Manic Street Preachers / Catatonia

Birmingham NEC

December 18 1998

Now before you say anything about Catatonia being in here, remember I write this thing and so whatever I want to to go in here does. But Iíll be honest, theyíre not my first choice of band to cover. I donít know anything by them, the only track that did sound vaguely familiar to me was RoadRage, at least that's what Vickie said it was called. The rest, well, Iíve heard lots on how good they are as a band, but well, despite the best efforts of whateverhername is to get things going, it just didnít work. Not knowing the music doesnít help. Being stuck at the back of the NEC, barely able to see the stage let alone the people on it, and with lighting that does no favours in helping to portray something, well maybe itís best not to say anymore.

Thereís a bit of me that thinks the new MANICS album shouldíve been called This Is Our Crossroads, This Roads Ours, Which Ones Yours. Because thatís how it feels for me at this point in their career. They rightly concentrated on the new album, but, what Iíd have given for a whole bunch of old stuff.

The new material is more melancholic, and itís just sounding bland to me. Live it worked better, but everything seemed so much more alive when they played the few oldies that they did, La Tristesse Durrere, Motorcycle Emptiness, Motown Junk and You Love Us. Iím not claiming I was there from the start, I first saw them at either Cardiff Uni or the Bierkeller in Bristol on the second album tour, with the Wildhearts supporting, but thatís more in line with the material I prefer. And can relate to. It just seems odd watching people worship everything like theyíre in a church gospel band. Clapping and swaying to every beat. ďRaise your hands to the lord Manic oh yeahhhh!Ē Looking for all the world like the people that would always go on about ďthat loud music you listen to. Canít understand anything, itís just noise.Ē And now itís met up, and it feels weird.

And the whole manner of the band. A band that wanted to break out of Wales so much they never played gigs there in their early days, now has a Welsh Dragon draped on Nicky Wireís amp. Ok, mineís draped on the settee, but I dunno. The NEC, itís a shitehole at the best of times. The band try with the video backdrops and whatever, but I donít know thereís any band that can take you from the back of a shed and make you really feel a part of it. So maybe Iím not disappointed with the band, just that they have chosen to play these kinds of monstrosities. But yeah, I know, they probably have no real choice. Theyíre part of the establishment now.

The new material, such as The Everlasting, You Stole The Sun From My Heart, Ready For Drowning, Tsunami, My Little Empire seems to arrive in one mass chunk, and itís a little hard to digest if like me, youíve listened to the album barely a handful of times since the initial flurry after the release. Better are the tracks from Everything Must Go, which opened the set, Kevin Carter, Australia and the like. You can see the link from them to the latest material. Itís not such a big jump from old to new, that was the transition. But I must be the only person in the world that thinks that If You Tolerate This ... is Design For Life part 2. Even if the latter does finish the set to a monstrous roar.

Then thereís the acoustic interlude of Black Dog On My Shoulder and Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky, which a seems strange concession. Yes, I know they did it last tour as well, along with the snippet of Last Christmas by George Michael. But, hmm, it just feels that people are looking to extract a deeper significance from this band than there actually is. Of course that just means Iím a metal ignoramous to some people. So be it. All I know is that good as this gig was, and it was good, it couldíve been so much better. Because to me, it has been in the past. Even if the sight of Nicky Wire abandoning his bass for a skipping rope during You Love Us is absurd, and may be interpreted in some deeply meaningful way by some, itís just significant to me that itís now safe where before it was unpredictable. You know these days theyíre not going to play a duff gig. They may still do no encore, though you could argue that the acoustic interlude effectively serves the purpose here, but itís very polished now. Bit like the NEC. And I mean, being able to buy a mug after the gig? Hmmm, itís come full circle. Theyíre probably happy with it, and 10,000 people or so certainly were. And most importantly, the NME is able to wax lyrical about them in a better way than I ever will be able to. So that makes everything fine. And time for me to try and find which road Iím supposed to take at the crossroads. The Manics are still good. But their signposts may be pointing in a different direction to mine. And the detour to reach them is expensive.