Saturday, October 12, 2013

Stereophonics concert review: Los Angeles

My review originally appeared at

Before Stereophonics started their powerful show at the Fonda Theatre Thursday night, one woman said seeing them in a relatively small venue would make her friends across the pond jealous. After all, the Welsh rock group just co-headlined the massive V Festival in England this past August and plays arenas alone.

Since U.K. music trends move at a fast clip, bands need something special - plus lots of stamina - to survive. Stereophonics singer/guitarist Kelly Jones, a former art and film school student, has a knack for crafting compact vignettes that frequently touch upon prime Faces and Led Zeppelin territory.

That quality, along with a consistent studio release schedule, has helped the band maintain a regular European chart presence and see each of its discs sell 500,000-plus copies since 1997.

While Jones has veered from cinematic tendencies in the past, he goes full-bore into them on exceptional new album Graffiti on the Train, featuring orchestration assistance by James Bond film scorer David Arnold.

The collection is loosely based on one of two screenplays the frontman currently has in development, a rite-of-passage story about two friends who flee their home after a tragic accident, which Kelly describes as Stand by Me meets Quadrophenia.

A large dose of Graffiti comprised the potent 22-song, 105-minute Hollywood set, and many ex-pats numbered among the strong turnout for this first area appearance in five years. Kicking off with a sinister new “Catacombs” and its careening electric guitars, the guys blazed a fiery trail from the get-go, despite a wavering sound mix.

Fans vigorously clapped along to first-ever single “Local Boy in the Photograph.” Drummer Jamie Morrison proved to be an animated presence, at times recalling original timekeeper Stuart Cable (key example: “Roll the Dice”).

Following an in-your-face “Superman,” the guys took a break from the onslaught with the new album's stunning title piece. Adam Zindani provided some searing guitar work; between him and Jones, there were plenty more ripe solos all evening.

Equally dramatic was a Wurlitzer-infused “Violins and Tambourines” (one of four Kelly either storyboarded or shot for the new album, on Vevo), while the exhilarating “Indian Summer” should be a hit on this side of the Atlantic.

Kelly recalled writing the breezy pop song “Have a Nice Day,” reminiscent of '70s AM radio, in San Francisco; one of Stereophonics’ three minor hits here, it was greeted with loud cheers of recognition. Later, both axemen really got the Led out on “Vegas Two Times,” then engaged in some soaring U2-like dynamics amid “In a Moment.”

But several quieter moments were the most memorable: the laid-back, soulful, organ-drenched “Nothing Precious at All” and “Maybe Tomorrow,” which gave Jones’ raspy voice a better chance to shine; Jones’ solo piano encore spotlight, “Caravan Holiday”; and the mesmerizing narrative “I Stopped to Fill My Car Up,” with tour keyboardist Tony Kirkham adding a fluttery Mellotron feel.

Hopefully the fresh material can gain some well-deserved traction in America. Maybe then the wait for another Southern California concert won’t be so long.

Set list: Stereophonics at the Fonda Theatre
Main set: Catacomb / Local Boy in the Photograph / Superman / Graffiti on the Train / We Share the Same Sun / Indian Summer / Have a Nice Day / Vegas Two Times / Mr. Writer / In a Moment / I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio / Nothing Precious at All / Maybe Tomorrow / Roll the Dice / Violins and Tambourines / Been Caught Cheating / Just Looking / The Bartender and the Thief
Encore: Caravan Holiday / I Stopped to Fill My Car Up / A Thousand Trees / Dakota 

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