Live Review: Manic Street Preachers // Manchester O2 Apollo, 02.10.21

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I’m sitting on my own, it’s 2021. The lights are falling like snowflakes over the stage. I see it all through an iPhone 12 filter, as the woman in front lets out an excited squeal, her cheeks decorated with cheap golden glitter. There are no holes in my recollections, time has stopped and is perfectly frozen. 

This is a Manic Street Preachers gig—my first, in fact—and immediately it’s clear what this band is about. Queuing outside the venue to have our Covid passports checked, we are an eclectic bunch. But that is half the fun: it doesn’t matter how old you are, or how new you are to the fanbase, you’re sure to be welcomed with a warm embrace. 

Forming in 1986, the Manics are seasoned pros at this performing malarkey, launching into a tried and tested cocktail of old fan favourites, as well as new songs from September’s release, The Ultra Vivid Lament. Barely pausing for breath, James Dean Bradfield and his merry men raced through opener ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, lead single ‘Orwellian’ from the new record, and the anthemic ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’. Only after this does he greet his motley Manchester audience. 

Up next, ‘The Secret He Had Missed’—which features Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cumming on the album version—is a surprising standout from the new material; its foreboding melody line creates a sense of urgency in the teeming crowd. Crowd pleaser ‘Ocean Spray’ melts into another highlight; ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ from 1998’s This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. 

Pausing at moments throughout the set to introduce his accomplices, James Dean Bradfield is consistently excellent, occasionally venturing to the front of the stage to show off his guitarwork. Nicky Wire, stage left, is wearing patent leather trousers, a red blazer and is cooler than anyone else in the room. 

‘Still Snowing in Sapporo’ is even more eerily beautiful played live, even if the acapella sections feel a bit rushed. Then again, perhaps its hard to pace yourself amidst shouts from the audience of how much they love you. ‘Everything Must Go’ bleeds into ‘Complicated Illusions’, followed by ‘International Blue’ — and there’s somewhat of a lull as a handful of members of the audience make that fateful decision to head to the loos, or get one more beer from the bar. 

Perhaps sensing the need for a pick-me-up, we get the raucous ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ before we are treated to an acoustic version of ‘Stay Beautiful’, having been asked a very leading question: do we want a song with loads of swearing, or not? Alone on stage, James the conductor holds his hand up and the crowd chants ‘FUCK OFF’, expertly finishing the lines “Don’t wanna see your face / Don’t wanna hear your words / Why don’t you just-”. The song is dedicated to Steve Jones, who produced the Generation Terrorists track, and who sadly passed away recently. 

Rejoined by his bandmates, a setlist staple comes in the form of ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’, a technically proficient Guns’n’Roses cover that lots of the more long-serving fans will no doubt wish was swapped out for an original Manics song. With such an extensive discography under their belts it seems a little curious for a band as big as this to still include covers in their running order. 

Not content with being the best dressed just once this evening, the Wire is back on stage in a white suit. Unable to resist making a barbed comment about the venues that have not survived as long as the band has, the Wire reflects on Richey Edward’s love of Manchester. 

After an underwhelming offering with ‘Tsunami’, the band deviate from the tried-and-tested approach, giving fans a rare treat in the form of ‘Afterending’, which makes its live debut. ‘Slash ‘n’ Burn’ is followed by ‘Spectators of Suicide’, also from Generation Terrorists, before ‘Into The Waves of Love’ from the new album takes us back to 2021. 

It’s a carefully formulated cocktail of classic ingredients paired with a modern zest, bound to please the old and young imbiber alike. Like any great beverage, there’s a complexity to it that only hits you after the fact: as the crowd comes together as one to sing along to the last two tracks—‘You Love Us’ and ‘A Design for Life’—there’s one singular flavour that lingers on the palate: unity. No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, this is your night. These days may never come again.  

Words by Beth Kirkbride

@BettyKirkers


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