The Holy Bible is the sacred text of the Manic Street Preachers. I have hardly ever listened to it all the way through. Not too thrilled with this: people really love it. It was just a little too pain-filled, even for me, and at the time I was pretty much proud of how much pain was in the music I loved. 48-year old me goes: Sheesh. Still, I did listen a few times before this show. Then, I really liked Everything Must Go (there’s a 10/12 HP review somewhere). At 20, I found this Holy Bible gig hard to wrap my head around. Moshing to ‘4st 7lb’ just didn’t seem right. I doubt that would be different now. One explanatory note: “the bleakest in Western Europe” was a reference to a phrase that my Geography teacher, Mr Harrington, in a school I’d left in 1991, had used all the time. Anything extreme was the somethingest in Western Europe. One thing I enjoyed in HP was getting a reference no-one could possibly understand under the noses of a few thousand people. Confusing is not always a bad thing.
MANIC STREET PREACHERS/SCHTUM (Tivoli, Dublin)
SCHTUM AREN’T schite. Not an opinion schared by the côterie of frighteningly eloquent, Scrumpy-sodden Manics supporters who spent all of Christian McNeill and Co.’s set suggesting that they should—and I quote—“Fuck off”, but, dammit, it’s the truth.
Schtum, in fact, are anything but. Tonight, McNeill’s paintstripping holler is such that even the mixing desk guy has to dodge the phlegm, while their clanging, corrosive electric guitars make your ears bulge and the walls bleed. ‘Corrupt Cop’, for example, sounds like a pneumatic drill operator whistling while he works in your arch-enemy’s bedroom at 5 am. That is, it sounds pretty fucking great.
Later, and Richey looks good, by his sallow, sunken standards—he even smiles twice, which is encouraging. Seán hides and hits things hard, so no change there. Nicky absent-mindedly fails to wish aloud for the death of even one popular cultural icon, he’s so wrapped up in his punky bouncing to and fro. James “Dean” Bradfield roars away, invariably through gritted teeth, except for a sweet solo take on ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’. And we, the mob, jump around.
Everything in its place… sort of.
They’re confusing, are Manics gigs. They used to be such fun, just one big cartoon punkfest, but since the release of The Holy Bible—War! Death! Pestilence! Locusts!—their set list has become the bleakest in Western Europe. So when they grind through ‘Of Walking Abortion’, which states that humanity is vile and worthless, or ‘4 st 7 lb’, Richey’s semi-autobiographical document of the decline and death of a person with anorexia, or ‘Yes’, or ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, or any of their myriad defeated anthems, and the response is even more gleeful moshing, it rankles, y’know?
Maybe there’s a difference between angry, cathartic mindless moshing and celebratory mindless moshing, but, to quote J Mascis, I don’t think so. Maybe, then, if it’s true that a poet’s worst failure is to succeed through being misunderstood, then Richey James (a fine poet) is going to be sitting some repeats. Perhaps, just maybe, we’d look silly standing attentively, stroking our chins and discussing Nietzsche. Or maybe I’m taking rock music too seriously, again, and should get a grip. Hardly!
Happily, the end comes with the arrogant racket of ‘Motown Junk’ and ‘You Love Us’, so we can stomp on each other’s heads with impunity. And we can leave, and look forward to gigs with fewer thrills and fewer moral dilemmas. Bjorn Again are never around when you need ’em.