Back in '92, a Manic Street Preachers T-shirt condemned Reading as "Cultural Chernobyl", Nicky Wire greeted The Kids with "You don't 'arf stink, you lot" and hospitalised a security guard. In 1997, James Dean Bradfield describes Reading as "our spiritual home". This is nota volte-face, sell-out or turnaround: with this most contrary, contradictory of
bands, both are as true/false as they ever were.
Accordingly, tonight's show - a full Stop to the "Everything Must GO" era - could be either
a reconciliation or a nuclear cataclysm. The war within the Manics fanbase has been simmering all weekend, the tiara-and-glitter Nation Of Richey kids and fake Ralph Lauren
Polo squaddies eyeing each other with mutual suspicion (interestingly, the "Old Skool" fans are generally younger than the ones who are here for the "we only wanna get drunk" song). I'm not above taking sides, not least when some degenerate tub of lard tries to steal my crown and I literally have to wrestle him for it, but this mass market is exactly
what the Preachers always craved, needed, deserved. The day after the Manics have been in town, provincial shopping centres are full of townies with the words VIOLENCE FOR EQUALITY and HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE on their backs. That, my children, is power, and, if I can
be crass enough for a moment to put it like this, it's what Richey would have wanted.
Whether this is the best Manics show ever seen I can't tell you (although it's certainly in the Top 10). What I can tell you is that The Wire is frocked-up for the first time since 1993, flashing his packet through a transparent camouflage number (a tenner in the Warehouse sale this afters). And that James' pre-ramble to "Motown Junk", combining both The Supremes with The Situationists, is arguably the definitive Manics Moment. And that there' a new song. "Ready For Drowning" moves from a Stax organ intro into handsome, elegiac AOR. Like "Australia", it's another escape song - "I'd go to Patagonia, but it's harder there" - and, as a drunken, bony finger-jabbing Wire will later explain in the bar,
a deeply moral song. Another novel development is the Little & Large-style double act between the twin frontmen (Alas Bradfield and Jones?).
Wire: "Ooh, ooh, baby! So what crap have you got tomorrow?"
JDB: "Hey, I like a bit of Metallica!"
Wire: "Aah, where's your bloody dress?"
JDB: "Just cos you wear a bloody dress, woooh!".
Slapstick aside, much of MSP's set is almost unbearably shot through With poignancy "Enola/ Alone", "Small Black Flowers", (Oh, Jesus) "No Surface All Feeling" - and "Yes" is almost too much even for James: he still skips that "Hurt myself to get pain out' line, and can only manage "Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave" by pulling a Popeye squint and screaming. The "You Love Us" filmshow - looking up at gorgeous, gorgeous Edwards, pogoing in white jeans and black lace, then looking down at the Wire, hands on hips, pouting incoherent fuck you farewells - does me in.
The final freeze-frame reads "FAKE", but it doesn't get much more 4 REAL than this.