Manic Street Preachers – review

02 Arena, London

"There are many songs you might go to the bar for," says the singer James Dean Bradfield. "But this one, I think, everyone stays for." Correct on both counts. In a three-hour show, it's inevitable that some numbers will signal an exodus to the beer queue. But this particular hit, Motorcycle Emptiness, is one of the cornerstones of the Manic Street Preachers' catalogue, and nobody is going anywhere. As Bradfield reaches the song's soaring apex, he's drowned out by a backing choir of 16,000 voices.

That the Manics can sell out an arena gig at which they perform all 38 of their singles (as compiled on the recent album National Treasures) proves they were right about one thing all along: they really are a stadium band. Even presented in a non-chronological jumble – 1992's Motorcycle Emptiness is followed by last year's Just the End of Love; 1994's Faster bumps up against 2001's Let Robeson Sing – the songs cohere into a dynamic whole. Preceded by wry anecdotes from Bradfield and bassist Nicky Wire – whose red bob and kohl-blackened lids give him an unmistakable resemblance to Mary Portas – each song is a tremendous affirmation of their stature in British rock.

As ever, the lost Richey Edwards is never far away. He hovers behind them in old video footage, and there's an eerie moment during Roses in the Hospital when the video cuts to Edwards singing the same words as Bradfield. Imagine Richey's shock, should he ever return to find that their core audience of androgynous indie waifs is now greatly outnumbered by beefy men who hoist their pints while singing Everything Must Go.

The Cardigans' Nina Persson and Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys guest on, respectively, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough and Let Robeson Sing, but create little stir. It's the Manics the fans want, and as confetti rains down during A Design for Life, the love between band and crowd nearly takes the roof off.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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