The Wonder Stuff

The Wonder Stuff


It is fair to say that 2016 hasn’t been a vintage year. Without getting too morose its one that’s best forgotten. That said, there have been some shining lights in amongst the gloom. Anything involving The Wonder Stuff, for one, has been cause to forget all else that’s going on. It’s been a year of celebration for the band commemorating 30 years since their inception. They have done so in style. With a great album, two tours and a string of festival dates.

The one thing that can be said about a Wonder Stuff tour is that they don’t skimp on the undercard. Tonight is no exception. There’s four bands to cram in, along with Steve Lamacq as host. It makes the packed throng glad they put thoughts about last minute Christmas shopping on hold for another day.

First up tonight, are The Lottery Winners. They are no strangers to a Stuffies audience having toured with the band in the spring. It’s been a good year for the band from Leigh, having signed to Warner Brothers, had a string of tour dates and had their first chart success with ‘Elizabeth’. “This is our biggest hit. Have you heard it? We sold four copies to each of our mums.” This success obviously hasn’t gone to their heads if you believe the comments of front man Thom Rylance. Their other big song ‘Young Love’ has just hit 500 million views on YouTube much to the delight of Thom.  When they play ‘I Know’ this prompts Freddie Mercury-style sing-alongs with the smattering of crowd that had arrived early to catch them. With this level of engagement, they’ve got stadium band written all over them – without the negative connotations that term often denotes.

Fuzzbox are another of those bands that have reconvened in recent years to capture the sprit of their youth and to offer fans a chance to wander down memory lane. They open with ‘International Rescue’ the song that hit the higher reaches of the charts back in the 1980s. It still has the capacity to get the crowd pogoing today, although maybe in a more restrained manner than when it was first released.  ‘Let’s Go Supernova’ is a faced paced stomper that still has the pop glitter sprinkled all over it. They end with another favourite from their first incarnation ‘Pink Sunshine’.

Bentley Rhythm Ace is the perfect warm up band in any context and tonight that’s no exception. It’s an acid-fuelled-beats-heavy set that has you playing guess the sample throughout. The theme from Batman and Crosby, Stills & Nash, being two that I ticked off the list. Their light show was impressive. It would have members of the audience questioning their own choice of Christmas decorations. It also suggests that decking your car in fairy lights is a good look. They play ‘Bentley’s Gonna Sort You Out’ their signature tune, which still sounds great, despite being the Channel 4 tune of choice whenever they need a montage to soundtrack.

It’s always a pleasure to spend time in the presence of The Wonder Stuff, after many years of watching them you know the drill. That doesn’t mean that crowd and band are going through the motions, far from it. Tonight was up there with some of the best Wonder Stuff gigs that I have witnessed.

‘Don’t You Ever’ one from the new album opens the night and it leads into a string of bone fide classic indie pop tunes. ‘On the Ropes’, ‘Unbearable’ ‘Radio Ass Kiss’ and ‘Here Comes Everyone’ all fizz and sparkle like they have on the numerous times that I have heard them before.

As ever with a Wonder Stuff gig, you can always tell how good the gig is by the amount of bouncing the audience does. The sprung floors of the Ritz and the quality of the songs played a part in this.  When it all speeds up during ‘Mission Drive’ from my lofty vantage point on the balcony, the pogoing seems to going beyond the midway point of the packed venue. The biggest compliment that you could pay to ‘For the Broken Hearted’ a single from earlier in the year is that it fits seamlessly into the set and that it sounds like it could be written at any point in the band’s life.

The set-list is not all about the tried and tested, there are some welcome additions. It’s great to hear to hear ‘Room 512, All the News That’s Fit to Print’ at a Wonder Stuff gig. It usually played as part of Miles and Erica’s acoustic tours. Tonight they play a beautifully crafted version with Dan Donnelly joining them on mandolin.

“We’ll slow it down a little. I’ve gone from being youngest to the oldest member of the band,” Hunt says as he alludes to the changes in the line-ups and the passing of years. The crowd were equally in need of a breather given the fast paced start to the set.

The current single ‘Good Deeds & Highs’ is the perfect song to slow down the frenetic pace. It also shows, that despite a raft of great tunes that Miles Hunt has written, he still has an ear for a great melody. It’s a beautifully evocative and mellow song. “This is for your kids and their kids. The next one was probably the reason that they were born.” Hunt says before he unveils a song that’s not been played for a good few years. ‘Hot Love Now’ is another welcome reintroduction to the set. It makes you think what other gems in the back catalogue that could be revived for future gigs.

“You don’t mind if we bust out a few ‘Eight Legged Groove Machine’ songs do you?” There are no dissenting voices in the crowd to this request. They play these numbers with all the gusto of that band starting out thirty years ago. ‘A Wish Away’ and ‘Give Give Give Me More More More’ give way to a feisty rendition of ‘Ten Trenches Deep’ before they leave the stage for a well-deserved encore.

When they return to the stage they do so with the addition of a lyric stand. Miles Hunt is on generous form tonight, his only barbed comment is aimed at singers that use stands like this when performing. He is excused for doing so in this instance as he plays a cover of The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment’ which is a tricky one to remember all the words to. It’s another song that they have covered back in the day and as a Christmas treat its good to see it on the set list again. So too, ‘Full of Life (Happy Now)’, Hunt peppers the chorus with a few lines from ‘Radio Ga Ga’. The second time tonight that the memory of great Queen front man has been evoked.

They end as they always do with ‘Good Night Though’, it’s the perfect song for the entire band to show their talents and to deservedly take a bow before departing the spotlight.

As the band head into their 31st year, it’s already shaping to be another busy and productive one for the singer and his band. If that’s not something to look forward to in 2017, I don’t know what is.

 The Wonder Stuff  Official | Facebook | Twitter