Exhaustive three disc set taken from three shows on the 0211 Anniversary tour. Disc One is a full length show from Brixton (missing the final encore), Disc two is a full length show from the European mainland, and 8 songs from a further show. On top of this sits a multitude of extra material, rehearsals, interviews, and general larking around in a huge package. Finally an audio CD of one of the live shows is included as well. In effect, you get two full live shows from Autumn 2011, and lots of extra live songs as well. Good value.
Four years after a final split / retirement as any form of active entity, the original 1986-91 lineup (or as much as health will allow) has reformed for a short 25th anniversary tour. From the off, the band have been vocally clear that tonight is clearly, and solely, the currency of nostalgia : nothing beyond their initial flush of success, nor any new material. Every song here is at least twenty years old. A travelling museum of music.
To many, The Mission were one of the finest live bands in the universe : at their peak, where Arena tours were commonplace - they were voted best live act by a newspaper umpteen years in a row. And perhaps deservedly so, but part of their appeal then had no relation to the records, or the music on the stage, but something else. The sense of community, of belonging. With the lights up, the music blaring in your ears at speed, and on speed, the crowd then - teens and twenty somethings and grizzled road warriors - were united in a place where we could lose ourselves, or find ourselves, depending upon how you looked at it. Here, we were who we should have been or who we wanted to be, and always wanted to be, dreamers, lovers, whatever. Then, the world, as it was, went away : the world of mortgages, children, childcare, bills, debt,ex-wives, Child Support, commuting, deadlines - these were for other people.
But The Mission were from a different generation. Then, success wasn't being number#1 in the download chart and selling out Wembley Stadium. Then, success was being in Sounds and Melody Makers, making #38, and selling out the Folkestone Leas Cliff and the Leicester DeMontfort. The music didn't come to you ; you found it, and the new songs weren't on YouTube the next day, but traded eagerly on cassettes in the post recorded with Sony Walkmen in boomy Scottish Village Halls. There was a time when even "Wonderwall" was a 'new' song, and I remember that world. It was neither better, nor worse, just different, and the only constant in our lives is ourselves and our memories, whomever and whatever they be.
This is the first tour since Finsbury Park 20 summers ago that The Mission - Wayne Hussey, Craig Adams, Simon Hinkler - have all shared the same stage. Not all of us are here : Mike Kelly is on drums. (Which makes this the fourth drummer, third bassist, and third guitarist I have seen in this band). Of The Mission which split in March 2008, no one is the same bar the singer, even if it is The - definitive - Mission on stage. The band that made those records people bought a long time ago. When people bought records a long time ago. The Mission changed over the years, yet remained the same. This though, this is The Mission the way we remember them.
With nostalgia, celebration, as currency - as Mission shows so often were in the past decade - the band return as heroes, not as struggling survivors desperately plugging moribund new material. Reborn for a night, not trying to etch out a living in a hard world.
From the opening march, the band return to the stage in a set that may have been beseiged by sound problems and a guitarist slamming his thumb into a bus door loaded up on painkillers, but nonetheless it is for me, the best Mission show since the last time I saw this trio. Initial reservations are well founded, for the sound is poor at Brixton.
"Beyond The Pale" is an ambitious song : it soars and roars and pounds and pulses. Hinkler crunches down on guitar lines as Adams, and his immense Thunderbird bass sound, swallows planets. With nothing but old songs, this is - barring the absence of the lyrically embarassing "Into The Blue" - a solid greatest hits set of ancient, good selling 7" singles with portentious titles, meaningless words, and huge rock gestures. If anything, that The Mission were ever seen as anything but an ambitious rock band is a little baffling now : the huge sweeps of "Tower Of Strength" and "Blood Brothers" would've perfectly slotted into any old Led Zeppelin setlist. In other places, especially songs such as "Butterfly On A Wheel" (which is, to all intents and purposes "With Or Without You"), and "The Crystal Ocean" or "Deliverance", are the natural progression from U2's early work : had U2 not discovered irony and a sense of humour, and the world not changed irrevoicably around them, The Mission were, at one point poised to join them at the table of enormous rock bands. Circumstances out of their control were against them.
Given that this is a celebration, the setlist ends in 1990 - with the exception of the last 'major' Mission hit in "Like A Child Again", performed solo. No need for the dreaded words 'new material' or, a song from the albums that nobody bought. The set is a determined barrage of old, classic rock songs, all present and correct in a living, breathing greatest hits before your old eyes. Despite being older, fatter, wiser, you can look at the stage and see the guitarist and it is exactly the same as it was on the back of old singles and live DVD's. Hands reach for the sky. Human towers are built. It's entertainment, it's a valiant reclamation against the world of something. Even the bar staff are dancing around the booth. "I remember this lot from the first time", the barman says, before reminiscing about Motorhead.
"Tower Of Strength" raises and falls and rises again. Brixton fills with smoke. Lights blare. It's a blinding, deafening rock Vietnam. Hands reach to the sky above the roof of this Victorian Theatre. For a moment, we forget who the world makes us be and become who are. Nothing exists but this. And isn't that the point?