With a future so bright they had to wear shades.
Backstage at Barrowlands, pre-gig, in the furthest corner of the band's dressing room, cordoned off by a tangle of red'n'green camoflage netting, Richey Manic is hunched over a notebook, scribbling lines and listening to the soft hum of Live Through This on a tape recorder (his set-list, it's discovered later, quotes Shelly's "When will return the glory of your prime? / No more / Oh, never more!"). He's almost impossibly distant - gamin-eyed and crushingly shy - seemingly overcome by the idea of going onstage in front of 1600 people desperate to stare up at him and wonder if he's really OK...
Twenty minutes later the Dust Brothers' remix of Faster booms through the PA and the crowd - already in a mood of fuzzy, alcoholic expectancy thanks to Sleeper - burst into life. The band are already in paramilitary mode - Nicky, soot-eyed and sporting make-up sideburns, James in On the Town naval attire - but it's the violence of the songs that grabs your attention. Revol and PCP are shot out at lightning speed, From Despair to Where, Stay Beautiful and Motorcycle Emptiness are tossed away, almost, squeezed in the middle of the set like hurdles that have to be clambered over. Richey pouts and preens and plays gently through all of them, like a man who's determined not to slip back into the shadows, but it's James who always catches the eye.
He turns Repeat into a scorching, high-speed slice of rage (replete with God Save the Queen solo halfway through), he bawls his way through Roses in the Hospital so powerfully it causes large parts of the hall to rise up in one huge bobbing mass. After 4st 7lbs the others walk offstage and leave him to thrash out a seemingly carefree solo rendition of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. It's bizarre. It's almost as if, whilst Richey was out of action, James has taken the weight of the band on his shoulders and lifted it like Hercules, onto a different level. Whereas before hi twin sidekicks had forever overshadowed him, he now appears to have command of everything. The songs may charge by in a more regulated, crowd-pleasing manner now, but with things as they are, it's just about the perfect solution to their troubles.
As they finish with a rumbling You Love Us, Richey lifts his guitar above his head and for a moment, it looks like he's about to break it in two. They he just lets it drop, and James ushers him off into the wings.
Stonger than Mensa, or so it seems. And as good for you today as they've always been.