A straightforward rock band who play straightforward rock...

It’s carnage. The toilets are flooding and thick-necked young men wrapped in Welsh flags are pissing pure lager into the hand basins, while outside, in the arena, a deafening chorus of “WAY-ELLS! WAY-ELLS!” drowns out the soft rock intro tape. South Wales’ favourite sons have returned home after their most triumphant year and in Cardiff, that’s a fine excuse for a drink or several.

“Are you drunk yet?” asks Kelly Jones, his first of few words tonight. “Why yes,” answer the school kids, the students, the mums, dads and lads, all moderately inebriated, be it from beer or the sweaty stench of Boy’s Own testosterone that hangs heavy over all Stereophonics do. “I love you,[a]Kelly[/a]!” a girl will scream later on, overcome by her idol’s honest, big-hearted anthems and chiselled, dark-eyed good looks. Everyone loves Kelly. There’s nothing to hate about him.

Hence the Stereophonics‘ spectacular rise. A year ago they headlined the NME Bratbus tour, then in June 12,000 saw them rock Cardiff Castle. Word got around and now they’re taking on arenas with a fittingly frills-free stage set. No screens, no explosions, just the three Aberdare boys, some songs you might have heard on the radio and mistaken for Bryan Adams, and plenty of – oh yes – passion.

Sure, there’s nothing earth-shatteringly radical about, say, the Beavis And Butt-head chug of ‘Looks Like Chaplin’ or any of their other power-pop fare, but the truth is that hundreds of thousands of people understand where Kelly‘s ‘coming from’ (sensitive, small town) and quite like his no-nonsense way with a tune. It’s meat and potatoes, but expertly cooked.

At last, too, they have an album’s worth of new material to play, having ground the UK into submission with the same set over the last two years. No surprises here, obviously, just better songs. ‘Hurry Up And Wait’ is Richard Marx crooning through Robbie‘s ‘Angels’, while ‘Yesterday’s Tomorrow Today’ smoulders like a Jon Bon Jovi side-project, the kind of AOR rock ballad T’Pau were meant to write. ‘Roll Up And Shine’ and ‘Same Size Feet’, meanwhile, allow Kelly to indulge his soft rock fetish as he stands, legs akimbo and mouth agape, stroking his axe in solo ecstasy, or affecting Liam‘s last-syllable-sneer. Next stop: Milton Keynes Bowl with spandex leggings and giant inflatable dragons.

Or maybe not. Simply, Stereophonics are a straightforward rock band who play straightforward rock songs; the Manics if they hadn’t gone to university. There’s no mystery, no glamour, no failings. It’s all above board and above average. Nice and safe, sounds great on the radio. And in these uncertain times, that’s undoubtedly the best policy.