Manic Street Preachers
TOM WILLS: “when you can follow a fairly flat three minutes with A Design for Life, and turn the entire place into a sweating, gurning pit, most things can be forgiven.”
1st November, 7pm at the Cambridge Corn Exchange.
Aged fourteen, the first Manic Street Preachers album was The Holy Bible, a terrifying collection of gothy basslines with a Welshman ranting over the top about the US role in Nicaragua and whether Stalin was a bisexual.
Despite the odd ensuing nightmare (usually just a big Russian handlebar moustache hanging over me), I emerged from my formative years a little bit in love with the Manics, and had they not been so incredible at the Corn Exchange I’d warn against the possibility of bias in this review.
Not a chance.
From the very first song, they wheeled around the stage gleefully, unfazed that the modest confines of the venue hardly suited the scope of their setlist. If a load of sexually-frustrated punks sat in a room and tried to write the perfect opener, they might end up with something like You Love Us (in fairness, this is probably what actually happened.) By the time the final chord punched though the PA, the crowd forgot the bizarre set design – essentially the decor of Mai Thai rolled in glitter – and got on with the very serious endeavour of shouting themselves insensible.
As the Manics rattled breathlessly through the vast majority of the hits they’ve accrued over the last twenty years (no token overrepresentation of the new record here), the sheer versatility of the band comes to the fore. Their basic elements – James Dean Bradfield’s gleeful power-pop voice, the no-nonsense virtuosity of his guitar playing and the military tightness of the rhythm section – are equally well suited to the pretty and acoustic (Ocean Spray), the epic stadium singalong (Everything Must Go) and the bug-eyed revolutionary invective (debut single Motown Junk).
To step outside my shameless fandom, there were a few deeply odd setlist choices. From the new album, Hazelton Avenue was chosen above far superior candidates, while bassist and chief cheerleader Nicky Wire was given a self-indulgent solo moment in the limelight. This was regrettable. He just got away with his knee-length leopard print jacket and spangly tights (he’s done worse), but he just can’t sing.
For a lesser band, these indiscretions might have undermined the entire set. But when you can follow a fairly flat three minutes with A Design for Life, and turn the entire place into a sweating, gurning pit, most things can be forgiven.