It’s the end of the night, the band troop off stage after putting us to the sword on ‘You Love Us’ and ‘A Design For Life’, James Dean Bradfield looks almost taken aback by the fury and the fervour of the crowd, telling us ‘You have just been fucking incredible’ and meaning it, motor mouth bassist Nicky Wire, a subdued presence all night, has already gone. I’m there at the front, drenched in sweat most, but not all of it, my own just praying and wishing for it not to be over.
So here it is the twentieth anniversary of the band’s masterpiece/landmark The Holy Bible and the band are playing the LP in full for the first time. They give us two sets separated by a ten minute interval ‘so we can do a costume change, get a cup of tea and have a rub down’, the first is the album in full in order and the second is a pure greatest hits plus a couple of others. I was there 20 years ago and its more intense, more meaningful now everything given extra resonance by the disappearance/suicide of guitarist Richey Edwards and the genuinely frightening state of the world today. You see, if you don’t know it The Holy Bible confronts all the scabrous, seamy, gritty elements of the human condition that we daily tune out in just in order to avoid falling to our knees in despair – in 13 songs we get the holocaust (twice!), anorexia, killers, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, political hypocrisy and strait-jacketing political correctness*. It can be a chore if you’re in the wrong mood, but when it hits you right and you catch a glimpse of the melodic righteousness of it all, it’s nothing short of sublime.
We enter to be confronted by a stage swaddled in camo netting, lit starkly by four blue lights overhead, the band’s gear all set up (the support are DJs) and we wait. I got there about 40 minutes before the doors opened, waiting around in freezing Manchester rain** gladly in order to get to the front. Once in, I had another hour and a half of waiting to get through, which was fine I made some nice new friends and listened to some fine tunes being spun. The rush is immense when Siouxsie & The Banshees get turned down and the lights change to red whilst The Dust Brothers remix of ‘Faster’ blares out and suddenly everyone is jumping and bellowing the lyrics.
The band stride on in the same military gear they wore twenty years ago, my stomach lurches in excitement as they trigger the opening sample about prostitution to ‘Yes’ and we’re up and away. How many gigs have I gone to where every single person in the crowd knows every single lyric to every single song? which is no mean feat given Wire and Edwards’ penchant for the wordy. Tickets were hard to come by and so there are no casual observers here, we are all partisan. Also how many gigs have I been to where the first track repeatedly features the lines,
He’s a boy, you want a girl so tear off his cock
Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want
The intensity simply doesn’t let up throughout, the heavier numbers like ‘Of Walking Abortion’ and, my favourite, ‘Revol’ produce a pretty respectable moshpit and the slower numbers where you don’t have to bend and move in the crowd offer only physical respite, I’ll long remember everyone singing the anorexic’s plea in ‘4st 7lb’ to be able to ‘walk in the snow and not leave a footprint… not soil its purity‘. The intensity of the crowd is simply a reflection of the band’s intensity though and it becomes a feedback circle, until you wonder who will crack first. It’s the band of course, about halfway through Bradfield tells us this is all a reflection of all those great bands who have come from Manchester like Magazine, later on before the rip-roaring finale of ‘PCP’, the whole set is dedicated to ‘the incomparable, genius, esoteric’ Richey James Edwards and we as one, howl, bay and cheer for the missing guitarist.
Seeing it all live in one go it’s interesting how hooky and rocky certain pieces of The Holy Bible are, a lot of the songs are built on the rhythmic chassis of the Manchester baggy scene of the early 90’s. James Dean Bradfield is as always just incredible his playing and singing both, Nicky Wire also puts in a huge shift, so many of these songs are bass heavy ‘Archives of Pain’ and ‘Die in the Summertime’ particularly, he tells us later that he has ‘never played so many fucking bass notes’ in his life. Sean Moore, as always, is enigmatic and completely faultless, drumming up a storm, anchoring the three-piece sound.
The nice lady in front of me tells me that was as close as she’ll ever get to a religious experience, after the first set. Pretty apt, pretty true.
We then get ten minutes to decompress ever so slightly, to process what we’ve seen and get our breath back before the full band^ stroll back on, having changed into something a little less confrontational – James has swapped his sailor suit for a smart suit and Nicky wears a captain’s cap and patched jacket that make him, probably to my eyes here alone, like Taime Downe circa-1989. No messing about, they smash straight into ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and I really am in heaven, swept up in something far bigger than myself and it occurs to me briefly whilst I do my best to dance and scream out the words, that I’ve been watching this band play this song for 23 years now; over half my life!
We get a truncated greatest hits set with a couple of curve balls thrown in, ‘1985’ from Lifeblood and 1993 B-side ‘Donkeys’ (every person there, still able to sing all the words). Amongst the newer stuff the sleek, bleak instrumental ‘Dreaming a City (Hughesovska)’ from Futurology stands out as really different and excellent. But we all have a history here and the sheer glorious associative weight of the likes of ‘Your Love Alone is Not Enough’ and ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ are unbeatable, the swooning canter of the latter enough to make me levitate, almost. We get teased with a few opening lines and riff from Van Halen’s ‘Ain’t Talkin’ About Love’, before ‘You Love Us’ smashes us all together into one pogoing mass.
(thanks to the poster of this – quality a bit rough, but hey!)
We do a lot of the singing of ‘A Design For Life’ ourselves, sweaty shattered congregation that we are and then with James thanking us and telling us that ‘my mother would be so proud, me getting you all to sing, ‘We are all of walking abortions” , we’re left to our own devices and our commonality vanishes as people start arranging lifts, calling their baby sitters, checking train times, but tonight we were all one – more so than I have ever experienced at a gig.
483 Down (still)
PS – The venue, an old Wesleyan meeting hall, is exquisite – beautiful architecture and decoration. Sadly my phone packed in after only three photos… so I have pinched one from a newspaper review. I was too busy jumping up and down to have taken any really, in any case.
*and that’s really not a comprehensive list.
**necessary for achieving precisely the right level of pre-gig alienation and despair.
^they add a touring second guitarist and keys player.