They claim it was always a ‘joint headline’ sort of deal, of course. But reports suggest the decision to swap slots and have Blur headline the coming weekend’s repeat of the festival may have been swayed by the events of last weekend. To whit: Blur stormed it while The Stone Roses’ set was met with the sort of sparse crowds and lacklustre emotions last seen at Thatcher’s funeral. “It was awkward and underwhelming,” says our man-on-the-ground. “It started okay and went downhill, then people started drifting away.” Remind anybody of Reading ’96? But who truly deserves to headline Coachella this weekend? Two NME fanatics argue it out.
It seemed odd that Blur would go on ahead of The Stone Roses at Coachella – a bit like having Heston Blumenthal’s most elaborate sirloin-of-iPad culinary creation as a starter before a Nando’s. How are then better than Roses? Let us count the ways. During their creative lifetime they were multi-layered, constantly evolving, boundary-crushing music/art pioneers, while The Stone Roses did one monumental album then sat on their arses for years, slowly turning into a shit Led Zeppelin. Blur left behind a gargantuan box-set’s worth of classic material it takes a full 24-hours to listen to in its entirety; The Roses left a single classic album that’s been reissued, remastered, repackaged and rereleased so often the original tapes in the Silvertone basement must be as ragged and worn as the fucking Dead Sea Scrolls by now, and about as relevant. When Blur’s Hyde Park gig was virtually silent, the crowd strained to hear every note; when The Stone Roses comeback shows were perfectly audible the crowd sang along as loud as they could to avoid having to hear Ian Brown at all. The Stone Roses defined one era, Blur and Damon Albarn have managed at least three. The Stone Roses are an exercise in undiluted nostalgia; Blur provide a breakneck tour of a decade of rampant creativity and pop possibility, and even chuck in a brilliant new song. The only thing new about The Stone Roses’ set is their realisation that no one in America gives, or ever gave, a shit.
It’s no wonder the crowd disappeared after Blur last weekend – they’re such natural-born headliners Coachella would’ve naturally assumed the show was over and some old baggy covers band was sweeping the stage after them. It’s heartening, in fact, that after the hysterical barrage of Rosesmania of the past 12 months, an impartial US festival crowd have set us firmly straight.
There’s a bit in Mike Skinner’s totally brilliant book The Story Of The Streets when he talks about the reasons why he had to break up The Streets. He talks about getting old in bands, and says The Streets aren’t a band you can be in when you’re getting on a bit. It’d just be undignified. Like seeing Christopher Biggins wheeze his way through ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.
To explain his point he uses Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn as examples. Gallagher, he says, has always played music in a way that lends itself to ageing. He gets up on stage, does his stuff, throws in some Oasis B-sides for the hardcore, leads a mighty singalong to ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and goes home. It’s all very dignified. He’s 45 and he behaves like he’s 45.
Damon Albarn is also 45 and, as Skinner says, “his kind of music is ‘I’m a bit mad, me’, and it just doesn’t work”. It’s not that Blur’s tunes aren’t seminal and classic and all the rest of it. It’s that seeing the Blur frontman jump about like he’s still touring ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ is a bit sad.
The Stone Roses are more like Noel, and have grown old with dignity. Ian Brown is 50, and the man knows how to behave. During gigs he just sings his seminal tunes and waves his strange little tambourine sticks about. Mani does what Mani does, John Squire wigs out and Reni drums like he’s the best drummer of all time because he actually is the best drummer of all time. Same as it ever was, just with a few more wrinkles.
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Part of the joy of The Stone Roses is that they work best in a very British context. It doesn’t surprise me that a lot of American music fans don’t care about them, or that the majority of people watching them at Coachella were British. They’re a British phenomenon. It’s what makes them special. They’re like toast and sarcasm and cynicism. Absolutely spectacular in the right context. And above all: dignified.
Where do you stand?