Wembley Arena has never been my favourite venue. It's like a big old barn. Ugly on the outside, ugly on the inside, the acoustics of the place have always struck me as plain nasty. They're knocking down the old football stadium to build a new one, but surely it should be this place instead? Standing, particularly second row where I am tonight, is about as good as it gets for sounds and experience, of course, but enjoyment goes out of the window if you have seats (hello block 19 and 20!). However, I'm open to persuasion...
What's this then? 500 people, perhaps a few more, road crews sorting cables and wires, low light. Perhaps that was a clue? ;)
It may only be "Last Kiss", but here's Eddie, sporting a Keith Moon stripey jacket, alone on stage for us, a lucky few, before making way for support band The Monkeywrench. He introduces them as well, Ed, telling us, that, ok, next up, Peter over here, Mark here, Martin at the back there, Steve right here and.....and....and....he's forgotten the other guitarists name! The crowd howls, the corners of Ed's mouth crease, as he cracks a smile. 'Mike', 'Mike', 'Mike' shouts somebody, in the crowd ;), but surely that's someone in the main band? Will we get to know his name? What else is going to happen tonight....it's feeling special already.
Jeff's got a hat on! Ah, but let's forget that. It's "Sometimes", the upright bass getting another airing, the crowd feeling different, perhaps better, tonight. Mike's waving at us, almost conducting our singing. 'Like a book amongst the many on the shelf' sings Ed with the audience. Certainly, tonight's setlist finds some old tunes getting the dust blown off them.
"Grievance", "Corduroy", "Hail, Hail". Will this let up? "Animal" and "Dissident". The answer, conclusively and joyfully is in the negative. "Grievance" feels like an old friend in this company, and slots in perfectly. Mike's already off, on a run around the back of the stage, Eddie with guitar, like a switch, it's off and on. I think the band are trying to wear the crowd down. 'Who was here last night', or something, Ed asks, as he steps up to the mic. 'We're going to play something different.' But first we get 'Nothing As It Seems'. Nothing new about this, but something I could happily listen to at each and every show. Mike guitar wails, Stone carrying the rhythm of the tune with Matt, Jeff is laying the bottom line. He must be happy on the inside, as he's told us before, to see the band play this tune, his tune.
"In Hiding" up next and 'Its funny...' well, thats how that part of the song should sound Ed! He looks at the front rows and smiles, words forgotten *again*. It's OK, we'll fill in for you Ed, and then he takes the rest of the song, like a baton, and runs with it. Stoney, as mentioned elsewhere, doesn't want to let up and really hangs the ending out ;).
The name of The Monkeywrench's guitarist comes to Ed: 'The next song's for Tom'. Redemption for Eddie and we're into "Even Flow". Some would say its a re-run from the previous night, outro jam and all, but who cares when it's as good as this? Surely one of the highlights whenever it appears on the setlist, like the band on this tour, it seems reinvigorated, given a new lease of life.
But let's not forget the new songs. As Ed persists in telling us, "Thin Air" is a Stone song :) and as he does throughout the night, Ed is living the lyrics as he sings them, Stone stepping up to the microphone to lend a hand with back-up vocals. Nice.
Speaking like.......well, nothing at all, as far as I can tell, 'Habit' makes it presence known, Ed telling telling us in the brief interlude before this and after 'Thin Air' that 'this one's about personal experience'. It's great to hear this, and the night is living up to its promise of new songs. A searing finale is brought to this track, leaving us breathless.
The band then seem to regroup, and the familiar melody of "Untitled" can be heard, not familiar enough for Ed to remember all of the words of course(!), but we all know that this can only lead into "MFC". It's great to hear the crowd singing along - not only to the latter but the former as well. I've already decided that tonight is better than the one before. Is Ed having a better night? 'This one's off the the same record, no, the one before' he says. Is he right, what's he talking about? 'Off He Goes'. He's right. Off kilter pacing but I like it, and I think those around me do as well.
Nothing too special about 'Daughter' according to my notes, but next up we've got 'Not for You'. Matt's beating out this message, and Eddie's singing like its a battle-cry. It's great to hear this tune, for the first time on this tour, and for it to be played with such heart. The song's really winding up, and Mike and Ed are pushing against one another, head against head as we reach the close of the song. Someone has to give but who? Mike slips and as he does the top end of his guitar strikes Ed in the head, knocking him to the ground.
Before things become to physical :), Ed's back on his feet, guitar placed at the back of the stage and we've got 'State of Love and Trust'. For such a rare tune, the response by the audience was amazing....matching the band, this an amazing night.
Slowing things right down but matching the intensity, the chords of 'Immortality' ring out. The boom-boom of Matt's drums kick starts the song, and that's crucial. Pretty much all those I know agree that this song showcases Mike (*again*) and features one of his best solos, but correct me if I'm wrong, Matt now owns this song. He is now such a vital cog in this band. PJ drummers in the past have each brought their own style and personalities to the band to varying degree, but Mr Cameron brings both with equal measure, and with more weight than those before. As 'Immortality' comes to the close, as Mike ends his solo, Matt takes over, the band turn and face him, perhaps wanting to watch with the audience, his arms all of a blur, bringing a new dynamic close to this majestic song. 'Fan(tastic) Matt End' my notes read. I think you get the picture.
But that's not it. Three little initials mean oh-so much to this audience, as we, are pushed forward once more. 'RVM' begins....Stoney is cranking this one up, Mike's jumping, Jeff is hunched like a snarling bull. Eddie's the red rag, the touchpaper that sets this song alight. 'So clear, so much clearer...' we know the words, there's no denying it, and this makes for a crunching close before the second encore.
The feeling's there alright. 'We'll never forget tonight' says Ed, but then he does have a good memory, telling us how he hit Mike in the head with his guitar eight years ago in San Francisco - cut to Mike pointing to the top left of his forehead and a thousand females 'aahhhh'-ing! - so he finally got Eddie back tonight. Much laughter and much warmth, we're all loving this.
'Light Years' provides a fitting follow-up to this, its lilting mood set off perfectly again by the light show, with another Mike solo riding the tune out. Back to the mayhem though as we get 'DTE'. Ed's possessed, and to prove the point,singing over, the mic stand's in his hand. I'm praying that he's going to smash it down on one of Matt's cymbals but, no, he's after Mike, running after him, before crashing it down to the stage. Full stop.
While tonight has aired more No Code songs than for some time, the thing that impresses me is the variety. Take into account what's come before and then add "Last Exit", "Small Town" and "Black" into the final mix. If that's not enough, and although we're screaming for "Porch", we get "Alive" to close. As the song plays out, Ed makes a noose around his neck with the mic lead. What better contradiction, as this band is very much alive.
review © 2000 S.A. Cripps
photo © Mike Baker