A scorchingly brilliant Manics gig heralding the dawn of a new era.
In October 2017, a year and a half had passed since my love for the Manics had been rekindled at the Royal Albert Hall and they had reclaimed their rightful place as my favourite band in the world. Since then I had seen them at a slightly underwhelming outdoors show in Bristol, and now it was time to head to Camden for my 32nd time seeing the band. However I was not really feeling the rock’n’roll spirit to begin with on this evening. From my diary:
‘MSP no. 32. I was v.much not in a gigtastic mood, very tired, not amused that the Manics wouldn’t be on ‘til nearly 10pm. But I made it out the door round 8 and got to the Roundhouse at about ten to nine. The tube journey was hot and queasy so I said sod off to Sober October and bought a large red wine then sauntered to second row James side. ‘
Much revived by the wine, I was now ready to leap about and holler along to my favourite boys. But first, here’s some shouting men!
‘The support band was Sleaford Mods, two middleaged blokes and a laptop, one to press play and dance with a beer in his hand, the other to shout about unemployment and department stores. They were surprisingly great and gave me much to think about re: my own tunes.’
Yes – I do write songs myself and occasionally ponder the possibility of pursuing that further, so be warned, you may see me shouting about social issues equipped with laptop and beer on a stage near you soon! (Spoiler: you probably won’t).
‘They were off at half past nine, the Welsh flags came out and then very promptly at 9.45, the screen at the back of the stage lit up with a quote in a plain font. “Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by so quickly you hardly catch it going.” It’s still the between-set muzak at this point and it’s Primal Scream’s “Higher Than The Sun”. I don’t know if it was deliberate, but it was a pretty perfect quote/song combo. Standing there, minutes from the Manics, singing along to that song, that seemed, for that moment, to echo through all of eternity, I have not had a moment like that for a long time.’
When the boys appeared it was, of course, straight into “Motorcycle Emptiness”. And it was immediately clear that none of the disappointment of Bristol would occur here.
‘What a difference being almost down the front makes. This is how the Manics should be experienced: in the thick of the throng, surrounded by obsessives who will point and holler with you “sorrow! sorrow! sorrow!”’
The first part of the set focussed on greatest hits like “Everything Must Go”, “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” and “Kevin Carter”, with each song accompanied by a quote from the lyrics, ‘and it was all fun and familiar and we knew when to shout and point.‘ But a big surprise was afoot – a song from my favourtite Manics album, the much-neglected “Lifeblood”.
‘Then Nicky was going on about something or other, then he said “this is called A Song For Departure” and for a moment I didn’t remember which album this was from, one of the recent ones, yeah? No! The moment it began I was whirled back to 2004 and singing along.’
It was clear from that point that this would be no ordinary gig. ‘After a scorching “No Surface All Feeling” when JDB introduced “Catherine Anne Davies from The Anchoress”! It was of course “Little Baby Nothing” and Catherine was surely born for this duet, and to stride a stage like this in a leopard print suit.’
From this point on the gig rocketed from highlight to breathtaking highlight.
Then it was “Tolerate”, the atmosphere now electric, streamers exploding for the last chorus eliciting a shock of pure elation. Then an acoustic “Faster” was screamalong fun to be sure, but the printed setlist was shared on Twitter and showed that this was supposed to be “From Despair To Where”, damn it, JDB!’
Happily, I have recently been able to finally experience “From Despair To Where” live in its acoustic form at the Cardiff gig for NHS staff this past September, so the trauma of missing this most important song on this night has healed.
‘Then it was the final stretch, starting with “You Love Us” and rollicking through “Tsunami”, “Ocean Spray” and “Show Me The Wonder” ‘til the inevitable “Design” and we were ready with our voices and our hearts to sing out the gig just as we did 21 years ago, “this is not the end” as an entire universe of confetti explodes around us, it’s in my hair and in my eyes and it always will be.’
I was not entirely being silly and sentimental with that last statement – I was finding the silver rectangles of confetti around my flat for nearly a year following this gig.
There was one final Easter Egg for the faithful on this night. As we left the gig, the quote displayed on the screen was now “Resistance Is Futile”. Almost exactly a month later, it would be revealed that this was the title of their forthcoming album for 2018. The build up to this new album, their first in four years, was a truly thrilling time to be a Manics fan. Unfortunately for me, it would turn out that illness in 2018 prevented me from taking part in the “Resistance Is Futile” era in full. But I am happy to at least be able to say that I was there at its very beginning.
Categories: All the gigs of my life