Dodgy dance moves and nostalgic euphoria
Happy Mondays - Live At The O2 Academy, Brixton

It’s a few minutes before the Happy Mondays are due to take to the stage for the London leg of their first tour as the original line-up in over nineteen years. The compere drawls a few Mancunian expletives into the microphone and whacks on ‘Love Spreads’. The ghost of late ‘80s and early ‘90s Manchester is most definitely in the building. Looking around there are more than a few haunted souls in the audience, too. In fact, there’s barely a face in sight that doesn’t look like it’s been put through its paces at the Hacienda.

A bone-shuddering bassy growl fills the Academy. The electric blue stage lights illuminate the smoke-filled stage and Rowetta takes centre stage swinging whips around her hips. Gary Whelan’s beat kicks in and Shaun Ryder shuffles to the microphone. “Take a picture of the Happy Mondays!”

The band open with ‘Loose Fit’. As they hit the chorus Shaun and Rowetta’s voices combine to reach that heady choral tone they managed to commit to record all those years ago. Perhaps the biggest unknown of the night – whether Shaun Ryder would sing or dribble his words out – seems to already have been answered. They put it best themselves in the final line of the song’s chorus: “Sounds good to me!”

‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Dennis And Lois’ follow, and Bez’s trademark lollop (or “dance”, if you want to call it that) is in full swing; he may have stiffened up a bit over the years but his presence is as popular as ever with the Mondays’ fans. Leaning out from the stage as Ryder belts out, “Right on, right on,” in his characteristic spiel, Bez casts a lanky shadow on the grand Brixton Academy pillars.

In quick succession mid-set, the Mondays tear into ‘Judge Fudge’ and ’24 Hour Party People’ and the psychedelic search-lights illuminate the bouncing auditorium. Madness ensues, but Ryder’s playing it cool; he’s still got his swagger even though it’s slowed down a touch over the years. He’s taking his time with it these days, like a Madchester crooner stood self-assuredly in sunglasses and leather jacket.

Further crowd pleaser ‘Hallelujah’ comes sandwiched between ‘Cowboy Dave’ and ‘Holiday’, which serve as funk-infused slow-techno interludes between the highlights, allowing the audience to cut free for a few minutes before the accelerator goes back on, this time for ‘Mad Cyril’.

“I think it’s about that time,” announces Ryder. The intoxicating keyboard and drum riff of ‘Step On’ fill the room. “You’re twisting my melon, man.” In comes the guitar and the place hits bursting point; it’s party music and that’s exactly how it feels – dodgy dance moves and nostalgic euphoria take over the sweaty Mondays’ fans and thousands in unison get transported back twenty-odd years to their raving days. ‘Angel’ and ‘Wrote For Luck’ provide the encore; they pack a solid final punch but ‘Step On’ is a hard act to follow and remains the crowning point of the show.

Despite their bumpy track record of gigs in recent years with various line-ups, the Happy Mondays made a clear case for their slice of the ‘80s-into-‘90s-Manc-revival movement tonight, and proved that as long as people are still partying, there’s still a place for the Happy Mondays.

Words by Jim Pilling

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