London Hammersmith Palais

For reasons apparent to no-one, a mock Pearly King and Queen dance onstage throughout...

Overheard, a couple on the last tube out of Hammersmith: “That was crap,” he says. “Oh, I thought it was great,” she replies. “I mean, I don’t rate the music – I just like him.”

In terms of presence, that loosely defined blend of physical bearing and charisma, few would deny [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s star qualities. People find him inspiring, have come to regard his insouciant anti-authoritarianism as a common man’s fanfare against the strictures of the suits and the squares. There’s a charming aspect to this foolish little fellow’s pugnacious demeanour that endears him to us. God knows, there must be, because as a live performer [a]Ian Brown[/a] represents a staggering triumph of attitude over art.

Nothing much has changed here, though. Even at the peak of their fame’s magnesium-bright arc, The Stone Roses were never only about the music. But at least they were sustained by the mythical properties of being a group. Once the group began to unravel, people lost interest. It wasn’t [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s singing that was the essential problem at that infamous Reading Festival appearance – it had been equally askew at such ‘triumphs’ as Alexandra Palace and Spike Island – rather the fact that no-one recognised the other members of the band (apart from Mani) as The Stone Roses. So for Brown to be so rapturously acclaimed as he is tonight when backed by a bunch of hired hands – however capable – suggests either he’s sharpened his act or standards are on the slide.

Or maybe a virile combination of the two. The voice, in all truth, is hardly a factor. Unlike the wan yodel of yore, Ian‘s pipes are currently strident and in reasonably close contact with notions of key and tune. Only during ‘Corpses In Their Mouths’ does the plot go irretrievably awry, as he flounders in the lower registers like a lame hippo at bathtime. The audience’s response, though, is telling. They laugh. They cheer. They’re enjoying it. Apparently, at least part of the thrill of going to see [a]Ian Brown[/a] is witnessing the man fuck up or be a bit mad. More proof of his human touch, it seems, that he’s just like the rest of us.

Granted, were he to do this for an entire gig the response might be less sanguine. But a fluffed line during the opening ‘My Star’ aside, he does his bit capably. It’s the sheer dated, mundane clump of the band’s percussive disco fusion that drags matters down to the realm of near parody, not helped by Brown‘s hardly innovative tactic of inserting bits of other people’s songs into his own, nor the encore of ‘Billie Jean’, which merely highlights the set’s mostly leaden momentum. Matters close with a reprise of ‘Love Like A Fountain’, a song barely strong enough to merit one rendition, let alone two. Only the vivid pulse of ‘Golden Gaze’ and ‘Dolphins Were Monkeys’ suggest that Brown remains a seer capable of energising a mass audience via his musical attributes, rather than the mere fact of what he represents – namely, a reminder of a different, more certain time, when Them and Us were easier to tell apart.

For reasons apparent to no-one, a mock Pearly King and Queen dance onstage throughout. But inasmuch as this gig represented an exercise in rose-tinted nostalgia, they presumably felt at home.