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We Love Them - Melody Maker, 12th April 1997

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Title We Love Them
Publication Melody Maker
Date Saturday 12th April 1997
Writer Neil Kulkarni
Photos Pat Pope


MM0497 (1).jpg MM04973.jpg MM0497 (2).jpg

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 hungry, the 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. alrnost itself • Emptiness- that got Nicky dedicates a song to Sharon Stone (for • Irish f" •ing Yanks- to a delirious front 30 rows. •No Surface All Feeling- hua lump in throat threatening to choke line Of melody gorgeously pic:ked out and scattered to air. Is Painless- a the cruel hurnour

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 unfairly blessed. 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 ng, as the song whi contributed to e currentCou , ifs crucial. What'samazi , this is the}'nültimate ng, andtheydop pl as singalongObviou 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 , change •v oke syrnp*/, tell you howto bemuse, tell you I ngyoudön't already •know, even though the Manics ,FmOStofthesethings. 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.