My second-last Mansun gig was a pretty important one for me: I went into it not sure if I was going to stay in London or return to Australia, and I came out of it with my mind made up. Mansun may have once sung that “all my big decisions always ruin my life”, but in this case, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
My diary entry for this, my penultimate Mansun gig, begins like this:
“So there’s this woman in the second row and she’s saying to herself, I’m too old for this! I’m twenty five! And then she proceeds to holler with teenage abandon, shout lewd comments at the boys and fling her arms in the air at every opportunity.
I know this, because I was directly in front of her.
DOWN THE FRONT! (How novel.)”
November 2000 saw me in the middle of Crunch Time when it came to my plans to return to Australia. I’d put a deposit down on flights that needed to now be paid off in full. I had an offer from the University of Western Australia to study a Graduate Diploma in Cognitive Science awaiting either acceptance or refusal. Decision time was very much upon me. Would I make the sensible choice and return to my family and studies in Perth, or carry on in London, living for music and bands and gigs?
This night, down the front at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire screaming my lungs out at the boys I loved so much, was the night where I made up my mind. It was my second-last Mansun gig – though of course I had no idea of that at the time – but in truth, it was the last one that encapsulated the sheer life-defining highs, the joyful mania, the transporting hysteria that the Mansun live experience could bring. I’ve been looking at my diary entry wondering how to edit it, but for once, I don’t think I can improve on the words that my 25 year old self came up with immediately after the gig, exhausted and elated by spectacle she’d just seen. So I hope you’ll forgive me for presenting you this diary entry in its full, unexpurgated glory. I’ll leave off the italics to make it easier to read, but everything below is straight from my diary in November 2000.
“Oh it’d been too too long since I’d been to a proper ‘Sun gig – over two years, two demented years at that. What a joy to be back in a madly partisan Mansun crowd! I didn’t bother turning up remotely early (it’s just not ’97, is it?) but I was still a bit shocked to see the size of the queue when I arrived at a quarter past seven. It snaked round the little side road beside the Empire and verily engulfed the pub next door. I was even more shocked to find myself a place in second-row Stoveside, despite the hordes in front of me outside.
So King Adora were the first band on and a real fave with the Mansun crowd. I knew they were marked for greatness the moment I realised I couldn’t tell if the singer was a guy or a girl. It was a guy, I’m sure, in glorious eyeliner with a voice halfway between Brian Molko and Jake Shillingford oh YES! Oh they wanna be the Manics circa ’91 and there is no finer ambition. I loved them. If only I were 20, they would have changed my life.
However, if I were 17, I would have been seriously into the next band My Vitriol. The singer even had a Mark Gardener-esque fringe! Mind you, so do I in my hair’s current uselessness. They were all fuzzy and screechy and a bit more shouty than Ride were but I still kind of enjoyed them but nevertheless King Adora were Where It’s At. Next!
Somehow the crowd began its serious screaming one precise split second before the lights went down and the background Sex Pistols was switched off. The band wander on! All dressed boringly in black! Oh the thrill of “Take It East Chicken” in such close, confined, crushed circumstances. The fun of it! Paulie D does his usual crowd drenching act towards the end of the song, foolishly donating the bottle to a crowd member while still half full. Naturally, while warbling his way through “I Can Only Disappoint U” said fan repays him the favour with a soaking. Ah! but Paul has a healthy supply of the Volvic (or whichever it is) and with expert timing grabs a bottle and offloads its entire contents upon the fan in the little break between chorus one and verse two.
I laughed! I sang! “Being A Girl” RULED! Paul flung himself against the barrier countless times, sadly never really near me, but what did I care when I was down the front!! (I was upgraded after King Adora when the two girls in front of me departed). God it’s all a blur. All I can recall of the main set is the beginning of “Electric Man”: a joyous singalong of “with your disco heartbeat you’re not even human we’re so electric do you have no passion!!?” and then, the gloriously uncool arm waving to accompany every chorus. The FUN of it!!! And previously, “The Chad Who Loved Me” gloriously returning to the set, shattering every one of my brain cells and blasting them to Jupiter and back. and oh yeah “Wide Open Space” was the meaning of life and “Taxloss” was storming and throttling and tore us all to bits over and over. First Stove, when Paul led us in synchronised clapping exercises like deranged psychotic aerobics instructors.
Yeah all a bit predictable eh? Well what was not at all predictable was the ENCORE! A thoroughly perfect and life-affirming mini-gig in itself. First they do “Fool”, which turns out to be possibly the best live tune of the new album, simultaneously mindlessly fun and desperately sad. Paul leaps to the barrier and gets the throng to do the “ah ah ah ah aaah aah” backing vocals and it’s all thoroughly brill. Then it’s only “Love Is” which translates so much better live here than at V2000, losing none of its divine, longing beauty. Witnessing Paul Draper proclaiming “love is powerful!!” was a little shivering thrill.
THEN it’s only “Legacy”!!! Oh GOD it was the BEST live version of that song, only the second time I’ve seen it live I think, the first being Brixton Academy 2 years ago. I’d forgotten how all-encompassingly powerful it is, to experience one of the bands of your life, performing one of the songs of your life. Especially when Paul once again clung to the barrier at its end, the closest to me of the evening (I touched his arm!!), and hushed the rest of the band so we could ring out with endless “nobody cares when you’re gone!” And even more especially when he joined in at the very very end, still clinging to the barrier. It was like being part of a massive choir performing a very short a capella number with Paul Draper!
Oh and then you know it’s only “Everyone Must Win” and you realise Mansun have the THREE greatest live songs ever. This was truly the most miraculously monstrous version, taking total possession of your mind body and soul ’til all you care about is screaming the next chorus. And I know I’ve gone on about it before, but those unearthly, angelic wails at the end, especially this time, for it was The End, well they did me in with their wordless apocalyptic beauty. Mansun! God, they’re good.
So I peel myself off the barrier and wobble off towards the exit. First the merch frenzy o’course. Scandal! No t-shirts! So I bought a fanzine. I wouldn’t have bought any posters but they were FREE! So I took four. Then to the tube. Chatted to another lone-gigger as I waited for the Central Line, it was his first Mansun gig, bless! Then at Notting Hill Gate as I watched countless Circle Lines zoom past going the wrong way, I didn’t so much come to a Major Decision as discover that I’d already made it without realising. Yeah, I’m staying in London. God help me.”