Manic Street Preachers @ O2 Academy, 23 May 2019

It’s a warm night here in Birmingham and as the sun was setting, this evening was going to deliver a little bit of extra sunshine and a touch of Welshness into the hearts of Midlands based Manic Street Preachers fans. When you arrive at a venue and are completely captivated straight away, you get the feeling that this is going to be a good night. The wonderfully expressive Gwenno was already on the stage. The Cardiff-born singer-songwriter helped get the evening off to a beautifully hypnotic start. Her blend of Welsh and Cornish language music is done in a way that reminds you of the fantastic synth-driven psychedelia of bands like Stereolab and Can.

You may not have a clue what is being sung lyrically, but Gwenno Saunders’ storytelling comes through with absolute passion and pride.The set was a mixture of her two albums with BBC 6 Music favourite Tir Ha Mor getting the most attention from the crowd.

I loved the fact that “Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki” taken from her debut album Y Dydd Olaf based on Welsh author Owain Owain’s 1976 sci-fi novel is, “How we would dance if the world came to an end.” It happened to be her 38th birthday, and during an impromptu rendition of happy birthday, one of the fans in the audience gave her what appeared to be camembert with a candle in it, and this clearly took her by surprise and a delightful sense of thanks.The last time the Manics came to our city they played Arena Birmingham, which meant that the sold out crowd were actually in for something quite intimate and special. This was the 8th date of a 13 date tour which saw the band play London and Manchester twice before heading to what singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield referred to this evening as the “grand behemoth that is Birmingham.” The tour was in celebration of the 20th-anniversary reissue of the Nicky Wire penned 1998 album This is My Truth Tell Me Yours. The band’s fifth album is often overlooked in favour of their previous records, but there are actually some big anthems on it that have actually helped to define their unforgettable sound. The evening was split into two parts, the first was the 20th-anniversary reissue played in full (with a slight change as they deliberately moved “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” to the end of the record). The band entered the stage to the David Holmes chilling remix of the track mentioned earlier with a couple of spots lighting up the drum kit and the Cymru flags draped over the bass amps (something that has become the norm pretty much since this album was released). Nicky Wire looked the part (as he always does) with sparkly attire and black sunglasses. The simplicity of the set design actually added to the warmth of the evening with the image of Black Rock Beach (the beach used on the album cover) playing centre of attention in the background. There was a sense of immediacy about tonight, but when you have a 23 song set to fit into less than two hours, there is always going to be that.
TIMTTMY is one of those albums that has a distinctly intimate feel, and that might be why the O2 Academy was chosen as the venue, rather than one of the more grand sized places that Birmingham has to offer. That definitely came across when they played several tracks from the album including “My Little Empire” and “Born a Girl.” Obviously, the more distinctive Manics sound was there with fan favourites “Everlasting” and “You Stole the Sun from My Heart,” and you could tell that this was a night for the real fan when album tracks like “Black Dog On My Shoulder” and B-side “Prologue to History” cause a big stir from the crowd. The band were in fine form with their ever-growing stage presence, and their humour shone throughout the evening. Some examples included when Bradfield listed Birmingham bands but stopping to tell us that Nick Drake was actually from Tamworth. He also gave a little impression of Simon Le Bon singing Duran Duran’s The Reflex. As well as Nicky Wire informing us that while supporting Oasis in another failed attempt at breaking America he came up with “the most miserable fucking lyric I’ve ever written.” Ending this part of the evening with the album-defining “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” was a smart move and gave a closure to the more melancholic part of the evening. The second part of the evening could be described as “playing the hits,” although I actually felt it was more than that. They drew on work from all of their albums and although you could probably have asked for more (in fact there was someone repeatedly shouting “play Faster”) this part of the evening covered all bases. It was strange to see how worked up the crowd were, with the band actually having to take a pause in the set on more than one occasion so that someone could be removed, the second time clearly annoying Bradfield with him even telling them off with a perfect Welsh scolding of “just stop it now.”This section of the evening took us on a journey of fan favourites and band favourites. Starting with “Sleepflower” from fan favourite album “Gold Against the Soul;” to classics like “Motorcycle Emptiness” and the brash punk anthem “You Love Us” from debut album “Generation Terrorists;” to the more recent “International Blue” from 2018s “Resistance is Futile,” they definitely were playing to a wider audience. However, they also played homage to lesser known tracks including  “Solitude Sometimes Is” from 2004s “Lifeblood.” They ended the evening with the flawless delivery of firm fan favourite “A Design for Life.” As far as 20th Anniversary reissues go “This is My Truth Tell Me Yours” is definitely up there as one of those must have records for their loyal fan base. I think they chose the right setting and support act for such an intimate album which is deeply rooted in Nicky Wire’s rediscovery of his Welshness. The three Manic Street Preachers, all now in their 50s, were on fine form and James Dean Bradfield gave us moments that showed he was still “King of the vocals and king of the fucking riffs,” as Wire so kindly reminded us. The evident warmth of the band came through with every note they played and every lyric they sang. This was an evening for the fan, and the Manics delivered! 


Review: Imran Khan

Photo: Chris Bowley

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