Manic Street Preachers
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- The O2 Arena, London »
Love them or loathe them, Manic Street Preachers have spent the last quarter of a century rallying against the accepted norm. Contradictory spanners in the works of an insular music industry, the Welsh outfit could arguably be considered as the last zeitgeist defining musical ensemble of their kind. On these shores at any rate. It's been a struggle at times, having initially arrived at a time when all things baggy from the north west of England dominated the alternative and independent scenes. Nevertheless, their no holds barred approach and occasionally contrary statements of intent; who can forget one early interview where the band claimed their sole mission was to sell 25 million copies of debut album Generation Terrorists then split up; have only served to accentuate their status as lone spokesmen in an arena of increasingly bland careerists. Sure, not every album can claim to have made the significant cultural impact as their aforementioned debut or The Holy Bible, the incendiary masterpiece tragically departed songwriter Richey Edwards left behind. However, in an industry where few artists are prepared to take risks, the Manic Street Preachers can always be relied upon to take that one step further into the breach.
Which brings us onto this evening's chivalrous proceedings. Flicking through the annals of the band's back catalogue is almost like documenting chapters of one's life. There's the University years parts 1 & 2 - seeing them for the first time on the 'Motown Junk' tour at the-then Nottingham Trent Polytechnic for the miserly cost of ten pence. Songs that soundtrack relationships. Those first steps into full-time employment. Even public holidays and birthdays; Millennium Eve in Cardiff being one that particularly stands out. It's difficult to regard the live Manics experience as just any other gig. That they've chosen the vacuous confines of London's O2 Arena to showcase their entire singles collection (give or take a couple of early omissions) speaks volumes for their audacious nature. While not at the dizzy heights of commercial popularity they were enjoying a decade ago, they can still boast one of the most rabidly devoted sets of fans anywhere in the music world today. An institution of sorts, never before has an album summed up its creators so succinctly. National Treasures indeed.
With the promise of all 38 (THIRTY-EIGHT!) singles from their recently released collection receiving an airing this evening over the course of the next three hours, not to mention a couple of surprise guest appearances along the way, tonight's show has all the makings of being a special event. Something that will be talked about long after the curtain has brought both this performance and 2011 as a whole to their conclusion. An influential outfit for other artists as well as their loyal fanbase; we spot Duffy, St Etienne's Sarah Cracknell and legendary punk rocker Howard Devoto among others whooping it up in the aisles at various points, their fashionably late arrival causes a surge of excitement rippling through the O2 like nothing else this aircraft hangar of a building will have seen in many a year. Coldplay, this most definitely isn't.
The element of surprise at not playing the songs in chronological order makes the guessing game of what's coming next a whole lot more fun. 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart', not necessarily a favourite for those ensconced in the Richey era of the band opens the first set before segueing indiscriminately into 'Love's Sweet Exile', a song the band haven't touched live for well over a decade. Bradfield describes 'She Is Suffering' as the band's 'Every Breath You Take', while another old favourite 'From Despair To Where' is delivered note perfect in every way possible. When Nicky Wire introduces 'Empty Souls' as "For the first time tonight, something off that mighty beast 'Lifeblood'" in reference to their much maligned seventh long player from 2004, roars of approval disguised as laughter echo around the room. The song itself a timely reminder that maybe said album wasn't so bad after all. The first special guest of the evening, Super Furry Animals mainman Gruff Rhys, sings lead vocals on 'Let Robeson Sing', Bradfield revealing the band had initially intended to collaborate with him as far back as 2001. As a result, it's one of those hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moments, while 'Faster' (introduced as "Richey's masterpiece") and 'Life Becoming A Landslide' remind all and sundry of the band's younger days.
Having closed the first half of the set with 'The Everlasting', the distinctive wall of air raid sirens like the ones on 'Repeat' open the way for the second half. Sadly, there's no deviation from the proposed idea of National Treasures being played in its entirety, and 'Repeat' does not make an appearance after all. However, 'Australia' and 'La Tristessa Durera' ensures the second period continues where its predecessor left off, while both Know Your Enemy's 'Found That Soul' and much lamented U2 moment 'There By The Grace Of God' make a play for the title of the Manic Street Preachers' "Most underrated single" award. And so they keep on coming. Songs that should have been hits ('You Love Us', 'Stay Beautiful', 'Revol'), songs that were ('The Masses Against The Classes', 'Tsunami', 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next') and ones that have been casually forgotten ('So Why So Sad', 'Roses In The Hospital', 'The Love Of Richard Nixon') all arrive thick and fast. The Cardigans' Nina Persson may have only just flown in from the States hours earlier but you wouldn't know, so impeccable is her vocal delivery on 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough' while the now familiar strains of 'A Design For Life' bring the set to a rousing close.
At the end, Nicky Wire's customary bass trashing antics are overshadowed by James Dean Bradfield's announcement that the band are embarking on a two-year hiatus. While it would be churlish to expect a resurgence of the youthful angst that catapulted them onto the scene in the first place, 2009's Journal For Plague Lovers (sadly the only record not touched this evening) proved they're still a force to be reckoned with, and who's to say album number eleven won't be any less reaffirming or vital? After all it is the last great British institution we're talking about, the Manic Street Preachers, and on tonight's evidence, 2013 can't come soon enough.
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