Pop review: Manic Street Preachers, Barrowland, Glasgow

Barrowland, Glasgow

Manic Street Preachers began life as agents provocateurs given to proclaiming that they would set themselves on fire on Top of the Pops and quit the music industry after making one multimillion-selling album. This strategy was largely the creation of Richey Edwards, their precociously gifted but troubled guitarist who vanished in February 1995 and was legally declared dead last year.

Before vanishing, Edwards bequeathed his bandmates a series of lyrics that they have finally made use of on their acclaimed new album, Journal for Plague Lovers. The three remaining Manics - singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, bassist Nicky Wire and drummer Sean Moore - play this record in full tonight, but it is Edwards whose presence hangs heavy over the evening, from the crowd's terrace chants of "Richey! Richey!" to the symbolic and poignant empty mic stand to Bradfield's right.

Edwards's lyrics are typically cryptic and poetic, a set of barbed aphorisms and loaded pop-cultural references, yet, ironically, they work because the Manics have gained vast amounts of musical muscle since his disappearance. This doesn't stop the singer complaining frequently and loudly about the material he has to deal with. "I don't know how Richey thinks I'm supposed to sing all these words!" he moans before Pretension/Repulsion, a song that makes informed reference to the work of French neoclassical painter Ingrès, yet Bradfield is formidable on All Is Vanity, an existential lament heavy with intimations of mortality that he delivers with a powerful sense of conviction, and the Sylvia Plath-influenced Virginia State Epileptic Colony.

The reliably glammed-up Wire is a relatively subdued presence tonight, and his husky voice tremors with nerves as he closes the Plague Lovers set with William's Last Words, a song that sounds like Edwards's final goodbye: "I'll be watching over you/ Leave me go, Jesus."

After an interval, the band roar back with a greatest hits set, from early insurrectionary anthems such as You Love Us through the teenage strop of Motown Junk, the insatiable melancholy of Everything Must Go and the bombastic melodrama of A Design for Life, and it's hard not to think that we are watching one of contemporary rock's most remarkable bands finally achieve closure.

• At the Roundhouse, London, Thursday 28 May to Saturday 30 May. Box office: 0844 482 8008. Then touring.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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