Manic Street Preachers
Ive asked myself several times why this happened and how I lost my unadulterated love for the band, but sadly have found no satisfactory answer. Whilst I have still seen them live several times over the subsequently years, the initial love affair has never really been rekindled. So it was with some trepidation that I attended St Davids Hall in Cardiff and the socially distanced gig that was being recorded for Radio 2 Live. In truth it felt like I was unexpectedly meeting an old girlfriend.
An introductory speech by Jo Whitley laid out the dos and donts of a gig in the COVID era, and then to warm applause the Manics walked onto the stage. Initially they appeared slightly nervous and somewhat lost, which was understandable given James explained they had not played live for nearly two years. However, the cobwebs were soon blown away as they launched into Orwellian (a track from their upcoming 14th album The Ultra Vivid Lament) which has been on heavy rotation recently on Radio 2. With the bands original triumvirate augmented by a second guitarist and keyboards there was little pause for breath as Motorcycle Emptiness rang out around the cavernous venue. Instantly myself and the lucky 300+ in attendance were reminded of how great the band were in their formative years, and for a moment it seemed like a semblance of normality had returned to life by attending a proper live music event.
Let Robson Sing dialled down the tempo briefly, which was swiftly followed by another new track The Secret He Had Missed that Nicky Wire had somewhat bizarrely recently described as the bands most ABBA influenced song. With old favourite You Stole The Sun From My Heart ensuring that the applause levels did not dip below the standards required of a radio friendly gig, all seemed to be going well. However, by now I was starting to get itchy feet for them to let fly with some older, Richey-era, guitar smashing, rock music. Whilst I didnt expect PCP or Revol to make an appearance, I thought perhaps old-school classics such as Stay Beautiful or You Love Us might be dusted down to placate an old punk rocker like me, but sadly it was not to be. International Blue and Complicated Illusion carried on the same mid-tempo feeling to proceedings, which I hasten to add was both enjoyable and entertaining. However, what I wouldnt have given to hear the opening chords of Motown Junk just one more time.
James spoke briefly between songs explaining the fact that his vocal chords were still getting used to singing live again, as well as reminiscing about gigs he had seen in the 80s at the venue (Waterboys, The Alarm, Echo and the Bunnymen etc). However, the humour for the night was left to Nicky Wire recalling having attended an international darts tournament here to see his idol Jocky Wilson, who had promptly told him to fuck off when he later asked him for his autograph.
If You Tolerate This was given the rapturous reception it deserved, but followed by 4th new track Dont Let The Night Divide Us which was largely unknown to most of the the audience. Given that we had been forewarned the gig would only be an hour long, I was expecting the remainder of the show to be a Greatest Hits run through and Your Love Alone seemed as good a start as any. Despite the absence of Nina Persson, and Nicky Wire fumbling his lines, its still a great song and had the crowd ready for the band to go out with a bang. This therefore made their choice of a cover version of Bring On The Dancing Horses as the penultimate track slightly baffling, although the fact that James revealed he had seen Echo and the Bunnymen two years ago at St Davids Hall perhaps explained its inclusion. And then, just as it felt things were just getting started, an anthemic A Design For Life closed out proceedings and the band exited the stage like the true (Welsh) National Treasures they are.
So overall, whilst slightly bemused by the chosen set list, I could still see flashes of why I once truly loved this band. Given their time away from the live music scene, and the sparse audience in attendance, it could not have been easy for them to make their return in such circumstances. However, they are now consummate professionals and within a few songs they were leaving their pandemic-forced hiatus in the rear view mirror. Their upcoming tour will allow more time to dip into their expansive back catalogue and in no time they will be back at the top of the billing where they belong. However, will I ever love them the same way again? Probably not, but then you dont always marry the one you love the most.
Words and pix - Bones