Gig:The Kilburn National, London, 25th April 1997
The setlist was:
- The Chad Who Loved Me
- Stripper Vicar
- Mansun's Only Love Song
- The Edge
- Drastic Sturgeon
- Naked Twister
- Egg Shaped Fred
- Wide Open Space
- She Makes My Nose Bleed
This gig was reviewed in the Saturday, May 3, 1997 edition of New Musical Express
"New Musical Express Live Review Saturday, May 3, 1997 - Category: Reviews
ATTACK OF THE GREY MATTER
Edited by Ted Kessler
Mansun London Kilburn National
FOUR SILHOUETTES stand perfectly still, statuesque, shrouded in red and blue light and strange, unearthly clouds of smoke. We can just make out a skull and crossbones on the guitar amp and several 'devil horns' salutes from the crowd, as the sweeping regal pomp of their orchestral intro music fills the auditorium. Then suddenly the group explodes into life, the guitarist standing legs akimbo, his guitar held above his head in a salute to the gods of rock, as the bloke with the shaggy blond hair and make-up shows out to the kids, surely ready to rest his leather-clad boot on the monitors at any moment.
No, it's not the first date of Tygers Of Pan Tang's comeback tour. This is Mansun. No, not as in Marilyn Manson before their mums let them get their knobs pierced. This is Mansun. With a 'u'. Confused? You're supposed to be. See, you can't help suspecting that Mansun take a pleasure and no little pride in implicitly demanding to be analysed, rationalised and (mis)understood, and then deliberately perplexing anyone who tries.
Once upon a simpler age, say ten years ago, Mansun would probably have merely been a slightly glammy, gothy rock band with a small cult following. But in the culturally incestuous '90s, they shine out because they're the most inspired rock dilettantes around.
Some time last year they had the originality of thought to decide there was more to life than being the next Oasis. Now, if they're aiming to be the ultimate '90s rock band, then most of the elements appear in place tonight.
You have to admire the way they've assimilated so many chunks of the Zeitgeist and not ended up looking like the most appalling chancers in rock history: the 'instant ambition and credibility - just add orchestra' ethos beloved of everyone from Menswear to Madonna; the 'instant androgyny - just add nail varnish' ethos beloved of sixth-form boys; the self-conscious smattering of irony (see titles like 'The Chad Who Loved Me', and 'Mansun's Only Love Song'); the snarling rent-a-snot northern arrogance, de rigueur since Oasis; the mystique of the image changes; the ambiguous lyrics; the ability to 'rock' convincingly and still play at pop with requisite class; the boyishly pretty guitarist; the tabloid shock radicalism - from the band's name to 'Stripper Vicar' to showering commuters with £25,000 for a video stunt; the campy pretentiousness; the musical eclecticism. What more could one ask for?
Well, perhaps a little humanity. A little more genuine feeling to cling to. Because you fear that once you scrape away all Mansun's skilfully constructed layers of art and artifice, that there's no heart.
Mansun play a top-hole rock show tonight, and there's no reason to doubt your instincts when the stab you in the rump with struttingly aggressive versions of 'Stripper Vicar' and 'Taxloss' or when the likes of 'Naked Twister' and '...Love Song' almost sound anthemic. You also notice how the stadium rock cliches mentioned in the opening paragraph seem beyond cliche with Mansun performing them. But there's something that still leaves you cold. Maybe it's because you suspect they're just pressing the right buttons, manipulating your response without really wanting to give anything of themselves to you.
Then again, you believe Paul Draper means it when he snarls and spits into the microphone but there's still a feeling that it's punkish ranting and raving about nothing very significant; it's rage against the washing machine. Meanwhile, he's only being about half as clever and profound as he'd like to think he is with his lyrics, and whenever emotions come into play, it's theatrical, hammed-up emotion, at pains not to expose itself too much.
There's no communication with the crowd, and obviously no encore (keep up grandad - this is the '90s!). Because they would never be so stupid as to give us what we want when we ask for it.
Of course, maybe we're being even more cynical than Mansun could ever be. Maybe they aren't half as calculating about all this as we think. They'll probably respond to this by saying, 'Just listen, don't analyse'. But they are a band whose music demands to be analysed, because it's aimed at the brain primarily. They hit your gut as well, but that's secondary, and the heart, it seems, you can leave for your dimbo pop groups. See, despite being one of Britain's most original, inventive and impressive bands, Mansun are falling in love with their own nascent creative genius. And if they don't watch it, their biggest strength will become a fatal flaw.