London Without a Toddler – A Week in the 90s

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Warning:this MSP review may contain traces of pretension. Avoid if you have a pretension allergy or intolerance.

My phone tells me it’s 2014. I’m not sure I believe it…the evidence around me suggests that we are in 1998..or somewhere around there. Nathan’s on the scene so it’s definitely late 90s but my laptop gets the internet from a wire and my app of choice involves a blocky snake chasing bits of food. We are most definitely pre-millennial. Luckily it’s not just me -the rest of the country seems stuck in this time warp too, setting our VCRs for “mad fat diary”, listening to “parklife” and mourning Cobain afresh.
Take the club night we went to last week. I know what you’re thinking… Middle-aged parents have no business going clubbing. But this was a club specifically for middle-aged parents.. . It was local, it finished early and it almost exclusively played songs from the decade of “Trainspotting”, vintage trainers and “The Day We Caught the Train” I hesitate to tell you more in case it sells out even quicker next time but it’s named after a pulp song and if you can work it out, you can come. You can even bring your baby daddy, as long as you can get hold of a babysitter. They’re in hot demand among the ageing indie kids of the north-east.
Talking of stuff I didn’t take the baby daddy too, let’s get onto that manics review. It is 1998 after all, and teenage Kate and teenage Nathan have just gathered around the radio, along with a friend, to hear the brand new MSP single inspired by a war 62 years earlier and 1000 miles away.

The single was, in a word, disappointing. It didn’t stop us going to see them that autumn, aggressively dressed in the “old manics” uniform of feathers, leopard print and eyeliner. I’ll readily admit that I’m not a true “old” fan – I was 11 when “Generation Terrorists” came out – but after loving “Everything Must Go” I dug into their back catalogue and found I had more in common with the spray-painted messes than with my Ben Sherman-clad contemporaries. Nathan claims to be a proper old fan. Whatever.

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Back in what is apparently 2014, the divide between old and new still shows…and the pain caused by “This is My Truth” still rankles. I’m at Brixton with my Bro, who was never a militant glitter- wearer (it didn’t go with the beard) and it’s perhaps unfortunate that it’s me, not him, who is sitting next to the most stereotypical “Truth” fan I could imagine. I had a feeling we might annoy each other and I’ll save you the suspense… We did. He whooped and shook sensible-shirted shoulders for the hits of 1998, I refused to sing a word of those and saved my energy for dying in the summertime and staying beautiful.

And yes, we were sitting. We are getting old. And it had been a long day of hauling buggies up the steps of South London stations and negotiating massive hills…so I was mainly glad if a seat. But every other song made me want to bust out and dance. Note every other song…

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But to the gig itself! The support band were Scritti Polliti, who I’ve rarely had any interest in…and I’m still not sure I’m interested in them.  But they were a perfectly nice warm-up to the main event, which started in a Manics-like way with a video of a waif-like girl wandering around some abandoned coal mines. The Manics are Welsh, apparently. And they come from a mining village. You may see this theme repeating itself a few times.

And then they appeared! Well, I assume it was them. We were quite far away and James was wearing a very shiny suit so really, it could have been Shane Ritchie for all I knew.  There did seem to be a few too many of them, but even from a distance I was pretty confident that the spare guitarist wasn’t the one they used to have. That would have been a bit of a coup.There was also a keyboard player – is it all getting a bit much for James, playing all those bits himself?

He said nothing, but launched straight into the glorious opening riff of “Motorcycle Emptiness”. I suddenly wished I was downstairs with the moshers but I wasn’t so I seat-danced instead. The man next to me looked on blankly. If it had been the night after, things would have been so different as it looks like they started with That Song. But no, the consumerist gods were smiling on me, and I got to enjoy a few minutes of glorious generation terrorism before Truth Man next door got to wave his hands in the air to “You Stole the Sun From My Arse Heart”. Bro told me off for a) sulking and b) hollering the ruder version. It kinda set the tone for the evening – quality songs, alternated with weaker ones and Truth Man and I taking it in turns to punch the air. The sublime “No Surface, All Feeling” was followed by the OK “(It’s not Love) Just the End of War” and then James announced a new song “Europa Geht Durch Mich”, in which he was duetting with a “little box.” A little German box, in fact. Or rather a box containing the voice of German actress Nina Hoss. I’m a bit split on this new song – the English lyrics were so very naff that I couldn’t take the rest of the song seriously. And in a very MSP, overconfident way, they projected the words up on the screen so we could revel in the full beauty of Nicky Wire’s rhyming skills (“European Hopes/European Roads/European Dreams/European Screams”) and the complete lack of meaning contained within. It was a pity, but the riff wasn’t bad and the bits in German sounded a lot more profound than the rest of it.

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I sometimes wonder if this blog would sound more profound if it was written in German. Ich denke so, weil Deutsch die Sprache des Engels ist…und auch die Sprache der Marx. Wahrscheinlich ist das warum MSP lieb es so. Erste zeit, war die deutsches Teil so viel besser als den English. Ich habe dies Song gegen gehoert und es stimmt doch. Die Worte sind nicht so tief aber in der schoener Sprache von Deutschland haben mehr Bedeutung.

That’s quite enough of that. Next up was “Stay Beautiful”, where James invite the crowd to politely rebuke him during the pause…and they did. They also filled in the gaps when his guitar broke and he had to run off stage to get a different one. It didn’t detract from the loveliness of that most Manics-y of anthems. And “Everything Must Go” straight afterwards was equally lovely.  Next up was the title track from 2011’s “Rewind the Film”, an album we don’t even own. When it was announced, the band said “(If) this record has a relation in the Manics back catalogue, it’s probably the sedate coming of age that was “This is My Truth””. Ask me again why we didn’t buy it.

But we did buy “The Holy Bible” and listened to it a lot. So I was quite excited when Nicky asked if they should do a THB tour. “Yes” we (not Truth Man) roared. “But I’d have to remember all those bass lines” whined Wire. “And I’d have to remember all those words” bemoaned Bradfield. It seemed unlikely then that they would go on to play THREE “Holy Bible” songs during the evening, but that’s what happened. Not just the obvious ones either! They delivered straight away, with “Die in the Summertime”, which I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard them play before (I struggle to remember how many times I’ve seen them before, but I think four times – 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Tell me if I’m wrong). Pity it made the next song – “Your Love Alone is Not Enough” – sound even more MOR in comparison. I was relatively pleased to hear “Enola/Alone” next, but not as pleased as a guy in front of us who stood up and flung both hands in the air all the way through it. He really loved “Enola/Alone”. I’ve never seen such enthusiasm for an album track before. He clearly wasn’t that discerning though, as he loved the next track too…and it was that song from 1998. I hear it and I’m catapulted back to my Wednesday evening job in a convenience store, refilling the fags at the end of the night and wondering where it all went wrong (for them).

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It was over quickly, and the stage cleared to make way for JDB’s solo acoustic spot. He started with “This is Yesterday” (HB Track #2!) and segued into a gentle version of “From Despair to Where” before being rejoined by the keyboard player for “This Sullen Welsh Heart” (They’re Welsh?!). Then the rest of the band reappeared for another “Holy Bible” treat – this time “Archives of Pain” – and then the title track from the new album, “Futurology”, followed by “Masses Against the Classes”, which came out while I was at university and I remember being surprised that I actually liked it. But nothing could recapture the raw energy of that first album, as the band acknowledged by showing the video for “You Love Us” as they played it. Again, I felt like I should be dancing. Instead I just punched the air again and gazed at the monochrome gorgeousness of the young Nicky and Richey.

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Then “Tsunami”. Meh.

“Show Me the Wonder” Double Meh.

First live performance of “Let’s Go to War”….. I started thinking about my bed.

Then a double-header of “Motown Junk” and “Design for Life” finished things in style, with me and Truth Man finally finding some common ground on the song that obviously introduced both of us to the wonders of MSP…pity he never bothered to check out the early works, and pity I found the later works a pile of steaming tiger poo. We could have been friends.

So, the gig was – like the band – a mixed bag. There were times of wonder, times of despair and times of mediocrity, but I came out happy. I’ll be booking tickets to that “Holy Bible” tour….

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One Response to London Without a Toddler – A Week in the 90s

  1. Pingback: “A Night at the Pictures” at Wood Street Indoor Market | London With a Toddler

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