Cardiff University Great Hall
Mansun's manifesto (can we even call it a manifesto?) is utterly vacant.
The last few months might have seen the critical fraternity give Mansun a harsh ride, but they've done nothing to lessen their fans' ardent support. They remain convinced of their idols' prodigal genius, certain that History Will Prove Them Right. Look around this venue, and you'll see that where once stood the Manics fan, now stands the Mansun fan: feather boa proudly draped across shoulders, eyeliner fastidiously applied, gathered here in their hundreds at this rallying point for the modern freak.
For a band to mean so much, it stands to reason that there must be pearls of empathy hidden somewhere beneath Mansun's progressive, ambitious swirl. So tonight, at One Live in Cardiff - Radio 1's annual provincial live music shindig - we're here to try and crack the enigma that is the Mansun experience. Not to bury it. Really. Trust us.
So, simply, the first ten minutes of this gig are a wonderful rock'n'roll spectacle. The full-blooded opening bars of 'I Can Only Disappoint U' are a dozen times more muscular than on record, and as Paul Draper serenades the crowd through those knowingly self-reflexive lyrics - as potent and contrary a get-out clause as the "Don't fall in love/'Cos we hate you still" refrain of the Manics' 'Stay Beautiful' - it's clear that this is a spectacle which demands a certain devotion. 'Being A Girl' is similarly explosive, Draper wrapping
his arm around the shoulders
of a flailing Chad, and hugging him in a defiant gesture of
But from here on in, Mansun sound like a cult, and not just one destined to remain a cult affair, but [I]determined[/I] to. Take their prog-mungous eight-minute take on 'Taxloss', which rumbles through a maze of different time signatures and fearlessly operatic guitar solos, but still manages to paraphrase Little Jimmy Osmond on that clunky, "He'll be your taxloss lover from Liverpool" line.
Likewise, there's a splendid shimmy to 'Stripper Vicar' that recalls the seductive deviance of Suede, but when married to those childish 'ooh, matron, how risque!' lyrics, any precious empathy is rendered risibly hollow. Elsewhere, Mansun's pyrotechnical instrumentals - all fizzling guitar dynamics and virtuous soloing - are approximately one part Mogwai to four parts Dire Straits. And that can't be right.
The truth is, beyond a vague shrug of vain self-importance, Mansun's manifesto (can we even call it a manifesto?) is utterly vacant. The Mansun Experience is all about alienation rendered as style, and nothing more. There's no need to jostle for space, there's no complicated politics to buy into, and scattered between the sprawling soundscapes of over-egged prog rock, there are even some cheerful, chirpy pop songs. For a group who claim to be striving for so much more, it's hardly enough. We'll warn the postman now, then.
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