Northgate Arena 10/05/1997 - Melody Maker (Gig Review)
GIG REVIEW NORTHGATE ARENA, CHESTER MAY 1997
"Guess who just got back today/The wild eyed boys that have been away." - The noble words of Phil Lynott booming out of the PA signify that, yes, "The Boys Are Back In Town". Tonight, Mansun are indeed a Chester draw, returning in triumph to the town that spurned them and, in doing so, helped spawn them. Nary a gig opportunity nor a favourable word in their local paper ever came their way round these parts. So how sweet must Mansun's return from conquering distant shores be tonight? The gig even coincides with singer Paul Draper's dad's 60th birthday and, within an hour, the local boy made (up) good will be dancing furiously with his pa to the likes of Abba's Dancing Queen. This, lest we forget, is why loving Mansun comes so easily: their ceaseless ability to wade into the stagnant waters of Eighties pop's crap past and return clutching the Holy Grail of reinventive and credible Nineties masterline.
Such a long overdue homecoming was sure to be a little odd, but tonight's gig travels further towards Surrealsville courtesy of a) the closure of the bar, b) the fact that only Boyzone and The Damned (kindred spirits, obviously) have played here before, c) the house lights remaining on throughout, and d) the dawning realisation that a sizeable amount of the audience have come here hobbling on crutches. Oh, and e) the fact that for much of tonight the golden Mansun - authors of one of the finest albums of the year - sound like The Cult. Or rather, The Cult crossed with Balaam & The Angel. In their gothy soft-metal period. ARRRGH!!!!!
Possibly because of some bizarre form of revenge on Chester or, more likely, because he has gone completely and utterly bonkers, Mansun's previously blemish-free guitarist Chad has gone all Simple Minds on us. His distressingly sincere, epic workouts are pumped through an amp which appears to have been turned way past 11, forcing the rest of the band to struggle to compete, sending the drummer's timing totally walkabout and rendering Paul's luxuriant voice about as intelligible as the cry of a hedgehog being squished by a juggernaut. Accordingly, previously pristine songs like Taxloss and Wide Open Space are rendered as enjoyable as having your ears scrubbed by wire wool while being forced to watch a video of "20 Goth Metal Greats". What is going on?
Mansun have played much, much better gigs, probably several hundred of them. So, the only explanation for tonight's disasterous show must be the enormity of the occasion has conspired to nobble them entirely. Unless, of course, it's all a cruel ploy and Paul Draper's malicious joke to date.
Chester jesters? Possibly.
© 1997 DAVE SIMPSON (Melody Maker - May 10, 1997)