Manic Street Preachers LIVE @ Wolverhampton Civic Hall 6/04/14

How does one go about becoming a national treasure? It’s not a question most of us will have found ourselves asking all that often I’d wager. For those more vainglorious sort in the rock ‘n’ roll game who measure themselves by accolades however, it must be up there on their to-do lists along with winning a Grammy or shaking hands with someone actually important like Barack Obama or Cheryl Cole. In 2011, the Manic Street Preachers went and almost did the unthinkable titling their latest greatest hits compilation ‘National Treasures’, not because they were premature in awarding themselves that status but because it hardly needed saying. Like most truths, it’s self-evident. Tonight’s show was further welcome yet unnecessary confirmation that the Manics are one of the best rock groups Britain, or I’m sure they’d prefer to say Wales, has ever produced.

From the moment the band take the stage they mean business and I’m not just talking about Nicky Wire’s rather mundane selection of suit and tie. They begin with an old favourite, the downbeat ‘La Tristessa Durera (Scream to a Sigh)’ taken from 1993’s ‘Gold Against the Soul’. It’s a perfect warm-up for the Wolverhampton crowd, James Dean Bradfield letting the punters take the majority of the vocal duties and finding them in fine voice. I should state at this point that if you have never seen the Manics live before then you won’t be aware that a large part of the experience is standing with the hundreds of diehard fans singing along. Seriously, Manics fans are some of the best I’ve ever seen. At first, the spectacle of someone screaming every lyric of indisputably verbose tunes like ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ or ‘The Masses Against the Classes’ can be bewildering but it never fails to warm your heart.

A succession of hits including ‘You Stole the Sun From My Heart’ and ‘(It’s Not War) Just the End of Love’ whipped the eager audience into a near frenzy early on. The band then tore through a bruising rendition of 1991 single ‘Stay Beautiful’, the song’s brazen refrain “Why don’t you just fuck off!” reciprocated loudly by all in the venue. After a couple of mellow numbers, among them the gorgeous title track from their latest LP ‘Rewind the Film’ featuring Bradfield’s best impersonation of Richard Hawley in the Sheffield crooner’s absence Wire then called for a return of the “animosity, hatred and bleakness” of when the Welsh group played the Civic in 1994 touring ‘The Holy Bible’ dedicating that album’s raw ‘Die In the Summertime’ to the departed Richey Edwards.

It’s surprising just how comprehensive the setlist for this tour is, spanning every era and covering almost every major release, given how ill at ease the Manics often seem with their past. ‘Your Love Alone is Not Enough’ from 2007 comeback ‘Send Away the Tigers’ sits comfortably next to the Edwards-penned ‘Enola/Alone’ and breakthrough number one ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’. Each recent Manics release has brought with a sense of finality; in 2009 ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’ set to music the last of Edwards’ lyrical contributions before his disappearance while Wire suggested that if 2010’s sepia-tinged ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ wasn’t successful the band would call it a day. Before ‘Rewind the Film’ was announced fans could be forgiven for thinking they would never tour again after their monumental 2011 O2 concert. Thankfully for us, they haven’t packed it in just yet and in a move that harks back to their mid-‘90s contrarian agenda, described memorably by Bradfield as them “raging against the dying of the light”, are releasing their most nostalgic and most forward-thinking LPs only 9 months apart. Judging by the two tracks aired, the forthcoming ‘Futurology’ could well deliver on its Joy Division-meets-Kraftwerk promise.

In fact on tonight’s evidence you wouldn’t know the band’s latest album was so introspective and mature, the only real breather the crowd gets is a short acoustic interlude where Bradfield not only proves he’s a shoo-in for the next time we compile the best underrated guitarists but also a decent shout for best frontman in rock. His solo turns on ‘This is Yesterday’ and ‘From Despair to Where’ would be spare were it not for the accompaniment of the throng joining in on his every word. The return of the full band also brings with it a glittery ensemble from the reliably glamourous Wire. Now resplendently sparkling he tells us he’s had a bad hairday which is doubly disappointing as his hair has been the undoubted highlight of the tour. It’s all very classic Manics which means it can only be time for ‘You Love Us’ and it is. The fan favourite has rarely left their set since their very first gigs and it remains the perfect anthem for the Manics’ adoring fanbase, the pronouns easily interchangeable between the band its followers. They bring the night to a close with a nod and a wink pairing the throwback R&B of ‘Show Me the Wonder’ celebrating the Detroit sound of the 1960s with ‘Motown Junk’ before the inevitable spine-tingling chorus of ‘A Design for Life’. It’s a perfect end to a brilliant gig.

Elliott Homer
Elliott Homer is an undisputed master of understatement, a black belt holder in mixed metaphors and long-time deserving of some such award for length of time spent chatting rubbish about music down the pub. Studies show prolonged exposure to his scribblings can cause migraines, hysterical pregnancy, night terrors and/or acne, yet seldom encourages readers to agree with the author, in fact quite the reverse, much to his eternal frustration.