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27/04/18 - Blank Slate Creative - Newcastle Metro Arena Review

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23/04/18 Newcastle Metro Radio Arena

Publication: Blank Slate Creative
Date: Friday 27th April 2018
Writer: Neil Ainger

Cursed with an atrocious memory, I can’t remember exactly when I first heard the Manic Street Preachers. I can narrow it down either to 1996 or 1998. A friend at school handed me a cassette on which he had recorded the band’s 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours and I played it over and over again. However, I also have some pretty strong memories of the Design for Life and Everything Must Go singles, back when people still watched music channels. I think therefore that the band’s 1996 album Everything Must Go most likely served as my introduction to the Welsh three-piece, as it did for many people. Everything Must Go was a triumph over adversity, a defiant statement not to surrender and, as it happens, the bands first taste of real commercial success. They had finally topped the mountain.

Of course the fact of the matter is that while that seems to be how the story goes, and as much as it is mostly accurate, the band were not until that point unsuccessful. With a UK #13 album as well as a #8 and a #6 under their belt they were already quite a force, making headlines and pushing buttons. Everything Must Go however, along with This Is My Truth, went 3x Platinum and forced The Manics to the forefront of the British music industry. These albums arguably remain the main reason the band continue to apply their trade in arenas and in venues of the size they do.

Over their 32 years as a band their style has often changed and evolved. From their inception as a riff-heavy, punchy “punk” band (although guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards may be correct in his estimation that this particular label was a result of merely lazy journalism) the bands output has ventured in to soft metal, hard rock, post-punk, pop and folk and of course there’s the inescapable label of Britpop, as a guitar-driven British band reaching prominence in the mid-1990s. The Manics are, overall, a rock band. Their journey was beautifully portrayed the last time I saw them live, having made my way to the O2 in London in 2011 to attend the ‘Night of National Treasures’, a one-off show in support of their singles collection in which the band played their collection of 38 singles in a set nearing 3 hours in length. 7 years later and with a new album to promote I had expected to hear plenty of their new material but had hoped for the rest of their set to be anywhere near as daring or as ranging. I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed as on this night, the opening night of their Resistance is Futile tour at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, the band not only showed that they could still assemble an impressive set but also included one or two unexpected little surprises.

Opening the show with the lead single from the latest record International Blue, the set did also predictably include a number of other tracks from the record such as Distant Colours, Liverpool Revisited, Hold Me Like a Heaven, People Give In and Dylan & Caitlin (featuring touring guitarist Wayne Murray on co-lead vocal). The new material glitters with melody just as much live as it does on record. Hold Me Like a Heaven in particular proves to be immediately popular with their fanbase, prompting a very loud sing-a-long and frankly sounds strong enough to become a staple of an MSP set.

Often accompanied by vintage footage of the band, video and song lyrics, the band charged through a loaded set comprising of singles and album tracks old and new – as well as a couple of surprise b-sides. Sean Moore’s drumming sounds as thunderous as ever on the anthemic No Surface, All Feeling. If you close your eyes during the ferociously energetic Slash N Burn, melancholic Motorcycle Emptiness or pompously brilliant You Love Us you can almost be transported back to the Clash-inspired and politically-charged days of 1992s debut full-length release Generation Terrorists, although you would miss the beautiful video package of eyeliner, leopard print and spray paint which still prompts a reaction from sections of the crowd when Richey’s image makes an appearance. Some of the bands bigger singles, such as Tsunami, You Stole the Sun From My Heart and If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next are still met with audience participation. Never a band to indulge in the encore, while everyone else takes a breather James Dean Bradfield (vocals/lead guitar) mellows the tone with acoustic renditions of Faster and Kevin Carter. The real treats of the evening, I would argue, came in the form of two songs the band have not played in some time and one they have never played live before. 4 Ever Delayed was recorded for the band’s Greatest Hits but was then never included. It has not been played live in over 10 years. Also dusted off was Let Robeson Sing, written about blacklisted black American singer, actor, athlete and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson. The biggest surprise of the evening by far was the inclusion of the instrumental Horses Under Starlight, released as a b-side of Kevin Carter in 1996 and which had previously never made the set list before.

Once a band that loudly made waves with youthful ambition, unwavering self-belief and a tendency to challenge the status quo, many years have passed since those days of spray-painted-shirts, feather boas and balaclavas on Top of the Pops. The four-piece became a three piece and they matured. No longer driven by the desire to escape, they explored, they expanded, they took risks. They followed their hearts. And now, where the iconic figure of Richey Edwards once stood are three touring musicians bringing yet another dimension to their live experience. While I’m sure there are still small pockets of fans who are uncomfortable with it, it is simply fact, in my humble opinion, that tracks such as No Surface, All Feeling have never sounded so vast and with an additional guitarist, tracks like You Love Us and Slash N Burn finally have that layered, meaty sound they so deserve.

After tiring that This is my Truth cassette and learning Everything Must Go inside out, I still remember my teenage self buying and playing Generation Terrorists for the very first time. “Where was this all my life?”, I wondered. How could it have taken me so long to familiarise myself with the history of this band? The Holy Bible, no pun intended, became my bible. I played it on a loop, I read the lyrics, I re-read the lyrics, I sought to understand everything about the album, about its influences, about its subject matter, about the tortured nature of its principal creator. I carved embarrassing Richey-inspired scribblings as well as his lyrics into notebooks and school books and I listened to The Manic Street Preachers for comfort. Lots of children and teenagers struggle mentally and emotionally and a record like The Holy Bible was a comfort because not all children and teenagers realise that the way they feel is the way lots of adults feel also. I truly believe that knowledge would help so many.

Today The Manics are a very different band, for better or worse, and it’s easy to criticise. They may not be young, they may no longer feel outcast and they may not necessarily be driven by all of the things they once were. What The Manics are however are professional. They still apply their craft with care and precision, their passion is still evident, and they have shown an ability to roll with the punches, to adapt and to survive. For any new fans, they showcase their new material with a beaming pride and for those who have followed them for a longer time, they are loyal and aim to please all, varying their set with a wonderful balance and understanding. This tour will excite a lot of fans, especially if news of their setlist reaches them before they attend.

32 years together as a band is an unattainable goal for so many. Time can ravage a band. The Manic Street Preachers have entered what could perhaps be the twilight years of their sparkling career but the boys from Blackwood have entered this chapter with unshakable grace and dignity. The Resistance is Futile tour is, just like many prior landmarks in their history, a defiant statement not to surrender.