The dust at Heaton Park has begun to settle by now. Either that, or the pea-soup summer drizzle has clumped it into a viscous carpet of dreck still bearing the wayward footprints of those lucky enough to experience The Stone Roses’ trio of resurrection gigs. Heads may still be sore, and jaws may still ache from having been dropped so far, for so long - but it doesn’t matter. The only thing more insufferable then someone telling you how brilliant a defining moment in popular culture was is the helpless knowledge that you missed it.
So, for now, Ian Brown, John Squire and the mono-handled twosome of Reni and Mani are the comeback kings, and the Heaton Park gigs will be remembered for an age. To commemorate the Roses’ return, here are some other magnificent comebacks that exceeded expectations, and the singular gigs that went on to define them.
The cacophonous belly of The O2 is hardly the ideal venue to witness, probably for the last time, the truest lineup of the Goliaths of heavy rock it's possible to see. The performance itself is what made all the flotsam at the peripheries worthwhile: the opening howls of 'Good Times Bad Times', the back-and-forth ‘awh-hawh’s of 'Black Dog', the ecstatic thunder of set closer 'Rock and Roll'. Inactivity, age, or even Jimmy Page’s broken digit, hadn’t blunted them. It was a special night - they were loud, epic, vital and, well… Led Zeppelin.
That the opening gig at Brixton Academy became the fastest-selling gig in the venue’s history seemed to come as as much of a surprise to the band as anyone else. The Pixies’ 11-year hiatus (during which acrimony between Frank Black and Kim Deal had festered, peaked and then collapsed like a monetarily-motivated truce-flan) had allowed them to gain a legion of younger fans. When they eventually took to the stage they broke into a typically obtuse rendering of Neil Young’s 'Winterlong', before blasting through the hits, Black’s voice oscillating between primal howls and gentle mating dances with Deal’s earthy falsetto. They looked pretty much the same as they ever did, sounded better, and played like they’d missed it.
Arguing that a band hasn’t reformed for the money can be a tricky position to defend when the sums tossed about are so frequently astronomical. Yet it seemed that Blur’s disparate members were entirely content to remain as such. Once necessary rifts were closed, however, they embarked on a triumphant reunion tour, which spiked as they headlined Worthy Farm. These songs had spent 15 years squirming into the hearts and minds of the nation and every generation within it, and the PA‘s up-to-eleven bellow appeared awed by the roaring din of the crowd hollering back each and every word. More than anything, this gig was one where the audience and band seemed to love each other, unapologetically and without convenient irony - partly because of booze and chemicals, perhaps, but mostly because it was joyous.
More than nine years after their live performances had limped to a muted squelch without Nick McCabe - and following the obligatory declarations that a reformation would never happen (“You’re more likely to get all four Beatles back on stage,” said Richard Ashcroft) - the original lineup returned. Past inter-group indiscretions were conspicuous in their absence: the band tore through their expansive catalogue, showing nods to the camaraderie that once made Ashcroft more than a just a singer and the band more than mere props for his talents. This was the gig when the bravado synonymous with The Verve aligned with the quality of the performance they gave. The tour that followed was great, but this first gig was always going to be the one to beat.
At 63 Ozzy might not have been quite the explosively captivating live presence he once was, doddering hither and thither like a stoned Thunderbird who’s misplaced a scone, but it really didn’t matter for three solid reasons: (1) with a few subtle key changes he can still belt out the tunes, (2) it’s Black fucking Sabbath, and (3) it’s at Donington, a place custom built solely for the arcane purpose of providing a patch of land for Black Sabbath to play on. You got THOSE songs played THAT loud, a palpable sense of goodwill oozing from thousands of gurning metalheads towards a convalescent Tony Iommi, and a reminder just how important they were and still are. It was nothing short of a triumph.
After the legal clusterfuck of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, it would be almost 17 years before The Sex Pistols returned to the stage. But in 1996 they embarked on the six-month Filthy Lucre reunion tour. It began in middling and slightly oxidised fashion in front of 30,000 people in Finsbury Park, yet it was under the more modest auspices of Shepherd’s Bush Empire that they truly owned it: age, experience and Glen Matlock’s return putting paid to notions of them as musical amateurs, with Lydon – for all his redundant posturing and, at the time, ridiculous haircut – hungrier than 99% of singers half his age. It was a triumphant, no-nonsense set; one that, somehow, did justice to their legacy.
"Tonight, we are going to make history," espoused Jarvis upon gambolling onto the stage, and – lo - it was thus. In fact it was almost as if they’d never been away: Jarvis had always comfortably straddled apparent middle age, and his wry, Cooper-Clarke-ian observations had shed none of their analytical potency in the gulf of years between their disbandment and subsequent return. It was in seeing one of the business’ good guys – and a band who’d plugged away for years before sniffing any success at all – once again achieve the adulation they thoroughly deserve, that made this such a special night for everyone. Now promoted to elder statesman - national treasure, even – it was the gig where we got him back, doing what he does best.
After burying the hatchet, Pete and Carl performed at the Hackney Empire in April 2007, tentatively plucking a few songs for the first time since The Libertines had split. Then the full band played a series of dates in the summer of 2010, culminating with appearances at Reading and Leeds. The first of these could have been a shambles; instead, the set was a taut, wistful reward for a fanbase whose suffering was entwined with that of the band they longed to see. There was an outpouring of emotion in both directions, but we knew we were only playing gooseberry to Pete and Carl. It was a gig that, despite the well-publicised fee the band received, felt honest enough to sit comfortably within their ethos, and it did what a good reunion show should: gave those who didn't catch the band first time round a fair idea of what they’d missed.