.
Returning to Belfast almost exactly a year after their sold out Belsonic show (happy anniversary boys x) at Custom House Square, Welsh rock veterans Stereophonics made their Titanic Quarter debut. With a success story like theirs it isn’t surprising the band have been invited back to play to a crowd just as keen as they were the year before.
Formed in 1992 and signed in 1996, it wasn’t long before their debut album Word Gets Around reached number six in the chart followed by a successful world tour. Throw a BRIT award into the mix just one year later, along with their debut album going Gold in the UK and you have an incredibly successful start for a new band. However, it hasn’t been a case of burning bright and fading fast for Stereophonics.
Twenty four years later and the Welsh boys are still selling out venues worldwide – from Belfast to Taiwan and Japan – and barely breaking a sweat. With nine studio albums now under their belt, six of which making it to number one, this was never going to be a night to disappoint.
Kicking off at 8pm to a still filtering in crowd, The Vaccines jumped on stage and straight into their opening song. The new Titanic Quarter venue was so spacious that not even the certified Gold English boys in tight jeans encouraged a surge to the front that would normally happen at Custom House Square. While some cherished the rare space by cosying up on picnic blankets or simply lying on the gravel, others have questioned the new venue’s benefits and rather see the space as taking away from the intimacy of the gigs.
Either way The Vaccines weren’t phased and seemed to settle into their set and engage the crowd with absolutely no trouble.
If the long hair or leather jackets weren’t enough to capture the crowd (what more could you ask for??), their ability to seem completely at home on stage made for an incredibly comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. It was still light, it was a little rainy and the venue was not yet full but the crowd from the front to the back were headbanging and bouncing to the band’s infectious surf rock vibes with a smooth indie edge.
The band omitted a vibe that one could only be in awe of, particularly frontman Justin Young. Any man that can pull off a white jean, white baseball top combo and still manage to be cooler than everyone in the crowd put together deserves praise.
Young dismissed his guitar and instead opted for dramatic air grabs and floor drops as he began 2011 single ‘Wetsuit’ acapella, to the delight of the crowd. It was a set bursting with nostalgic, old singles mixed with their latest material, including hits like ‘Minimal Affection’ and ‘Dream Lover’ from their 2015 album English Graffiti.
As the rain got heavier The Vaccines’ set drew to a close, but the weather was no deterrent from the familiar vocals and jingling tambourine of 2011 single ‘If You Wanna’. The crowd danced to the very last drumbeat before the band said their goodbyes.
A break long enough to empty bladders and top up drinks passed before Stereophonics slipped quietly on stage at 9.15pm. They dandered on so cool and calm that it was barely noticeable – if it wasn’t for a vigilant few and their consequential screams most of the crowd wouldn’t have even noticed.
The crowd were ready for the headliner they had paid to see, with a few running and darting their way towards the front. Opening with the opening track (we see what ya did there) from their 2015 album Keep the Village Alive, frontman Kelly Jones announced ‘Belfast it’s brilliant to see you – this is C’est La Vie.’
Even from their first song it was evident how this was a band made up of genuinely talented musicians. Only genuine talent can smash 24 years of continually great music and release hit after hit. Stereophonics were a band that seemed to ‘get it’ from the get-go and their spark has most definitely not went out – it hasn’t even faded.
A crowd gathered that was reflective of such a successfully long career in music. Half of the crowd were old enough to be the other half’s parents which goes to show what a genuinely impressive discography can do – great music unites all ages, all of which were gathered and ready to hear songs from the 90s right up to today.
Brief interjections from Kelly Jones like ‘I wanna get lost with you, Belfast!’ welcomed bursts of screams and shouts in between singalongs. Everyone that was previously sitting had now risen from their blankets to the rock and roll sounds soaked in nostalgia.
It was crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser, with no brief ‘I don’t really know this one’ shuffles in between. Songs like ‘Local Boy in the Photograph’, number 14 in the 1998 singles chart, and ‘A Thousand Trees’ left the crowd breathless after singing every word.
While the crowd’s participation created an incredible atmosphere, our singing was no match for Kelly Jones. His voice was effortless, grinding off of solid guitar riffs with the raw edge that helps to define their sound. The incredibly smooth vocals are outlined with a roughness that never cracks or ceases as Jones smashes every single note.
Explosive drum instrumentals thundered around the whole venue, as the lights flashed brighter as the sun went down. The announcement of ‘a sing-along now’ was no bother to the crowd, completely immersed in anthem after anthem delivered by the rock veterans.
It took not even 0.5 of a second for every single person in the crowd to recognise and latch onto the first notes of 2001 single ‘Have a Nice Day.’ The ever-increasing rain only added to the atmosphere, as the band stopped their vocals and let the crowd lead the last chorus.
A crowd of umbrellas, hoods and held up beers even owned every lyric to new material like ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ and ‘Indian Summer.’ The minimal empty space spread across the venue was now taken by flamboyant dancers throwing their arms, legs and each other as they danced to every song.
Encouragements like ‘Come on Belfast!’ and requests to put our phone lights on were barely necessary as there wasn’t one moment the crowd weren’t giving their all. There were instrumentals and guitar riffs so powerful you could feel them in your bones as Kelly Jones hit notes the crowd could only deliver back with their loudest yell.
Songs like 1998 single ‘The Bartender and the Thief’ exploded into the crowd and sent everyone jumping until the very last second. Hypnotised by every note, we fell quiet as the band said their thank yous and explained their genuine appreciation for Belfast and its continuous support over the past 24 years.
It was none other than Stereophonics classic ‘Dakota’ to close the set – the very first of the band’s number one singles, remaining in the chart for 44 weeks. The sun was down, the lights were bright and the crowd’s energy was at its highest as every single person jumped and sang every word.
The lights diminished and the last notes cut before the band dipped their heads in thanks and waved themselves off the stage. The crowd had just been delivered a set that went deep into Stereophonic’s musical history and played us right up to the present day. It was a musical journey so impressive that it won’t be surprising when the band is invited back to Belfast, hopefully sooner than we think.