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