The Wonder Stuff & Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
O2 Academy, Bristol
12th April 2018
Jon Kean feels momentarily seventeen again as the Love From Stourbridge tour brings The Wonder Stuff and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin to Bristol.
The first person I see upon entering the venue is a ten-year-old and I am immediately jealous that he gets to see both bands three decades, life-wise, before I managed to. That is a top parenting act if ever I saw one. Within ten minutes, I’ve seen nine Carter USM t-shirts. Little did we know that when Carter made 1992, The Love Album, looking forward to the Maastricht Treaty, that we’d be living in such loveless Brexshit times now.
On that same album, Carter sang about, “The grebos and the crusties and the goths.” It’s the grebos that are back in full force tonight, a tad more crusty than in 1991. They look simultaneously older (you can’t cheat time) and yet so fantastically fiery (maybe you can cheat time) that every one of the forty songs they play between them in two-and-a-half hours is as uplifting as it was when we first pogoed, moshed or thrashed whiplash fringes so many years ago. Plus ça change, plus la même chose.
It’s The Wonder Stuff’s turn to open this double-headliner bill. They do so an era-spanning combo of Red Berry Joy Town from The Eight-Legged Groove Machine, followed up by On The Ropes (so many topical associations with ‘modern idiots’…) and Don’t You Ever from 2016’s Thirty Goes Around The Sun. Miles Hunt subsequently notices the second and third tier of the venue, apologises, says hello and then admits, “I used to have witty lines for people in the upper tiers, mostly nicked from John Lennon.”
Despite self-deprecation and a cold, Milo is full of beans, invigorated further by the breathtaking texture of Erica Nockalls’ violin and the duelling guitars of Dan Donnelly. He can’t help but roar, “I fucking love that song,” after Can’t Shape Up, from the album Hup! It’s hard to disagree. Milo states, “Most people here are of a certain age. There aren’t enough defibrillators to go round if we keep this pace up,” before playing Room 512 as a duet with Erica, giving a quiet intensity amidst the mayhem.
The prominence of “bulges” in Circlesquare may make a few attendees shrug with recognition of time’s circumference-raising capacities. However, Milo’s top-lip snarl during It’s Your Money I’m After, Baby and his hawkish look when delivering the dismissive lyrics to Unbearable in the encore clearly inspire many bulge-laden, vintage warriors to bounce, bob or bellow far more than they ever would throughout the working week.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin are greeted with much moshing and projectile beer. Opener, Suave and Sophisticated, not only contains the empowering, “I feel capable,” but the liberating, pre-Frozen, “Let it go.” Add that to “I’m still pretty youthful,” from Less Than Useful and you have the essence of their set. They still sound like the 1992 Guitar Olympics. Jonn Penney seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the air for an Earth-bound mortal.
They betray their origins when Jonn sings, “It’s like getting locked out when the phone rings,” on Until You Find Out. Try explaining the idea of scrabbling to find your front door keys as you hear a landline ring to the mobile generation. But a true part of the evening’s beauty is that it does capture that carefree time when indie was at its joyous height. When Jonn sings, “You can’t update this,” on Happy, there’s a bittersweet sense that he is right. It was ours and it was then, a sense reinforced by Gareth ‘Rat’ Pring’s buzz-saw guitars on tracks like Legoland. And whatever happened to the girl who inspired the line “She’ll break some hearts when she grows up,” in Capital Letters?
They thump us repetitively wherever sentiment resides in the late run of Cut Up, Happy and Grey Cell Green. We know they haven’t played Kill Your Television, so when the encore involves that iconic moshfest, we’re not remotely surprised, whilst being profoundly delighted. What is pleasantly surprising is that they finish with Selfish. What better message for 2018 than, “Why don’t you wake up and smell what you’re shovelling?”
As I leave the venue after Love From Stourbridge, despite being a grown man, I briefly feel like I am seventeen and for a split-second, I actually look to see if my Dad is standing outside the venue, ready to pick me up. For that Proustian moment alone, I thank Ned’s and the Stuffies more than I could possibly ever put into words.