With myself being a vigilant Manics fan born and raised, I hope that I can be forgiven for the biased criticism of this show, however subtle or blatant that may come to be. But before we pick apart the performance, I feel compelled to digress and discuss the album that the crowd gathered to commemorate on Saturday night. ‘Everything Must Go’ was the fourth album to be released from the legendary minds of Wales’ finest: Manic Street Preachers. Bassist Nicky Wire has described the masterpiece as “a bolt of light from a severely dark place”, as it came to fruition only a year after the tragic disappearance of original member Richey Edwards. These 12 tracks represented not only a divergence from their traditional introspective and autobiographical lyrical style, but a physical change in the line-up and composition of the members. Despite the tumultuous circumstances and the contrast in sound from previous work, it has proven to be the defining factor in the band’s most successful era at the height of brit pop. UK album charts at number 2, Triple platinum status and 103 weeks in the top 100 are only a handful of its achievements over the last two decades since its 1996 release. This is somewhat the reasoning behind the extravagance of the anniversary celebration, the Birmingham date of which sold out entirely.
The album itself is one of beautiful and intricate complexity: it is one of the finest examples of the amalgamation of discordant post punk, political rage and orchestral poeticism ever created. Employing lyrics left behind by Richey himself in 5 of the songs, the holistic impact of the album cannot be underestimated nor lost to the vaults of rock history. This is perhaps why there was such enthusiasm to gather and appreciate the work of art in its entirety, start to finish, as many have been doing on car radios, record players and stereos for the past twenty years.
Before delving into this part of the evening, it’s impossible not to mention the vigour and sheer impact of the one and only support act, Editors. From moody, weighty progressive rock to the reincarnation of fresh 80s electro, they put on one of the most impressive support shows I have witnessed in recent years. Frontman Tom Smith showed off not only his captivating eccentricity, but also his proficiency at nearly every instrument on the stage, as the songs went from delving into the lurching depths of a drilling bass to a Depeche Mode-esque dark pop dream. They managed to pull off a level of abstract melodrama without the theatrics, heightening with the set closer ‘Marching Orders’ which swells from a mellow tension to an energy perfectly suited to the arena atmosphere, which despite its sonic dynamism, did little to wet the appetites of the manics fans. If anything, Editors increased excitement for MSP due to the disparity of the two bands.
After 30 long minutes and, in some cases, a multitude of drinks, the curiously familiar sound of the distant waves crashing signifies the opening number ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’ and simultaneously the beginning of Everything Must Go. James Dean Bradfield’s unmistakeable vocal rang out clear as a bell and as fresh as ever as the arena silenced, the gentle lull of acoustics suddenly erupting into the bulky rock component which constitutes their most recognisable numbers. ‘A Design for Life’, one of the bands most noted songs comes all too early, with it traditionally being a show closer. However, the ordering of the album itself is not to be deviated at such an occasion, and the anthem went down a treat. Next comes the jarring ode to the tragic life of photographer Kevin Carter. Down the line we have ‘Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky’, where the departed Richie’s harrowing lyrical criticisms of animal captivity are accompanied euphorically with the harp and acoustic duo. Bassist Nicky Wire digresses in anecdotes throughout, such as the influence of Sylvia Plath in the number ‘The Girl Who Wanted to be God’, and the band pull off each and every song with an unearthly prowess and effortlessness that tells people like me (not even born at the album’s release) just why the welsh trio have been so widely successful. Bradfield’s gift of guitar knack in simultaneous combination with his raw vocal might is undeniably impressive, whilst Wire continues to be the provider of eccentricity and edge, both working harmoniously with Sean Moore for the tightest sound imaginable. As expected, ‘Australia’ has inspiring brilliance, juxtaposed beautifully with the stabbing ‘Interiors (song for Willem De Kooning) which an enigmatic, building song constructed with true artistry. The album culminates with ‘No Surface All Feeling’, and a short interval proceeds. My mother remarks ‘they’re old boys now, probably gone for a tea break’. She may be right.
They bounce straight back with a spirited set list of their greatest hits, from the ancient ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ to the contemporary ‘Your Love Alone’ and everything in between. Only wavering with a minute amount of vocal slip us, the band display continuity, quality and professionalism as good as it gets without diminishing the vigour or energy of the delivery for a second. But I suppose that’s just what comes with 30 years of practise. A questionable 80s cover was even thrown into the mix, which, however unusual, showed their diversity as a creative force.
An ecstatic culmination was brought about by the frantic violence of ‘You Love Us’ followed by what some argue to be the most important Manic recordings of all time, ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’. The song itself continues to strike me as contradictory, with the heavily political lyrics (‘if I can shoot rabbits/ then I can shoot fascists’) contrasting with the sound itself symbolic of a radical departure from their alt rock roots. Nonetheless, the imagery of the Cuban Revolution on the big screens alongside a choral singalong moment and a burst of streaming confetti was a rightful way to summarise and celebrate not only the climax of the show, but the band as a whole as they continue to slay the game year after year. Not a lot can be argued with from this performance, from artistic choices to sound quality to entertainment value. The manics have achieved legendary status, and for me and many others, all there’s left to do now is bask in their glory. Whether it’s the nods to Orwell’s 1984, the screaming of James Dean or the flying of the red dragon, they are undeniably capable of leaving a distinctive and lasting impression on the stage that they grace. So without any further ado, Happy 20TH Birthday to what is, in my humble opinion, one of the best album ever made. Vive La Revolution.
Review by Goose
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