An exhilarating night with the Welsh legends...

Manic Street Preachers are one of British music’s most dependable forces. The perennial awkward squad, the Welsh band’s ability to overcome time and trauma has held them in good stead over the past 18 months, a period in which both audience and musicians have been locked down, and forced to change plans more times than anyone can remember.

But, finally, they’re here. Tonight is the closing evening of their celebratory British tour, a series of live events that follow recent LP ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’ – their first UK number one album in 23 years, and one of their strongest for a decade.  

It’s no surprise, then, to find Manic Street Preachers operating with a certain swagger and virility. Plunging straight into ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ the band move with a palpable electricity, the opening segment of the show merging together some fan-pleasing greatest hits alongside exceptional moments from their recent record.

‘Orwellian’ and ‘The Secret He Had Missed’ contain a real majesty, their literate yet rabble-rousing qualities made fully evident by the context tonight; James Dean Bradfield hurls himself into ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ backed by a preening, impish Nicky Wire and Sean Moore’s outstanding drumming.

Yet it’s often the more surprising elements of the set that cut deepest of all. As thrilling as it is to hear ‘Everything Must Go’ after the humbrum of endless lockdown(s), the emotional pull of ‘Still Snowing In Sapporo’ – combined with vintage visuals and photography on-screen – has a lasting impact. Bradfield’s solo turn on a coy ‘La Tristessa Durera’ is a joy, while a neat cover of The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ – a tribute to producer and Manics cohort Steve Brown – finds the guitarist living out his bombastic 80s goth rock fantasies.

Not everything connects, however. With a fanbase build across several decades, it’s impossible to please everyone – and given the cavernous stance of Wembley Arena, points do grow a little cold. Those moments swiftly pass, however, particularly with Manic Street Preachers able to drag out a potent ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’, an exhilaratingly ramshackle ‘Motown Junk’ and a majestic, confetti strewn turn on ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’.

Closing, naturally, with ‘A Design For Life’ it’s a bold, engaged, and emphatic renunciation of pandemic blues from a band who refuse to let their standards slip. Drawing on the full force of their catalogue, Manic Street Preachers use this to build a platform for future paths – a celebration from start to finish, tonight shows that their work is far from over.

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Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Alex Lake

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