Olympia, Liverpool, 1/12/2017
published: 9 /
Richard Lewis finds seminal Manchester band Happy Mondays rolling back the years with an all-conquering Greatest Hits set at the Liverpool Olympia.
"I forgot to put a belt on before I came on stage!" frontman Shaun Ryder states two songs into the Happy Mondays’ set, at the opulent Liverpool Olympia. "Let’s hope my trousers don't fall down"! he cracks to the near sold out crowd. "What's this?" the singer says, picking up a stage-bound missile that lands near his feet. "That’s very kind" he remarks cheerfully, holding up a brown leather belt that has been thrown from the crowd.
Almost thirty years since they played their first gig in Liverpool, the rapport between the Salfordians onstage and the thousand plus punters on the dance floor and balcony remains as strong as ever.
A band whose live shows were famed for collapsing the distance between themselves and the audience, with the players and the crowd dressed identically, the outfit who invented what used to be termed ‘indie dance’ arrive onstage following a scene-setting DJ set by fellow Hacienda alumnus Jon Da Silva.
The powerhouse soul tones of co-vocalist Rowetta, looking virtually the same as when the original line up splintered in 1992 ushers in an excellent rendition of ‘Loose Fit’, as the crowd begins moving at the first sound of Mark Day’s chiming guitar riff.
Opening with a four-track run from the era-defining ‘Pills N’ Thrills and Bellyaches’ the Lady Marmalade cribbing ‘Kinky Afro’ and the band’s homage to Anglophile New York superfans ‘Dennis and Lois’ both shine as brightly as ever.
"Judge Fudge?" Ryder says incredulously consulting the set list at his feet. "Who wrote this out, was it you Dan?" the Bob Dylan of Salford asks, turning to look at the keys player. While Ryder might profess to dislike the 1991 single, the crowd certainly feel differently, chorusing its ‘I shoulda told ya’ hook.
Returning to the live set, three quarters of the band’s seminal 1989 EP ‘Madchester Rave On’, which saw the term go overground and land the band on ‘Top of the Pops’ is aired. While its lead track ‘Hallelujah’ has been played at every Mondays’ gig since 1989, the similarly brilliant ‘Rave On’ and ‘Clap Your Hands’ have slipped away. The ‘Need a Mesa Boogie’ lyric from the former, presumably referring to Mark Day’s guitar amp, Shaun’s comment to his younger brother Paul "This is mostly your one, bro" at the top of the track is no exaggeration, as the criminally underrated four stringer powers the song and much of the set, supplying the backbone to the band’s off-kilter funk.
The 1986 track which first introduced the outfit to an unsuspecting world, a tuneful (but more loose than an old Primark sweater) rendition of ‘Freaky Dancin’’ underpinned by a Hendrix inspired wah-wah riff concludes with Shaun joking "Thank fuck for that!" The song that effectively sums up their ethos meanwhile, ‘24 Hour Party People’ supplies the highlight, the meeting of Parliament/Funkadelic, Krautrock and The Rolling Stones sounding as though it could have been issued last week.
While it would mean having to swerve away from their best-known songs, which without wishing to state the bleeding obvious is the point of this current jaunt, dusting off some deep cuts from the Mondays’ back catalogue would be hugely welcome. While the group’s 1992 set ‘Yes, Please!’ remains notorious for the circumstances surrounding its recording (thousands spent, an abundance of crack cocaine, inter-band disharmony, all-round bad vibes) several of its tracks could easily slot in alongside Mondays’ standards, ditto more songs from the band’s unfairly overlooked 1987 debut ‘Squirrel & G-Man’.
The keyboard riff of ‘Step On’ draws a near-Pavlovian response from the crowd, as the roar of recognition gives way to the entire venue up to the balcony becoming a writhing mass of dancers.
A group whose sets were always to the point, after just over an hour and a quarter the end is signalled by Shaun sauntering towards the backstage area as a juggernaut version of ‘Wrote For Luck’ nears its climax. Mark Day!" Bez shouts into the mic, pointing at the Mondays riffmeister, as the guitarist brings the evening to a close.
As the lights go up the theme tune to long defunct BBC sports prog ‘Grandstand’ booms from the PA to the great amusement of the crowd who sing the melody of the former Saturday afternoon stalwart en masse. An excellent precis of what made the band so special in the first place, on this evidence the group’s new album, pencilled in for a 2019 release will be something of a corker. See you in two years’ time to do this all again then?
Photos by Keith Ainsworth