Happy Mondays rock from across the pond

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Happy Mondays

Letters from Leeds is a new article by Gazette writer, Gennelle Smith. Smith is currently on exchange in England, and will be dispatching articles about the local music scene to Canada.

Happy Mondays with special guests The Sunshine Underground, Oct. 10, 2007 @ The Refectory

Leeds, UK " The place is packed, the cheap brew is flowing, and the grandaddies of British rave, Happy Mondays, are primed to take the stage.

First to take on the half-student, half-forty-something crowd milling about Leeds University’s historic Refectory is local success story The Sunshine Underground, whose label as an “indie Britpop” band is at once appropriate, yet too narrow.

Appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and the Reading/Leeds Festival last summer have helped the band secure a dedicated fan base.

Citing Daft Punk and Radiohead as influences, TSU insists, via its MySpace page, its dance/indie sound can’t be easily nailed down. The members immediately prove it too, as the band quickly outstrips its “special guests” billing with a beautifully streamlined, professional performance.

After the first few bars, lead singer Craig Wellington had the audience completely and enthusiastically, enthralled. Standout songs “My Army” and “Raise the Alarm” showcase Wellington’s huge voice as well as the band’s energetic and original beats.

With the younger set still reeling from TSU’s cymbal-crashing finale, the funky beginning strains of the Mondays’ classic “Kinky Afro” announce the venerable band’s arrival.

The rest of the night is a frenzied celebration of a time long gone. The band was the heart of the Manchester rave scene of the ‘80s, and it has reformed three times since its first breakup in 1992.

This latest incarnation began in 2004 " the band recently opened for Rage Against the Machine at Coachella " and it is in the middle of its own aptly named Dysfunktional tour.

For this close-to-hometown gig, the audience’s familiarity with the band’s discography clearly works to the Mondays’ advantage. Lead singer Shaun Ryder could let the crowd sing its songs for him.

Yet, while it’s easy to appreciate the band’s exuberant stage presence, it’s difficult for a ‘80s rave newcomer (and there were many present, namely TSU fans whose parents didn’t listen to Happy Mondays the first time around) to remember the songs afterward. TSU’s performance, in fact, is more polished in comparison, despite its entirely different style and short history.

Perhaps it’s due to its status as band-of-the-moment in West Yorkshire, but if its intense performance is any indication, the lads from Leeds are poised for an international break as the year nears its end.

Undaunted by the decades-old set list and impressive opening act and led by maraca-wielding, voodoo-dancing band “percussionist” Bez (as well as Ryder’s laid-back, smooth delivery), Happy Mondays’ elated audience reaches its nostalgic climax with renditions of hits like “Playground Superstar” and “24 Hour Party People.”

And with a final hectic encore, the band reluctantly leaves the stage, leaving behind a thrilled crowd and some new fans.

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