Live: Lostprophets, 1 May, Cardiff International Arena
From the start, I liked their first album, Fake Sound Of Progress, which combined their love of hardcore punk, the lounge metal of Faith No More and the tuneful sensibility of 1980s pop bands. I thought they found their feet with their second album Start Something, which honed their sound, finessed their rough edges and got rid of the nu-metal tag which had dogged their early years. They sold a load and started work on Liberation Transmission which while it again sold well didn't really push them forward artistically.
Talking to Mike Lewis and Stuart Richardson last year, I got the impression that they weren't particularly enamoured by what had happened to their songs in the production process. They left Columbia after the album and following shelved sessions for their fourth LP, they came up eventually with The Betrayed. It started off on first listen as my least favourite of the four, but within five spins it had become my favourite. It was recorded on their own terms and really demonstrated their prowess with choruses.
So now it's time to solidify the position they occupy in 2010: no longer on the upward trajectory of six years ago, they're bedding down into a position as simply one of the UK's top hard rock bands. This show, then, should be one of entrenchment - a homecoming show that begs to replicate the triumphalism of The Full Ponty in 2007.
After something of a barnstorming set by Kids In Glass Houses (who are on their upward trajectory at the moment) Lostprophets make their appearance. For the first songs they dip largely into The Betrayed, kicking off with If It Wasn't For Hate We'd Be Dead By Now. The crowd - a diverse mix of rugby boys, emo kids, parents and teenagers seem a little subdued as Ian Watkins and his bandmates say not a word but blend from song to song. Oh and call me old-fashioned but isn't stage lighting supposed to illuminate the band? Lostprophets are shrouded in darkness as the lights glare outwards. Ian Watkins atop a platform overlooking his bandmates as his voice eases itself into the gig.
Then suddenly the dynamic changes. An intro with staccato drumbeats presages the lyrics to Beautiful People by Marilyn Manson then it metamorphoses into Can't Catch Tomorrow. The crowd buy into it, pogoing and dancing almost as one. From that moment on, Lostprophets have it in the bag. The old songs get a huge reaction: Last Train Home, Rooftops, Last Summer and Everday Combat. The new songs get responses too. It's Not The End Of The World... and Where We Belong are the singles with the biggest cheers and their choruses lend themselves to a good bellowing singalong.
Having started the theme with Beautiful People, they pepper their intros with excerpts from other songs: Guns N' Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine, The Killers' All These Things That I've Done and, most brilliantly, the menacing Real Thing by Faith No More all make appearances. By the middle of the set the lighting engineer has decided that actually the band are worth concentrating on. Dry ice wafts out around new drummer Luke Johnson while Jamie Oliver legs it from his keyboards to his mic. The CIA's sound is, like all big arenas, suspect, but Lewis, Richardson and Lee Gaze do a good job in marshalling the riffology to great effect.
They save one of my favourites till the end. From Fake Sound... Shinobi Vs Dragon Ninja is sped up and fed with a punky edge then they disappear with the old-school fans' applause ringing around the hangar-like expanse of the CIA. Of course they're coming back but this is an encore with a difference. I stand there, totting up the songs and realise they've played all their big hits, so what's next?
One song, that's what. But what a song. The Light That Burns Twice As Bright is one of the best album-closers since the unsurpassable Indifference by Pearl Jam. Watkins returns to the stage after some minutes of the repeating intro then crunches into the dense, dark verse and chorus. It's a dramatic ending that works.
It's not a massive celebration like the Full Ponty by any means, but it's a properly-realised homecoming show. Gigs of this size will be at the upper end of Lostprophets' gig schedule for the foreseeable future but with the Betrayed songs making a good impression in the live setting, things are promising for their continued pre-eminence.