Dom Gourlay @ Nottingham Arena, 11/12/2002
The debate continues over whether the Manic Street Preachers original provocative punk rock stance was more creative than the recent upgrade to middle class maturity (post-Richey Edwards disappearance).
While I may be one of those who finds it hard to listen beyond 'The Holy Bible', it must be said that the thought of three blokes in their mid-30s charging around a stage in SAS style combat gear would be too daft to laugh at.
James Dean Bradfield obviously agrees, choosing to wear a two-piece Burton's suit with a white silk shirt, making him a dead ringer for
David Brent. The fact that Nicky Wire has chosen to wear a dress and tie, his hair in bunches like some 3rd year from St Trinian's probably speaks volumes about the divide within the band.
Looking around the Arena there's more Stone Island and Burberry on display than in the A Block on a Saturday afternoon, so its no surprise that early singles 'Life Becoming A Landslide' and 'Slash 'n' Burn' go down like lead balloons, while 'You Stole The Sun' and 'The Everlasting' are greeted like long lost brothers returning from a five year stint in the armed forces.
The only song played from 'The Holy Bible' tonight is a truly unremarkable, semi-acoustic version of 'Faster'. Nicky Wire goes through the motions on bass looking distinctly unimpressed, although during 'Ocean Spray' and 'Tsunami' he attacks his instrument with a ferocity that has been sadly missing from most of tonight's show.
They end their set with 'Design For Life', and the cover of new greatest hits album 'Forever Delayed' fills the back of the stage. Whether this tour really is a celebration of the last fifteen years or a cynical marketing ploy to shift more copies of the album remains to be seen, but at times tonight it was painful to watch them evolve into everything they supposedly abhor.
Mark Reed @ Wembley Arena, 07/12/2002
A Greatest Hits Tour is something Westlife would do. A full stop. An ending. The last gasp from the creatively bankrupt. A clearing of the decks and a retirement plan. Taken to soulless, enormous sheds then, the Manics give us their final, Greatest Hits Cash-In. Except... it isn't. Dispel your cynicism. It's not some cabaret band performing stadium karaoke, but a timely reminder that the currency of the Manics goes beyond such vagaries as time, place and government. These songs cut through to the very core of what it is to be alive.
Let's face it. If you don't think 'Motown Junk' is one of the best songs ever written, you need a defibrillator. Theirs are songs that pluck out thoughts that haven't been realised yet; thoughts we hide in fear that we only dimly feel. We live in fear of our feelings: the Manics take their raw thoughts and splash them out on a huge 100-decibel canvas.
Even now, people fail to see the central line that runs through all the Manics' work. The people on stage will not sit down, will not just dumbly accept things the way they are. They always question, always explore, never sit dead passive and accept. Even if that's what most of the cattle in the audience want from their particular Arena Rock, the Manics always demand MORE from life than the slim ambitions we are all fed.
The band who used to mean everything, who wanted to change the world, still want to. Still want to make the world a better place. Still want to storm the barricades of civilisation, to throw open the doors of perception to the burger-eating, coke-swilling herds and give their very own Arena Rock some class, some genius, some beauty in a world full of rubble and shit. Still beautiful.
Steph Nelson @ MEN Arena, 06/12/2002
It certainly was an excitable (and sweaty) crowd that piled into the vast, sweltering Manchester Evening News Arena one cold winter's night. They had trekked across fields, oceans and Salford to see what outfits their heroes would have on that night, and anything that delayed them doing so was the enemy. They weren't disappointed. The feathered boa draped mic-stand got the usual applause as well as when Nicky walked onto stage with pigtails and a dress, sleazily mounting the amp before declaring himself to be the only person there wearing leopard print boxers. That's right folks, never mind his choice of underwear, Nicky spoke!! Given his recent status at gigs as saying less than the drummer, this was possibly the highlight of the night - never mind that I couldn't decipher his accent - there were definite vocal sounds uttered that night.
This band certainly know the meaning of a `Greatest Hits' tour. They opened with the hits, they hurtled through the old classics, they finished with a few more hits. And `hurtled' is no exaggeration; this band played with a ferocity, an intensity, that tripled the recorded speed of most of their songs. The only slowed down song was the one they call 'Faster'. Quite ironic really. (The live acoustic version of which, by the way, I love. Screw the elitists who I saw putting fingers in ears and moaning how it "wasn't right". They created a fantastic little pop melodic number from the bare, raw carcass it previously was).
James Dean Bradfield turned into a miniature guitar hero for a night, mounting the drum riser and hopping about during his blinding solos, his svelte new look and energetic performance epitomising the new passion and enthusiasm found by the band when they're on stage. His vocals have never sounded better. Unlike many, he doesn't shy away from the high notes, but puts all his style and control in to producing a note of the most heartbreaking clarity that would be the envy of the most chaste choirboy. And he clearly revels in doing so.
Live performances have become a triumph for the Manics. It is the only time when their hefty back catalogue slots together and makes some kind of sense; the time when they can feel at ease with their history. There are no nerves or discomfort on the stage for them. James even pauses to admire how he looks in a fan's tiara, and the added freshness of live crunching guitars with a new found vitriol maintains them as a force to be reckoned with.
Holl(i)y Davies Wembley Arena, 7/12/2002
A Manic Street Preachers live set has managed to become the musical equivalent of a vile yet hilarious joke which startles genuine laughter out of you before an uneasy and slightly nauseous wave making you feel uneasy and a little nauseous, but still guiltily amused. 'Motown Junk' still exhilarates, 'Motorcycle Emptiness' has the same beauty and impact. They play 'Slash 'n' Burn' with THAT guitar riff, and the adrenaline kicks in and you're loving it... But then they crawl through 'There by the Grace of God' and the more-plodding-each-time-you-see-it 'The Everlasting' and you know you don't want to be here watching this parody - except they haven't done 'You Love Us' yet and you know they will...
So yes, I loved the majority of this gig and if they tour again I'll end up going to see them again, despite resolving not to because the Manics were a great band, and when they play the songs that made them great, they're still amazing. But I wish they'd just stop it and go away, for the sake of everyone who's trying to draw a line under 'the good bit'. Because the temptation to see 'Motown Junk' live just one more time and pretend the last 2 albums never happened is simply unfair. And I also wish to point out that the semi-acoustic version of 'Faster' was SACRILEGE AND BLASPHEMY. You just do NOT do not mess with a song as perfect as that. Whoever had the idea of putting keyboards over the top - and in what sounds like the honky-tonk piano setting - should be taken away and shot for the sake of the gene pool.
Ben Chandler @ Brighton Center, 12/12/2002
A massive coincidence happened for me tonight. As the opening chimes of ‘Tsunami' echo through the arena in the ways they've always done - with more raw optimism and hope than any other Manics song has ever done - I look to my left and Seymour Glass of Miss Black America stands there. The punk rock voice that has filled my punk rock bedroom for the last year is singing with less potential and poetry now: A follower rather than a leader. MBA are the band who have constantly been compared to The Manic Street Preachers throughout their John Peel-driven vendetta which at one point seemed to have ended in shameful, hopeless defeat. Can there only ever be one band who are the voice of a culture of literate rebellion? It certainly seems that way, because after having lain dormant for a while, the songs of the Manics sound bizarrely relevant again. Especially after garage rock made sure that people gave up caring about most of the stuff that usually mattered.
And does relevance matter? After all, the whole New Rock Revolution has also been called "Sex Rock" and sleaze has really ruled. Liam Lynch personifies it all. Arrogance is bliss. The boring, conventional people in `The System' get a break. Whatever... indeed. There's no judgement of who is valuable and who isn't. It isn't a class war. It is a strut war. But the Manics are here to tell us that we've been living a lie. And sincerity is what counts tonight. It's a Greatest Hits set, with a hell of a lot of ‘Generation Terrorists’ mixed in there, and nothing of the recent ‘Know Your Enemy‘. This has the sense of going back to where we started. This is about rediscovering what punk rock really is. With all their talk, this is what Miss Black America wanted: The need to Talk Hard and know your head wasn't empty.
This is fantastic! Of course, every word is known to all the big hits, and ‘The Everlasting‘`If You Tolerate This', as I had always thought it would be. Indeed, seeing the Manics' career as a spectrum is more valuable than you would ever expect it to be. Now that they are almost beyond making anything newly relevant, they are starting to shine again.
Daragh Foley @ MEN Arena, 06/12/2002
"'Leisure options.' You can almost taste the death in each word."
Yeah, leisure options... Swaying Oasis fans spill beer on my head - that 'Design For Life' chorus: quality drinking song - "Fucking hell, I thought you were a bird!" - Wahey, lads!
The taste of death is everywhere in the vast arena and it's not helped tonight by Ian Brown playing his home town. But then a strangely familiar scenario occurs once more. This time, the Manic Street Preachers come on to a visual montage of old, many forgotten, videos (giant spiders, anyone?), and you start to believe in everything all over again. From out of the woodwork creep an army of Dead End Doll t-shirts and spraypainted slogans. You feel safe. There are even shouts for 'Sorrow 16'.
Okay, James is wearing a white shirt and a dinner jacket, but they still hurtle through the beginning of their set with enough energy to set fire to a few of today's young bands, own-teeth `n' all.
Although the Manics insist they'll never play anything but a greatest hits display, tonight this feels more obvious than usual. Perhaps it's the sheer length of their performance. Perhaps it's the way they play 'Faster' as an acoustic sing-along because "you all know the words." It feels like it just doesn't matter though; look at the hits they've had! 'From Despair To Where' is fantastic, and, as per usual, 'Stay Beautiful' and 'Motown Junk' have more than a few bodies dancing. Even the latest single, 'There By The Grace Of God' sounds gorgeous and expansive, more so than ever on record.
They may not be dangerous, or even exciting, anymore. Judging by tonight's performance and response however, the masses still need The Manics. This is not a leisure option.
Stephanie Mills Birmingham NEC, 03/12/2002
Choking on feathers, sandwiched against the barrier, a tall greasy bloke behind me grabbing onto my breast to hold him up (thanks!); there's nowhere I'd rather be. The Manics walk out to an applause only slightly louder than that given to Nicky's feather-boa draped mic stand 10 minutes before. Over the past few months, as the dust gathered on my Manics albums, I'd figured I had lost all interest yet the moment ?'Motorcycle Emptiness' kicks in, I find it hard to take my eyes off them.
James is spinning is twice as fast, Nicky's scissor kicks are flawless and Sean has perfected his 'quiet but with a hint of cool' look. And once again, they actually look like they are enjoying themselves, with Nicky's excessive grin throughout 'Little Baby Nothing' contrasting the glum look he was sporting last year. Tonight they are playing like they've got something to prove. They want to make everyone remember just how great they were and let anyone who thinks that this is the end realise that there is still a lot more to come.
It's a night full of classics with songs like 'Revol' and 'Slash 'n' Burn' putting James into the running for the Guitar God 2002 award, and songs like 'You Love Us' and 'Motown Junk' force the crowd into one big jumping mass, whether they like it or not. Even their new song 'For Ever Delayed' has most of the crowd singing in unison by the second chorus.
The only low point comes when 'A Design For Life' starts up and I realise it's all over. With a final wave as the band climb down off their amps, Nicky throws a mic stand across the stage and they disappear. A big question mark still hangs over the future of the Manics. If this tour does signal the end, it's one hell of a way to finish things. But if they are going to carry on, tonight has proved they've still got plenty to give.