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07/05/18 - The Times - London Wembley SSE Arena Review

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04/05/18 London Wembley SSE Arena

Publication: The Times
Date: Monday 7th May 2018
Writer: Will Hodgkinson

To be fair, they were nice legs. “I just thought, f*** it,” said Nicky Wire, having just changed into a skirt and white blazer ensemble that made him look like an unusually tall female tennis umpire. “You’ve got the best legs in rock’n’roll. Might as well use them.” This touch of cross-dressing, combined with a raucous singalong of the Sex Pistols’ No Feelings, helped to give the impression that the Manic Street Preachers are a lot more than just grizzled Welsh rockers with almost three decades in the game.

They’re certainly too self-aware and poetic to line up alongside, say, Foreigner in the straight-up rock stakes, with the superb new album Resistance is Futile tackling their own irrelevance head on while also referencing Dylan Thomas, Francis Bacon and Yves Klein. You couldn’t help but feel at this Wembley Arena concert, however, that they would much rather have been over the road at Wembley Stadium.

“I saw Rush here. They were f***ing amazing,” said the singer James Dean Bradfield, and if the Canadian prog-rock band are ever in need of a virtuoso guitarist Bradfield is more than qualified. You Stole the Sun From My Heart and No Surface All Feeling sounded like straightforward anthems and overly earnest with it, giving the impression that the Manic Street Preachers were just another crowd-pleasing rock band doing everything they could to ensure their appeal does not become, in the immortal words of Spinal Tap’s manager Ian Faith, “more selective”.

Then there was the other, more insurrectionary side, with the early single You Love Us still sounding incredible. An abrasive punk blast from 1991, it belonged to the time when the guitarist Richey Edwards, who went missing in 1995, brought to the Manics a far more troubled, complex quality than they have now.

The audience were certainly appreciative, punching the air and roaring along, and when Welsh singer the Anchoress came on to sing with Bradfield on Little Baby Nothing, a beautiful song about sexual exploitation recorded with the former porn star Traci Lords, it was easy to see why. Equal parts nuanced and crashingly unsubtle, the Manic Street Preachers do remain a unique proposition.