Live Review: Stereophonics celebrate 20 years with a spellbinding Opera House debut, strings and all

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since the release of the debut LP from Welsh rockers StereophonicsWord Gets Around. With hit singles like “Local Boy in the Photograph” and “A Thousand Trees”, the album set the stage for the group to eventually become one of the UK’s biggest act; with almost all of their follow up records hitting number one on the UK album charts. And now, twenty years later, the band have released their tenth album Scream Above The Sounds, which has led them to the iconic Sydney Opera House for the first time.

Attending the first of two shows at the iconic venue on Wednesday night, the group were fresh from shows in Ireland off the back of their first album in two years, and were set to deliver a set of tracks from their back catalogue – including a healthy dose of material from their last three records, Graffiti on the Train, Keep the Village Alive and Scream Above the Sounds. This seemed particularly appropriate for the Australian shows considering the two most recent records have never been toured here, and their last Australian tour occurred quite soon after Graffiti on the Train was released; so the band wanted to give it its due.

They seem to have a particular affinity for the Graffiti record, with the album originally written for a feature film, and taking them two years to complete. They payed particular attention to it in the second half of the set, welcoming to the stage a string trio who added some beautiful intensity to the album’s tracks (among others), while the livelry of the new album dropped in place of a star-like light arrangement in the back. But more on that later.

Opening with “Bartender and the Thief” off of Performance and Cocktails, the crowd were immediately brought to their feet, and as the band progressed through the set, they tended to jump between songs new and old; made all the more evident by the seated crowd getting comfortable for the former, such as “I Wanna Get Lost With You” which followed. Then “Local Boy in the Photograph” brought fans right back up again, as the group acknowledged that in the twenty years they’ve been touring the song, it may have only been the second time they’ve played a fully seated venue.

Of the highlights of the more recent material, “All In One Night” off their latest saw Kelly’s vocals at their peak and some spectacular instrumentation, and even though the song was only released last year, their live version already shines brighter than the original. “Sunny”, off of the album before last, may have been the most epic track of the night, with Kelly on keys and then shredding up front on the guitar, while they cranked up the violins. Speaking of the string section, they added beautifully to tracks like “Graffiti on the Train”, “Indian Summer”, “Violins and Tambourines” and “Been Caught Cheating”, all off of Graffiti. The inclusion was perfect for the venue and made it even more the memorable experience.

But of course it was the older material that got the crowd singing along. A one-two punch of “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Superman” was the first time they kept the crowd on their feet, and really saw the group amp uo the energy. In “Maybe Tomorrow”, starting in acoustic mode, they led the crowd on a huge singalong, both with and without the band behind us. It was a reminder that no where do singalongs sound better than in these walls. This was echoed several times in the set, including “I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio, “Handbags and Gladrags”, main set closer “A Thousand Trees” and the closer of the night, the band’s biggest hit “Dakota” which had some of the crowd singing even after they’d left the stage.

Earlier, fan favourite “Mr. Writer” also proved a welcome inclusion; a song which continues to impress after all these years. And indeed, that’s something you could say for the band in general. Jumping through their impressive catalogue, the band proved the night to be more than just a trip down memory lane – it was a reminder of just how strong this band are live, and how loved they are both in Australia and around the world. And for many in the crowd – myself included – it was a timely reminder that their latest material is very much worth a listen. Even after twenty years, word continues to gets around for this band.

The band continue their tour the country tonight (28th April) at The Tivoli in Brisbane, before heading to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Halcyon Drive joining them for their remaining dates. You can grab tickets and all the details HERE.