Manic Street Preachers @ Albert Hall, Manchester – 11th December 2014

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This is really hard for me. Obviously it’s far harder for the three remaining members of the Manic Street Preachers, but since The Holy Bible has sat proudly atop my albums podium for the past two decades, anticipation doesn’t quite cover it. I’m feeling want. I’m feeling desire. I’m feeling despair. I’m feeling every emotion under the sun as the Manics return to Manchester for two intimate gigs at the city’s Albert Hall to play one of the most passionate albums ever committed to disc.

For context, my first ever girlfriend ADORED Nicky Wire. A gangly rock legend, Wire was the poster boy for awkwardness, constantly grinning away in outrageous outfits. Then there was Sean Moore. An unassuming drummer at the best of times, when THB was unleashed he became a gloved destroyer. Then there was James Dean Bradfield. Effortlessly dextrous, the frontman turned hugely challenging subject matter into vocal beauty and it touched a 14 year old me like no other record.

But the author of much of the despair, Richey James hasn’t been there for almost as long as The Holy Bible has. Back in 1995 I had a letter published in Kerrang! which stated my hope that by choosing to see Terrorvision live rather than the Manics my decision wouldn’t come back to bite me on the backside. And how it did. I’d seen the full four-way force of the Manics in 1994. My first ever gig and indeed my first pint, but then Richey was gone. What followed never truly seemed to capture that spirit and I moved on, away from my icons. Until 2013.

Last year, the Manics played a set of intimate shows, the Manchester leg of which I was privileged to attend. An absolute tour de force of their career, the set encompassed everything I loved alongside all that I didn’t, but that night made me realise the beauty in all of their work both new and old.

So here we are in 2014 and the Manics announce The Holy Bible shows. I wasn’t anorexic in 1994. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t even that nihilistic, but the political and emotional chord of the record had struck a nerve and I’d been unwilling to ignore it since. Come hell or high water I would see the whole thing played live.

And now I have. There is no support tonight, merely a few 90s classics over the PA and an excitable throng, so when a militarily-garbed set of Manics emerge it’s with rapture and adoration quite befitting of such crossover legends.

As we hit The Holy Bible, the words to each and every song come flooding back into my mind no matter how political or complex. As chart-bothering records go, I’ve heard happier, so when ‘Yes’ and ‘Ifwhiteamerica’ spit their bile, it’s almost shocking that such singalong euphoria can greet them, but it does, and fortunately the bouncing hardcore remain down the front throughout.

This is probably one of the strangest celebrations of live music I’ve encountered. The subject matter of the holocaust, genocide and eating disorders wash over us, and as one we celebrate not only the record’s importance in musical history but also in its fight to put right the selfish attitudes of the majority. ‘Revol’ is still full of spiky punk attitude, ‘4st 7lbs’ is heartbreakingly beautiful and ‘Faster’ slaps us in the face like it only emerged yesterday.

‘Die In The Summertime’ raises pretty much every hand in the old Wesleyan chapel and after a mesmerising ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, ‘PCP’ sees a mini wall of death amongst us, all of whom are old enough to know better.

After a break, the Manics hit us with a second set quite rightly majoring on new material. Most recent record Futurology is full of innovative Euro rock and although they might not be overly familiar to many, songs like ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ and the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City’ sit comfortably alongside the usual classics. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ has been given a gradual makeover throughout the years and tonight becomes the fuller epic it’s always wanted to be, whilst ‘If You Tolerate This’ is suitably anthemic, and ‘You Love Us’ is as rabble rousingly frenetic as it was in 1992.

But then there’s the moment.

James Dean Bradfield purposefully moves his mic to stage right and into the previously empty Richey area and suddenly we’re cathartically feeling every joyous chord of ‘A Design For Life’.

This feels like closure. This feels like emotional outpouring. This feels like it. Richey has long been an anonymous part of Manics shows and in a way he always will, but for now he is gone. And we move on. But we celebrate every last second of life he shared with us and it feels incredible.

As the show ends we’ve got that usual sense of wanting more but we’re also happy that Richey’s most harrowing work has received the adulation it deserves. This might not be quite up there with last year’s show at The Ritz, but this is beautiful songwriting performed with dignity. And for that we salute you. All four of the Manic Street Preachers.

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