Manic Street Preachers @ O2 Apollo, Manchester, UK, October 2nd 2021 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Manic Street Preachers, Low Hummer

Manic Street Preachers @ O2 Apollo, Manchester, UK, October 2nd 2021,

Oct 07, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

It’s perhaps quite fitting that Manic Street Preachers’ first show in Manchester since May 2019 coincided with the eve of the Conservative Party conference, due to commence the following day. The prospect of eyeliner, camouflage and feather boa clad Manics fans brushing shoulders (and casually barging them out the way) with lanyard wearing Tories around the city’s bars and eateries was an enticing one to say the least.

Indeed, it’s probably fair to say The Ultra Vivid Lament represents the Manics most political statement of intent in years. T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Don’t let those boys from Eton suggest that we are beaten” adorn the merch stand. Those words themselves taken from “Don’t Let The Night Divide Us”, one of many standout moments from the new record that sadly doesn’t get an airing this evening. Then there’s “Orwellian” which objurgates the way propaganda has replaced factual discourse. Or the atmospheric “Afterending”, making its live debut tonight that takes a caustic aim at those in power (“We clap for a crumbling state, inventing rules which we can break but take no blame”).

Manic Street Preachers
Manic Street Preachers

It goes without saying the new record is arguably one the Manics have felt quite comfortable with introducing into the live set from the moment it was released. Bass player Nicky Wire had already hinted their intention was to play as much of the album as possible in a recent interview with Under the Radar. So, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that six songs off The Ultra Vivid Lament feature in tonight’s setlist. Perhaps the most gorgeous, and impeccably spine tingling of them all was “Still Snowing In Sapporo”. A song written about the band’s 1993 tour of Japan that was documented by last year’s excellent documentary Pieces Of Sleep. Glacial and atmospheric in its execution, it creates one of those moments where hairs remain standing on the back of one’s neck throughout its duration. The entire room silently attentive, so much so it would have been possible to hear a pin drop.

Before the arrival of the main act, Hull six-piece Low Hummer gave an incredible performance that would no doubt have earned them a legion of new fans to boot. Playing a set focusing on last month’s debut long player Modern Tricks For Living, their confident stage presence and flawless delivery of numbers like “Never Enough” and “The People, This Place” was a joy to behold. Drawing comparisons with numerous artists ranging from Berlin era Bowie and The Cure to The Fall and Elastica, it’s clear to see why they’re one of the most hotly tipped bands to emerge from the UK’s underground music scene this year.

Low Hummer
Low Hummer

Back to the headliners, Manic Street Preachers setlists are always the subject of healthy debates. So, while some of their better-known compositions are understandably guaranteed and rightly so, its not uncommon for them to spring a surprise or two from the band’s majestic back catalogue. Introducing “Spectators Of Suicide” which dates back to their Heavenly era, James Dean Bradfield asks if anyone present was at their first Manchester show at the Boardwalk in 1990. A couple of hands go up before Bradfield and co deliver a flawless rendition that’s rarely appeared in their live set before this tour.

Likewise, Bradfield’s midset acoustic segment, where he gives the audience an option as to whether they want to hear an older song or a more recent number (2010’s “Postcards From A Young Man” is actually listed). We choose the former before engaging in a communal singalong to “Stay Beautiful”, “Why don’t you just FUCK OFF!” segment and all. Still as cutting and acerbic as it sounded back in 1991, “Stay Beautiful” remains an anthem for misfits and outsiders.

James Dean Bradfield
James Dean Bradfield

Towards the end of the set when band introductions take centre stage, Wire’s declaration that “James Dean Bradfield is my guitar hero” becomes no more apparent than on the band’s cover of Guns’n’Roses’ classic “Sweet Child O Mine”. Now a staple of their live set and a seemingly very popular one at that, Bradfield’s virtuoso guitar playing a prominent feature. Leading succinctly into “Tsunami” whilst paving the way for rockier excursions on “Slash’n’Burn” and “You Love Us”, it’s another prime example of how Manic Street Preachers take an influence then run it full circle before creating timeless artefacts of their own.

Revitalized and reenergized after a difficult couple of years, Manic Street Preachers have the fire in their bellies once more which is just what this wretched excuse of a world needs right now.


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