It’s been a little over twenty years since Manic Street Preachers’ landmark fifth record, This is my Truth, Tell me Yours, solidified a somewhat stratospheric ‘second act’; a manic metamorphosis from a politically punctuated punk four piece into the enduring ruminative band we know today.
Back then, the Manics were just about coping with the tragic disappearance of their guitarist Richey Edwards in 1995, and fresh from the meteoric success of the sweepingly superabundant sounds of their following album, Everything Must Go. Despite being the first to be recorded timidly without him, half of it contained his lyrics. The viscerally prolific and pensive yet personal diatribes penned solely by bassist Nicky Wire for This is my Truth… denotes this as the first fully realised album as a trio. These existential leftist leaners that demand listening still present past issues so beguiling and unfathomable some twenty years later with intrinsic themes of disaster, desolation and despair. It’s hard to believe lyrics with this level of obtuse thinking ever charted at the top spot, flying straight over the heads of the music consumerism masses. Who could forget the children with the featureless faces that haunted the accompanying music video of their first ever number 1 single? To the casual fan who caught them on their odd trot into commercial success and devoured tunes that were inevitably canonised as soundtrack fodder for ITV football highlights, the appeal of this peculiar album is polarised by the erudite early fanbase in leopard print and feather boas, resulting in a schism of fans into two camps of glitter or grey. Tonight, it’s reassuring to see a smattering of subversive sparkle in the front row.
The Manics return to the Olympia Theatre having cycled through The Holy Bible here in 2014 but swerved it for the Everything Must Go anniversary show, much to the chagrin of fans. Although it appears the balance has been restored by choosing Dublin as the opening night to revisit the songs of their most successful yet divisive album to date. They begin with the sombre introduction to the album, ‘The Everlasting’, which leads us to believe the record will be played in order but bassist Nicky Wire, stepping out from his Welsh flag draped amps, chimes in after the first couple of songs to say they’ve taken poetic license with the running order due to the first half of the album being heavy with hits. ‘Ready for Drowning’ soars with James Dean Bradfield’s voice as crisp and serrated as his once thirty year old self. ‘Tsunami’ washes over the crowd figuratively with it’s Koto arpeggios, followed by ‘My Little Empire’ taking the tone down slightly, steeping us in their mantra of “sick of being sick / tired of being tired / bored of being bored / happy being sad.”
James mentions the multiple guitars changes between each song due to them being the ones they used on the original recording of the album. Some of these songs have never been performed live at all so his conscientious approach to an authentic recreation is admirable. The profound yet dismal ‘I’m Not Working’ happens to be one of the songs never given a live airing and probably for good reason despite it’s blisteringly beautiful soundscape. Nicky apologises profusely for the miserable lyrics of that songs and informs us that ‘You’re Tender and You’re Tired’ will be a rare repreve of peace and serenity.
Shortly afterwards, the introverted lyrics of ‘Born a Girl’ as transcribed by the earnest vocals of James, while he’s solely accompanied by longtime keyboardist Nick Nasmyth recreating an accordion, lilts this lament of desired femininity. James says this song was written by Nicky when he was at the height of wearing a skirt on stage. Nicky then returns in a new outfit consisting of a jacket with WIRE stitched in sequins on the back which the rapt audience wished was a skirt instead. Underwhelmingly, this was the only costume change of the night for the bassist as he guzzled down Gatorade and kept his sunglasses on for the majority of the evening.
From the bombast of ‘Be Natural’ to a marked change of pace with ‘Prologue to History’ (originally a b-side on the ‘If You Tolerate This…’ single) replacing album original ‘Nobody Loved You’ which contained the difficult subject matter of addressing Richey’s disappearance, therefore making a conscious decision to omit it from their history tonight. This is sandwiched between ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’ aka the jauntiest song ever written about depression and the solemn ruminations of the Hillsborough disaster on ‘S.Y.M.M’ serving to remind us of the depth of arduous subject matter explored on this album. All that’s left to play is ‘If You Tolerate This, Then You’re Children Will Be Next’ which is met with an extremely obvious rapturous response. James sincerely thanked us for listening in what felt like a particularly strenuous chapter closing for them and ending on the high on their biggest selling single ever.
The band remain on stage for the onslaught of the encore section by beginning with ‘Sleepflower’ from 1993’s Gold Against the Soul. They skip straight past the prolific desolation of The Holy Bible refraining from playing anything off it and opting for ‘International Blue’ and ‘People Give In’ from their recent record Resistance is Futile. They proceed to ignore the last decade of work and instead cherry pick ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ from 2007’s Send Away The Tigers, one of the more anthemic of their later offerings that wouldn’t feel out of place on their 90s back catalogue. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ sees them effervescent with energy, with James careening towards the audience and snarling out solos and Nicky’s signature splits and plenty of long legged high kicks. The ever reliable hurtling momentum of ‘You Love Us’ is dedicated to the make up wearing wanders in the crowd and the eternal memory of Richey Edwards, with all arms defiantly pointing towards the stage in his honour. ‘No Surface, All Feeling’ showcases Sean Moore on drums in this encapsulating reverie; a requiem on love and loss leading us towards the tenderly tinkling opening of ‘A Design For Life’ as it triumphantly swells with a myriad of mouths chanting along, as we are told that this is the end. The house lights come up much to everyone’s surprise and Mogwai’s fragile remix of ‘You Stole The Sun From Heart’ echoes across the Olympia as the gear is swiftly packed away and the scramble for setlists sets in.
To refer to this as a nostalgia gig is to do a great disservice to one of the most important acts of our generation.The Manics show absolutely no signs of wear and tear live and this is a reaffirmation of what they do best despite their perceived mellowing as they all approach middle age. While this particular album encapsulates a divisive turning point in their career, the stoic truth of its contents remain relevant and poignant as ever today. Loreana Rushe
Photos by Aaron Corr