Manic Street Preachers and Gwenno at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, UK | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Manic Street Preachers and Gwenno at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, UK, May 31st, 2019

Jun 26, 2019 Web Exclusive
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I can remember distinctly an interview that James Dean Bradfield, the lead singer of Manic Street Preachers, gave what seems like many years ago now in which he opined quite strongly that he "couldn't imagine still doing this [fronting the Manic Street Preachers] when I'm 40." There's a time in life when 40 seems a long way away. Then it gets closer, inexorably closer, and then at some point you pass it, and yet, fortunately for Bradfield and his cohorts in one of the finest bands to come out of Wales in living memory, you still love what you do and so do the people who listen to you, buy your albums, and come to your shows. What a happy feat of alchemy.

Alchemy being one of the things that has come to mind long before the Manics take the stage this evening as the indefatigable Gwenno opens the evening with ethereal, gently-psychedelic songs presented in Welsh and Cornish, but whose ultimately defining characteristics include their compositional excellence, intricacy, and their ability to create an atmosphere of almost spiritual fervor whilst singing about subjects like cheese. Quite something. Her two albums are well-worth seeking out.

I have to admit that, in spite of growing up in the prime period of 1996's Everything Must Go and 1998's This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours and their ubiquity across UK radio, tonight was to be my first experience of the band live, in their expanded form, featuring extra guitarists and a quite brilliant keyboard player. The first part of the show was a run through of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, almost in order, save for the clever switching of its main single "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" to the end of the section. A few things become clear whilst watching the band run through the album:

1.     It is a good record, albeit not a great one, with some fantastic singles and moments, all of which are lapped up by a grateful and excited crowd.

2.     The diversity of the band's canon does not distract from the fact that they are at their best as a full throttle rock or post-punk act. Who could deny the wonder of "You Stole the Sun from My Heart" for instance, delivered euphorically here?

3.     There are problems with the "x album in full format" in that a good sequence on an album does not necessarily make for a strong and consistent live setlist, as witnessed by the mid-album segment here.

4.     James Dean Bradfield is an even better vocalist and guitarist than he is given credit for. Some of the vocal melodies he shows mastery over this evening have to be seen or heard to be believed.

5.     In spite of my own opinion on the album, there are a couple of thousand people in the sold out venue tonight who very much disagree with me. The Manics inspire a devotion from their fans which is both rare and, on this evidence, well-deserved.

Following the completion of the album, a fine nine song selection of career highlights covering the majority of the band's albums is a long-running victory lap with which to end the evening. Not many bands could get away with a note-for-note cover of Gun N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine," but Manic Street Preachers can. If you don't believe me, look out for it.

By evening's end, it is undeniable that we have witnessed a tour de force from a band that still have plenty to give and an enormous amount of fire in the belly. Whatever's next for them, it's sure to a lot more than tolerable.

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