Christmas 2002. The most wonderful time of the year, and the most wonderful time to be a Manics fan.
‘You see life just goes on, as it does, and then I go and see the Manics, and I am myself again, really myself, like I haven’t been since the last time I saw them live. The way only they make me feel.
You see, even in this day and age, where the Manics can’t possibly be Everything, they are still, much, much more than Something.
They own my soul, after all.’
December 2002 was a pretty great time in my life. I was studying again, and thoroughly enjoying my part time Psychology Diploma, the first term of which was coming to an end. And the Manics were back with the best thing of all, a winter tour. December with the Manics always seemed to make perfect sense, and I’d been there in the winters of 1996, 1998 and 1999, shivering in the queue as much with excitement as with the cold, waiting to spend an evening with the band that meant more to me than almost anything else. As the Manics themselves had sung:
“We love the winter – it brings us closer together”.
But this time was even more special. It was the first time the Manics had released a greatest hits album, “Forever Delayed”. It felt like a momentous thing for those of us who had been following the band for a decade or more, through their tragedies and triumphs. And it just so happened that for the first time in many years, I was now able to celebrate these exciting times with fellow fans online. My return to studying had necessitated the purchase of a computer and an internet connection, and so I now spent many a happy evening chatting on many an online forum, but particularly, the Manics fansite Forever Delayed.
This newfound sociableness did not however extend to meeting up with fellow fans with whom to attend the gig. I may have spent my last couple of gigs seeing the Pet Shop Boys and Darren Hayes in the presence of work chums, but the Manics were far too important to me to be able to share the experience of seeing them with someone for whom it was just an ordinary gig. Although it would only be a couple of years later that I’d break even this rule, and invite a gang of pals to attend a Manics gig with me. But here in 2002, I was still very much in solitary gigging mode, ready and ecstatic at the prospect of seeing my boys again at these two consecutive London gigs. And at the first night at the Wembley arena, I had an extra surprise: the Manics were incorporating a song from my all time hero in their show. From my diary:
‘Well I was already having a bit of an adrenaline high, down there, second row Nicky side, waiting for them, my Manics. And how are they intro’d? A video montage to the tune of David Bowie’s “Speed of Life” – it was almost intolerably thrilling. And bloody hell they START with “Motorcycle Emptiness”!!! It was just unfathomably wonderful to be in their presence, to see them, again.’
Here in 2019, it feels like every single Manics gig ever since the dawn of time has started with “Motorcycle Emptiness”. But in 2002, this is where that tradition started, and for them to start their set with this most beloved, soul-stirring classic was a shock and a thrill.
And on cue, my diary entry dives right into the crucial information of the evening: How did the boys look???
‘Nicky had trews on to start with, but they soon vanished to reveal his gorgeous leopard mini skirt, knee socks as usual, and a khaki vest. Oh yes! Nicky was glorious tonight, grinning at us many times, really enjoying himself it seemed, leaping and hipswivelling and stomping in circles. James was suavely jacketed at first, soon abandoned to reveal a blue shirt if I remember, v.short hair and celebrated newfound slenderness. He was great. But well, I was Nicky side.‘
I go on to note that ‘I did scream his name, but only once‘. Good restraint there, Scruffy.
Looking at my diary entry, it just seems like this was a gig of wonderful moment followed by wonderful moment, with so many songs evoking different memories of the past decade or so of having the Manics in my life. The sound was not brilliant: ‘earscrapingly squally‘ is how I described it, perhaps because I was so close to the stage. But that mattered little as the Manics powered through classic upon classic. It was the first time they were touring without a new album to promote, and so the full power of their amazing back catalogue was ours to revel in for a couple of hours. And upon returning from the gig, it seems all I could do was list highlight after highlight in my diary, with of course, dangerously excessive amounts of exclamation marks. Like so:
‘“Slash’n’burn”!!! This paragon of ’92-ness! One of the first MSP tunes I ever heard! The unparalleled joy of hollering “Slash! And buuurn! Kill to live! Kill for kicks!” etc. And:
“Life Becoming a Landslide”!!!!! From mildly dodgy single of ’93 to Greatest Live Song Ever Ever Delayed!!! That aching, gentle opening! The menacing guitars! The total fantasticness of the head-bangin’ rawk sections! Bloody HELL!!!
And… “Faster” was interestingly semi-acoustic’d, tho’ I really miss its feedback squall.
But then… “From Despair To Where”, also strangely meddled with (choppy guitar in 1st half of verses) was glorious as ever.
And we got “Roses In The Hospital” too!!! What a treat to have the 3 lesser-spotted “Gold Against The Soul” singles in one gig!
And straight after “Roses” came moody new tune “Forever delayed” so even further opportunity to holler that glorious line “Forever ever delayayayed!!!” (or just “delayed”, in the new tune).
And “Little Baby Nothing”… and “Suicide is Painless”… joyous “Tsunami”… quietly anthemic “There by the grace of god”…‘
And just as beginning their set with “Motorcycle Emptiness” is now set in stone, this gig also introduced another new setlist tradition which carries on to present-day Manics gigs: closing the show with “A Design For Life” rather than “You Love Us”.
‘And they finished with the usual three, but hey! new order! – “Tolerate”, “You Love Us”, “Design For Life”.‘
It had been a night of glorious celebration, with the band in incredible spirits, and the Manics faithful ready to rejoice in our incredible luck at being born in the right decade to be the right age to have our lives changed by this most untouchable band. And I had another night of it ahead of me. Life didn’t get much better than that.
‘Screamed my little lungs out.
Then bought a T-shirt.’