Live at Cockpit on Wednesday, 8th May 2002
Okay let's be straight right from the start. We weren't exactly there for Athlete right from the start. Which was a shame as from the recent daytime airplay of their two ace singles - the newest of those soon to hit the streets - there was a nice bit of anticipation and a healthy crowd. Blustering but tunefully so, Athlete's bunch of harmony-rich choons including the upcoming single 'You Got The Style' sure will give Athlete a decent stab at taking off in a major way this Summer.
And I think that's fair to say given this review in the majority is being assembled from what I heard from the outside of the venue as guestlists were arsed around with. Yes, it was almost like the bad old days at the Duchess, having to go through the same old rigmarole week in week out with old Flatnose, albeit in a much more civilised and professional way on the part of the lads that run the Cockpit door. It is only thanks to the swift presence of mind of the gig's tour manager that my colleague and I actually managed to clock the band as they careered through the closing minutes of their mind-fizzingly top off-kilter pop.
Now here's a funny thing. I'm sure when Mansun have played these parts they were a self-assured almost strutting beast, exuding self-confidence and belief in their growing armoury of belting indie anthems. Heady days for Mansun then, flushed with success of the ace 'Attack Of The Grey Lantern' and the prog-like 'Six' they then did the difficult third album by touting the pretty much overlooked 'Little Kix'. Now to break up the cabin fever of recording album number four - scheduled for release in the Autumn, they've decided to let the kids hear what they've been up to. "We want to see peoples' reactions," according to lead singer Paul Draper, "we'll play all the new songs on the tour. We're a bit close to them at the minute."
So here we are again, smaller venue, dispassionate crowd (initially) and a fair bit to prove all told. And hark; is that the sound of axes being readied at the financially creaking EMI (yeah thanks Mariah) at the prospect of a further 'rationalisation'?
First off, there is a sharp intake of breath from the crowd on spying the evening's entertainment centrepiece. Is that really Chad on guitar? It sure doesn't look like the same guy. Straight into business and it's clear that after a few faves like 'Wide Open Space' we're in for an introduction to the new Mansun LP and the PA is not up to the job.
The new stuff is alright. Not Earth-shatteringly great, but OK. You get the feeling all's not quite right, be it tonight's set-up, the songs needing more time, Paul struggling with his in-ear monitor. Mansun struggle on manfully in the face of variable shades of indifference and haul themselves through to the end. They slope off to warm ripples but not rip-roaring accolade from the indie-kids of this here parish.
They're soon back on for more though, and it may as well have been a totally different band that had returned for an encore. Their final salvo 'Take It Easy Chicken' was head and shoulders and head and shoulders of someone getting a piggyback above the pretty dismal previous 45 minutes. So the important thing is that they've still got it there to give, but can they summon this energy and excitement up all the way through when it's time to tour this album for real. Let's just hope that the Mansun we see next is the leaner, meaner, more cocksure bunch of geezers we once knew. Don't just try playing the new songs to us to check reactions - force them down our goddam throats!