Manic Street Preachers (Wales)

James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers (Festival Hall, 28th June 2013)

James Dean Bradfield, Manic Street Preachers (Festival Hall, 28th June 2013)

The Manic Street Preachers love their Rugby, so to coincide with the British and Irish Lions 3 test series against the Wallabies, the Welsh lads booked shows on the eve of each match in Melbourne and Sydney. Having played here in 2010 (on the back of an 11 year absence) when Melburnians were spoilt with the show at the brilliant Forum Theatre, the venue was the more – ahem – “brutal” Festival Hall this time around.

I’ll put this on the table early: I love these guys.

This is not an objective review, and in terms of balanced… well it will be balanced against the previous 5 times I’ve seen them.

An ambitious venue for a band whose popularity on these shores peaked in 1999 on the back of the successful This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the intent was clear: Get as many rugby fans along for a bit of a sing prior to the Wallabies spoiling their mood on Saturday night.

No building introduction here. Led out onto the stage by bassist Nicky Wire, the band launched straight into Motorcycle Emptiness, 7 minutes of glorious sing-alongs and James Dean Bradfield guitar solos, vocals both whispered and screamed. This man has one of the best shouts in rock and roll. 1999 hit You Stole The Sun From My Heart tore through as usual, and led into the melancholic Ocean Spray.

When Australia was written, none of the band members had even visited the country. About the desire to escape as far away from Wales as possible in the aftermath of the sudden disappearance of lyricist Richey Edwards, it was penned – ironically – by Nicky Wire who at the time wouldn’t even hop on a plane. Whilst the subject matter, like most of the Manics catalogue, is dark, tonight the tune is a rousing celebration sung as one by a few thousand people – some even from Australia. Unsurprisingly, a couple of nights later in New Zealand, Australia would be dropped from the setlist. These guys aren’t silly.

Bradfield is in incredible form tonight, his effortless guitar driving the back to back assault of the sublime La Tristesse Durera into Revol – a Richey Edwards masterpiece from 1994’s The Holy Bible which takes the crowd by surprise and by the throat. Introduced by Nicky Wire, he makes mention of best friend Edwards as someone who sadly never got to visit this country, despite being a great fan of many Australian bands growing up. Though no longer with us – by now, presumed dead – Richey remains very much alive through the lyrics he left behind.

Send Away The Tigers is given a makeover, becoming Send Away The Lions (which in hindsight should have been dedicated to Adam Ashley-Cooper, no?), and the ubiquitous Design For Life makes a surprising early appearance in the set. It works a treat, to hear the entire crowd sing every work of the 2nd verse is something the band clearly never tire of, let alone the band. There’s no lyrics about girlfriends or ice cream tonight…it’s not the way the Manics operate.

With Wire and drummer Sean Moore leaving the stage, it’s left to James and an acoustic guitar to give us 1999’s beautiful opening track from This is My Truth, The Everlasting. Now I’d already heard this song earlier in the evening – performed by a drunken bint from Sheffield who, stood behind me, didn’t actually know 78% of the lyrics – but in a close run thing hearing Bradfield deliver it over a hushed Festival Hall was just the winner. In stark contrast, and introduced as a Welsh drinking song suited to any occasion, James took a back seat as the crowd belted out every word of Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. The occasion tonight is a Manics-led party.

Hang on? Who’s that massive bloke just walked on stage alongside James who’s actually taller than Nicky Wire? It’s none other than Wales and Lions inside centre Jamie Roberts. This is no token on stage appearance during an obscure song, Roberts joins the band for their Generation Terrorists anthem You Love Us. “Lion…Lion….Lion….” the chant goes up and Roberts – though not able to get on field for the Lions due to an injured hamstring – gets a damn fine memory from the 2013 Lions tour.

“No, she’s not here” says James, introducing Little Baby Nothing, a duet recorded with porn star Traci Lords for their debut album. It matters not, this song wasn’t on many punters’ radars ahead of tonight and it’s a spectacular highlight. Culture. Alienation. Boredom and Despair. All 5 minutes of it.

We know Motown Junk is coming, and although James no longer delivers the line “I laughed when Lennon got shot” in full, it’s a song that still shows exactly from where the Manics have come. With their biggest Australian hit to date still in the shed, it comes as little surprise that If You Tolerate This closes out a spectacular Melbourne return for the boys from Blackwood.

True to form, the 3 lads hang around post show to chat to fans where we learn that they’re playing a free set the following day at Melbourne’s Federation Square.

Well ok then. See you there.

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