“That was this year’s feel-good hit of the winter,” Manics bassist Nicky Wire says with a grin stretching from one ear to the other.
The song in question? 4st 7lb, a deliriously bleak, unsettling and upsetting account of anorexia normally considered too dark to stand a chance in their live sets. But tonight is not just any other Manics show. Tonight, they’re marking the 20th anniversary of The Holy Bible, the peerless, inky masterpiece from the mind, heart and soul of the much-missed Richey Edwards, by playing the whole thing from start to finish. And tonight, even at its most profoundly, beautifully horrific, every second is met with such an exhilarating surge of love, the electricity generated by the crowd threatens to plunge homes across north London into darkness.
In fact, given that the record features such good-time tunes as The Intense Humming Of Evil (a clanking, churning glimpse into the holocaust) and Archives Of Pain (tearing apart the world’s murderers and tyrants), the pre-Christmas atmosphere of sheer joy at revisiting this gorgeous but harrowing work of art is incongruous to say the least. Because nothing gets a party started like Of Walking Abortion, right?
It’s impossible to overstate how special and unique The Holy Bible was on its release, and how well it still stands up against the passing of time. Whereas previous albums Generation Terrorists and Gold Against The Soul were sublime, displaying a sharp intelligence, tatty glamour and playful arrogance that immediately endeared the band to a generation of library-dwelling, eyeliner-smeared rock kids, this one was something else entirely. There was no let-up in its brutal imagery, and Edwards, who wrote the lion’s share of the lyrics, is entirely unforgiving in his disgust and despair, stripping back his own emotional layers until he hits bone. When he went missing less than six months after its release, he left behind something truly perfect.
This is the third show of the band’s run at the Roundhouse, and frontman James Dean Bradfield is showing no signs of the throat problems he reportedly had on the opening night, ploughing through the adrenaline-charged, tongue-twisting opener Yes with the relish and ferocity of a glutton tearing into a whole roast chicken, kicking the air and displaying a dexterity with his guitar that looks effortless, but is actually the work of a true master of his instrument. Wire, meanwhile, stalks the camouflage-bedecked stage, drinking in the adoration, while Sean Moore attacks his drum kit with machine-like efficiency. Technical problems threaten to derail Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart at its start, but as the band laugh it off with typical insouciance and take another run-up at it, the evening goes on to ever greater heights. There are few fan bases quite as devoted as the Manics’, and this most unlikely of singalongs proves that their well-rewarded loyalty remains undimmed.
As a riotous PCP brings the record to a close, a short break leads to a greatest hits set – after all, no MSP show would be complete without the soaring, evergreen Motorcycle Emptiness or the euphoric closing anthem A Design For Life. Any other night, this glorious section alone – complete with tracks from new album Futurology and a guest appearance from Therapy?’s Andy Cairns on You Love Us – would have been to die for. As it is, such was the brightly burning special nature of The Holy Bible performance, the final stretch is more of an added bonus than the main event, like the chocolate in the bottom of a Cornetto.
As tickertape snows down, for the long-serving faithful, this evening has been perfection.