As Happy Mondays bring their Pills n Thrills n Bellyaches to the O2 Academy, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman has his melon well and truly twisted.
The ghost of baggy has drifted through this autumn like a particularly virulent cloud of skunk smoke; be it the clamour for tickets for next year’s Stone Roses gigs, the success of this month’s Shine On indie festival or news of the Charlatans’ forthcoming record.
Adding to this nostalgic merry-go-round is the Happy Mondays who are back (again) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of the classic Pills n Thrills and Bellyaches just two years after they announced they were reforming with the line-up that for a short time back in 1990 looked to be on the verge of conquering the world.
In contrast to the last time they visited Liverpool, the O2 Academy is packed to the gills with the promise of hearing the band’s best-known album in full clearly tempting back those who remember or have indeed forgotten 1999’s or 2004’s miserable comebacks.
Despite keyboardist Paul Davis disappearing somewhere along the line, tonight’s formation of Shaun Ryder, Bez, drummer Gaz Whelan, bassist Paul Ryder, guitarist Mark Day and an incredible sounding Rowetta are on stunning form as a raucous but good natured crowd enjoys a night surprising in its brilliance.
Why surprising? Well, in contrast to the Stone Roses’ studied cool, the Mondays have always seemed a far more knockabout prospect. More famous for their off stage antics and various stints on reality TV, it’s sometimes hard to credit just what an extraordinarily original band they were (are). Not for nothing did Paul McCartney once remark that they reminded him of the Beatles during their Strawberry Fields Forever phase.
Yes their songs may exemplify what we know as ‘baggy’ but is there really anything in music to compare to the psychedelic soup of dance beats, kraut rock guitar and garbled surrealist poetry of an ion-form Ryder?
Take God’s Cop for example: Day’s caustic slide guitar riff collides gloriously with a stomping northern soul rhythm as Ryder croaks about getting “slowly stoned”. Following that is Donovan where Paul Ryder’s menacing funk bassline paves the way for his elder brother to wax lyrical with the best of every English surrealist from Colleridge to Lear with lines like “Six cheap people in an empty hotel / Every last one with a story to tell / Give them all pills, so their heads won’t swell /We were borne to a woman whose husband did quite well”.
Where Ryder’s memory fails, a barnstorming Rowetta fills the gaps on a brilliantly feedback-driven Loose Fit while a celebratory Holiday provokes more than one Ibiza-inspired flash back in tonight’s grizzled but up for it crowd.
While naturally it’s the well-worn hits such as Step On and the encore double-whammy of Hallelujah and Wrote For Luck that get the crowd singing and Bez-ing, tonight’s lesser known songs truly reveal the Mondays for the avant-funk geniuses they really are. Let’s hope this latest celebration of one of the finest British bands of all time is more than just a 24 Hour Party.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson.