Live Review : Manic Street Preachers + Gwenno @ O2 Ritz, Manchester on May 20th 2019
So a Manic Street Preachers gig in ROCKFLESH's hallowed pages may seem a little out of character and the fact that it is your friendly neighbourhood Death Metal fanatic covering it, should bring accusations of the shark being well and truly jumped. But the truth of it, is that I have had a tempestuous and passionate love affair with these three Welsh men that dates back to when there were four of them and I saw them at the Hop and Grape (Academy 3 to you kids) thirty years ago. That night, they spoke directly to my rebellious but socially awkward soul and their outsider attitude and honest portrayal of imperfection captured my imagination like no other act. Since that show (which lasted twenty five minutes and was performed shambolically with their backs to the audience but was still bloody brilliant), the Manic Street Preachers have been a constant but ever changing part of my life, quite simply we have grown up together. Band crushes have come and band crushes have gone, but they somehow have always been there and this is (I think) our 127th meeting.
As well as being the ever evolving soundtracker of my life, the Manic Street Preachers have always been good at picking class supports (it was a Warrington show in ‘98 that introduced me to Mogwai and their 2002 Apollo gig was my induction into the brilliance of Elbow) and tonight is no exception. Gwenno is a young lady from Cardiff and the possessor of a wonderfully deep, rich and soulful voice. Alongside her highly competent backing band she plays a quirky and playful form of indie that I long thought had fallen out of favour. It is understated and fragile but full of delightful touches and flourishes, garnished with some rather groovy bass lines. However their distinct calling card is her use of different languages as their set is a mix of tracks performed in Cornish and Welsh. I love music sung in languages other than my own and the Cornish in particular gives the tracks an ethereal and elfin like quality. There was also at least one song about the health benefits of cheese which is a magnificent choice of subject matter if you ask me. My brief flourishes with indie nowadays have made me concerned that this once beloved genre of mine had become stale, boring and identikit but there was a real breath of fresh air about Gwenno and the way that they are doing something different for simply just the sake of doing something different.
The Manic Street Preachers have found quite a lucrative business model in alternating new records and tours supporting those release with re-issues and re-packages (and in some cases re-re-re-issues and re-re-re-packages) of former glories and tours, performing those past gems in their entirety. We have had the sublime “The Holy Bible” and the career defining “Everything Must Go” played in full and now they are completing the trilogy with their commercial highpoint “This is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours”. With “The Holy Bible” and “Everything Must Go”, they were reverential and played them in order as on record. However this time around, they have gone all George Lucas on us and tinkered with stuff. Mega-hit and second track in 'If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next' is now played last and 'Nobody Loved You' has been removed completely and replaced by the highly revered b-side 'Prologue To History’. Most importantly though, the production has been given much more depth and body as frankly the original did in places sound thin and weedy.
I am a paid up member of the cult of Richey and will preach the virtues of the first three Richey-era records until I am horse, however tonight for me the performance of “This is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours” (the second post-Richey album) is nothing short of revelatory. You see I have always viewed it as overly-commercial and less emotionally wrought than its predecessors, however this evening I realise I was wrong. “This is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours” is probably one of the darkest, melancholic and gloriously gloomy records to have ever shifted five million plus copies. The crowd pleasing sing-along singles (‘The Everlasting’, 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart' and 'Tsunami’) are all dispensed with early doors, leaving us to revel in the downbeat insular genius of ‘Ready for Drowning’, 'I’m Not Working’, 'My Little Empire' and ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’, tracks that I realise I have given short shrift to over the years but are actually desolate beautiful vinaigrettes on the pains of modern life. However the most stirring moment is the mournful heart-breaking version ‘Born A Girl', exquisitely performed by James and long-time live member Nick Nasmyth, which sends collective shivers down the spine of every person in the room. We get the aforementioned 'Prologue to History’, which is greeted like a long lost friend by the audience, and final track ‘S.Y.M.M.’, which against the fragile beauty of the earlier songs feels rather blunt and simplistic in its approach.
With previous albums in full shows, the Manic Street Preachers have usually had a short interval for them to catch their breathes and for us to go to the bar before the mandatory “Greatest Hits” set. However tonight there is no such thing and we crash straight out of ‘S.Y.M.M.’ into the rapturously received 'Sleepflower’. Now that we are out of the downbeat and haunting “This is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours”, the mood changes considerably, the band seem more animated and looser, the audience shift from appreciative reverential silence to scream along and dance like you don’t care footing. As said, the Manic Street Preachers have been doing this for thirty years and know exactly how to ratchet up a crowd and we get 'Motorcycle Emptiness’, 'You Love Us' and 'La Tristesse Durera’ (Scream to a Sigh), all of which turn the Ritz into a swirling storm of middle aged glee as pints are thrown and voices raised. And this outpouring of energy, passion and unashamed happiness seems poignantly cathartic after the beautiful but bleak “This is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours”. As is now the norm, we finish with ‘A Design for Life' which brings more communal singing and hugging. Then its over, and after having my long held opinions completely shattered, I suspect I am not the only one wandering off, planning to use the journey home to re-evaluate the album we have just heard.
Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki