ROCK
All the way up the escalator at Kentish Town tube station on Wednesday, the wall was covered in posters advertising the Samaritans. Someone in their publicity department knows their job. The Manic Street Preachers were playing at the Forum up the road, and the band are the reluctant spokesmen for the young and depressed. Richey James, their co-lyricist and co-guitarist, would slash himself with razors and write distressingly knowledgeable songs about anorexia. Like Kurt Cobain, he was cherished by an upsetting number of teenagers as the only person who understood them. Like Kurt Cobain, he was badly in need of psychological help. On 1 February 1995, he walked out of his London hotel room and has not been seen or heard from since.

The Manics have just released a defiant album, Everything Must Go (Epic), but on their first tour as a three-piece, their confidence was still shaky. Getting all the stagecraft out of the way in an introductory five minutes - a montage of news footage and old American TV shows - they were free to bash through the songs as fast as possible. The military fatigues and the leathers were left in the cupboard. Instead, singer- guitarist James Dean Bradfield wore a smart, collared T-shirt, as if he were off to the bowling green after the gig.

Despite the keyboard player filling in the album's string parts, this was a pedal-to-the-heavy-metal rock show. Bradfield joked about the band's "tradition foot-stomping party songs". But it's not a misleading description - even if it's party as in political. "Motorcycle Emptiness" was a 50cc Vespa compared to the Triumphs, and often triumphs, of their new material.

Maybe they kept the volume high so that they couldn't hear themselves think, so that they could block out our expectations. Who would blame them? Bradfield, the Mark Thomas of rock, was always active: a schoolboy skipping around the playground one minute, and hopping around outside the toilet the next. He hurled out lyrics with such conviction that he even managed the "fake black quiff" line in "Elvis Impersonator" without raising too big a chuckle. Bassist Nicky Wire was active too, while retaining his inscrutable cool. True, he didn't do anything very interesting, but he gave the impression that he could have been about to do something interesting at any moment.

The same went for the Manics' show as a whole. On Wednesday, they were still breaking themselves into performing. But they haven't broken down.

Eric Clapton has played at the Albert Hall for so many successive years now, and has looked so glum in the process, that he seems to have forgotten why he started the tradition in the first place. The rest of us have, certainly. But his achievement along the way has been to turn the blues into a commercial genre, and to help some of his blues heroes get into the black. In 1990 he introduced Buddy Guy to a new audience, and the man Clapton once dubbed "the best guitarist alive" has gone on to make two Grammy-winning albums, and a third that is simply waiting patiently for the next Grammies to come around. Guy was at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Tuesday, and his show vindicated any number of Clapton's.

Obscurity is the best place to leave a lot of bluesmen, endlessly repeating their endlessly repetitive 12-bars, while being regarded as geniuses simply because they come from Chicago and they can remember the War. However, when Guy pays his own tribute to the past masters, by playing snippets of their songs, he goes beyond the obligatory John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters to include Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. This gives some indication of his style. At nearly 60 years old, his guitaring is a little wilder, and his screams a little higher, than most. He broke two strings on his polka-dot guitar within the space of two songs - and his vocal cords were lucky to get away in one piece. He's as much Little Richard as Little Walter.

Guy's energy isn't captured even on his new concert album, Live! The Real Deal (Silvertone). No piece of vinyl - or whatever it is CDs are made of - could convey his charisma or his enjoyment. Nor, for that matter, could it convey that headband and those dungarees. And while an album has to have at least eight songs of reasonable length, Guy in concert will plunge into a new musical style at a new tempo as and when he feels like it, never doubting his band's ability to dive in after him.

Unlike some bluesmen, he never forgets that he is playing for an audience, not just for himself. I wouldn't point the finger, but Buddy invited his buddy Clapton to join him on two songs. Guy declared that "there ain't nobody who hasn't learnt a lot from this man". I just hope that Clapton learnt something from Buddy Guy.

You know you're getting old when the pop stars start looking younger, and even Ash must have felt rickety at the Forum next to their support band, Bis. Looking as if they have burst from the pages of the Beano, Bis are three Glaswegians who will soon grow to be embarrassed by the names Sci-Fi Steven, John Disco and Manda Rin.

The band (known for the foreseeable future as The Only Unsigned Band to Appear on Top of the Pops) play bubblegum disco punk like a breathless, squeaking amalgam of the B52s, Shampoo, the Beastie Boys, Blur and the Pixies, in that order. And you can hear their Scottish accents, so add the Proclaimers to the list.

Not that these comparisons do justice to their two-guitar/keyboard/drum machine line-up. Manda also adds recorder and cowbell, and all three voices scramble over each other like puppies in a basket. More importantly, Bis put the "playing" back into "playing in a band". They've been criticised for not being as young as they pretend to be - Steven acts 10, looks 15, is 20. But as so many bands appear to treat gigging as a chore they could blooming well do without, Bis's exuberant determination to make the most of their concerts can make a young man feel very happy - and very old. The most exciting thing about them is their own excitement.

Manics: Leicester De Montfort Univ (0115 934 2060), tonight. Bis: Dingwalls, NW1 (0171 734 8932), Mon; Newport TJ's (01633 220984), Wed; Norwich Waterfront (01603 632717), Thurs.

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