Review: Manic Street Preachers, Roundhouse.

No matter the occasion, I never thought that the Manic Street Preachers would ever have revisited The Holy Bible in the way they have in these past few weeks. Among Richey Edwards’ more evocative, when not downright painful of personal archives, you can certainly question to what extent these songs of suffering belong to the modern-day: it may be the most eloquent, and with that excellent song on the subject of withering anorexia, but 4st 7lb is positively steeped in so much human incertitude, that to carve open the annals of time can be no easy thing for the remaining Manics to do…

Intriguingly though, this is less a commemoration of “trippy right-winger” Richey, and more one of his masterpiece; a record that, in spite of its somewhat middling discographic successors, continues to define the band to this day. They tear through it with visceral relish, but perhaps more pertinently, as a rough, rugged and bloody ready three-piece. Stage-right, there is neither a microphone, nor either one of stalwart touring cronies, Wayne Murray and Nick Nasmyth. During the concluding A Design for Life, James Dean Bradfield doesn’t even relocate to where Edwards would once have stood, as has so often proven his wont…

This particular tribute is pretty tacit, therefore: in honouring Edwards’ macabre capolavoro, it’s unmistakably implied, without there being the need for maudlin, nor mawkish encomia. But what a record it remains: from the gritty, inexplicably uplifting Yes, right through to the pogoing P.C.P., it is, and is without question, my very favourite record ever to have been released, from my very favourite band of forever. I was first attracted to The Holy Bible for its forbidding sinisterness as much as Jenny Saville’s grotesque artwork – a triptych, depicting an obese woman in nothing but blanched underwear, seen from three different, if equivalently disgusting perspectives. And this, much like the album itself, seems as appropriate today as it did on August 29th, 1994; what with the UK continuing to, and increasingly eating Kit Kats et cetera until the ineluctable ‘break’ that is death itself.

So although Edwards may be MIA, and we’ve probably all put on a few more pounds, if not stone, in the past two decades, the exigence of The Holy Bible shines on undiminished. Which, given that Edwards reckoned that “the older you get, the more life becomes more miserable,” really is no mean feat. Passion and provocation, as well as energy, remain also; Sean Moore’s kick drum exhibiting Soviet agitprop in keeping with the band’s socialist principles, while the voiceovers scattered throughout the record are recited with the same sense of vehemence as the songs themselves. “Next Thursday, you’re invited to watch Rising Tide’s live coverage of a gala tribute in salute to Ronald Reagan. Host Haley Barbour joins special guest Lady Margaret Thatcher, in celebrating the former president’s 83rd birthday. Tickets are $1,000 a plate, but you can see the event free on GOP TV” goes the prologue to Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayit’sworldwouldfallapart, every line remembered, and only broken to voice a permanent rancour in the ranks. “Fuck Thatcher!” decries the guy beside me, beset with genuine rage; although the atmosphere is suitably celebratory for the most part. Faster, for instance, is purely and simply, dingy goodness nonpareil; Die in the Summertime is the most welcome spectre at this feast of indulgent retrospection; The Intense Humming of Evil is, as its title might suggest, corrosive as a fucking rusty nail, and proves all the more ominous than we could ever have remembered. “You don’t really get those sorts of records on the radio any more, do you?” Nicky Wire rather sardonically joshes, although that’s maybe where music, and the commercialisation thereof, went so wrong all those years ago…

However, it’s those more pared-down renditions that fare best: your She Is Sufferings, and This Is Yesterdays. To hear the latter played electrically, with Moore’s ticking hi-hats and tumbling drums rolling it along, is not only something of a rarity, but so too a real treat, with this one of the more striking reminders (of an admittedly, innumerable number) of Edwards’ lyrical craft. “Why do anything, when you can’t forget everything?” Bradfield vicariously posits, although this really is both inspiring and with that inspiriting; to see a record of such class afforded such kudos so many years on. Akin to El Greco, Galileo Galilei and van Gogh, it is of course a monumental shame for Edwards’ mastery to have only been recognised what we can only assume to be posthumously. Although with that said, that it has been at all should come as a source of solace, relief and so on; a surefire sign that, as we Brits’ lugholes fill with absolute rubbish and our bellies distend, there remains hope for the future in delving back into this past. Or that of one of Wales’ greatest songwriters of all time, at any rate.

From a less lyrical, and more musical angle, the biggest compliment paid Richey is the absence of Messrs Murray and Nasmyth; and by dint of this, certain riffs as well. (Purposefully so, you presume.) Quite what he might have reckoned to the Roundhouse, however, is another matter altogether: because ultimately, and irrespective of Wire’s comments to the contrary, this seems like a little bit of a turkey of a venue for this particular tour. It’s one they’ve played before, having done another three-night stint in support of Journal for Plague Loves in the summertime of 2009, as well as the “sack of fuckin’ shite” that is and was the iTunes Festival of ’11. (It’s also the scene of their shooting the video for A Design for Life, of course.) But to revert to festive metaphor, there’s no way of trussing the Roundhouse up to look in any way anarchic…

But the Manics themselves no longer represent the nihilistic twenteens they once did – the merch table may be selling bespoke dog tags, although those with a career in the army would struggle to afford them. And there is a sense of ‘smoke and mirrors’ syndrome to a certain degree, a camo backdrop harking back to their folkloric Glastonbury faux pas of ’94. We’re all a good twenty years older these days, and although combat trousers and military clodhoppers remain de rigueur, it all feels slightly forced. Which is perhaps apt, given that Bradfield – having fallen ill this very afternoon – has to force himself through so much of the show. We are, by his very own admission, a “fuckin’ enormous help”, therefore. “You truly are fuckin’ brilliant” he also says, come the closing moments of “the singalong hit of the winter,” Mausoleum. And in the ensuing forty-five minutes, the Manics prove themselves to be similarly brilliant all over again…

A stonking pedalboard comes out post-P.C.P., with the band changing out of their army surplus wares and into almost pantomimic attire. In his slackened tie and workmanlike apparel, Bradfield now resembles one of the many after-hours suits that alas, seem to have taken a liking to London dates of late, whilst Mr. Nicholas Wire sports a Libertines-esque coat that looks somewhat passé even in Camden. But never do the likes of Motorcycle Emptiness and You Stole the Sun from My Heart sound in any way dated, nor disappoint. Of course, when set in the shadow of The Holy Bible, an intensity is instantly lacking; and with Bradfield’s tie later hurled into the baying mêlée, there is a sense that their job has already been done. Similarly, no matter how many times they may have played these singles previously, there is a perceptible disinterest, hence their delving deeper into their previous: Roses In the Hospital B-side, Donkeys features, as does Futurology’s gloriously naff Dreaming a City (Hugheskova) – a track that makes Miss Europa Disco Dancer out to sound like a lost Nile Rodgers classic. But it features, seemingly, in order to keep things that bit more fresh than they may otherwise have been; a method of self-sustainment, in short.

A celebration of “the year Morrissey came into [Wire’s] life, and made me a whole person”, as well as one of Lifeblood – their widely reviled, if gravely underrated ’04 full-length, that therefore turned ten this year – 1985 is something of a gamble, albeit one that pays off; the reaction with which it’s met positively uproarious. Essentially, it’s the sort of single that was indeed the band’s lifeblood during the late ’90s, while its Nietzsche references tie it back to the atheism so inextricably linked with The Holy Bible, too. Futurology is then returned to, Nina Hoss – or as Bradfield so affectionately refers to her, “Europe’s finest actress” – guesting on a quintessentially Germanic Europa Geht Durch Mich, its likeness to Strict Machine emphasised by the PA subsequently playing the disco-glittered Goldfrapp smash on the way out.

There are those who’ve now learnt the lead single in Hoss’ native lingo, so it should come as no surprise to read that Divine Youth is met with similar rapture. Led by the Wire, it has to go down as a somewhat unlikely highlight tonight, while the album’s dewy title track makes it feel as though they’ve really never been away. (Not that they have been, but they’re slap bang back in form on this sort of evidence…) “One day we will return, no matter how much it hurts” sings Nicky, although there is this unshakable sense of pain, and the revisitation thereof, giving rise to great pleasure tonight. And, thanks to this latest resurgence, it seems as though children are not only tolerating, but are also thoroughly enjoying the Manics once more with a more fresh-faced audience visibly relishing both You Love Us and A Design for Life alike.

“This ain’t no Britpop anthem” menaces Wire midway through the latter, his Cheshire Cat-like smirk spreading from one side of his face to the other, but eminently anthemic, tonight augurs particularly well for the following two evenings. Bradfield’s illness may be less propitious, although his vocal is still irreproachable, as per always. At which juncture, it seems meet and right to remember a couple of quotes from Edwards himself: that “most bands [have] got a career of maybe three or four years, [and] then they fade into oblivion”. But this obviously doesn’t apply to the Manics for even now, going on thirty years later, they remain as relevant as ever previously. And there is then Edwards notion that “all [they]’ve ever been interested in doing is making a record which encapsulates a mood, and a time, and then it can be a full stop”. And while The Holy Bible is supported as staunchly today as it was now two decades ago, encapsulating a current feeling of disaffection as much as it did that of Edwards himself in the early ’90s, we can only hope and pray that the Manics never draw that all-important, proverbial line in the sand before their time. For if they’ve seemingly now scored a line under The Holy Bible, both halves of this evening seem to suggest that they’re still more than able to define a moment; “a mood, and a time,” while they continue to so incessantly redefine themselves…