Phil Moore reviews the Manic Street Preachers at Arena Birmingham
“Five #2 albums!” bellowed singer James Dean Bradfield early on at Arena Birmingham, as he rallied at his bands’ gloriously imperfect heritage.
Such a statement suits them - an extremely talented group emotionally deflated by such minor blips on their record sheet.
It is of course a little ungracious, as 11 of their 13 albums have hit the top ten in the UK, including the one they are on tour now to promote, the none-too-shabby Resistance Is Futile.
Most bands would sell their grannies for that level of success.
Now the trio, in their late 40s and wearing their sartorial errors and weathered faces with something resembling pride, are fighting accusations of lyrical irrelevancy and of musical repetition.
Can they survive middle age with dignity and scruples intact?
Before they can answer that though, first up were Wirral rockers The Coral, rattling through a dozen songs with steely determination and little fanfare.
Like The Manics they have gone through their own stylistic changes over the years, from psychedelic warriors to blissed-out pop and back again.
Modelling a 70s-inspired rock aesthetic that suggests seriousness rather than silliness is their business these days, they top and tailed their set with their most recent, more groove-based kaleidoscopic numbers Chasing The Tail Of A Dream and the excellent newie Sweet Release.
They finished with the inevitable Dreaming Of You, their timeless bouncing adolescent paean to the pains of love.
That it’s the only song they play that received any kind of crowd reaction neatly summises their grossly unfair nearly-men status.
The Manics strode into Arena Birmingham and launched into their latest anthem International Blue, pretty much blasting any performance doubts away inside its four minute duration.
The major intrigue with a Manics show is guessing which songs they will plunder from their vast back catalogue.
They didn’t actually tour 2014’s Futurology at all, choosing to follow its release with anniversary tours of The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go instead.
So this tour represents their first ‘new album’ tour since 2013.
Tonight they chose to simply forgo their last four albums’ material, bar the rather inconsequential outing of Walk Me To The Bridge.
Considering the critical praise these four albums received it is quite a surprising move, but those albums did break the ‘anthemic rock’ mould to various degrees and with Resistance Is Futile sounding like it could be from their 1990s discography maybe it was to be expected.
We got five ‘Resistance’ songs here and they fit in seamlessly with the band’s classics.
Further surprises came thick and fast.
They must have fallen back in love with No Surface All Feeling on the 2016 Everything Must Go tour as despite not being a single it appeared as early as the third song of the night.
It sounded block-bustingly huge was gloriously received from the attending faithful.
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough saw the first outbreak of mass crowd bellowing and was followed immediately by 4 Ever Delayed, a hidden gem that really - really - should have been a single (instead of the misstep that was There By The Grace of God, also aired this evening).
The haphazard tone was set by them playing the most curious hit of their career, Masses Against The Classes - surely the only number one single in history to offer coruscating punk guitars, Cuban inspired artwork, and a call for social revolution.
The show’s middle section delivered both some sonic respite and more big surprises.
The lounge-jazz instrumental Horses Under Starlight - a 1996 B-side – received its live debut, though many were left perplexed as they simply don’t recognise it.
If that hadn’t thrown the audience enough, the none-more-vicious post-punk single Faster was recalibrated into an acoustic ballad through a solo performance from Bradfield.
Much more pleasurable was the acoustic From Despair To Where, onto the end of which Bradfield cheekily bolted a bit of Total Eclipse Of The Heart. Black humour from Blackwood, indeed.
When they returned to full band mode for the final segment, bassist Nicky Wire had changed outfit to resemble the man from Del Monte.
His quip about keeping in trim being down to “Ribena and Kit Kats” was no doubt true - Wire as the perennial adolescent yet to embrace a 21st-century habits certainly fits in with his anti-fashion nature.
Let Robeson Sing is perhaps one of their worst singles from back in the day, yet it mysteriously returned to the set after years of absence.
Through to the end however it was to wall anthems, from You Love Us to Tsunami to the thrilling finale of the inevitable A Design For Life, complete with confetti cannons and insurrectionary visuals.
The band’s uneven, though still stellar performance of passion proved that three decades after their first single they are still a vital force in British guitar music, with plenty to say with instrument and voice.
Long may they continue to evade expectations.
For old age should burn and rave at close of day, as one of Wire’s heroes once said.
Manic Street Preachers played:
You Stole the Sun From My Heart
No Surface All Feeling
Your Love Alone Is Not Enough
4 Ever Delayed
Dylan & Caitlin
There by the Grace of God
The Masses Against the Classes
Horses Under Starlight
If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next
Faster (solo acoustic)
From Despair to Where (solo acoustic, with "Total Eclipse of the Heart" snippet by Bonnie Tyler)
You Love Us
Walk Me to the Bridge
Hold Me Like a Heaven
Let Robeson Sing
People Give In
Slash 'n' Burn
A Design for Life
* The show took place on Friday April 27. See www.manicstreetpreachers.com for future tour dates.