The adage I’ll sleep when I’m dead is scarily accurate when describing the work ethic of Manic Street Preachers. Through nearly three decades and two generations of British rock (Britpop and that increasingly tragic period in the mid-00s when Razorlight was number one), the Manic Street Preachers have stayed constant. A testament to their unwavering grind is the 13 albums made in this time - not even the tragic roadblock of guitarist and lead lyricist Richey Edwards’ disappearance could stop them.
This latest gap between albums - four years - is unbelievably their longest time out of action. But the Welshman couldn’t stay still for that long, playing nationwide anniversary tours for both their 1994 magnum opus 'The Holy Bible', and the cathartic anthems of 1996 classic 'Everything Must Go'.
It’s no surprise then that for the tour in aid of recent effort 'Resistance Is Futile', songs from these two albums haven’t seen much of a runout - the Manic’s likely want to start looking at the future again after four years of glancing back. So when the threesome walkout to a relatively full Wembley Arena (there are a few empty seats in the seating area) it’s to new arena ready lead single 'International Blue'. The pulsating chug and rising chorus leads nicely into the second song, and arguably the greatest in the Manics arsenal, 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. I’m not actually sure if there is a better opening one-two in live music at the moment.
In fact, the songs that the band do choose to delve into from their back catalogue perfectly complement and echo those on the current albums melodic, polished, angry, bombastic pop rock (and yes I did rather need five adjectives to describe the Manics). Fan favourite B-side '4ever Delayed' gets a run out (to rather a muted response from the crowd) as does late 1990s single 'Tsunami', sang with agonizing angst by James Dean Bradfield. Both are shimmering, polished numbers with a little bit of edge. Both would probably have fitted quite well on the new album.
Welsh songstress The Anchoress joins the trio five songs in, striding across the stage in a leopard print jumpsuit. Bassist and head glamourpuss Nicky Wire looks on enviously. “Yes I did try and steal that jumpsuit,” he purrs. I wouldn’t worry about being shown up too much, Nicky. The lyricist is pushing 50 yet doesn’t look a day over 20, sporting a pair of silver trousers that look like they’ve come out of a Gucci collaboration with NASA.
The three songs The Anchoress stays on for are some of the best of the show - her languid wail on 'Little Baby Nothing' is spine tingling. She also adds a much need androgynous rock and roll look to a group that is admittedly now three ageing 50-year-old Welsh blokes (despite Wire still sporting the best set of pins in rock and roll).
The other way the Manics get through this image problem is via the massive screen behind them. At times it reads like a giant manifesto beaming lyrics for the audience to shout back. During the new songs, the visual imagery from 'Resistance Is Futile' reigns - a screaming samurai or the rather dreamlike sequence of a hypnotically innocent Japanese lady walking around valleys and giant stones emblazoned with Welsh town names like Ebbw Vale. Could it be a metaphor for the whole gig? A bunch of 20,000 foreigners (or *ahem* Londoners) looking on stunned at three Welshman still rocking the roof off into their middling years.
The closing number, as always, is 'A Design For Life', the rollicking call to arms that saw the Manics rise from cult band to national treasure. It is now a whopping 22 years after it set Manics down their current path of top five album after top five album. The crowd that had been relatively quiet up to that point erupts into a roar. It will always be a constant in the Manics set as you assume will be the Manics arena touring schedule for years to come. They can sleep after the gig is done anyway.
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Words: Ricky Jones
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