4 stars Manic Street Preachers, Leeds University

Leeds University

When they tore out of Blackwood, Wales, at the end of the 1980s, the Manic Street Preachers had one manifesto: to combine the spirit of the Clash, the Sex Pistols and Guns N'Roses, record one incendiary, massive-selling double album and then split up. Back then, even the band themselves could not possibly have imagined that they would still be treading the boards 18 years after their first single and again returning to punk rock for inspiration.

However, eight albums and two solo dabbles later - from messieurs Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield - Wire previewed this tour of smaller venues promising "Springsteenesque long sets, working-class rage, makeup and dumb punk fun". The description wouldn't fall foul of the Trade Descriptions Act.

With Wire wearing most of the eyeliner, the opening numbers are a riot of Jam-style scissor kicks and Sex Pistols-y guitar barrages, with Bradfield adding to the lexicon of punk guitar postures by performing You Love Us hopping on one leg. The set draws heavily on the first two albums and the new, spikier Send Away the Tigers, and there is the promised rage in Bradfield's spat-out vocals, even though the band seem happy blazing away, aided by the unexpected return of their twenty-something waistlines.

There is the obligatory punk gig element of chaos, when Bradfield forgets the lyrics to Motorcycle Emptiness - a song he has sung for 15 years - while the wonderfully titled Freedom of Speech Won't Feed My Children collapses entirely. "That's the first time we've played that live and it's, er, as promised, back to our punk roots," chuckles Bradfield. "Ah, fuck it." Indeed.

Missing from their early days is guitarist Richey Edwards, who disappeared in 1995. Lurking in the shadows, extra guitarist Wayne Murray fleetingly, and eerily, resembles the missing musician. The set is littered with Edwards' lyrics, and he inspires current single Your Love Alone Is Not Enough. Edwards has never really gone away, and this set is particularly informed by his questioning, crash-and-burn aesthetic.

Two hours and 22 songs lash at subjects from dehumanisation (Yes) to the US disregard for the Geneva convention (Rendition), before Bradfield stutters at the awkwardness of the old "We destroy rock'n'roll" cry in Motown Junk. That hesitation suggests things can never be the same, and idealism must make way for realism. But in re-examining their beginnings, the Manics may have found the means to carry on.

· At Cardiff University tonight. Box office: 029-2078 1458. Then touring.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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