As soon as you step into Vicar St tonight, it is clear Dublin is in the mood for a party. Shaun Ryder and his merry gang of oddball Mancs are here to celebrate the anniversary of their seminal Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyachesø album reaching the quarter century mark and they’re ringing it in in the only way they know how. Those in attendance might be a little older than the last time our unlikely heroes rolled into town but the baggy shirts and fisher hats are still present and accounted for. The atmosphere inside is warm with loose endorphins floating around in every direction, happy to be reliving some of their favourite Madchester memories one more time.
It’s just past 9:30 when the lights dim and a heavy bass note silences the crowd momentarily. The stage is suddenly bathed in neon blue and Rowetta’s soulful wail fills the venue as the group take up their positions. There’s an enthusiastic roar from the crowd when Bez –absent from the previous night’s show due to illness – comes bounding on stage in a sombrero as the band launch into ‘Kinky Afro’. It’s hard to think of any other dancer who could elicit such a response with only a pair of maracas at his disposal, but thirty years into the band’s existence and he’s still getting people up on their feet and moving.
Centre stage, Ryder surveys the crowd behind a pair of shades. His vocals might be a little difficult to discern amongst the clatter of the music, but the crowd don’t seem too bothered. Rowetta offers welcome assistance hitting some of the higher notes on the chorus of ‘Loose Fit’. In between songs, the set is speckled with the usual marble-mouthed asides and stories delivered in Ryder’s familiar Mancunian drawl – all of which are greeted with warm applause. When he asks who bought the record when it was initially released back there are plenty of replies in the affirmative and looking around it isn’t hard to imagine many of those in attendance having done time in the Hacienda back in the day.
While the group are as ramshackle as ever, the years of hard-living and excess haven’t hindered their ability to lock into a groove with the best of them. Each song is greeted like an old friend but predictably, ‘Step On’ has the crowd breaking out in full hysterics. “This is the one about the twisting my melon,” Ryder smiles knowing what he is about to release before the house keyboard riff kicks in and the whole venue starts bouncing.
The set might be short and sweet, but there will be few people in attendance who have gone home feeling short-changed. When the band return to the stage for an extended ‘Hallelujah’, the crowd let go of whatever scant few inhibitions that were still remaining. The show promised a good time and that is just what it delivered.
Never mind that the group have come via a series of ill-advised sojourns in the world of reality TV. Never mind that it’s been a long time since they stepped into a recording studio. Happy Mondays offer an experience that is completely idiosyncratic and singular – something rare in modern music. A band that is more than the sum of parts, that perhaps shouldn’t work but somehow does. We’ll not see their like again. Robert Higgins