Live Review: Manic Street Preachers, Liverpool

Manic Street Preachers

30th May 2019, Olympia, Liverpool

Words & Photography: Gary Lambert

Okay, let’s be honest with each other…. A tour celebrating twenty years since an album was released is not in our Popped Music remit in general, but when there’s the chance of going to see Manic Street Preachers, we are not going to say no.

When the bill includes Gwenno it’s best to view her as a brilliant bonus rather than a support act. I view her as a modern version of Kate Bush as she mixes acclaimed favourites with ethereal majesty. Except I don’t like Kate Bush, but I love Gwenno every time I see her play.

It could be very easy to class Gwenno as a niche act given her singing in Welsh and Cornish along with the subtle electro which forms the spin of her musicality. Oh and performing with a lyre.  But actually her music is so accessible and fun that you cannot help but feel sorry for all the people who miss out on one of the greatest artists these shores has at present. With a perpetually beautiful vocal, and a bold stage presence she is everything I want from a musical act.

For me, this gig will go down as the day I re-discovered my love for an album I played a hell of a lot after it came out, but then quickly became left on the shelf as it was neither as grand or dirty as I wanted.  In fact, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was written off by yours truly over the years as mundane. However, hearing the tracks played live once more fired them up like lightning bolts. Nicky Wire claimed during the evening that he must have been so miserable when writing the lyrics to the album, “but from profound misery comes greatness”.  It was so wonderfully Nicky Wire, but gave me the opportunity to think about the album lyrically, particularly when the band added in to the album a B-side from Manic Street Preachers’ only number one hit (If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next), Prologue To History.

It’s sad that B-sides don’t really exist any more, but the mid-to-late-nineties was an incredible era for them as some of the greatest bands of all time were under pressure to put three additional tracks on single releases (four tracks was a single not an EP in those days). Prologue To History sounded grander and more powerful than most of the album tracks that the Manics played. It was the kind of song that you can fall in love with in an instant – and I did. Sitting in the car reading the lyrics so I could sing along before driving home falling in love.

It was poignant that Liverpool was the final date of this tour given that the last track of the album was inspired by one of the saddest times in the city’s history. This year marked the 30th anniversary of Hillsborough and South Yorkshire Mass Murderer (let’s call it what it is not SYMM) was Manic Street Preachers way of addressing the events of that day in 1989 which has seen recently someone been found guilty for their part in the deaths of 97 people and fined £6,500 for health and safety violations. It would have been very easy for James Dean Bradfield to raise the roof and spell out what this song means as the subject unites the city, but Manic Street Preachers don’t do cheap cheers. They did later in the set describe their performance at the Hillsborough Justice Concert in 1997 as “probably the best performance of our career”.

The TIMTTMY section of the show finished with If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next. In my opinion this is the peak of Manic Street Preachers’ musical output as it has grandeur, power, and lyrics that hit home.  I am biased as this song generated an interest and passion for the Spanish Civil War and, in particular, the International Brigade which subsequently made me go out and buy London Calling by The Clash in order to hear the song that inspired them (this album changed my life and musical tastes).  Played live twenty years later, the opening of “the future teaches you to be alone, the present to be afraid and cold, so if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists” seems as though it could have been sadly written yesterday. And it felt like that as the Manics threw all of their power into the track.

If Wire, Bradfield and Moore (and their backing musicians) had chosen to walk off stage at that point (they still don’t do tacky off-and-back-on false encores), I would have been satisfied like it was ten seconds after I’d finished my Christmas dinner. Instead, we got the “disco” element of the set as they ran through some of the greatest pieces of rock music any British band has ever written. Songs like Motorcycle Emptiness (dedicated to Phillip Hall and Jeff Barrett) and A Design For Life unite a fanbase which spreads across several generations, all united in their laser-intensity for Manic Street Preachers. There’s even room for fun in a cover of Sweet Child o’ Mine. And there is a world where the cocky sneer of You Love Us doesn’t raise a smile then I’ll be on the first flight to Mars.

This gig proved too that Manic Street Preachers have grown old perfectly too.  Obviously Sean Moore could keep time with a hurricane, but for musicians like Nicky Wire and JDB ageing seems to be a tougher balancing act. Do you try to stay true to your past recordings? This route almost always ends up in a failure as the body cannot do what the mind wants it to.  Or do you play entirely new versions of old favourites in a way that most suits your new-found creaks and aches? Instead they have found the perfect route along the tightrope which allows them to tear into every song as though it could be the cure to capitalism, but without looking ridiculous and desperate to recreate their youth. The sound of the band actually felt denser and bolder than in their heyday.

It was an emotional night too for the band as James and Nicky made reference to many of the people and moments of their past which shaped them into this truly wonderful band, it made me think how tough every gig must be for the three of them given the heartbreak the band has suffered over the years.  Even though this was the first album entirely without Richie, he was still there with them on stage in the form of his guitar (which was originally James’ guitar, but Richie confiscated it on the grounds that James wasn’t cool enough), and when they finished and said their goodbyes including from their missing mate, I thought that even after the success, awards, wealth and accolades, Manic Street Preachers are still 4 real.

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  • About Popped Music

    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

    All articles written by Elena Katrina unless otherwise stated.

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