Manic Street Preachers:
Cardiff University,

The Manics have always been pretty patchy when it comes to picking support acts. They've had a few fantastic ones (My Vitriol, SFA), but then they've also had Ian Brown. Fear of Music, however, fall firmly into the category of "meh." They're young and pretty and earnest and I feel kinda bad for not liking them much, but they do a fairly nondescript line in post-Placebo indie - think Colour of Fire without the tunes - and the crowd barely even notices they're there.

But perhaps I'm being a little unfair. Because there is, after all, nothing quite like the Manic Street Preachers on home turf, and the rush of euphoria that greets them when they finally take to the stage would make any other band pale into insignificance. And the crowd's enthusiasm is vindicated: from the moment they open with a blamming, never-more-cocky "You Love Us" it's evident that tonight they're here to please the fans. They don't play anything from Know Your Enemy, and there's no room for Lifeblood's stately pop, either - tonight's about the Manics remembering they're a ROCK band. And not just any rock band - one of the most thrilling, righteous and utterly, brilliantly ridiculous in existence.

So we get all the hits, played with equal parts venom and glee; we get the headlong apocalypse-rush of "Faster"; we get a portentous "Die In the Summertime"; we get an audience baying with delight throughout gig highlight "Sleepflower." We also get the usual show - Nicky grinning like a maniac in a positively indecent miniskirt, some indecipherable between-song comments from James, and a dedication to Richey before "Kevin Carter." There are a couple of surprises - "Born To End," as delightfully messy and brattish as it was 15 years ago, and an astoundingly creepy acoustic version of "Yes" - but so far, so much like every half-decent Manics gig ever.

What's different tonight, though, isn't just that YAY THEY'RE BACK feeling, or the fact that this is a smaller venue than they've played in years. It's just that - finally, finally, finally - I'm just as excited about hearing the new stuff as the old. And, judging by the amount of screaming and singing and jumping around that's going on, so are most other people tonight. Why? Because Send Away the Tigers is the best thing the post-Richey Manics have done since, well, ever. These songs are fucking HUGE. "Indian Summer" cannibalises all the catchy bits of "A Design For Life" and adds an industrial-strength Prozac injection and a shiny sugar-pop sheen. "Rendition" is almost Holy Bible-worthy only fun, and "Imperial Bodybags" backs its venomous critique of the Iraq aftermath with filthydirtyrockabilly Clash-aping (but in a good way) bounciness, and "I'm Just A Patsy" and "Autumnsong" are shamelessly anthemic stadium rock in need of a stadium.

And "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough," the obligatory Richey Song, stands up as one of the most honestly beautiful things the band have ever done -- even without Nina Persson's vocal contribution. It's a desperate, tragic love song borne along a by a turbo-powered pop melody; a candy-coated punch to the solar plexus. The first time I heard it, I was bawling my eyes out into a pillow by the second verse - not just because of the words or the music, but because I'd honestly believed the Manics would never be this special again. Right now they're up there showing just how mistaken I was. Being wrong has never felt this good.

Words Jess Trash, pix Steve Bateman (more here)

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