Gig:Moles, Bath, 27th February 1997
This gig was reviewed in the Saturday, March 15, 1997 edition of New Musical Express
"New Musical Express Live Review Saturday, March 15, 1997 - Category: Reviews
'SUN MIGHT SLAY!
MAD CHESTER RAVE ON!
Edited by Ted Kessler
Mansun Bath Moles
PEOPLE ARE, quite literally, eating the ceiling by the time Mansun arrive. Pinned to the rafters by a forest of healthy arms in the most snobby and white of British cities, thses impassioned young crowd-surfers instinctively know they're witnessing something special - possibly even something historic - and react accordingly.
This big-tour warm-up, you see, is Mansun's last club-sized show for the forseeable future, possibly forever. With a dysfunctional family of Top 20 hits behind them and a chart-topping mad dribbly uncle of an album currently drooling its way into the national psyche, the Chester quartet already feel arena-sized.
Consequently this cramped little cellar hardly seems capable of containing the controlled nuclear explosion of their already monolithic live experience. And with 100 sweat-soaked teens crammed into a stageside pit the size of a Transit van, while young Tarquin sucks on the roof, ripping out the wiring in carefree hysteria, this sense of impending meltdown is tinged with genuine panic.
Mansun don't give a donkey's arse, of course. Perhaps Paul Draper's runt-of-the-litter bullishness and professional-northener bitterness has been stoked up yet further by encountering so many corn-fed, white-bread southern softies. But maybe he's naturally a narky bastard anyway, crashing into set-starter 'Taxloss' like he'd prefer to be anywhere but here. And pretty soon he is, surfing atop the song's streaming Beatle-ish harmonies and huge, billowing melody. Arenas, did we say? Make that stadia.
At this point, your main unspoken questions switches from 'How the arse did Mansun happen in the late-90s?' to 'Why the cocking bollock didn't they happen sooner?' Sure, they're not Noelrock, trip-hop, strum'n'bass or even Britpop - though their twitchy delvings into nude clergymen and cross-dressing oddballs do stick some dark twists into that familiar genre's music-hall undertow. Almost uniquely for a homegrown band, they neither fetishise the past nor romanticise the future. Indeed, they are totally modern without making a painfully self-concious Bono-style pig's rectum out of the fact.
What's more, they are the Eddie Izzards of rock, widescreen surrealists in mascara and stubble. Sporting a frilly black dress-shirt and permanent pout, Draper is clearly a glum-glam anti-star Messiah in waiting. While his moptop sidekick Chad tilts over into altered-state axewank overload, the singer simply gazes out to an imaginary horizon, hoisting his guitar over his head like a religious totem. Just occasionally he loosens his focus long enough to exchange charged insults with the crush of devotees.
Because already Mansun have that semi-antagonistic crowd rapport which most great bands develop. Fevered chants of "Mansun - Number One!" are greeted moments later a lynch-mob chorus of "Draper is a wanker!" Within two songs they remind you of Radiohead's sullen grace, Nirvana's pent-up fury, John Lydon's hair-trigger snotgobbery and the articulate spite of the Manics. In fact, those still seeking a way into Mansun's confused maze of brooding alienation, garish image-hopping, provocative gender-warping and fierce provincial pride might care to recall the early Manics, who emerged from an equally spiky shitstorm of contradictions.
The difference, thought, is that Mansun already have killer songs. While the honeyed sensurround studio sheen of their album proves naturally impossible to recreate in a four-blokes-with-guitars context, 'Stripper Vicar' is still a humungous bouncy-castle anthem, 'Wide Open Space' a reverb-drenched seizing of pre-sunglasses U2 terrain, and grand finale 'Take It Easy Chicken' a full-bore psychedelic juggernaut which eventually drowns in ear-shredding feedback soup.
There's no encore. These sulky Cheshire cats strop off towards greatness, leaving only their enigma behind. But you can't help concluding that Mansun, rather like their audience, are about to go through the roof.