Last Wednesday at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom, the Manics proved they are still the UK's greatest rock band. Unarguably.
Cabbie: "I'm an old soul man myself. I saw Edwin Starr support Isaac Hayes here in '72. I saw Marvin Gaye here in the late Sixties. They'll never be topped if you ask me. Who're these then? The Mad Street Teachers y'say?"
"What are they like?"
"You'd like 'em. They're a soul band."
The first time I saw the Manics I was wearing stupidly baggy jeans, huge Nikes, a suedehead and a hooded coat. In a sea of mascara and leopard-skin I felt like a thug. Tonight, Blackpool is full Of similarly nervous looking people. They're the ones in
mascara and I leopard-print. They eye the Ralph 'n' Vans lads who now make up a large part of the Manics' audience, with suspicion, tweak their roots, flaunt their Revlon.
Fucking lads. Cast fans. Three years ago they would be hurling bottles stageward in hatred. The words to Motown Junk are embedded in my heart and they are singing "We only wanna get drunk" in CELEBRATION, in ignorance. They're everything the Manics turned me from, offered an alternative to, a refuge from. And now they're here. It's not a betrayal. Love fades.
The lads eye the glam 'n' bones kids with suspicion, sup their pints, stare it out.
Fucking poofs. Student wankers. Bullshit pretty boy posers, whiney freaks, stuck-up little smug sods. Let's have some fun. Let's crack some heads.
This isn't a gig. This is a bona-fide style war.
Or at least that's what some might have you believe. The reality is a little more complex than that. The older fans are defiant, look fabulous, and are starting to to feel forgotten. They're like a board of directors disappointed on the waning return of their investment. What they're mourning though, isn't James' make-up or Richey or scrawled shirts or bloody arms. They're mourning the fact that the Manics aren't in control anymore. The Manics, like Public Enemy, like Dexys, almost alienated themselves an audience. They aroused such contrasting reactions from the inflammatory start that to merely tum up to a gig became an article faith, and to turn up and jeer was equally charged with relevance.
Now, tonight, people turn up cos they quite like the singles, like what they've heard of the new LP, saw them on telly, heard them on the radio. The Manics are out there and have relinquished control in their public domain to the whims and vagaries of the
"marketplace. And that's precisely what pisses off the old fans, the easy availability of the Manics now, the way you can walk in on them off the street, with no password, no invitation, without the Manics permission.
In many ways, early manics gigs went beyond a call to prayer, past a glance at the idols; what mattered was the other people there. It was never something as banal as a sense of community, but the startling realisation that through different routes you'd all arrived at the same place. It was like Richard Dreyfuss meeting the other mountain-obsessives in "Close Encounters". So when you see the Empress Ballroom is packed fulla cazzies stood at the bar, bored with the old stuff, waiting on a newie, you can almost understand the wounded pride, the bitterness.
But here's some news for the old fans: those lads are all shit-scared of you. Expect to get the odd dead leg, the odd foot trod on, because the more people, the more wankers, right? But they are terrified, I swear. They're looking at the nancy boys, the anti-girls, like they're from Pluto, angry because all that eyeliner makes them unsure about whether they can really defend being into this band, angry because you're living proof that tonight isn't just another gig.
And before I forget, Christ, yes, Manic Street Preachers are astonishing tonight, the best I've ever seen them.
A gorgeous, beatless E-Z version of "Design" trails them, the backdrop images perfectly fitting the sounds as they do all night, lyrics and images dropped in with pinpoint eye-popping fluidity. Taking the stage to near bedlam, it's surprising how intimate they now look; there's no huge spaces separating any of the band, no running space, they're packed in closer, warmer, more locked in and on and sounding perfect. It forces them to respond and react to each others playing, bringing them together where they had been locked away in their own private universes at stage-edge. And no
here has heard them sound better; Sean's drums dead-on, Wire's bass immaculate, James' guitar as brilliant and impossibly big 'n' wide as ever. The synth player works in samples and string when needs be, doubles on trumpet for a razor-sharp Kevin Carter and there you have it. The modern rock band perfected.
This is just stunning.
•Australia- on a band
sound they' re
backdrop only 9inning
heads further; -Tristossa has
never sounded funkier, never
sounded rnore overloaded
too rnmy for your
James keeps the chat short.
enjoying the way his band
as much as
• From TO Where • gets
taken to places of melody and
magic novor reached on vinyl.
• Emptiness- that
dedicates a song to Sharon
f" •ing Yanks- to a delirious
front 30 rows.
•No Surface All Feeling- hua
lump in throat threatening to
line Of melody gorgeously
pic:ked out and scattered to
air. Is Painless-
plummets its Ronettes•thump
even more gloriously deep
and the guy next to me kisses a
large geezer in a Man City shirt.
On the lips. Oops. The guy
kisses back. Cool.
By now, even the bar-hugging
scaredy-cats are diving into the
throng. James is still pretty
much the model rock frontman;
given less of a stage to run
round he's limited to wicked
little hi•kicks, windmill•riffola,
head-snapping tension , a
whirlwind of confined energy.
And Christ. I know it's been said,
but just exactly how cool is Nicky
Wire? Any man who can fallfiat
on his arse (as he does during
the encore) and still laugh. and
still look cool doing it and still
stand there while his bust bass
gets fitted looking cool is surely
For the closing two songs,
The Maker contingent find the
balconyfora bids eye view. "A
Design Life" , undoubtedly
the rock anthem Ofthe late
Nineties, is an avalanche. I dopt.
think a more successful socie
rock song exi
audience sing it a le
Ofmindless hed i
amusing than a
as the song whi
contributed to e
currentCou , ifs
crucial. What'samazi ,
this is the}'nültimate ng,
andtheydop pl as
draw it otit, expand on its
sound, play it lusher and
more suffused with passion!tianh
anyone has hoard a
now the tears reaw do
with no apologiøS, now you
See everyone in thohallcomö
to the same realisation.
"You Love Us"
I THINK realise sorn
The Manics are just rock
band, Sure. A great
doesnt have to inspire disciples,
promote intelligence, challenge
•v oke syrnp*/, tell you
I ngyoudön't already
•know, even though the Manics
Agreat band must
u*nrnunicate the totality oftheir
ought and experience in such
way that the curse Of pop, its
insatiable demands on us, its
stupid hope and unhealthy hold
on us, become worth it. The
Manics have always done this,
still continue to do this every
time they play, do it tonight in
Blackpool more than ever.
Tonight, they reach into life and
drag us breathless from a world
where we are weak. inarticulate
and inconsistent to a world
where the blinding white lightof
ajustified humanity falls away to
reveal a mirror. tes you. It always
. was you. You can be this true,
you can be this good. Theywere
always yours, whether you've
been here since '89 or '96.
Ultimately, whether everyone
gets exætly what you get out of
the Ma nics is irrelevant, none of
you r business. Because, at the
very least, the Man ics are still
leagues ahead of the rest of rock
in terms of offering the chance
for a wider view. in terms of
sending you outin a million
different directions, in terms of
making life more.
Thars why they' re still the
greatest rock band in the world.
And thaes why Blækpool feels
like love again. Unarguable.