After almost a decade away, the Stereo MC's return triumphant...
After a certain period of time, anticipation begins to dissipate. Following the early-’90s explosion of ‘Connected’, UK funksters the Stereo MC’s have spent eight whole years away from the spotlight, with intermittent promises of a return – and it’s fair to say that even hardcore devotees had begun to lose conviction in their heroes. But now they’ve gone and confounded us again, reappearing for the first date of a low-key club tour (culminating in a gig at London’s Fabric on Friday 6 April).
Tonight’s crowd comprise a generation who remember the Stereo MC’s from last time around – a casually mixed bunch of twentysomethings, whose expressions change from nostalgic curiosity to elation when the original line-up plus percussionist emerge onstage and launch into Fade Away’. And… the music sounds every bit as raw and vibrant as the last time we heard it! Everybody’s beyond asking: ‘what took you so long?’, but there’s a tangible sigh of relief that this is no half-hearted comeback.
There’s no arrogance or presumptuousness on the band’s part; surely they’re nervous, but they’re also incredibly, infectiously vivacious. Frontman Rob B still looks spooked and sinewy, throwing shapes and ranting lyrics in his trademark slurred rap. Cath, Andrea and Verona, the band’s trio of backing vocalists, as ever, deservedly share centre-stage alongside Rob, delivering a soulful edge and busting their own dance moves with brilliant natural attitude.
Stereo MC’s arguably aren’t breaking any new ground, unless, say, using a vocoder on downtempo new track ‘Breeze’ could be considered an update of their sound. And it’s true to say that tracks from their long-awaited upcoming album ‘Deep, Down And Dirty’ album have considerably more impact when you hear them live. But that’s preferable to awkward concessions to ‘modernity’, and it’s also impressive that when the rumbling title track or the witty ‘Sofisticated’ are rendered tonight, they stand up as catchily and forcefully as familiar favourites like ‘Ground Level’, ‘Connected’ and an awesome ‘Step It Up’, which prompts a mass outbreak of bouncing. This is an outfit who still purvey great urban pop.
After two sweaty encores, ultimately closing with a chipper ‘Lost In Music’ (which even back then was an oldie), the hard-dancing audience are still hollering for more; perhaps a sense of disbelief lingers that Stereo MC’s really did return. Now that they’ve won back their longtime followers, the band’s next challenge is to reach out to a younger generation of fans – and on the strength of their absorbing, animated performance here, it’s a totally feasible prospect. Tonight has offered ample proof that back in 2001, Stereo MC’s are still connected.