Love From Stourbridge: The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Live Review – Leeds O2 Academy
By Victoria Holdsworth, April 2018
Nostalgia by the bucket load this evening, as a packed out O2 Academy in Leeds sees two heavyweights of the nineties indie scene share a double header.
Due to a 20 minute delay in getting through venue security, I unfortunately missed the first part of the DJ set from Pop Will Eat Itself’s Graham Crabb as he was getting the night started with some awesome tunes. Despite the venue’s failings, he did seem to be playing all the right things to set the mood tonight.
First on the stage is West Midlands indie-pop titans Ned’s Atomic Dustbin; regrouped, revved up and ready to go!
‘Not Sleeping Around’, ‘Your Complex’ and ‘Trust’ open the night with such passion, enthusiasm and vitality, it’s hard to believe that these guys have hit the 50 mark in age. They play with the same energy as they ever did and Ned’s clearly love every second of playing together in front of an ecstatic bunch of fans. Starting with the popular tunes is always going to be a winner though, but they really do not have to try and get anyone onside tonight: It’s just pure indulgence and entertainment all round.
‘Walking Through Syrup’ and ‘Less Than Useful’ are two blinders this evening, with front man John Penney’s words reminding me what an under-rated lyricist he still is.
“A joy to watch”
There isn’t much chat between songs, just solid tune to tune. There’s a really sweet and funny moment: After some jumping around to ‘You Don’t Want To Do That’ and ‘Legend In His Own Boots’, John has his back to the crowd as he bends forward, legs apart and lets out a huge puff of breath, which from where I was stood, not many people would have seen. He was clearly knackered, but sucked it up, found something inside him and let his second wind carry him through the rest of the set.
‘Stuck’ is followed by a crowd favourite, ‘Throwing Things’ which sounds crisp and contemporary.
I confess that Ned’s were always a favourite band of mine, and I can say that hand on heart. I love them even more now that they (and me) have grown up. They were always the bridge between indie rock and pop back then, but I loved them because they were different to anyone else – and they still are.
‘Traffic’, is such a thought provoking song, and sets the fans alight, with elderly bodies throwing themselves around in the mosh pit. But they absolutely explode when they strum out the first chords of ‘Happy’.
The classics just kept coming with ‘Legoland’, ‘Grey Cell Green’, ‘Cut Up’ and ‘Who Goes First’, however they end the set on ‘Intact’, which brings each individual member’s talents to the forefront. The outstanding camaraderie between them really shows, and they all have this sense of fun which, when they play, makes them a joy to watch.
An encore consisted of (what else) but ‘Kill Your Television’ and ‘Selfish’ which keep the energy going throughout the entire set, regardless of any aches and pains. It’s like being reborn watching them again after all these years, and I for one am glad they are back.
Round two, and The Wonder Stuff bound out to rapturous cheers, and a wave of bouncing grey hair takes off in the middle of the crowd as they plough into ‘Red Berry Joy Town’ and ‘On The Ropes’.
Miles Hunt takes time out to chat to the audience, while he swaps guitars around and responds to some hecklers. Then, with a flash of a huge grin they all furiously attack the classic ‘Don’t You Ever’ and the perfectly executed ‘A Wish Away’.
After a quick plug for the beer they are selling on this tour (Ned’s Wonder!), Miles wants to take a few moments to tell the crowd that today is his hero’s birthday. A can is raised to Dave Hill from Slade, who is apparently 72 years young today. Miles then toys with the crowd with a tease of maybe doing a Slade cover, but instead opts for ‘Shape Up’ followed by ‘Mission Drive’, which for me is the song of the night.
The cuts and swerves of Hunt’s lyrics still hold up over decades, with his delivery of lines such as: “I’ve been a long term disappointment to myself / but it hits like a hammer when I’m that to someone else / and the circle doesn’t fit it’s little square” (‘Circlesquare’).
The energy of Hunt and Erica Nockalls on stage is outstanding; the feistiness of both of them playing off against each other is just pure musical gold. Hunt is the eternal showman, and musically, the band are as tight as ever, and even though they may be known to some misguided folk as “that band who sang ‘Dizzy’” The Wonder Stuff are showing why some people still hold them in such high regard.
The mosh pit is testament to that very fact. One old dude takes a running swan dive from the back of the pit, straight in, prompting a bit of a slowdown for the next few, as Miles says: “Let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger, so let’s just calm down a bit.” This of course goes straight out of the window when ‘Size of a Cow’ sees the place erupt!
‘Golden Green’ and ‘Cartoon Boyfriend’ keep the crowd baying for more, and who can blame them, they’re on fire tonight. Then Miles sneers into ‘It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby’, which is such an incredible anthem. The crowd are just lapping up every single note at this stage as The Stuffies ask ‘Who Wants To Be The Disco King?’
Finally they beg the audience with an impassioned request of ‘Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More’, which shows just how powerfully they play. The expressions on all their faces show just how much energy and perfection goes into each note played.
I was still holding out hope for the guys to play ‘Welcome To The Cheap Seats’, but alas there was not a sniff of it. Instead though’ there is the driving force of ‘Unbearable’ from Eight Legged Groove Machine released back in 1988. It still gives half of today’s musical wannabes more than a run for their money. Until finally it ends with the poetically brilliant ‘Ten Trenches Deep’.
It was an absolutely exhilarating set. The Wonder Stuff’s high energy and aggressive passion runs through the band’s veins, and this alone is a true testimony to their enduring appeal.