The front cover is unassuming enough. Plain gray text declares the band name and album title, while a minimal black and white photograph makes no obvious effort to grab attention. If one was to cast a quick glance over Live from Dakota in a record store, there’s a prime chance that no consequential reaction would follow. Such modesty, however, is only superficial. Packed inside the case is a whopping 90 minutes of live songs packed on to two CDs. I had not devoted my invaluable fanhood to Stereophonics before popping this bloated monstrosity of a release into my CD drive, and I’d only be lying if I said this compelled me to go out and pursue the rest of their catalog. But, wait! The only real reason for this is that that it manages to feel like such a complete experience that it’s hard to fathom needing anything more.
Live from Dakota is a fine enough offering to stand on its own; it escapes the frustrating tendency of live discs to be alienating to anyone with isn’t already a devotee of the group in question, which is a massive relief. The group’s fame may be lost on American audiences, but in the UK the ‘Phonics have had four out of five albums top the charts, and the songs show just why they’ve been able to conquer the way they do: each track is an endearing pop confection of the best kind, riding comfortably on waves of quick riffs and easy-to-digest subject material communicated through lovably coarse, British vocals.
The songs hold up well live, and the recording quality is terrific (the band is quick to note that it made no use of overdubs for the release). The spacial sound elegantly captures the full arena experience, and it’s easy to don a pair of headphones, sit back, and find yourself in the company of a few thousand screaming fans. On-stage theatrics are kept to a minimum, generally with Kelly Jones interjecting solely to introduce a song or thank the crowd. For the most part you get straight-ahead rock, but there’s plenty of songs dictated by a slower tempo to mellow things out. “Maybe Tomorrow” deals out a solid dose of melancholy through solitary, simple chords. From the leading line of “I’ve been down,” the crowd erupts with familiar joy and begins singing right along to consummate a stellar song by means of an equally touching moment. The band picks back up the pace with one of its biggest songs, “The Bartender and the Thief,” and ensures things never reach a boring pace. It’s surprising how little filler take up space during the show, nearly giving merit to the decision to put it out as a double-disc set. Things close with the delectably lovelorn “Dakota.”
After pioneering through both discs of Live from Dakota, the sense of accomplishment I felt was only overshadowed by the immediate surprise that I had just really enjoyed something I would have otherwise just written off as trite Brit-pop. Oftentimes the “live” tag carries with it implications of being fan-only (though I would go as far to call this essential to fans), but I could see anyone in search of inoffensive, easy-going rock to be happy with it.