Manics fan Marc Burrows ventured out to see them perform their "masterpiece"...
Manic Street Preachers
Roundhouse, London Dec 16th 2014
Twenty years on. Twenty years gone. Yet here we are. The improbable has happened and the three members of the Manic Street Preachers are performing the whole, vile, violent, festering mass of the The Holy Bible, their masterpiece. His masterpiece. £35 a ticket and here we are. Faux camouflage t-shirts and pretend dog tags on the merch stall. Tonight you can buy her this one here, this one here and this one here... everything’s for sale. Fragments of uniforms, open black ruins. Dumb cunts, same dumb questions.
In every respect it’s important that the three are alone on the stage. If they can’t be four, they certainly can’t be anything else. Not for this. James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Sean Moore and a shitload of cammo netting. Sailor suits and screaming. No too-young-by-half rhythm guitarist, no sideman keys, no fucking percussionist (percussionists? Did that ever happen?) It means they struggle.
The army surplus backdrop is set dressing, not a safety net.
Sometimes, on the solos in ‘Archives Of Pain’, on the breathless chorus to ‘Mausoleum’, on every last word of ‘Yes’ it sounds difficult. Bradfield seems to carry the whole thing on his shoulders. You can hear the effort. It SHOULD be an effort. It should hurt. There’s nothing about The Holy Bible that shouldn’t leave a scar as it passes, an album steeped in death, rape, anorexia, butchery, nuclear winter, the holocaust, six million screaming souls. For these three men, who lived through the fall out, to shoulder the burden alone seems appropriately horrible. Opener ‘Yes’ seems to justify itself through pain. Thankfully ‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforjustonedayitsworldwouldfallapart’ carries less weight, it’s just fucking brilliant. Mooreo’s snare crack machine guns the front row.
There’s very little talking between songs. What could you possibly say? The Holy Bible already says far, far too much. When Wire makes a crack about forgetting his make up it seems jarring. It’s a serious business, this holocaust-pop: Stiff-upper lip, first principle of her silence. Instead there’s a square shouldered resilience to do the very best for the material- to do it proud.
‘She Is Suffering’, ever the runt of the litter, sounds out of place and grandiose while ‘Revol’ - long dismissed until the band were forced to revive it a few years ago - is marvellous fun, which is frankly weird. Bradfield gifts the crowd several singalongs to themselves: “On these plague streets, a pity you can buy anything,” “They call me a butcher”, “they call me primitive”, “who’s responsible? You fucking are.”
A thousand people caught in this weird, sick web. Screaming.
Liposuction for your bad mouth boy. Cut out your tongue, effigies are sold. Words discoloured, bow to the bland. Heal yourself with sinner's salt
How is this even possible? Everyone here knows this album inside out, some go way back to the very start with it, others have fallen into the pit later. Band’s playing their classic albums should be cosy, it should be nostalgia. It shouldn’t feel so sordid. Everyone has changed, and we can’t pretend we are what we once were. Scratch my leg with a rusty nail, sadly it heals. Colour my hair but the dye grows out I can't seem to stay a fixed ideal. Yet for this moment it feels horribly perfect. You can’t celebrate something this steeped in horror, but you can experience it. As you watch Bradfield try to catch his breath and Wire wince from his dodgy knee you know that’s what we’re all doing. Forcing ourselves through it. Making the regression happen.
‘Faster,’ the only part of the whole album to survive two decades of touring, sounds more brutal than it ever did in the arenas of the late 90s. It’s not a Greatest Hit here, it’s a scream of triumph. ‘This Is Yesterday’ is breathing space and tears. Richey’s telecaster. Nicky’s words. ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil?’ how is that even allowed? It shatters. I repent, I'm sorry, everything is falling apart.
That’s just Act One, and the band leaves the stage. Ten minutes later a completely different one comes back and plays songs called ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ and ‘A Design For Life’. I know who that band are, I love them. But I’m not as interested in them. Not tonight anyway. Come and walk down memory lane. No one sees a thing but they can pretend. Life eternal scorched grass and trees. For your love nature has haemorrhaged.
I close my eyes and this is yesterday.