The Princes of Wales return to take their crowns
For a band that were supposed to burn out like a roman candle after one album, the fact that the Manic Street Preachers have retained their fire while allowing themselves to grow up with good grace, and that the devotion of their core audience has never wavered since they appeared in an explosion of eyeliner, leopard-print and fiercely self-assured intelligence over two decades ago, is a joy to keep breathless pace with. Tonight they’re welcomed back with an unashamed outpouring of love that we’ve come to expect over the years.
With a greatest hits set like tonight’s, plus a hint of what’s to come next, it’s an entirely deserved reaction. There aren’t many bands who could start with a tune as perfect and stirring as the timeless Motorcycle Emptiness without things going downhill from there, but then this is no ordinary band, coming in swinging from the off. The trashy glamour of old may be understandably largely gone – although bassist Nicky Wire’s lanky frame is resplendent in white leather trousers and military style jacket – but the fire remains undimmed.
How James Dean Bradfield – winner of the Musicians Union Maestro prize at last year’s Classic Rock awards – is not more revered by the world at large is baffling. If anything, his instantly recognisable, soulful voice is getting stronger with age, and his unflashy playing technique – bar the odd excitable pirouette – draws a modest veil over the fact that he is one of the UK’s most accomplished, stylish and brilliantly emotive guitarists. And tonight’s set shines a light on every facet of the band’s talents, from the breezy almost-pop rock of (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love, to the jarring horror of Archives Of Pain (a point at which Wire announces, with typical wry humour, that they’re “getting the party started”), to Bradfield’s delicate acoustic spot, to the snotty, speedy glitter rush of You Love Us. And anyone who wrote them off long ago as settling into cosy AOR territory will have to eat their words when confronted with newbie Europa Geht Durch Mich from their forthcoming new album Futurology, with its underlying krautrock influence and a dark underbelly that suggests they’ve been revisiting Richey Edwards’ bleak masterpiece The Holy Bible. And naturally, this being the family affair that it is, their much-missed comrade is remembered with affection by the frontman and cheered by the faithful, looking over the events onstage from his place in the mists of time, as projections of the band’s young and beautiful early videos connect the dots between their past, present and future.
The end of the evening, of course, belongs to A Design For Life, a true anthem that still soars. As the band beam and the crowd howl in approval, there’s no need to encore – they’ve given us perfection. The 5000 people singing along tonight would expect nothing less.