When The Stone Roses sauntered onto the stage last Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, there was a surprising lack of fanfare in their steps. Not from the audience, who went absolutely wild, but from the band members themselves. They seemed almost humble as they calmly took their places behind their respective instruments. This was the band that once committed the lines “I am the resurrection, and I am the light” to tape, but could they be cooling down the bluster in their later years? Maybe. Or maybe the Manchester quartet of Ian Brown, John Squire, Reni, and Mani were merely cool, confident, and ready to blow America away.
Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela kicked off the show to a half-full stadium. The absent half of the audience sorely missed out on Rodrigo y Gabriela’s blisteringly fast acoustic guitar performance, a blend of folk and heavy metal. They even threw in a cover of Metallica’s “Battery” for good measure. Madison Square Garden is probably the largest venue the group has ever performed in, and they made the absolute most of it.
The Roses’ performance roughly traced the path of the band’s classic 1989 debut album, opening with “I Wanna Be Adored” and closing with the raucous “I Am the Resurrection”. In fact, every single track on the album was performed throughout the night. “Waterfall” merged directly into its psychedelic remix “Don’t Stop”, exactly as on the record. Even “Elizabeth My Dear”, the short “Scarborough Fair” interlude on the album, made a surprise appearance. The band performed only three tracks from its ill-received 1994 album Second Coming. One of them, “Breaking into Heaven”, was a baffling choice, as I always considered it one of the weakest tracks in the band’s discography. During that song was the only time I sat down to give my legs a rest. But “Begging You” and “Love Spreads” were stupendous. I wish they had played more of their non-album tracks from the Turns into Stone compilation, but oh well, at least “Mersey Paradise” showed up. “All for One”, the band’s comeback single from just two months ago, was included too, and the audience greeted it with all of the roaring approval that critics neglected to shower upon it. The full setlist can be viewed here.
The music itself began with a flub. Soon after Mani’s iconic opening bassline of “I Wanna Be Adored”, John Squire botched his equally iconic guitar line. Ian Brown is a famously out-of-tune vocalist, but at that moment I wondered whether I should have been more worried about John’s performance. Regardless, John delivered his incredibly tricky guitar passages tremendously well the rest of the night, lifting jams like “Love Spreads” and “I Am the Resurrection” into heavenly grooves. Mani also knocked it out of the park with tight, punchy playing which made me realize just how many fantastic basslines are scattered throughout the Roses’ musical output.
Ian kept his voice under control for the most part. His tambourine shaking and goofy dancing during the sections with no vocals were also amusing. The audience sang, jumped, and punched their fists to the music, echoing Brown’s lyrics back to him. Ian’s only missteps were some obviously tone-deaf notes and out-of-time wanderings. At some points the rhythm section had to herd Ian back to the beat like a lost sheep. On that note, Reni was the undisputed MVP of the night. He blasted away at his set, coloring the music with brilliant fills and powerful improvisation. Halfway through the night, he donned his trademark bucket hat and it seemed like 1989 all over again. No, I wasn’t there, but I can dream, right?
One word summed up the concert: balance. The four musicians grooved with each other so well, with so much pure skill and joy, that I gained new perspective on what I thought was a band I could learn nothing more about. Balance was exactly what separated their first album from their second. It’s what made The Stone Roses great. When the Roses are working in harmony, they are unbeatable. During visceral moments like the biting serenade of “Shoot You Down” or the shout-along choruses of “Made of Stone” and “This Is the One”, the fans in the audience knew this to be true: on Thursday night, The Stone Roses were the best band on the planet.