Listening to the current crop of U.K. bands, it’s possible to believe 1977 never happened. With Travis, Gomez and Coldplay forming a folk-rock column and Radiohead leading a charge from the prog-rock flank, British music is retreating into the late ’60s and early ’70s. With its appearance at the El Rey theater, Welsh trio Stereophonics continued the disengagement.
Nothing in Stereophonics’ “special acoustic performance” (previewing its upcoming V2 album) would have seemed out of place in 1972. With drummer Stuart Cable sitting this tour out, the band’s Kelly and Richard Jones were joined by guitarist Scott James and Tony Kirkham on piano and harmonica. The result was an amiable, easygoing set that suffered from a distinct lack of dynamics.
Sitting on stools the entire evening, the band showed no inclination to move beyond a comfortable groove that in earlier times would have been classified as “mellow.” Individual songs were pleasant enough; tunes such as “Lying in the Sun” and “Nice to Be Out” have the melodic lushness and yearning lyrical sentiments that make it easy to imagine them used as seduction aids in candlelit dorm rooms. But too often the songs fall back on easy musical cliches, referencing obvious classic-rock touchstones such as the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” and America’s “Horse With No Name.”
The most distinctive element in the mix was Kelly Jones’ vocals. His sandpapery, intimate phrasing grounded the often lightweight proceedings with power and grace. He sounds uncannily like Rod Stewart when covering “Handbags and Gladrags,” and he can hold his own against John Lennon singing “Don’t Let Me Down.”