MANIC STREET PREACHERS opened their The Holy Bible 20th Anniversary tour in Edinburgh last Saturday. Vive Le Rock’s Andrew Welsh was on the scene…
MANIC STREET PREACHERS / Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Few bands have enjoyed a relevance over the past quarter century like Manic Street Preachers.
Plenty have been around for at least as long and similarly prolific, like Killing Joke and Therapy?, but have long since ceased to puncture the public consciousness beyond a fervent, if limited, fanbase despite producing consistently excellent material. Then there are your Blue Nile types, those who pop up fleetingly with a new album every seven or eight years, take the critical plaudits and vanish again.
With 12 studio albums and the equivalent of at least another half dozen in assorted B-sides and rareties behind them since 1990, Manic Street Preachers have never been afraid of failure. Last year's Futurology was a bold step into the realm of Krautrock, but surely their biggest gamble was 1994's dark masterpiece The Holy Bible, a searing diatribe that covered subject matter such as anorexia, prostitution, the Holocaust, capital punishment and suicide with brutal honesty. Its principal lyric architect Richey Edwards went into meltdown post-Holy Bible and disappeared aged 27 in 1995, with his fate still unknown.
It is precisely because his childhood friends James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore subsequently went on to greater success that seeing them reconnect with Edwards' uncompromising youthful lyrics in their mid-40s has an emotional significance for the band's fans. The industrial rock opener ‘Yes’ set the tone at the Usher Hall, with the bouncing massed ranks firing back every word to the Welsh trio in their forces-style garb, the stage similarly bedecked in camouflage netting a la the band's original Holy Bible tour 21 years ago.
Shafts of humour amid a set made up of such compellingly bleak material were inevitably few, but the chorus of pantomime boos that greeted mention of Margaret Thatcher in the haunting sample that pressaged the militaristic stomp of ‘Ifwhiteamerica…’ raised a smile from Bradfield. The rugged frontman clearly relishes the challenge of reproducing his astonishing guitar-and-vocals performance on the album, and in a century-old venue noted for faithful recitals the intricacies of such visceral tracks as ‘Archives Of Pain’, ‘Mausoleum’ and ‘Faster’ rightly came across as the technical achievements that they are.
The second half of the show was an enjoyable selection from the Manics’ bulky back catalogue. Bradfield went solo on a heartfelt acoustic rendition of ‘The Everlasting’, "something a little more touchy-feely" as he understatedly put it following the first hour's confrontational content. By contrast, the Guns'n'Roses-like anthem ‘Condemned To Rock'n'Roll’ was a flashback to the original Generation Terrorists, all slogans and spraypaint, with Wire saying the song had never been played live by the four-piece because he and Edwards had been unable to learn it.
Futurology's ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ stood up well beside MSP classics ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’, while the leviathans ‘If You Tolerate This’ and ‘A Design For Life’ were delivered with feeling and intensity.
As the 20th anniversary of 1996's Everything Must Go album approaches, speculation is rife that they might be about to embark on another themed tour next year. With the throng at Usher Hall made up of feather boa and mascara-wearing veterans and 20-somethings alike, all keen to grab a slice of thrilling '90s celebration, there appears to be no shortage of demand. Certainly, if the trio handle their commercial breakthrough LP with the same reverence and total commitment as they showed to The Holy Bible then a must-see experience lies in prospect.