I’ve said it once; I’ve said it a million times – there is an art to releasing an interesting and good live album. Look at the Reigning Sound’s recent Live at Goner Records; that record is absolutely necessary for any Reigning Sound fan, as well as anyone who has wanted to get into the band. It does a fantastic job of capturing the rock and roll howl of Greg Cartwright and the high-energy sounds of the Reigning Sound in concert. But enough about one of my favorite records of the year, it’s time to get to the point. Wales’ Stereophonics (anyone who has listened to East Lansing’s 88.9 will most definitely remember their phenomenal cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”) has recently released the first live album in their ten year career, Live from Dakota.
However, unlike the best live records, Live from Dakota is really only meant for hardcore Stereophonics fans. This statement is not as negative as it sounds; frontman Kelly Jones’ voice can be enthralling and raspy, especially on tracks such as “Devil” and “The Bartender and the Thief,” as well as “Carrot Cake and Wine.” Or, for that matter, just when he’s talking – I could probably listen to Kelly Jones recite the alphabet and still think he sounds sexy (so sue me, I like Welsh men). More to the point, Stereophonics are a tight live band as a whole; the sludgy alternative rock guitar and bass — courtesy of Kelly and Richard “No Relation” Jones, respectively — push and pull the vocals around, while Javier Wayler’s drums are steady enough to encourage head-bobbing if nothing else.
Despite the positive qualities of Stereophonics’ latest release, however, this stab at a live album also exposes some of the band’s greatest flaws. While the band has some good songs, without the aid of intervening introductions by Jones, they all begin to blend together. Stereophonics have a knack for writing a good alternative rock song, but as Live from Dakota progresses, more and more it feels like a series of variations on one song. And frankly, while the crowd seems thrilled with every track the band plays, this recorded concert isn’t really anything extraordinary. These are songs specially made for every young male in the audience, with dreams of rock glory to play inadequate air guitar and air drums to. There are no spontaneous moments, and that’s not necessarily bad, but never is the impression given that Stereophonics are a must-see live band. Perhaps this is because of the sheer volume of the disc: Live from Dakota clocks in at over an hour and a half. Once again, this is really nice for anyone who was actually present during Stereophonics’ 2005 tour, but it’s not something for anyone who is not a hardcore fan of this band.
Overall, if you love Stereophonics, go buy this CD. You’ll love it just like you love the band. But if you’re someone who has just heard some of their radio singles and liked what you heard, then my advice to you is to explore their far less arduous studio albums first.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings