BLOG Philip Jones

NWR Issue 111

Everything Must Go – Manic Street Preachers, Liberty Stadium

Rain is a thinly veiled threat on a muggy, bank holiday Saturday in Swansea as over 20,000 people gather at the Liberty Stadium to see the Manic Street Preachers perform the entirety of their 1996 album, Everything Must Go.

Sun still forces its way through the clouds to accompany support act Public Service Broadcasting’s samples and synthesisers. The Super Furry Animals receive a lot of love, at least from the thousands close to the stage. In white overalls they rattle through quixotic hits. Gruff Rhys sings ‘Bing Bong’, their Euro 2016 single, through the eye slot of a Power Ranger helmet. ‘Golden Retriever’ gets people dancing, before Cian Ciárán is left on stage conjuring a one-man synth trance. He’s re-joined by the band, now in full shaggy-dog costume, for one last blast of the Super Furry psychedelia.

The Manic Street Preachers open with a faithful nod to the record: the sound of small waves breaking for ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’. Singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield and bassist Nicky Wire take centre stage, Wire’s long legs strutting, striding and leaping across the space.

There is an eight-piece string section on stage, but they struggle to be heard on the opening song. However, they strike up loud and proud for the second, the almost-chart topping ‘A Design for Life’. The crowd erupts into voice and Bradfield hands them the second verse, stepping away from the microphone – “I wish I had a bottle/right here in my dirty face/to wear the scars/to show from where I came”. “This is working class empowerment” Bradfield shouts before the final chorus.

As the strings play the final chords of ‘Everything Must Go’ chants of “Swansea, Swansea” ring round the stadium. Wire recants how he and missing guitarist Richey Edwards spent their student days in Swansea to introduce ‘The Girl Who Wants To Be God’. The stadium choir comes alive again for ‘Australia’, or in honour of the setting, ‘Ospreylia’.

For the penultimate song of the set ‘Further Away’, the screens behind the stage show photos of west Wales, the picturesque and the ugly. If you are in any doubt if we are celebrating of this part of the world, red, white and green streamers explode from the stage at the end of ‘No Surface All Feeling’. In the interval, lightning flashes behind the stadium and thunder might be rolling below the music.

Bradfield returns to stage to perform ‘Ocean Spray’ with trumpeter Cogan Cannon, the rain holding off. An unexpected cover of Frankie Valli’s ‘I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ magics the vast crowd into an intimate pub sing-along. From here the Manics delve into their extensive back catalogue beginning with a high-velocity rendition of ‘Motor Cycle Emptiness’. It’s hard to tell what is lightning and what are the flashes of camera phones as darkness settles inside the stadium. The rain arrives with the song’s closing guitar solo, big drops that have people pulling for their rain coats. The crowd chants “Wales, Wales” in defiance.

The new football anthem for Euro 2016 ‘Together Stronger (C'Mon Wales)' is premiered, complete with touching footage of the late Wales manager Gary Speed. The band clearly enjoy newer material like ‘Show Me The Wonder’ though most of the crowd miss the beat, but the Manics have anticipated this and the excellent video directed by Kieran Evans is shown almost in full behind them. One last cover (Fiction Factory’s ‘Feels Like Heaven’) has Bradfield reminiscing about how he bought the 7 inch from Blackwood Woolworths. “Let’s not pretend we’re not old” he says. Despite the potential for stadium gigs to feel corporate and distant, the atmosphere is affectionate, cosy even. The audience end the night in fine sing-along voice to ‘You Love Us’ and ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’.

This is the final night of their tour and, standing in the middle of the 20,000-strong crowd, it’s easy to believe Bradfield when he says “This has been one of the greatest nights of our fucking lives”. As the Manics exit the stage, red, white and green fireworks shoot up into the wet Swansea night.

Philip Jones is a writer and musician based in Cardiff. This blog post was written in May.

The Manic Street Preachers will be playing at the Victorious Festival in Portsmouth on 27 August


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