Manic Street Preachers – Birmingham Arena 27 April 2018
As we approach the venue there’s an instant reminder of how long the Manics have been around. When we first saw them, the crowd was a glorious congregation of the outsiders in life, with plenty of glitter, glamour and feather boas. It’s a rather more ‘mature’ and sensible looking audience now (to be honest we can say the same thing when we look at ourselves in the mirror these days!).
The gig opens up with “International Blue” from the new (and also quite mature sounding) album. It’s a sign of the bands confidence in this new album and, to be fair, this track in particular is already “arena” ready with a huge sound and chorus. The whole set is carefully littered with tracks from the new album and, as with the record, it’s a mixed affair. “Distant Colours” and “Hold Me Like Heaven” have a sense of Manic’s arena pop by numbers. Having said that, “Dylan And Caitlin” is a surprising highlight of the set, possibly because it’s one of our favourite tracks off Resistance Is Futile. But even without the female vocals, that make it so striking on the album, it’s a great live track.
However, the one thing the Manics don’t have a problem with, is filling their set with fantastic songs. Numbers like “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” And “No Surface All Feeling” are treated like the returning heroes that they are. Likewise “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough” is firmly cemented as a classic and fan singalong favourite.
What’s also pleasing is that the band remains as endearing as ever. We were a bit concerned with their recent press photos – the Manic Street Preachers, in rubbish scruffy suits, staring into the distance, in a field…what the fuck!! Thankfully live, Nicky Wire is still the glitter cheeked, preening peacock we love. James Dean Bradfield still whirls around like a manic spinning top, whilst still masterly putting out huge riffs. Surely he must be one of the most under rated musicians this country has ever produced? They have also retained their sense of humour. James bemoaning the fact the Greatest Showman soundtrack has denied them a number one album and Nicky describing musicals as music based water torture.
All of that is before they launch in to the utterly brilliant and untouchable “Motorcycle Emptiness”. It’s a song which can never fail to send shivers down our spine. It sends a huge proportion of the crowd back to their carefree younger days. We would literally happily pay to see the band just play this one song….it’s immense.
When the band remember their punk roots with songs like “The Masses Against The Classes”, it’s a reminder how important a band they have been. When they arrived in a blizzard of glitter and throwaway insults, they were clearly striving to be like The Clash. When you hear them playing the brilliant “Kevin Carter” or intelligent “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” you know they have achieved that goal. These songs match the music, style and lyrics of their icons’ greatest tracks.
Most of the band get a mid set break as James delivers a few acoustic numbers. He still makes it challenging by delivering a raw and powerful “Faster”. Before the singalong favourite “Despair To Where” (with a nice little Total Eclipse Of The Heart segment!).
The band shortly return to the stage and we then get another song which is always a set highlight, “You Love Us”. A favourite reminder of when we fell in love with the band (although us older fans still feel it should always be the final song of the set!). It marks a part of the set which is just full of wonderful songs such as “Tsunami” and, another of our favourite ever songs, “Slash ‘N’ Burn”. A song with one of THE greatest rock n roll riffs (even in those days James was a match for Slash!).
The set closes with “Design For Life”, a song which is now just a life affirming number. It ends the concert on a huge high with the whole crowd triumphantly singing along. It makes us think, yeah the band aren’t the same skinny, glitter punks that we first saw at Leicester Poly. But we’re not the same care free young students either. The fact is, they are one of the greatest bands this country has ever produced and have delivered some of the best songs our generation will ever hear. On that basis, they are entitled to do whatever they like. We may not always passionately await the new album. But if recording a new album gives us just another chance to see this wonderful band live, it must be a good thing.