Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan wouldn’t have approved of tonight. Playing albums through in full is nothing new and is often considered simply to be for milking a few extra quid out of past glory days. But as soon as I heard that Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers were playing their seminal fourth album Everything Must Go in full in celebration of its 20th anniversary, and at none other than London’s glorious Royal Albert Hall, I simply had to be there. There are past glories, and there is the Manic’s epic 1996 album, which spawned four hit, anthemic singles in an era when Britpop was at its peak.
First up tonight were Tom Smith-led five-piece Editors, running through a short eight-song set, but managing to touch on each of their five studio albums. Kicking off with The Weight Of Your Love cut Sugar, they moved straight into The Back Room track Munich. After more than simply warming up the Royal Albert Hall crowd, Smith & co. departed a stage they must surely be coming back to headline soon to make way for the main act.
The lights went down to screams from the audience as one of the triplicate screens forming the stage backdrop for tonight’s show lit up with a film of the sea washing up on a beach. The screams became louder as frontman James Dean Bradfield, dressed in a suit and blue shirt, walked on stage and picked up his signature white Gibson Les Paul guitar to strum the opening chords of Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier, lead track on Everything Must Go. Bradfield was soon joined by cohorts Nicky Wire on bass and Sean Moore on drums as the track kicked into second gear.
Undoubtedly the band’s biggest hit A Design For Life was next up, with even long-standing fans of the band conceding and singing along, spurred on by Wire, who took a break from leaping about the stage to request the Royal Albert Hall crowd take over vocals.
During the track’s late instrumental break, the 47-year-old bassist riled the audience further saying: “This ain’t no Britpop anthem! This ain’t no fucking Parklife, this is working class empowerment!” in his broad Welsh accent. Moore’s closing drumming on EMG’s lead single led straight into the opening chords of third single Kevin Carter, the track featuring a stellar trumpet part courtesy of Gavin Fitzjohn.
“Hello London, you’re looking rather splendid” said Wire, a smile stretching across his face ahead of Enola/Alone, and by title track Everything Must Go, the band had the majority of folks in the arena moving about and those in the stalls starting to rise from their comfy swivel seats.
Pulling on an acoustic guitar as Wire and Moore departed the stage, Bradfield introduced Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky, saying “These are Richard James Edwards’ finest lyrics”.
“This is the only reason I’m doing this tour, three costume changes a night” Wire quipped, returning to the stage and enticing a chuckle from the 5,000-strong crowd. “If you mix Abba’s Dancing Queen with Phil Spector, Richey’s cheekbones, the poetry of Sylvia Plath, this is what you get” he continued, introducing The Girl Who Wanted to Be God.
Ahead of album closer No Surface All Feeling Bradfield addressed what anyone going in to relive past glory days must have thinking: “That was Britpop, call it what you want but that was ours. I hope we didn’t ruin it for you!”
Following a brief interval, which wasn’t quite long enough to either use the loo or grab a beer but enough to clear out a good third of the crowd, Bradfield returned solo, opening a non-EMG set with a couple of slower acoustic numbers, poking fun at Nicky Wire by saying that he was alone due to being the only one in the band not requiring a wardrobe change.
Wire and Moore returned to stage, Wire now dressed in a white suit complete with sailor’s cap, to wake the lulled crowd up with heavy-hitting debut album track Motorcycle Emptiness. “Even all those years ago when people laughed at us, we knew what the fucking banks were up to” Wire said wryly, before the band broke into Generation Terrorists track Nat West-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds.
Introducing 1993’s Roses In The Hospital, Wire said dryly “This next song, off Gold Against the Soul, not the best record we’ve ever done, but there are some amazing guitar solos on it.” Introducing the band’s frontman Wire continued: “Not only has he learnt to drive, he’s bought a fucking iPhone as well! He’s still my guitar hero – the great Mr James Dean Bradfield!”
The lengthy 24-song set was rounded out with Rewind The Film track Show Me The Wonder, a cover of Fiction Factory’s 1983 hit (Feels Like) Heaven and the fourth Generation Terrorists cut of the night You Love Us before the night was closed out with 1998 hit single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next from EMG follow-up record This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours.
While forgoing the harp and string section that brought Everything Must Go to life on record might have been a misstep on this tour, particularly when playing the historic Royal Albert Hall – often accommodating the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra no less – tonight proved that not only do the Manic Street Preachers still feel like a band on the up all these years on, but that Everything Must Go is still just as relevant and sounds so fresh that it would no doubt be a hit had it been released in 2016 rather than 1996.
Manic Street Preachers continue their EMG tour with a second night at London’s Royal Albert Hall followed by stops in Leeds and Glasgow ahead of a massive homecoming show at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium later this month, while Editors next hit up the European summer festival circuit with stops at Germany’s Hurricane and Southside festivals, Belgium’s Rock Werchter, Victorious in Portsmouth and, of course, BBK Live in Bilbao.
Live review of Manic Street Preachers @ Royal Albert Hall by Kalpesh Patel on 16th May 2016.
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Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate