I’ve banged on ad nauseam on this blog about how the Manic Street Preachers were the first band I ever saw at a proper gig. This was way back at Bristol Anson Rooms, days before my 15th birthday. I was drinking my first ever pint in the form of finest Foster’s beer and on the left of the stage was an enigmatic songwriter called Richey James.
Fast forward 19 years and as I sit supping my latest beer of choice, I’m giddy with excitement at seeing the Welshmen again. Myself and the Manics have a bit of an odd relationship in that they, along with Terrorvision, Therapy? and The Wildhearts were my favourite bands of the mid 90s but soon after Everything Must Go I almost disowned them. Their previous long-player, The Holy Bible had been my all-time (at age 15, natch) favourite album, and was on constant rotation, sat alone in my gigantic five-CD super changer Sony hi-fi. To me, there wasn’t a need for any other album ever again, as the record not only marked the zenith of the MSP‘s songwriting powers it also paid poignant tribute to Richey James who went missing in February 1995.
And then came the aforementioned Everything Must Go. The Manics had already moved away from the punky Welsh Guns N’ Roses of Generation Terrorists and the catchy-as-hell pop rock of Gold Against The Soul, but I wasn’t prepared in my immaturity for the laid back textures and orchestral arrangements of EMG. I gave them every chance to please me, travelling over to Newport to see them on tour, but I just couldn’t get over how they’d moved on from The Holy Bible and myself and the Manics parted.
In 2007 I began hearing good things about Send Away The Tigers and so I picked up the album. Pleasantly surprised, I stuck with the band again until this very year when it was announced the group would be playing some smaller gigs to promote latest CD Rewind The Film.
And so here we are. On arriving at the 1500-capacity Ritz, I can’t quite believe the buzz in the building. The gig had sold out in mere hours and this feels like a celebration, almost a homecoming due to the excitement that’s palpable in the room. Hitting the stage just after 9pm, I don’t think I’ve heard a roaring welcome like the Manics receive for quite some time. Even the band themselves seem a little taken aback but it doesn’t stop them from launching into an absolutely spot on ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ as pretty much everyone in the crowd sings along to every word with passion, joy and beauty, encouraging the Manics to bask in the adoration.
The first test for me comes in second song ‘Ready For Drowning’. Taken from one of the MSP albums I’d avoided, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, I fully admit I had no idea whether I’d enjoy these songs in a live environment. But it’s at this point I realise this isn’t about me; this is about the power of music and the ability of chords, phrases and expression to form a collective passion, and that’s exactly what the song does. It’s mesmerising to see the juxtaposition of the gangly, grinning. Nicky Wire, the suited James Dean Bradfield and the ever precise Sean Moore back on stage together, and this ensures that even brand new songs such as ‘Show Me The Wonder’ are greeted like old friends. ‘Rewind The Film’ has the power to be a new live classic and Bradfield really excels in conveying the emotion of the song as if he’s singing it individually to each and every one of us.
And then something odd happens. I hadn’t been expecting anything from Gold Against The Soul, as I’d heard the band hadn’t played anything from that record thus far on tour, but after a short intro, the opening notes of ‘Sleepflower’ ring out and the whole place goes batshit crazy. It feels like people are bouncing off the walls, there’s that much energy in the room, and not content with trying to finish us off with one sonic eargasm, the Manics then launch into a mid-set ‘You Love Us’ that has men who should know better jumping around like speed-fuelled llamas.
An acoustic interlude from Bradfield takes little of the energy away from the set, with ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ in particular a song you can just stand there in awe of and revel in its emotive core. Teasing the crowd with snippets of songs created by Manchester’s finest (‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Waterfall’, ‘This Charming Man’) the Manics switch between playful and spell-binding effortlessly. After an outstanding acoustic ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, the Manics launch into an absolutely electric ‘Revol’ charged with the spirit of Richey James to whom Wire dedicates the track. ‘Tsunami’, ’30-Year War’ and ‘Kevin Carter’ keep the crowd jumping and the honorary choir yelling and just when we all think things can’t get better, ‘Motown Junk’ slaps us squarely in the face, making us realise just why the whole evening has been such a success; songs new and old stand successfully shoulder to shoulder with one another. There are no eras anymore, each song is a brilliant piece of craftsmanship in its own right, and you wouldn’t be able to tell on this night that some have been written 21 years apart.
An absolutely majestic ‘Design For Life’ brings things to a pleasurable crescendo that should be deemed nigh-on illegal and you cannot spot a sullen face or heart anywhere in the Ritz. This has been one of those ‘were you there’ experiences that I along with 1500 others will be talking about for years to come. Gig of the year? Let’s just say other bands are going to have to pull out something special over these next three months to top it.