“Oh my screaming sainted leopardskin soul, what an almighty gig that was!”
1998 was ending with two gigs from my favourite band in the world. It’s safe to say, the year went out on a high.
It was December 1998, and I found myself in a shockingly good mood. It had been the worst year of my life in terms of my mental health – I fell into depths of depression that I’d never known before, and thankfully, have never known since. But somehow through this quagmire I had managed to make a few good friends along the way, and I found myself in a December full of happy social events, with the worst of my troubles behind me.
But something else even bigger was on the horizon for me in December ’98. I’d left my family home in Perth, Western Australia two years previously, seeking a new life full of music and gigs in London. And three days after this gig, I was due to fly back to Perth for the first time since I’d left, to spend Christmas and January with my family once again. So this was, it’s safe to say, a pretty significant week in my life.
And, of course, there were these two Manic Street Preachers gigs at Wembley, ending the year in the best way it possibly could. And as it had been well over a year since I’d last seen them at Reading 1997, my excitement at the first of these gigs knew no bounds. From my diary:
“The Manics, back after so long! The propelling, compelling force and power of those songs! The unmatched, almost narcotic thrill of anticipation, quite frankly haven’t been so excited since I very first saw them.”
This was a gig that ignited into brilliance from the very opening note of the first song “Everything Must Go”. And at the end of this turbulent year, I was ready like never before to lose myself to the joy of this band that meant more to me than any other, to “the purifying abandon of screaming crashing shouting leaping dancing singing losing it, lost to it, lost in it.”
The band careered through a batch of post-Richey hits including “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” and “Kevin Carter” before treating us to that heart-stopping thing, still rare in 1998: a song from “The Holy Bible”. “This is it! “this is one for everyone who bought our third album” says James, and bloody hell there’s me in my (compliment gathering!) Holy Bible t-shirt bewildered at the notion that anyone in the arena might not have clutched that work of art to their frayed glittering hearts the moment they first set eyes and ears on it, as I did. And then they do “She Is Suffering” and yes I could have died happy as those despairingly heavenly chords filled Wembley with scarred beauty. Which let’s face it can’t happen every day.”
Can you blame me for getting a little purple in my prose? I was in the middle of two Manics gigs, and the band were at the peak of their emotional, life-changing power. Being at a Manics gig again after so long felt like coming home. “Oh James was James and Nicky was Nicky and Sean was somewhere back there, bashing away, quite brilliantly as it happens. James reckoned he had a cold and Nicky had one fantastic moment of iridescent spite where he basically berated every other band ever for being utterly useless.”
Classics like “La Tristesse Durera” and “Motown Junk” and “Tsunami” rattled us with their brilliance, and then there was “Motorcycle Emptiness”, which had been my favourite song in the world since I’d first heard it five years previously. “God almighty when that riff began, it just filled the universe with deep red sorrow, a sorrow in celebration, an elevation.”
I had taken a little while to warm to their latest album “This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours”, finding it a little dull and ponderous on first listen. But in the three months since its release, the fragile, icy beauty of its songs had seeped into my consciousness, and a highlight of this night was my first chance to hear tracks from it live. “Ready For Drowning”, which had so moved me at Reading the previous year, was “rather wonderful”, and “My Little Empire” was another stunning moment: “even tho’ Nicky did not sing, as he should have, it was frighteningly beautiful in its quietly driven menace – but sad with it, sad and resigned to life’s eternal chains.”
There were some amusing technical issues when “the keyboard dude made a funny strangled screeee at one point prompting great comedy from James at his DJ skills. So James thought he’d have his acoustic bit while the keyboard was sorted out and he did “Black Dog On My Shoulder” which morphed perfectly into “Last Christmas” and then “This Is Yesterday”. “
But the absolute, matchless peak of gleeful, demented brilliance that this gig had to offer came towards the end with “You Love Us”. I was initially disappointed to discover that they’d stopped accompanying this song with its original, beautiful video featuring Richey, “but never has any disappointment been more swiftly eradicated than the moment when mid-song Nicky abandons bass-playing altogether for the joys of, naturally, skipping rope. He’s dead good at it too, like a school girl, and kept time perfectly ’til the end of the song, prancing from one end of the stage to the other, I was in disbelief quite frankly. I’ve never seen anything so ludicrously wonderful, wonderfully ludicrous, whichever. At the song’s finish I could have been at Take That for how teenly I screamed.”
Then, there were the usual band introductions, and of course, to close it was “Design For Life”, a “stratospheric anthem”. As I was going to be seated at the following night’s gig, this was “my last chance to scream’n’shout’n’shakeitallabout so I verily squeezed all life out of my lungs by the end of this one”.
I left this gig feeling immensely uplifted, full of the joy that only comes when you’ve just been to one earth-shattering gig by your favourite band in the world, with the knowledge that you’ll be doing it all again in just a few hours.
“Oh my boys, my soundtrack to my life, my five strange and difficult years, all wrapped up and presented back to me in two hours. Roll on tomorrow night then. Even from 2034 miles away in Block D4.”
And even from 2034(ish) miles away, the following night was just as incredible.