The giant video screen depicts some dramatic video scenes of geisha girls fighting, before ending on the poignant words, ‘Life Is All Memories’ and the tension running through the eager crowd is electrifying as the Manic Street Preachers take to the stage.
Striding into the opening tune from the new album, Resistance Is Futile, they absolutely confirm why they are still at the top of their game with the lyrically soul searching, ‘International Blue’.
From that opening, I have fallen back in love with the Manics. It’s been a few years since I last saw them here, and I think even they would agree it was not the greatest gig. I had left them on the musical back burner for a while, so I was intrigued as to what the set list would be like tonight. But there seems to be a new lease of life in the Manics, and it is exciting to watch.
‘All Surface, No Feeling’ from Everything Must Go is as gritty as ever and James Dean Bradfield’s voice has held up considerably over the years – never better highlighted than when he spits: “It makes me angry, ashamed but really alive / It may have worked but at what price.”
Another new one, ‘Distant Colours’, is a rousing work of prose and there is a fantastic diversity about the set. The new stuff really does stand up against the old back catalogue, with the crowd absolutely lapping up every note up. Nicky Wire is on fine form, refusing to grow old gracefully as he pounds and licks at his bass on ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’, whilst James Dean Bradfield rips through it with his trademark riffs and rhythms.
‘Dylan & Caitlin’, another new offering, softens even the hardest of hearts down on the floor.
Something that is always nice to see at a Manics gig, especially if you were a fan from the start like me, is the band’s continued respect and memorial to Richey Edwards. Tonight is no exception, as the screen reveals lots of footage of the earlier days and one tag line particularly stands out: “All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us” – an appropriate caption and very humbling to read.
We even get treated to an old B-side tonight in the shape of the jazz-infused ‘Horses Under The Starlight’.
‘Everything Must Go’ is the most memorable tune of the night, as Bradfield manages to completely go for a Burton over one of the monitor speakers, before exclaiming: “That bloody hurt!” He takes the stage alone for a few acoustic numbers including ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, which was rather lovingly dedicated to Leeds United and Wales footballing legend, Gary Speed, and ‘Faster’, which was dedicated to the words of Richey.
The pace of the set tonight was a little like a rollercoaster, up and down, then round some unexpected turns. Another dedication to Leeds born poet, Tony Harrison, by way of the tune ‘Let Robeson Sing’ – he was a massive influence on Nicky Wire.
The old favourites are still the same crowd-pleasers and ceiling lifters, I am pleased to report. Probably one of their most recognisable tunes, ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ is 20-years-old now, and has transcended the decades well. As the anthem blares out across the First Direct Arena it is accompanied by some rather high-powered cannon streamers, which put the fear of god into me, as I was sat a little too close to them for comfort.
‘You Love Us’ transportes half of the crowd back to their youth, and my ears are still ringing from the choral like sing-a-long, but it just shows how spine tinglingly brilliant these Welsh rockers are.
New song, ‘Hold Me Like Heaven’, is set to be a sure fire Manics classic and although the band do not believe in encores, they end their set in style with ‘Slash N’ Burn’ and ‘A Design For Life’ – and a hell of a lot more streamers!
Tonight leaves me in no doubt that the Manics are still as angry and rebellious as ever. The vibrancy of James Dean Bradfield’s voice is as ballsy as ever and the band constantly produce and deliver music that ignites passion, still weighted with strong opinions and still with their own unique sound.
The Manic Street Preachers have always loved playing in Leeds, and the personal touches they added this evening were emotionally moving and appreciated.
It was a flawless show in a vibrant atmosphere that contained something for every Manics fan.