Manic Street Preachers,
12 years ago the Manics played in Swansea, a performance that saw them get bottled off with Nicky Wire ending up concussed in hospital.
That was a gig that reaffirmed my belief in the band. This had been waning in the light of the US friendly cock rock of Gold Against the Soul and the band seeming to lose their youthful arrogance and slip into the treadmill of rock'n'roll commercial conformity. As I battled to explain this rebirth in faith in a review for a now long dead fanzine, I wrote what was perhaps my best piece about the band, and perhaps realised that I had to use the creative buzz that this unique band gave me to produce something creative myself. The rest is R*E*P*E*A*T history
Fast forward 12 years, and here I am wandering up Swansea bay seafront on my way to a Manics gig, a bit apprehensive not only about going to a gig alone in a semi strange town but also about what the Manics have become and if they still make sense. As I walk past a darkening Singleton Park, the scene of their last frantic, violent yet life-affirming appearance in the city, I wonder about the band, their past and their future; does 'Lifeblood' and particularly 'The Love Of Richard Nixon' really mean that they've become fat, boring, old and establishment - out of date and overweight? And if they have, what does that say about R*E*P*E*A*T, my generation and about me?
The Brangwyn Hall is a strange venue for a rock gig. Its walls are covered with huge tableaux by Frank Brangwyn and the ceiling is high and vaulted; when I was at school bands were banned for ever from the place after bad behaviour at a Cure gig; however the authorities relented and here we are watching The Manics, a band who swore they'd never come back to Swansea after last time, and broke so many other promises besides.
And yet, from the moment Nicky Wire arrives on the stage dressed in his gown and mortar board, all this is forgotten as I remember that is the only that band that ever really, really mattered, the only band that meant and means anything and everything to me, the band that changed my life and still inspires me every day. "Every generation has one defining moment, we are yours!"
'Found That Soul' is a fitting way to start; not only is it a new song with balls but it's also true of the band, who've been fuelled and propelled all these years by righteous soul power. The sound was punky, the guitars expensively trashy and the stage performance energetic and arrogant. The set list was heavily biased towards songs from The Holy Bible, ensuring that Richey too made the return journey to his University town. In fact I felt his presence tonight more than at any gig for years, this despite the addition of the shadowy extra guitarist. There were frequent references to the places Richey and Nick used to go to, with songs being dedicated to "the chip shop in Sketty Lane where chips were really REALLY good", Cinderella's night club, the Frey Bentos pies on King Edward Road and the view whose picture hangs on my landing, "Three Cliffs Bay, the most beautiful beach in the world". And of course there were his lyrics, belted out by his band mates in a way that proves their continued relevance and their unmatched achievement. As The Wire said while the last "Who's responsible" of 'Of Walking Abortion' was still ringing out, "It makes you want to go and sell all your fucking Bravery records, doesn't it? Do not buy corporate New Wave!"
Of course the Manics have changed over the last 12+ years since they last played here and in the 15 years (nearly half my life!) I've been following them, but this gig reaffirmed my belief in them. Again. For every embarrassing soft rock, lighter in the air, nationalistic rugby boy sing-a-long (think 'The Everlasting' and the unbearable but very popular 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'), there were moments of passion, beauty, intelligence and insight. 'Roses' was stunningly funky yet brutally honest, 'You Love Us' was the unironic statement of self belief it was always meant to be, the lyrics to 'Yes' almost unbearable in their astuteness, in this night in which Richey felt so close, '1985' suddenly made sense, 'Motorcycle Emptines' was 6 minutes of tear-stained situationist beauty, 'If You Tolerate This' shimmered like the peerless pop song it is, and 'Cardiff Afterlife' was just tragic in its resignation of his loss. However in the end of 'No Surface All Feeling' there he was again - you could almost hear his out of time guitar thrashing in the background.
But in the end a Manic Street Preachers gig is more than just a set list. It's the atmosphere, the unpredictability, the energetic buzz, the intelligent lyrics, the invective, the refusal to be just another band. To underline this point, after the gig I was selling R*E*P*E*A*T on my own on the steps of the Brangwn Hall, and met loads of cool and kind people, people who'd been reading R*E*P*E*A*T for years, people who'd not read it before, people who have seen our stuff on the web and who I've talked to via e-mail. And they all had comments and questions and opinions to offer and were supportive and eager to talk - at how many Keane gigs does that happen?
So as I headed off, my bag was much lighter (I'd sold out of fanzines) and so was my head. Perhaps this was a very different gig from 12 years ago, but I reckon that the Manics essentials are still in tact. And just to think, the last time I felt this way in this town about this band, off they went and made the entire intelligent world feel the same way by writing The Holy Bible; I wonder if we can expect anything similar from them this time? Unlikely perhaps, but on tonight's performance, anything seems possible.
Yes, the Manic Street Preachers still made sense tonight.
Thanks to Claire at Hall Or Nothing for the tickets and photopass.
Read a heavily edited vesrion of my 1993 review here
Found that Soul
South Wales Evening Post
'The most beautiful beach in the world'