When Manic Street Preachers emerged from Gwent in 1990 they had their career flow-chart already plotted. Scorning the usual rock-business ethos and processes, they intended to make just one album, establish themselves as the world's biggest band and retire at the height of fame.
The album was released last week. By this stage, the group should have been headlining Wembley Stadium. They must be deeply chagrined at having been confined to the 2,000-capacity Astoria. Selling the place out probably provided scant consolation. After all, there was principle at stake: they have consistently claimed that nothing less than "absolute stardom" will do.
Superstardom may never be theirs, but this gig suggested that a more modest form of world domination is not entirely out of the question. Away from the sterility of the recording studio, the Preachers' mix of retro punk-rock and Situationist sloganeering sounded vivid, even important. They went some way toward substantiating the group's extraordinary self-regard.
The bare stage was augmented by retina-scorching floodlights, the perfect complement to 45 minutes of brutally stripped rock. The group themselves certainly looked the part, as though they had answered a cating call for Irritated Young Men. They adopted splay-legged slouches and hid behind sunglasses. Singer James Dean Bradfield only addressed the crowd to berate it for collective "ignorance".
The music, admittedly, was nothing special. It consisted of scattergun bursts of basic guitar thrash, and most songs seemed identical. Apparently, though, at least according to Badfield's disgusted announcements, they were separate numbers from the Generation Terrorists album. A couple did stand out:
"Slash n' Burn" for its insistent chorus, and "Motown Junk" because of the glitter particles that rained down on the stage during the song.
Similarly, the idea of recycling old Futurist buzz-phrases for song lyrics is nothing new. Where Manic Street Preachers excelled was in their ability to combine these elements and lace them with attitude. Their targets may be the usual array of pop-culture predictables (McDonald's, and so on), but it's the way they rail against them.
Manic Street Preachers are frequently compared to Seventies punk outfits, but that is a lazy simile. The Preachers are altogether more naive and likeable. The only indisputably punk thing about them was the bassist's resemblance to the late Sid Vicious.