Gary Stringer parts his mane of industrial-strength rocker hair and looks at the wave. It is the end-of-year triumphal blow-out night for Reef. A Number One UK album, a global rampage through Europe and America and three sold-out British tours have successfully waved insouciant dick at the sceptics. The shouty grind of Reef rock has barged through the line of confused fashion police and plonked itself down in the Homebase Living Room Of Ubiquity, wiping its muddy feet on a Chris Evans-face-shaped doormat on the way in. And so, on a crisp night in the West Country, where the four Reef boyz were raised, roughened and baptised in the surf, Gaz looks out at this rolling flesh wave of 2,500 boiling kids and, in the voice of a man who feels no surprise that he could have sold out tonight three times over, says, “‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello! Ow aaaaaaare yoouu?”.
The wave, it would seem, is doing very well. The wave is “Awwwwright!”. The wave is, in Garyspeak, “wicked”. There’s a reason. The wave, see, is composed of pre-cleanser skin, ultra-shiny centre-parted hair, arms exposed to the winter night and pure, psychologically sorted, pissed-up teenage energy. With its Day-Glo rave sticks, festive tinsel and lifestyle-mag fizzy sex clothes the wave is not just a coincidental throng of ’90s gig-goers. It is cohesive and powerful and just a little scary – a great swash of history hitting the shores of pop. And its momentum belongs to Gary, Kenwyn, Dom and Jack.
Surf’s up. The four moonlighting snowboarders and their honky tonk extra-man keyboardist are half a bar into the loping boogie chant ‘Place Your Hands’ before the youth lake finds its voice and drowns out the band, pitching their exuberance in with the tune’s riffing delirium until the security blokes take their earplugs out. It’s that kind of night. A howling, crashing, gospel-Donington, soccer cup winners homecoming kind of a night where the band appear to just stand back amazed while the crowd pulls them along. Never mind that the tender and wise spirituality of the Stones-y ‘Consideration’ is beautifully delivered by the Reefs tonight, or that they play the down’n’dirty Bootsy Sabbath rockers ‘I Would Have Left You’, ‘Don’t You Like It (When I’m High)’ and ‘Naked’ with the deranged physicality and looseness of infinite tour champions. All that really matters is that they don’t trip over their guitar straps and that Gaz’s one-man Noddy Holder revival campaign blowtorch holler can occasionally be heard above the crowd’s yawping.
The kids come not to worship at axe-hero Kenwyn’s feet but to shout their wigs off, snog, drink and celebrate their empowerment, in the way you do when you’re a healthy Nu Gen, Blair Youth and Post-Spice teen with 15 years of economic stability behind you, all episodes of The Fast Show taped and a fake ID to get ver drinks in. So they crowd-surf and pour over the barriers like trench warfare in a bouncy castle in Never-Never Land. One girl passes out while screaming “Gaaaaaary!” and is stretchered away, grinning. The toilets are full of pissed lads claiming to have “two girls on the go” and, given that the sloshing and sloshed wave of PC World employees from Exeter and trainee air stewards from Barnstaple is two-thirds female, and that the atmosphere is drenched with Bacchanalia-lite, their luck might even be in.
It may come as (late) news to the Placebo posse, but in their stubbly, stoned, chilled-out and testosteroney way, Reef have a he-boy band sexual currency that towers over the limper contenders. When All Saints’ Mel expressed deep surprise at anyone fancying Brett or Jarvis ‘cos they’re so “girly” she fingered a large truth. The present day is little amused by the rock’n’rollers’ old trick of perverse gender games, and by extension it couldn’t give much of a mouse click for the flaunting of radical, political, oppositional content, Dylanisms, Lydonologys or Cobainosis. Oversupplied, MTV’d out, snowboarder affluent, provided for by Richard Branson’s no doubt soon-to-come Private Teen Welfare Programme and swollen with girl overachievers in the classroom, yer mass millennial teen (milleenager?) has relocated rock to a website, where you click in to your preferred style (ironically received, dust raisin’, dance metal tonight), get drunk, rock out, cop off and click out by Monday.
Reef, ending their triumphal year with Jack throwing his bass down and dancing mentally through the clichi-level positivity of ‘Choose Life’ and a scorching thrash through the pick’n’punk anthem ‘Yer Old’, are a minutely detailed teen machine-tooled projection of the needs and desires of the clear-eyed flux of nouveau youth largin’ it up laughingly in Plymouth. What the wave wants it gets, see. And what the wave says to anyone who doesn’t get Reef is simply, “Yer old, yer old, yer old, yer old, yer King beardy old saddo Canute, mate”.