Manic Street Preachers @ Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff (21/05/2011)

May 24, 2011 by  

To say that there was a whir of anticipation in the air of the Motorpoint Arena on Saturday night is… well, clich?d at best, but it does aptly describe the atmosphere surrounding the homecoming of some of Wales’ most revered sons, the Manic Street Preachers who had not played this particular venue since 2007.

The Manics have always drawn a varied crowd. Ever since they ditched the sound of punk anarchism to set the bar for the post-Britpop pack to aspire to, their audience has sported a visible divide; a clash in appeal that was brought together by the love of a band who had reinvented themselves whilst still clinging on to their principles. What became evident as the multitudes of adoring fans poured in in their thousands was that that though these divides may still exist, visibly the Manics? audience, like them is growing up. Gone were the plethora of teenage guerrilla rebels in Che Guevara attire and customised berets, and in came crowds of non-offensive t-shirts and suede boots, out for the night to watch a band, that not only do they adore, but also that had aged with them. It was possibly the widest ranging age groups that I?ve seen at a gig in years.

And so it was that in the hometown of the three-piece we were all there to see, we witnessed the complete transition of a group that has been the epitome of Welsh culture for over 20 years. This evolution can be placed firmly at the feet of the shift in musical style over the decade and a half. With the exception of ‘Journal for Plague Lovers’, M.S.P. have stayed the melodic and commercial course for almost 15 years now. Their latest album, ‘Postcards from a Young Man’ is the triumphant pinnacle of over a decade of releases, as the pendulum has swung back and forth between forms of pop sensibility and thrashy, angry petulance.

Starting the evening off more than adequately was The Joy Formidable who hail from North of the principality, and quickly punched their way through a vicious set of songs from their heralded debut ?The Big Roar?, and kicked off what was to be a momentous celebration of national belonging and representation.

Then for the main event, as the Manics arrived from behind the stage curtains, rolling back the years as they lashed out ?Stay Beautiful? circa 1992 as if their past was just a week ago. This, and ?Your Love Alone is Not Enough? was to set the tone for the evening. The 23-strong setlist flitted from album to album, and apart from ?Plague Lovers? every album was represented by at least one track. The band were clearly out for a good time, but managed to flawlessly intersperse lesser known album tracks amongst their commercial staples with ease, and the biggest surprises of the evening came in the form of renditions of ?My Little Empire?, ?Enola/Alone? and ?Life Becoming a Landslide?. There were moments of tenderness laced with good humour, seen in tracks like 2004?s ?Solitude Sometimes Is?, with the ever- conscious James Dean Bradfield suggesting that since they were about to play a song from ?Lifeblood? it may be an appropriate time to ?go get a can of Breaker or something.? There is no shortage of self-awareness or sense of humour about their own success, so more is the delight when you realise that they just don?t care what anyone else thinks.

Nicky Wire was engaging from start to finish. Microphone adorned with feather boas, he was a constant tower of presence and didn?t disappoint his crowd, as after a brief solo interlude from Bradfield, he emerged from the stage to complete the set in a mini skirt fashioned from a Welsh flag. Of the two band leaders on the night, he was the more outspoken and acerbic, only speaking to bite out rallying cries and proclaim his troupes glory, but a Manics crowd cannot help being taken over by the confidence and likeability of JDB, who led the 5000-strong capacity in a rousing acoustic rendition of ?Everything Must Go?, illustrating the undercurrent of the evening ? a celebration of Wales, of Cardiff and of coming home.

Maybe typically, the older songs were more jagged around the edges than the newer material, with ?Slash N’ Burn? ripped through with fuzzy abandon and ?Of Walking Abortion? not quite hitting the mark in terms of sharpness. Perhaps also a shame was that only the singles from ?Postcards from a Young Man? were included, as there are some truly brilliant moments to choose from that album. Songs that can stand their ground amongst anything ?This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours? has to offer, and that could have had a place considering this tour was still in support of that album.

The Manics have highlighted their intentions in the media to once again move away from their more marketable and pop-orientated traits, and have already penciled in a new album for later this year that is going to be as sharp and cutting as a razorblade, so it may have been more than just a celebration of achievement. It could also have been a fitting tribute or swansong to mark the passing of years of hard work and durability. Whatever the outcome, you?re never going to completely kill off the Manics that we saw on stage, but the only reason they were living off past glories here was that the spectators wouldn?t let them do anything else. We?ll see what the future brings for the Manic Street Preachers, but if they can?t find anything befitting, then the present version will do just fine thank you.