Chester Northgate Arena
[a]Mansun[/a] are getting weirder, louder, nastier and yet somehow younger in their appeal...
But, mercifully, the suicidally baroque hall of mirrors that makes up 'Six' has been wisely normalised for public performance. Just like Radiohead blow away any 'prog' accusations with explosive emotional dynamism, so Mansun ride roughshod over their own album's convoluted excesses with raucous momentum and sheer bludgeoning volume. Subtlety may be in short supply, but howling passion abounds. Welcome to the world's first punk rock opera.
Paul Draper is clearly learning the value of animated performance, casting off his guitar at any opportunity and virtually go-go dancing to 'Being A Girl'. But here at their festive homecoming bash, the juddering anthems rule, from the stadium roar of 'Negative' to the churning behemoth of 'Wide Open Space'. Mansun tunes somehow always feel purple and brown, the colour of bruises. But there's a Suede-esque rush to many of them now, a sense of spiralling hysteria married to impending doom.
But here, in tribute to the sense-warping anti-logic of 'Six', let's fast-forward an hour to an upstairs hall at Northgate Arena full of dazed girls with tinselly hair, glitter-kissed boys, intense Japanese superfans, potential stalkers and beaming trainee serial killers. This is Mansun's 'fan room', it gets bigger at every gig and the teenypop mayhem it creates is genuinely astounding. Not to say alarming, too.
This is the sort of meet'n'greet that Boyzone or Steps have built their career on but most 'indie' bands would run a mile from - especially if they had just released a wilfully perverse work like 'Six'. And however tempting it is to dismiss this as a shrewd marketing gimmick (which it is) it's also a fascinating reflection of just how devoted - and young - Mansun fans are. Draper's gang seem to be becoming the glam misfits of choice for trainer-bra teen-pop escapees.
Which, if we rewind to the show's second half, casts a bizarre new light on the rolling murk of 'Mansun's Only Love Song' and the queasy sneers of 'Six' itself. Does this stuff sound deep when you're 15? That would certainly explain the album's GCSE art lesson sleeve. So has Paul Draper methodically recast himself as 1999's poster boy for teenage torment? And what the Bilbo Baggins do these kiddies make of the howling anti-music business satire of 'Taxloss', never mind the pharmaceutical and Marxist references peppering almost every track off 'Six'?
Then again, maybe it's old duffers like us who are missing the point. That might explain why we feel a tad bored at several times even though the youngsters are moshing like Furbies on crack and screaming along to every word. Fortunately for our aching bones, Mansun rediscover the hysteria button once again for a climactic 'Legacy', which is rapidly becoming their 'A Design For Life', and a savage last blast through 'Take It Easy Chicken'.
Mansun are getting weirder, louder, nastier and yet somehow younger in their appeal. There's something fascinating and potentially very sick going on here, but the boys can't hang around to discuss it. Their fans await.
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