O2 Academy 2, Oxford
29th January 2012
Stephen Jones is a man riled – so much so that it seems he’s built a career on it. It could almost have been deliberate that his band became best known for an often misunderstood song – the anticipation of which hangs in the air tonight like a dirty plastic bag caught on a washing line.
The mid-late 90s expansive guitar sound is still in evidence, but the music largely feels secondary to Stephen’s lyrics and voice. He carries the words’ emotions masterfully, his weariness picking its way carefully between anger, resentment and resignation.
Tonight’s journey takes in self-loathing (Goodnight), hope and despair (Send Me Back My Dreams, Unloveable) via musings on parenthood (Like Them, I Love Her). Songs like Drug Time aren’t subtle, but aren’t mawkish either. The mood conjured by the repetitious, menacing insistence of songs like Back Together and the internet stalker tale www.song seems effortless.
These mini sagas are punctuated by some heated chat and banter with the audience. Cornershop is “dedicated to our government for slowly destroying life”, and the gloriously sinister Bad Old Man is dedicated to Louis Walsh, not far off the luminaries it was rumoured to be about at the time. “Everything’s written from a happy place – I’m not a tortured artist!” Stephen insists, somewhat belligerently, and his encore is announced by an acerbic “I’ve just found my happy pills backstage!”
Stephen complains that “someone’s got Gorgeous Tourette’s” after only three songs, but the band do eventually play You’re Gorgeous – and even the arrangement seems reluctant. He almost spits his parting shot – “You wouldn’t want me to sing that to you if you knew the real meaning of the words” – suggesting the hecklers have hit a nerve about a misunderstanding of Babybird in general. There has long been far more to them than that, though.