Manic Street Preachers review – engaged veterans still energised by the present

Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff
Honouring NHS workers, the Welsh trio’s show is anchored by current chart-topper The Ultra Vivid Lament but features hits and curveballs aplenty

Manic Street Preachers are in a reflective place. As they stride on stage, for the second of two shows honouring the efforts of NHS workers during the pandemic, they have a UK No 1 album for the first time in 23 years.

Nicky Wire, trousers still shiny after all this time, acknowledges the accolade only briefly, but it’s appropriate that songs from The Ultra Vivid Lament, an elegiac, questioning sort of chart-topper, anchor a show that provides hits alongside barbed slogans and selections that underline the nuance within the Manics’ catalogue.

The words of James Baldwin, “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them”, flash on screen as James Dean Bradfield cleaves the air with the opening notes of 1992’s Motorcycle Emptiness. Familiar images of the band’s younger selves, and their missing companion Richey Edwards, flicker above them as its music video rolls, drawing attention to the passing of time and also the timelessness of the song.

Manic Street Preachers, with Nicky Wire, right.
Every trick in the book ... Manic Street Preachers, with Nicky Wire, right. Photograph: Polly Thomas/Getty Images

These days, the Manics resemble a veteran pitcher atop the mound – they have more years behind them than ahead, but they also know every trick and variation in the book. They are able to pair curveballs, such as a filthy, fuzzy take on Ocean Spray, with 100mph heaters over the heart of the plate. A transcendent run through If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next sits alongside a one-two of Your Love Alone Is Not Enough and recent single The Secret He Had Missed, with Cat Southall subbing in for Nina Persson and Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming respectively. The sequence ascends to pop bliss.

If there are moments that are woolly and unfocused – such as a wish-fulfilment charge through Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child o’ Mine, with Bradfield admittedly crushing each of Slash’s indelible solos – then they are at least deliberate, and followed by the hairpin turns of International Blue and a sublime Little Baby Nothing. A Design for Life brings the house pogoing down, leaving the Manics energised by the present, but with a firm handle on their past. There are innings left to play in their game.

Manic Street Preachers play City Hall, Newcastle, 26 September, then tour.


Huw Baines

The GuardianTramp

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