Live Report: Manic Street Preachers, Suede – Cardiff Castle

A thrilling double-header from two legendary bands...

The news has broken at last, and Cardiff is in raptures. Nicky Wire is set to become the new manager of the Welsh national football team, according to Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield, who makes the declaration part way through the first of two nights headlining Cardiff Castle. If the contracts have been drawn up and an announcement video scheduled for social media, though, it seems Wire still has some reservations. “I don’t think Ribena, Kit Kats, and chips would be good for the Welsh football team,” he quips back. Somewhere near the back of the crowd, Craig Bellamy can be heard breathing a sigh of relief.

This has been the Manics’ trademark sense of humour for several decades now. After the unrelenting toil and trauma of their 1994 masterpiece ‘The Holy Bible’ – which, remarkably, remains wholly unrepresented in the setlist tonight – more of Wire’s kitchen-sink melodrama started to creep into the band’s lyrics and interviews, arguably coming into full view for the first time on 1996’s ‘Everything Must Go’-era b-side ‘Mr Carbohydrate’. The candy-pink nihilism of their salad days began to soften into existentialism, with jokes about cricket and vacuum cleaners arriving to offset the horrors.

It’s a high glamour vs. low domesticity dynamic that the Welsh band share with this tour’s co-headliners, Suede, who tonight take the support slot. Like the Manics, Brett Anderson and co. came to fame in John Major’s ‘90s as a ludicrously beautiful gang of young men, singing songs about the boredom of life at home while yearning for something brighter. The fact that every founding member of both bands are now in their 50s means the youth that they plied their trade on back then – Suede’s ‘So Young’, which comes out tonight, or the Manics’ lines about wanting to “stay a terminal young thing”, a line I once spray-painted in lurid green on a blouse nicked from my mum for a gig in 2002 – risks making them look slightly ridiculous three decades later.

Any such notions are dismissed early on into Suede’s set, not just because Anderson has somehow barely aged, but because his band still command the stage with the fire and ferocity of acts half their age. ‘Animal Nitrate’, ‘Trash’, and ‘The Drowners’ – once covered by the Manics, further cementing the two bands’ kinship back then – all sound exquisite, and the crowd lap it up, a reminder that this is every inch a co-headline show. Even an extremely questionable acoustic rendition of 1999’s ‘She’s In Fashion’ can’t diminish the adoration poured back at Suede, and a barnstorming ‘Beautiful Ones’ closes the set with aplomb.

By the time the Manics come on, seemingly to the opening strains of ‘Lifeblood’ cut ‘1985’, the crowd are left wondering how much of the 2004 album might creep into the set today while they’re busy celebrating its anniversary. As it turns out, the answer is only one: a decidedly uninspired choice mid-set, ‘To Repel Ghosts’, which is surely a boon for the venue’s beer and coffee sales. Is ‘Solitude Sometimes Is’ too much to ask for? ‘Cardiff Afterlife’, perhaps, given the occasion? Never mind. For the rest of the evening, Blackwood’s finest are simply untouchable.

‘You Love Us’ kicks off proceedings instead, sending the feather boa brigade at the barriers into ecstasy. Fan favourite album ‘Gold Against The Soul’ gets two run-outs, and arguably the highlights of a sumptuous collection of hits, with ‘La Tristesse Durera’ and ‘From Despair To Where’ sounding as extraordinary in a live setting as they ever have. Three cuts each from ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ all hit home, most notably a surprise mid-set airing of perennial closer ‘A Design Life’, and a gale-force performance of ‘No Surface All Feeling’ that segues into a mini-cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Today’. (Yes, really.) Even as a relatively sedate choice of final song, if not an unfamiliar one, 1998’s number one hit ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ never felt any less than triumphant.

While both bands may still be rolling back the years on stage, their fanbases have notably slowed down. Where Manics shows were once a riot of mascara and teenage rebellion, even a decade or so into the 21st century – as still evidenced in small pockets by those loyalists at the front –  the typical attendee today is closer to the archetypal centrist 6 Music dad, a middle-aged man playing with the NME cuttings of his glory days. But looking around at the audience tonight, they too are transformed: faces plastered with joy, turning to each other with glee at every unscheduled Bradfield guitar lick, sweaty and incandescent by the end. Here is a band still capable of performing miracles. After all, if he can still get a big outdoor crowd performing at these levels, who knows what Nicky Wire could do with Dan James and Kieffer Moore in the Nations League?

Words: Matthew Neale
Photography: Alex Lake (Manic Street Preachers), Dean Chalkley (Suede)

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