Gig:The Forum, Tunbridge Wells, 29th September 1997
This gig was reviewed in the Saturday, October 11, 1997 edition of The New Musical Express, by Simon Williams
"IT'S A FAIR STROP
TUNBRIDGE WELLS FORUM
PAUL DRAPER WEARS THE time-honoured expression of a man zombified by situations way beyond his control. The mouth is a thin, unsmiling line. The eyes are glazed, unseeing, the epitome of a thousand-yard stare. He seems barely aware that he has just handed his guitar to the eager paws reaching out from the moshpit. He seems even less aware that his microphone has made a similarly sanguine journey off the stage.
And now his facial expression displays all the passion of a dead cyberman as he stands on the lip of the stage, holding out Mansun's bass drum. That's right, the really big one that kind of holds the drumkit together. Much to the agitation of his road crew, Paul Draper is trying to give Mansun's bass drum away. And this is the start of the tour!
A story of sorts: the previous Thursday witnessed a small and not entirely significant anniversary in the wilds of Tufnell Park, London. Downstairs at the Dome, The Pop Rivets - who last played a gig on September 25, 1977 - had reformed to plough their way through a batch of punk nuggets, at least two of which appeared to be written by Johnny Moped.
The fact that the groovy garage sound was exactly the same as it was a twonking 20 years ago was one thing. The fact that The Pop Rivets' singer was one Billy Childish, underground geezer/legend of this very Kent parish is another. And the fact that in the boozer next door there were twice as many people enjoying a riotous karaoke competition featuring entries from both Jarvis Cocker and Simon & Garfunkel-a-likes is merely mind-boggling.
Because if the above scenario somehow manages to incorporate elements of the sweeping '60s, the sneering '70s and the steaming '90s, then Mansun - oh, contrary, middle-of-the-f--ing-road, muddle-headed old Mansun - really should feel comfortable with the haphazardness of it all. Let's do the timewarp again? Oh, if you must.
Current sweaty stardate, then: a marginally foggy Monday night in coy little Tunbridge Wells. Atop a small hill, the Forum - shall we snigger about how it quite literally used to be a public toilet yet again? - is playing host to a secret warm-up show by a sour-looking bunch of Cheshire chartbusters. So it's a veritable big night out for the fortunate few hundred who've got hold of tickets, and a snufflingly small giglet for a band of Mansun's just-toured-the-States-with-The-Seahorses stature.
So forget the posturing and pomp of Arenasville, US Of Arse, because this is an inelegantly stripped-down affair; one where the intricacies and - to be utterly frank - poncifications of the 'Attack Of The Grey Lantern' album are ruthlessly discarded in favour of a slash'n'gurn policy. Subtle it ain't. Stroppy, it sure as hell's cock is.
It has a curious sort of levelling effect upon the Mansun oeuvre, too. Quite a good thing if you, like many befuddled others among us, tend to think that Mansun - quite aside from litany of sartorial crimes they've committed in the name of image changes - are bloody irritating, as they have the capability to career between genius and gruesome uselessness within the space of a brace of singles. Basically, what happens is that the smoothly tuneful ones get horribly beaten up and mugged of all their fancy dan pretensions and the ugly, complicated songs simply get beaten up.
So, of the delirious pop januts, 'Wide Open Space' (the most passionately received song by miles) is run ragged and 'Stripper Vicar' is a near-breathless bashalong. Conversely, the normally so-bastard-clever-it's-irritating 'Taxloss' is here given a thwacking great sonic overload with bassist Stove (shirtless throughout the set, natch) and guitarist Chad (keeps a tab in his mouth throughout 'Wide Open Space', natch. Also looks a bit like the blond one from The Dukes Of Hazzard) throwing their best third-hand rawk poses in the wings while Draper looks, well, small and glassy-eyed in the spotlight. And - kazoom! - was that a punk rock version of new single 'Closed For Business' screaming past?
There is more oddity lurking in the sense that Mansun convey a scant sense of joy: sure, Tha' Kids are infusedwith the old-school T-shirt-drenching spirit, but the foursome ooze none of knees-up-Muvver-Braaaahn conviviality of the previous Carter USM/Wonder Stuff generation. Indeed, you wonder if the band are enjoying the experience at all; whether this set is roughed up for the sake of convenience, bereft as it is of studio trickery, or simply a live disaster in progress.
Even more curious is the fact that virtually the only song to clamber from the wreckage pretty much unscathed is the one that revives memories of surly young men stumbling around in Reni hats way back when they were called, oh so controversially, Manson. That song is 'Take It Easy Chicken' and it is utterly typical of Mansun in that in spite of the many dramatic leaps and bounds their music has taken over the last couple years, their very first single should insist upon standing so resolutely strong. Because that is perverse. And, if nothing else, Mansun are musical perverts.
Then Paul Drapers starts giving the band's gear away.