I have, as a general rule, avoided the wave of nostalgia-fuelled reunion tours that have beset the live music scene over the past decade or so, eschewing the chance to see the likes of Pixies, Slint and all manner of guilty pleasures from my teens, ostensibly due to a dedication to new music and more truthfully through a fear that it might in some way tarnish my cherished memories of the bands in their prime. As such, it’s with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I approach the steps of Brixton Electric to see former Mansun frontman Paul Draper, with the promise of two sets: the first comprised of tracks from his excellent solo release Spooky Action and the second featuring the entirety of Mansun’s debut Attack of The Grey Lantern.
Before beginning this review in earnest, I should perhaps provide some personal historical context: Mansun were my first true musical obsession. The first band for whom it seemed absolutely imperative that I scoured record stores and mail-order listings in the NME to ensure that I owned every single track they’d ever released in every available format; for whom I inexpertly scrawled eye-liner around my lids and for whom as a skinny teen at my first Reading Festival I clung to the crowd barrier, front and centre of the stage, for hours on end through the physical pummeling of crowd-surfers and mosh pits as Monster Magnet, Deftones and a multitude of others went by, just to make sure I had the best spot. Attack of The Grey Lantern was the soundtrack of journeys home on the school bus, my cassette Walkman acting as a cloak of invisibility, shielding me from the perceived awfulness of my whereabouts, the lyrics of opening track ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’ scrawled across my ring binder in black biro.
So yes, it’s safe to say that today’s show came with a weight of expectation attached.
We are at least amongst friends – it’s rare these days as I creep ever closer to 40 that I find myself towards the lower bracket of the average age in a gig crowd, and it’s clear from the smattering of vintage Mansun t-shirts and the buzz of anecdote and trivia sharing that this show means just as much to the rest of the sell-out crowd. We may be wearing more sensible shoes and our faces may be lined by age rather than kohl these days, but the power of this music to excite and bring us together hasn’t waned.
Draper makes his entrance to the sinister groove of ‘Don’t Poke The Bear’, the opening track of Spooky Action, clad in dark denim and sporting a grizzled, Luke Skywalker in exile beard, and immediately it appears that things are going to be fine. The voice is every bit as affecting as it ever was, wandering the scales in the song’s desperate urgings, while the band around him subtly build, demolish and rebuild a huge wall of metronomic rhythms and electro flourishes.
Further highlights come in the form of single ‘The Things People Want’, perhaps the track that most closely echoes Draper’s past, an emotionally raw ‘Friends Make The Worst Enemies’ and the squirming electro of ‘Feeling My Heart Run Slow’, which has the greying heads that pack the floor of the Electric nodding in appreciation.
So far, so good then, but the true test comes after a brief intermission as the sampled strings of ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’ ring out of the PA and fifteen hundred middle-aged Mansun fans collectively hold their breath.
And as the gently twinkling guitar line crashes into the apocalyptic first line, we exhale and smile, a nostalgic tear rolling down our cheeks and wrap ourselves up in these familiar sounds. ‘Taxloss’ is given a raucous terrace chant-along, ‘Wide Open Space’ remains every bit as anthemic as it was twenty years ago, and ‘She Makes My Nose Bleed’ glides by on its slick groove.
Just as stirring are the album tracks, some of which I’ve not listened to in years, but whose lyrics, imprinted on some dark recess of my brain from the repeated plays of my youth, spout forth from my larynx as if the intervening years hadn’t happened.
The band keep an appropriately low profile, resisting any temptation for tribute-act posturing and allow Draper, the songs and our unblemished memories to take centre stage. They depart the stage to a chorus of “na-na-na”s as album closer ‘Dark Mavis’ fades out with the same string refrain that began the set; the calls for an encore are answered with the LP’s secret track (a feature sadly all but lost in this digital age) ‘An Open Letter to The Lyrical Trainspotter’ and we’re left happy, emotionally drained and full of anticipation for next year’s tour of the forthcoming second album, which will feature a set of Mansun’s second album Six, an album which carries its own weight of nostalgic attachments.
Review & Photography by Paul Maps