MANIC STREET PREACHERS. London Camden Roundhouse. 16 December 2014.
20 years, 2 months, 8 days after seeing them in Wolverhampton, I come back to Camden. This time for the first time in their career, The Manics are a nostalgia act. For a band that always looked forward, always had the future in their mind, tonight, seeing the band revisit “The Holy Bible” and perform it in full for the first time ever, is the first slice of nostalgia from a band that I grew up with. And it feels... off. I feel a strange disconnect in the first half, as the band perform the album for an a hour or so. Undoubtedly, “The Holy Bible” is one the best records ever made to my ears, and yet, this band is not the same band – as the lyrical minister of propoganda, Richey Edwards, is absent. I'm not sure – despite the enormous role the three present members of the band had in making the record – if they should be doing this. It looks the same – the stage draped in netting, the sirens and the band in military uniforms – but it isn't. It's as if the band are now acting, reproducing authentically what used to be, but it isn't really : the tour at the time – and its a show that is burned into my consciousness – was split evenly between 3/4's of “The Holy Bible”, and a greatest hits show. Here, “The Holy Bible” is executed faithfully, fully and in order, but it feels.. false.
Though James Dean Bradfield is certainly one of the most underrated guitar players in the world. Not only does he play guitar so fluidly he sounds like a rhythm and lead at the same time, and not only does he have a vocal strength of no small weight, but also, he – and the rest of the band – are able to play material this dense without a seeming moment of struggle.
But it is, to an extent, alienating. Because I was there, then, and that was nothing like this. This is somewhat rote, predictable, and being an album played in full – even if it is one of the best records in my life – is structured as a record, not as a gig, with a different dynamic. It sounds faithful.But with James at twice his age in a sailor suit, and the rest of the band similarly decked out in almost-but-not-quite uniforms, and “The Holy Bible” live is an uncanny valley, and that is terrifying.
The second set is a short, and unsatisfactory hour, which sees a mix of curios and hits : We get, for the first tour ever, 1993 b-side “Donkeys”, Lifeblood gem “1985”, three or four songs from the sadly under-appreciated “Futurology”, and the rest are hits : That is, “Motorcycle Emptiness”, “You Stole The Sun”, “If You Tolerate This”, “You Love Us”, and “A Design For Life.”. All of those songs have been played far too much – especially “You Stole The Sun” and “Tolerate”, which are whilst the bands most commercially successful period, also part of the bands slide into being merely quite good. It's also the first Manics show ever I don't see “Motown Junk”. It's not bad, and in fact, very good, but the overall show is nostalgia for something that feels, well, not quite clean in revisiting, coupled with a hits show. Personally, I'm not in the place where it is right for me to go here today, and it's the first sign in the Manics existence that perhaps they are looking back more than they should. Whats the point in always looking back? When all you see is more and more junk?
(Setlist photo by Marge von Munchingindahausen)