Manic Street Preachers - Cardiff Castle
October 1994 Cardiff Astoria. I stood in the now long gone venue, sweating in the heat generated by a capacity crowd, there to see local heroes the Manic Street Preachers perform their recently released masterpiece, The Holy Bible. The cold and dank weather that had enveloped us outside seemed to perfectly reflect the dark and claustrophobic nature of the album. When the band took the stage, resplendent in their militaristic garb, all eyes focused stage left. There stood the figure of Richey Edwards. Recently released from mental hospital, and the subject of much speculation in the music press, his gaunt cheeks, sunken eyes and almost anorexic physique spoke of a man who was not well, both physically and mentality. However, I don't think anybody present knew the true level of his internal suffering and the human tragedy that was shortly to unfold. Tracks from the new album were intertwined with old favourites and surreal covers. 4st 7lbs, Of Walking Abortions, Mausoleum, She is Suffering, Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head and Penny Royal Tea. The music soared, challenged, chastised and provoked in equal measures. Here was a band at the height of its powers, surely destined to finally achieve success both commercially and critically. Yet in the air, perhaps only just faintly perceivable, was the claustrophobic feeling of a Black Dog waiting to shortly claim its pound of human flesh.
On reflection this album/event was the zenith of my infatuation with the band. Whilst I still cherish some of their later releases, nothing really approached the sheer majesty of the songs contained in the 56 minutes of this aural masterpiece. So when I heard that they were to celebrate the albums 20th anniversary (now 21st), I had mixed feelings. In honour of a fallen comrade, it seemed like a fitting tribute. But playing it outdoors? To me, it just didn't seem right.
And so they powered through "If White America...", "Of Walking Abortions" - surprisingly adding a sing-a-long section mid song -"She is Suffering", "Archives of Pain", a tribute led introduction to "Revol" and so on, playing every song note-perfect. Whilst a goodly proportion of the crowd knew every lyric and lapped it all up, by definition this is not party music. To me the light, airy surroundings seemed to me an anathema of the subject matter and in truth I felt that something was missing. Mid set it dawned on me that the absent ingredient was the genius who had created these songs in the first place and whose position stage left is forever left vacant. Richard James Edwards RIP.
The second half of the set was a predicable and rather safe greatest hits run through, pandering largely to the tribal Welsh party atmosphere that now surrounds almost all Manics gigs in their homeland. However, it cannot be denied that this is really what most of the fans had come to hear. "The Everlasting", "If You Tolerate This", "Your Love Alone", "You Stole the Sun" were all rapturously greeted by the crowd who were now in the mood to throw off the suffocating shackles of the earlier tracks and party.
However, without "Motown Junk" for me a Manics gig is never complete and what I wouldn't have given to hear a "Starlover", "R P McMurphy" or even "Judge Yr'self" again. Although in fairness "Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll" was played, along with the obligatory "You Love Us". As the opening chords of "Design For Life" rang out I took my leave wondering if I had just turned into a curmudgeon old git or was unfairly trying too hard to compare tonight to a rare event twenty one years ago. Ultimately it doesn't matter for as long as the Manics play, and particularly in Wales, they will draw a goodly sized crowd. But like a man raging at the dying of the light, I sometimes wonder if they have lot some of the fire in the bellies.