Manchester Evening News Arena

As a symbol of what the [B]Mondays[/B] meant to a generation and will still mean in the future, this evening is quite appropriate  considering the mid-teens and late-30-somethings are all fired up

Manchester Evening News Arena

It is one of the oldest clichis known to man(chester) to compare the atmosphere at gigs to that of football matches. But this one demands it. Never mind the testosterone choir singing along to Madchester anthems, the tout/cop standoff outside, the dodgy characters and boozy camaraderie, or the celebration of a tradition and a culture that's ingrained in thousands of hearts and minds here. No, the real similarity you notice as the lights go down for Happy Mondays' homecoming gig is the dizzy mixture of 'Come oooon!' excitement for what's to come, mixed with a nagging fear of what humiliating horrors might lie in store.



You know how good they can be, but you also know how bad. Will they be truly up for it, or just going through the motions, demoralised, bitter and begrudging, watching the clock, just waiting to pick up the pay cheque? Will Shaun be arsed? Will Bez have the same joie de vivre he once inspired in us? Can the rehired, rewired band play with the same verve and sleazy style?



Most importantly - the key to the great Mondays (and Black Grape) performances down the years - will it be a laugh? If they've forgotten their differences and are having a good crack, all else will surely follow.



It's just their constant stubborn, grudging insistence that they're only doing it for the money makes you wonder, 'How can it be any good?'



Oh ye of little faith! Sod worrying for a lark, c-c-call the COPS! 'Cos as the nostalgia circus bounces onstage, you immediately know this is going to be brilliant.



Bez bounds down the stairs with top hat and fluorescent orange maracas, Fred Astaire's baggy bastard son. He's Flavor Flav while Shaun's Chuck D, baseball cap over the eyes, all in black, prowling centre stage like Mussolini on mescaline, ranting stream-of-swearing insanity between the ever-languid lines of 'Loose Fit'. Meanwhile, Rowetta cheerleads like the Acid Queen with blue pom-poms, witches hat and leather whip. Bizarre, bonkers and bloody fantastic.



"Fook me, what a fookin' mega band, eh?!" exclaims Shaun, as if he really had forgotten for a few years there. But no-one else here had. Euphoria immediately engulfs the place, everyone on their feet, dancing like grinning gibbons.



It's startling to think that this band were peaking ten years ago. And yet they still sound like no-one before or since. A mad, manic, magic stew of music that seemed to come from the gutter and the stars at the same time.



Then the pihce de risistance. Yes indeed, lock up your pitbulls, as Shaun Ryder strips down to his vest. Can of lager in hand, tattoos and trackie bottoms, reading his lyrics off an Autocue in front of him. Terrible, terrible man. And genius, lest we forget. All hail the white trash messiah and his hilarious 22nd coming.



Thenceforth, cue greatest hits: 'God's Cop' 'Dennis And Lois', 'Kinky Afro', 'Stinkin' Thinkin', 'Bob's Yer Uncle', all of which Shaun announces with a series of Reevesian asides and a perplexing Vegas Elvis, circa 1968, voice. "Introducing Mister Lucifer Vegas!" he bellows, pointing at Bez, who just carries on milking the crowd like an old pro.



If our excitement sags a little in the middle with slightly flat versions of lesser-known album tunes, that just seems to be preparing us for an almighty climax of 'Step On', and a feeling that this is why it's worth looking back now and again, and why it's worth letting the old dogs have their (pay) day again.



Shaun and Bez seem genuinely moved by the reception, saluting the crowd, taken aback by the reaction. So much so that they don't bother going off for an encore, they just carry on into 'Hallelujah', before the deeply unsettling sight of the band's kids coming on stage to dance with them to 'Wrote For Luck' and the suddenly-not-sounding-so-bad new single cover of 'The Boys Are Back In Town'. The sight of Bez junior bouncing around and shaking maracas in imitation of his dad is surely one of the funniest things ever witnessed on a British stage.



As a symbol of what the Mondays meant to a generation and will still mean in the future, this evening is quite appropriate - considering the mid-teens and late-30-somethings are all fired up by the euphoria of it all, dancing boggle-eyed and laughing with the whole surreal spectacle.



And as the final curtain comes down, the PA blasts out Freddy Mercury's 'Barcelona' at top volume, surely a reference to Manchester United making it to the European Cup Final.



On which victorious note, you have to say, at the end of the day, obviously, tremendous. The comeback kids gave it 110 per cent, they've done great, against the odds. A quite amazing result.

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