Tuesday, January 29, 2008
London's electro band Hot Chip has been one of the year's first buzz bands with their third album, Made in the Dark, due to release on February 4 in the UK (EMI) and February 5 (DFA) in the US. I know because I've been specifically tracking blogs about Made in the Dark for my masters thesis (it's a case study at the moment) and there have been loads of blogs about this album reaching as far back as early December. So, really this review is considered to be way too late in the timeline of the blogosphere. Yes, it's still being written before the album is even officially released, but that's just not fast enough anymore. However, I thought I'd weigh in on the Hot Chip hype because I've liked the band for a couple of years now.
In my opinion, Made in the Dark is a nice compromise between their first albums Coming on Strong and The Warning - the former was generally more laidback than the latter - but it also reaches out in other new directions. Hot Chip has always had a quirky groove to their brand of electropop and never quite fit with the New Rave (whatever that really means) label they were given after The Warning. They definitely don't fit neatly into a Klaxons-like box. Their music seems to defy genre in that it plays with all sorts of rhythms and styles, including funk, soul, European electro, and electro punk. Vocals are always airy, even when the music beneath them is frenetic.
On Made in the Dark, the title track stands out as an unexpected piano-based ballad, but it works - its heartbroken delivery gives the likes of Badly Drawn Boy a run for their money. One of my favourite tracks is One Pure Thought with its great, memorable riff and a quasi-tropical beat behind it - it has been stuck in my brain for the last few days. Out at the Pictures begins with a low hum and a dragging beat, but one minute into it, and it becomes a syncopated jackhammer of a rhythm. Another minute in and the rhythm shifts gear again with what sounds like a sleazy horn backup - Mark Ronson would be proud. Shake a Fist, which has been around since last year, especially in remixed form, is another crazy collection of twists and turns that shifts from a flamenco beat into a laser war. Ready for the Floor, the first official single, is a breezy dance track with some bouncy flourishes that remind me of Of Montreal's latest album. A few of the tracks also feature spoken word snippets, adding further to the pastiche feel of the album.
Overall, Made in the Dark diverges and converges, proving that electronic music can still be surprising and intensely creative. And it will probably be on the list of best albums of 2008. With the speed of the bloggers, it likely already is.
Made in the Dark - Hot Chip
One Pure Thought - Hot Chip
Out at the Pictures - Hot Chip
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and Well...Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #1
This first mix is a purely fun one (no music snobbery in this one). It's upbeat and largely electronic. While I have a serious side that loves political and dark music, I also have a side that wants to be an androgynous robot pulling shapes in a New Romantic club. In fact, I shall call this mix When the Humans Are Away, The Robots Play.
You can download each track separately (in case you disagree with any of the selections), or you can download the whole mix as a zip file.
Pull Shapes - The Pipettes
Beggin' - Frankie Valli (Pilooski Edit)
We Are Your Friends - Justice Vs. Simian Mobile Disco
D.A.N.C.E. - Justice
Digitalism in Cairo - Digitalism
Atlantis to Interzone - Klaxons
The DJ's Got a Gun - Robots in Disguise
Reality TV - Infadels
I Get Around - Dragonette
Gunshot Wedding Symptoms - Closethuman
Even If It Takes All Night - Paradise Boys
Ice Cream - New Young Pony Club
Standing in the Way of Control - The Gossip
Crime Does Pay (Renaissance Remix) - The Hourly Radio
We Don't Play Guitars - Chicks on Speed featuring Peaches
Gonna Wanna - Chris Corner and Sue Denim
Girls in the Back - White Rose Movement
The Sound of the Crowd - Human League
Destroy Everything You Touch - Ladytron
Blue Monday 88 - New Order
Weekly Mix #1 (Megaupload)
Monday, January 21, 2008
The Saltire - Stroszek
Appealing to the Senseless - Stroszek
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Friday, January 11, 2008
The Mighty Boosh on a break from filming "The Nightmare of Milky Joe"Anyone who likes one of these two duos is bound to like the other. Both are quirky and use equal parts surrealism and pop culture reference (especially musical ones that true music obsessives like myself can guffaw at). Besides mentioning music regularly, both duos also incorporate at least one sequence of original music into each episode. Flight of the Conchords, and, to a slightly lesser extent, The Mighty Boosh create a context for these musical interludes by being in bands in the show. Both pairs have a seamless rapport and true musical ability (more than I'll ever have). Their music is far more creative than most of the tripe passed off as legitimate music, and they're wittier and weirder than someone like Weird Al Yankovic. While The Mighty Boosh have Gary Numan flying them in his plane to the tundra (Gary Numan has a pilot's licence...imagine that), Flight of the Conchords has insecurity-fuelled dreams featuring David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days, Ashes to Ashes period, and even his stint in Labyrinth (a personal favourite of mine). Music deserves to be lampooned and these shows do it better than any other. In the process, it gives us pretentious music fans and hipsters something to truly laugh about. And I dare you not to laugh at (or at least be completely disturbed by) a Rick James-like transsexual merman who lives under the sea (see "The Legend of Old Gregg" by The Mighty Boosh - my favourite episode).
Flight of the Conchords in "Bowie" episode
I've included a track from each duo. The Bowie song by Flight of the Conchords still makes me have a bit of a Depends moment ("do you need my jumper, Bowie?") and is one of the best impressions of Bowie I've ever heard. Bouncy Bouncy is off the Party episode of The Mighty Boosh - it is what Barratt and Fielding call a crimp - watch the show and you'll get it.
Bowie (Live) - Flight of the Conchords
Saturday, January 5, 2008
I'm also including the bonus track on the UK release of The Alternative album - the splendid string version of Spit It Out. I wouldn't have thought it would work, but it becomes both ethereal and haunting.
The Alternative to Real World Is Just Time For Me and a Fantasy
An hour before doors opened at The Mod Club for the IAMX show back on October 20, I was just a tired, relatively introverted Masters student sitting on a hard bench, listening to my ipod. And Chris Corner was just a shy, diminutive man in sunglasses and a white jacket scurrying away from soundcheck with a quick nod to acknowledge my wave and "hello." But when the show started a few hours later, something changed...
For those who don't know, Chris Corner, formerly of the triphop band Sneaker Pimps, is now at the helm of a brilliant darkwave electro project called IAMX based in Berlin. With its glam flourishes and ambiguous, often deviant sexuality, it's fitting that his project is based in a city that was known for its outrageous cabarets and the excesses of the Weimar Republic era. It's also fitting because Berlin itself used to have a split personality between East and West.
Once Chris Corner hit the stage, it felt like a gothic circus had taken over the venue. I was swept up in the pounding beats and riffs of the opening "The Alternative" and mesmerized by Chris Corner's alter ego, who moved about the stage like a possessed marionette, his kohl-rimmed, sequin-teared eyes often hidden by a glittery gold hat. He encouraged a feverish reaction by cocking his ear toward the crowd and beckoning to them, wanting to hear more screams. I admit that I screamed and sang like Chris Corner was pulling on my vocal cords, a master puppeteer of the entire audience. His extremely slender body, encased in a skin-tight, black bodysuit with yellow sequinned straps slung over it, alternated between fluidity and robotic movements. The chorus resulted in an explosion of jumping and arm pumping as the pure tones of Corner's voice soared over the heavy, driving beats. The boundary between performer and audience dissolved in a sweaty madness and everyone began reaching out to him, the keyboardist, and the guitarist. In the frenzy, for some reason, Chris Corner chose to take my hand in his and hold it for a moment, but I almost forgot about my hand as the music and his hypnotic dark eyes dragged me into an underworld completely of IAMX's creation.
As the show progressed, the band kept almost exclusively to upbeat tracks mainly from the latest album The Alternative ("Kiss and Swallow" and "Skin Vision" from Kiss and Swallow also made appearances). The entire band sustained an inhuman energy that rippled throughout the crowd. I lost myself so entirely, I can't remember smashing my elbows on the monitor and giving myself bruises. What I can remember is actually grabbing a hold of one of Chris Corner's high black boots and having the song "Venus in Furs" fly into my head. Other members of the audience, boys and girls, reached out and ran their hands over Corner's legs, and he rocked his body so violently over the edge of the stage, his sweat rained on the front row. His bodily convulsions continued as he constantly fell to his knees and twisted through jumps in the air. He wielded the microphone cord like an S&M whip, nearly strangling the guitarist, and hanging it between his teeth. The band threw themselves into every song even though the pace never slackened, and Chris Corner's voice cajoled and pleaded, dripping with dark purpose and freewheeling hedonism.
The encore was "Attack 61," a song from the soundtrack for the French film Les Chevaliers du Ciel, an album that Chris Corner produced, and "Song of Imaginary Beings." When the show ended, I was drenched in everyone's sweat and genuinely understood what "After Every Party I Die" meant. Though the drummer and the guitarist hung around the venue after the show (the former eventually changing into track pants and the latter no longer bare-chested) and talked with the fans, Chris Corner had disappeared from the venue and into the tourbus before anyone had even gotten outside. I completely understood why. He had just prostituted his entire being for the fans and needed to shift back into reality. I, too, had to shift myself back into my own reality. If you never came down from all that, you'd probably go insane.
One of the girls I met after the show (while waiting for the manager to get our stuff signed by Chris Corner) asked if I would be interested in seeing IAMX again in two nights in Detroit. She wanted someone to split the gas money with her, and the trip was doable since Detroit was about four hours away. A large part of me really wanted to experience that incredible feeling again, that feeling of completely losing yourself in the music and performance - that was my own Mr. Hyde's desire. The Dr. Jekyll, sensible side of me said that I had class the afternoon before the show and that I should be doing all the weekly homework required by a Masters Degree, so I should just forget about it. However, by the end of Sunday evening, Mr. Hyde won out and I followed IAMX to Detroit.
The Detroit show was at an even smaller venue than The Mod Club called The Magic Stick, and the crowd was also disappointingly smaller. I actually worried that the crowd wouldn't be enough to support the alternative universe of IAMX properly. And in my crazed state, I somehow fancied myself a crowd leader. My metamorphosis happened all over again the second that IAMX took the stage, Chris Corner this time sporting a silver hat. Screaming like I was trying to exorcise my average persona, I couldn't stand still and felt myself dancing in imitation of Chris Corner's erratic movements, unbeknownst to me, smashing my knees into the stage in front of me. I have a feeling he may have recognized me from the Toronto show because he grabbed my hand multiple times and kept grinning at me, a twinkle in the event horizon of his black eyes. Even in my mind's eye, his direct gaze in combination with his smile takes my breath away. After I had touched him, the rest of the crowd seemed more comfortable with doing the same, and the connection between the band and the audience grew with each song. At one point, Chris Corner grabbed the head of a guy who had also followed IAMX from Toronto to Detroit, and he roughly ruffled his hair. To the waltz beat of "President," the audience swayed together like a pendulum, pacing out the perversity and drowning in the decadence of Chris Corner's cadences, his voice wracked with desires that were tearing him apart.
The set was virtually the same as the Toronto set, but this time the encore featured "Your Joy is My Low" instead of "Attack 61." At one beautiful moment, Chris Corner pointed directly at me as he sang the title line of the song. As ridiculous as this moment would seem from an outside perspective (and perhaps from my more rational brain), it was transfixing and enveloping while in that moment. And really all that counted was what was self-contained in that world of the stage.
Nursing knee-cap-sized bruises, I've now gone back to my unassuming, regular life as a quiet graduate student in Waterloo just as Chris Corner retires to his tourbus every night and hides his bewitching eyes behind sunglasses. We all need a little escape from ourselves to keep sane. I have no need to reconcile the willowy man silently fleeing soundcheck with the ringmaster of musical fantasy. The beauty is in the division.
Missile (Acoustic) - IAMX
Anyway, here's a review of the Patrick Wolf gig in Toronto this last October. It was a cracker.
A contingent of hardcore fans lined the front of the small, chin-high stage. They were encrusted with glitter - their hair, the bandit stripes across their eyes, the swirls on their shoulders. It could have been a Bowie concert circa 1972. But it wasn't.
No, this was a Patrick Wolf show at Lee's Palace in downtown Toronto last night. This fact makes it no less exciting. Nor does it make it any less mythical. For Patrick Wolf has already become myth at age twenty-four. He is otherworldly, much like a potent mixture of David Bowie and Kate Bush. He oozes both sex and childlike innocence and abides by no particular rules. His style changes just as much as Bowie's has; one day he wears stegosaurus trousers, the next he wears an impossibly tight pair of aquamarine shorts and suspenders. And of course he can pull it off with the aplomb of an unabashed original.
I, myself, have been a huge fan of Patrick Wolf for a couple of years now. His first album, Lycanthropy, full of distorted beats and wolf-like howls, and stories of captured children and Peter Pan, captivated me. Electronic sounds and drum machines are seamlessly mixed with violins and accordian. Wolf isn't his real last name, but it becomes a fitting moniker and persona for the fantastical being and his three albums to date. His second album, Wind in the Wires, retains the magic of his previous storytelling, but pairs it with a generally mellower and folkier sound. His latest LP, The Magic Position, his first major label release, is different yet again with its joyful gypsy-like songs. A theme of escape and heedless abandon runs through all three, a boundless energy that transports you from mundane realities into a fairy netherworld that exists in a twilight of dark deeds and festive flights of freedom. Needless to say, when I finally got a chance to see him live, I took it, three hours on a bus and all.
Even though I arrived more than an hour before the doors were scheduled to open, the glittering obsessives were already there, listening to Patrick Wolf songs from one of the fan's stereo purse (songs which competed with the actual soundcheck taking place just behind a side door). They alternately sprinkled glitter over each other and blew bubbles with mini-bubble-wands. One wore a headband that looked like some sort of Egyptian headgear at first glance; on closer inspection, it was a headband with a tiny giraffe stuck to it (the giraffe - like the unicorn - being one of the beasts associated with the Patrick Wolf mythology). Some fans actually brought a bouquet of sunflowers and others brought their own special effects - in addition to the bubble wands, they also had streamers and maracas. As I soon discovered, the fans would time each use of the appointed props to specific points in songs, having a bit of a Rocky Horror Show quality to it.
During the palpable tension before Wolf came onstage, one fan asked another, "Is this your first time seeing him?" The other replied that indeed it was. The first responded with "Do you think it will be strange seeing him for real? It's like he's not real." One fan was leaping and screaming in excitement far before Wolf was due to come on - it was as though he was exploding with Christmas morning anticipation; he also draped a sunflower over the monitor directly in front of Wolf's microphone.
Wolf came on stage wearing a blond, curly wig and a gold collar akin to a disco Jacobean ruff. His body was awash with the same glitter as his glistening fans, giving him a magical, alien presence. His short cut-offs displayed long, sparkling legs with knee-high, nearly invisible net stockings and feet thrust into turquoise shoes reminscent of children's shoes at the turn of the century. As the gig progressed, he lost most of his clothing, revealing the unicorn tattooed to his chest, and he ended up in just his shorts and stockings, his blond hair tousled and spiked with sweat. Someone in the crowd shouted, "Take your shorts off." Wolf smiled and replied, "I can't. I'm not wearing any underwear." Perhaps as gender ambiguous as Bowie in the '70's, Wolf is astoundingly even more beautiful in real life than he is in photos.
As far as the song choices, he stayed well within the realm of his more popular and/or released singles ("The Libertine," "To the Lighthouse," "Wind in the Wires," "Accident and Emergency," "Teignmouth," etc). He bounced from violin to ukulele to keyboards and back again, displaying incredible musical versatility. His accompaniment was an additional violin, drums, some programmed sounds, and an upright bass. It was a pleasant change to actually be able to hear a singer's voice and lyrics so easily over the music - no distortion at all. My only complaint (and it's a tiny one) would be that I would have liked to hear one or two b-sides and/or cover songs. I would have personally loved to hear him sing "Adder" or Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" live. I will admit that I danced, and jumped, and screamed with the best of them, feeling like a reckless child - I'm paying for it today, but it's yet another price I'm willing to pay for Mr. Wolf.
During the final song (the propulsive "The Magic Position") of the set proper, fans fired streamers onto the stage and Wolf ended up festooned in them. The whole show was truly like one big celebration as Wolf danced and jumped as much as the fans and continually smiled and laughed. Sometimes he would sit or lie on the stage and peer from behind the monitors; other times, he stalked across the stage like his predatory namesake. Between songs, he would talk to the audience, often making them laugh, and several of the songs were prefaced with self-deprecating banter that made him seem like a shy child ready to perform a recital. At one point, he suggestively unfolded his lanky body across the keyboard. The constant flux between a joyful innocence and a sexy suggestiveness created a mesmerizing, disarming duality. When he sings, "Come get lost with me," you do.
He returned for two encores - the haunting "Magpie," duetting with Bishi (his incredible opening act who blends sitar with electronic beats - highly recommended) and "Bloodbeat" - and nearing the end, he wore a disco ball-like beret. However, even after "Bloodbeat" finished, Wolf seemed reluctant to leave the stage and skipped and cantered about singing snatches of Whigfield's "Saturday Night" and Gina G's "Ooh Ah" - bizarre choices that nonetheless fit with his boyish exuberance.
It may be a bit presumptuous to say at this early stage in his career, but I felt like I had witnessed something very significant, perhaps on par with Bowie's Ziggy Stardust days. With his versatility, charisma, and massive imagination, I'm betting that Patrick Wolf will be renowned in the years to come, and these early days will be looked back upon with envy by those who weren't there to see it firsthand.
When I left the gig at two in the morning, the sidewalk shimmered with both newly fallen rain and glitter, creating a path both urban and fairy-like at the same time. The mundane transformed into something magical.
Running Up That Hill - Patrick Wolf
It only seemed appropriate to begin this music blog with my favourite band of all time - the Manic Street Preachers. Not to mention the fact I ripped my blog name from them as well. The Manics are the only band that can pair a blistering guitar solo with politics so seamlessly and intelligently. I will always admire their honesty - even when they contradict themselves. The following is a review I wrote way back in May 2007 about the May 12th Manics gig at the Student Union in Cardiff. I think it's a fitting start to a blog that will feature music I like and support - signed or unsigned. I'm tired of sitting back and moaning about how bad the music press is these days when I can create my own.
So here it goes...I shall blunder along with a completely delusional amount of self-belief. After all, it worked for the Manics.
The Art of Being a Manics Fan
Ask anyone who knows me fairly well and he/she will probably tell you that I'm certifiably insane when it comes to the Manic Street Preachers. I love them above all other bands (David Bowie tops my solo artist list). I've bought up countless singles, bootleg DVDs of TV appearances and concerts, a limited edition magazine (that cost me about $60), a relatively rare vinyl edition of "Motown Junk" (that cost me about $50), and a t-shirt (again, $50) off Ebay. I know the lyrics to a good chunk of their songs (including B-sides), which may not sound fanatical enough unless you actually read their lyrics and realize that they're so complex that sometimes James Dean Bradfield (the singer) doesn't remember them completely. I woke up at 4AM to buy tickets to their May 12 gig in Cardiff off Ticketmaster and then went to work a couple of hours later (nearly crying, which knowing me, is a pretty rare occurrence). Living in Winnipeg, Canada, one just doesn't meet other Manics fans. One doesn't usually even meet people who are aware of the Manics. It gets a bit lonely and starts to make you wonder if perhaps you really are a bit crackers to love them with such a passion. Of course I was aware that in the UK there are hardcore Manics fans, but just this past Saturday I got to witness Manics fandom firsthand and it's truly glorious.
I didn't get to the venue - Cardiff University Student Union - until about an hour and a half prior to the doors opening and there were already legions of fans camped outside the door. They had likely been their all day (or perhaps even from the night before since many of them had seen the show the previous night) and were in full Manics regalia. Some wore leopard print from head to toe; others wore boas or tiaras; some wore military gear; others wore Manics t-shirts from assorted previous concerts. One guy dressed in a military jacket (representative of The Holy Bible era) on the front of which he had scrawled "PCP" (the title to one of the songs on THB) and on the back of which he wrote the lyrics to the chorus of "Yes" (another THB song). He also had warpaint under his eyes and a haircut in imitation of Nicky Wire (the bassist). Another guy, who I swear I saw before on the DVD for the Manics millennium gig, was a Richey (the guitarist who went missing in 1995) lookalike with a leopard skin coat and eyeliner. Two girls dressed up to look like the girls on the front of the new Manics album - namely, one in a fairy outfit complete with wings and one in a devil's outfit with horns. Another two girls, who perhaps spent the most time in preparation, are known as Team Wire (as in Nicky Wire). They wore identical outfits which included Team Wire visors and jackets, glittery red highheels, glitter makeup, cheerleader pompoms, sparkly wristbands, red nailpolish and red glittery cosmetic bags (I had plenty of time to observe them since they stood nearly right in front of me for the duration of the gig). One guy in a Generations Terrorists-era t-shirt kept asking everyone if they had an extra ticket because his camera battery had run out during the show the night before - utlimately he got a ticket from a tout for $100, twice the regular price. However, I could have seen myself do the exact same thing if I hadn't been able to get a ticket. Before I had even reached the queue, an older man had stopped us in the stairwell, asking where the washrooms were. When he saw my Manics t-shirt, he asked if I was a Manics fan and if I was going to the show, and when I said yes and that I had come from Canada to see them, he pumped his fist in the air and screamed "Yeah." Then he told me, "Have fun, darling." All everyone could talk about was the Manics and I suddenly no longer felt alone.
At first I was a bit concerned that I hadn't gotten their early enough to be near the front (I HAD to be at the front for this show), but I still managed to squeeze in right behind a shorter girl right at the barrier almost directly in front of Nicky Wire (this was after I sprinted past a couple who were ahead of us in line and began taking two stairs at a time). I had a brilliantly clear view of the whole band (Nicky was obscured from time to time by Team Wire's pompoms). To be honest, it was probably best that I wasn't right at the barrier because other people's bodies protected me from crowd surges. Of course the opening act wasn't due to come on for another hour, but people had already nearly filled the floor in front of the stage in anticipation. While the opening band, Fear of Music (seemingly underfed Mancunian teenagers), made an effort, the response was polite and fairly muted - in the face of these kind of fans, I don't think most bands could stand up very well, and I really don't think this band was up to the task anyhow. I think they elicited just as many screams as those that came when the roadie placed Nicky Wire's signature boa-draped mic stand on the stage.
When the Manics finally took to the stage (approximately 45 minutes after Fear of Music left it), the audience careened forward and screamed. They were back to wearing military regalia akin to The Holy Bible days (something I'm so thankful to have witnessed), and Nicky Wire, wearing white jeans reminiscent of the Generation Terrorist days and his usual eye makeup, looked as viciously glamourous as he did fifteen years ago. His hair is cut shorter again and dyed a reddish colour, as the rest of his ensemble, recalling the golden years of the Manics vitriolic beginnings. When they launched into the opening riff of "You Love Us" (their tongue-in-cheek middle finger to their critics at the time of Generations Terrorists), I felt my heart hurtle into my throat as I screamed out every line. And the brilliant part of it all was that every other soul around me screamed out the lines too and we all pumped our fingers into the air, punctuating the chorus "You - love - us, oh - you- love - us, you love, you - love - us, you - love - us, you - love - us, you love." It was the perfect moment of organic synchronicity - the crowd moved as one and knew intuitively what to do. I felt a communal feeling unlike any that I've ever experienced at a gig - the fans' energy crashed into the band's energy to create the most intense symbiosis. "You Love Us" was followed by "Send Away the Tigers," the title track off of their new album, and it was greeted like any of their classic songs. The unbelievable 22-song set included at least half of the songs off SATT, and though the album had officially just released 5 days earlier, fans (including myself) were screaming the lyrics along with James as though they were old favourites.
There were the ubiquitous yells requesting "Sleepflower" (to which I contributed), the first track off the Gold Against the Soul album and one that was never released as a single. It's inherently a fan favourite and we all know it will be requested. Just as we know the "1,2,3" count before the chorus of "You Stole the Sun From My Heart" kicks in and the crowd jumps in unison.
Throughout the gig, the Wire often closed his eyes and mouthed lyrics along with James's singing, a blissed-out look on his face. Sometimes he looked out into the audience and flashed his Cheshire cat grin or laughed (perhaps at the constant pointing of fingers pumping his way or perhaps at the sheer strangeness of Team Wire). He loped and marched in circles about the stage, often doing his well-known scissor-like jumps. Sean Moore, the drummer, kept time in his darker portion of the stage, relatively unnoticed, but in a way that we know he prefers. He is the steady backbone and an amazing musician in his own right. James wheeled and careened during breaks in his singing and chatted to the audience in between songs. I believe he's one of the most talented musicians in the world and watching him play guitar live was incredible - his solos were blinding. Appropriately, at one point just before "Faster," he took a fan's military hat and put it on. When the rest of the band left him to do his acoustic set alone ("Yes" and "No Surface, All Feeling"), he sang like an angel wracked with the pain and inanity of the world. So vulnerable, but also so angry.
After James's acoustic set, Nicky came back to the stage wearing his signature skirt and high socks combination, displaying that James was indeed correct when earlier he proclaimed Nicky to have "the best legs in rock." The Wire's knees sometimes knocked together in time to the music beneath the white skirt and pink leopard print belt or he would brace one leg up on the monitor and swing his bass into the air. At other times, he wielded his mic stand like the captain of a people's army, goading the fans on in their outrage against the state of the world's politics and assinine, blind consumerism.
One of the many highlights of the gig for me was during "Little Baby Nothing" when the Wire came off the stage and stood about two feet away from me. He mouthed the refrain "You are pure, you are snow, we are the useless sluts that they mould" while gesturing along with us. His kohl-rimmed eyes were shining with intensity and he reinforced the feeling that he was one of us - we all knew how much the lyrics meant to us. So rock and roll, but at the same time, so honest.
Even though much of the time I could no longer breathe in the crush of bodies, I still managed to sing along with the last bit of air escaping my lungs. I couldn't remain silent even if I blacked out in the process. These songs meant too much to me - their lyrics are so intelligent and earnest, whether they're lambasting politics or describing the bleak inner landscape of those whose only mistake was thinking too much.
The expected gig finale, "A Design for Life", ended with Nicky hoisting his boa-draped mic stand into the air in a final rallying cry. Right before he left the stage, he re-wrapped his black and white scarf around his neck in a glam flourish. And of course the Manics are too intelligent to have a hackneyed encore, and they never need one. They had already given the fans all they could possibly give.
This show was probably the closest I could ever get to seeing the Manics in either their Generation Terrorists or Holy Bible days. There was even the odd moment when I could feel Richey's presence in it all - I suppose he'll always be there. My only regret is not staying outside after the gig to see if I could meet the band - who knows when I'll ever, if ever, get to see them again, especially at such a small venue. But I suppose that just raises the bar for more dreams - after all, I never thought I would ever see the Manics live and even if I saw them live, I never thought it would be six feet away from them in the closest thing to a hometown gig.
At the end of the gig, I peeled my dripping, bruised body away from everyone else and turned to look back. There was a boy adjusting his fishnet stockings and small groups of leopard printed people meeting up with the military attired. The room began to empty, revealing a floor littered with puddles of beer and boa feathers. The Manics gig had truly meant something. Meant something to all of us.
Little Baby Nothing (Streetcar Named Desire Intro) - Manic Street Preachers