Updated: Monday, 10th December 2018 @ 4:16pm

Gig review: Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Apollo

Gig review: Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Apollo

| By Nick Statham

It’s fair to say the Manics have a bit of a soft spot for Manchester.

In the band’s early days, Nicky Wire proclaimed his love for the city’s famously rainy climate – saying playing here made him ‘really fucking happy’.

And, at last year’s Ritz gig, James Dean Bradfield name-checked his favourite Mancunian guitarists before playing snatches of the Stone Rose’ Waterfall and The Smiths’ This Charming Man.

Last night they returned armed with new material ahead of the release of the forthcoming new album Futurology.

To kick off, James introduced 30 Year War – the strongest and most political cut from Rewind the Film – by drawing attention to the lyrical reference to revered Salford artist LS Lowry.

The lines ‘So you hide all Lowry’s paintings for 30 years or more/ cos he turned down a knighthood and you must now even the scoreencapsulating the song’s theme of Britain’s poisonous class relations.

The night began on a lighter note with recent single Show Me the Wonder – an upbeat opener, but one of the least ‘Manic’ tracks on offer.

ROCK ON: James Dean Bradfield (left) and Nicky Wire lead the way (© Simon Q with thanks)

Lyrics such as ‘Is heaven a place where nothing ever happens?’ and the yearning melody mean it still has that time-honoured Manics-melancholy – even with those joyous, soul-inspired horns blasting their way through the song.

It’s a musically-schizophrenic set, covering tracks from their bleak masterpiece The Holy Bible and more commercial records like Postcards... and Everything Must Go.

The night’s biggest juxtaposition being between James’ delicate, solo rendition of This  Sullen Welsh Heart and Holy Bible sludge-athon ‘Archives of Pain’.

The latter being a Joy Division/Nirvana-esque treatise on capital punishment. Who knows what punters attracted by their appearance on Strictly Come Dancing made of lines like ‘Don’t be ashamed to slaughter the centre of humanity is cruelty’?

There has been much excitement among hardcore Manics fans that tracks from 1994 record The Holy Bible were rumoured to feature prominently on this tour.

And even though Archives... and particularly Die in the Summertime sound as bracingly brilliant as ever, it’s difficult to shake the feeling it’s not quite the same as hearing these back in ’94.

Nostalgia would be too cynical a word to use but it is as if they are briefly-inhabiting their former selves for five or six minutes.

And, as the band themselves have said, The Holy Bible was more a shared state of mind than a record.

It would be ridiculous to not expect them to have changed as a band and as people – particularly given their traumatic history.

GUITAR HERO: Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield (© Markus Unger with thanks)

But the same feeling arises again when James includes From Despair to Where in his acoustic segment.

It’s an odd choice for an acoustic rendition, and totally shorn of its emotional impact when James’ treats it as a jocular sing-a-long.

That said, the band obviously still have some of the old revolutionary fervour burning within their sullen, almost-middle-aged hearts.

The Masses Against the Classes is played against a backdrop of the band’s Cuban sojourn, the camera lingering on the backdrop of the Karl Marx theatre and images of Che Guevara.

And 30 Year War is set to images from the miners’ strike picket lines – resonating heavily with the lyrical content of the song.

We also get typical MSP slogans like the Orwellian-inspired ‘Hope lies in the Proles’ and Albert Camus quote ‘We all carry within us our places of exile’ as ever garnered from their political and cultural heroes.

New songs Europa Geht Durch Mich and the titular track from Futurology make good on the promise of a krautrock/new wave record.

The former features vocals by German actress Nina Hoss: “So when you hear a German voice booming over the speakers, it’s not fucking mine,” jokes James.

While Futurology intriguingly features Wire singing a chorus that seems to say ‘we’re coming back one day, like we’ve never been away, no matter how much it hurts’.

Bound to have the Richey Edwards conspiracy theorists in a frenzy, that one. But maybe it’s more akin to Freudian wish fulfilment for both band and fans.

As ever, Nicky gives a tribute to his ‘beautiful, wonderfully intelligent friend Mr Richey Fucking Edwards’ from the stage (in a less animated than usual performance).

And, for MM’s money at least, it’s You Love Us played to a backdrop of the band’s iconic early, outrageously provocative days that is the night’s highlight.

There’s still no thrill in rock music quite like bellowing along to lines like ‘We realise and won’t be mourned /we’re gonna burn your death mask uniforms’.

“Manchester, we love you, God created you,” says James as inevitable set-closer A Design for Life rounds the evening off.

James, you’re too kind – and he didn’t do too bad a job on you lot from south Wales either.

Main image courtesy of Markus Unger with thanks