Manic Street Preachers - MEN Arena - 17.12.04

When the Manic's re-released their seminal "Holy Bible" album to acknowledge the 10 Year Anniversary of it's release, it almost invited comparisons between of the Manic's of old and the Manic's of today. In Nicky Wire's words "Lifeblood", their current album, is their Dido record - you can only take that to mean safe, predictable and more interested in fitting in with the crowd rather than rallying against it. Now in their early 30s the Manic's have grown older, more contented with the world they used to kick against and Nicky Wire is more interested in changing nappies than changing the world, but perhaps post-Richey's disappearance things had to change to keep the rest of the band together.

Despite their history, the Manic's in the live arena have always been something of a celebration, acknowledging the past while featuring the best material from their latest album. Now bolstered by an extra guitarist, who thankfully stands at the back of the stage rather than taking Richey's position, they start a mammoth set with "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next". With James Dean Bradfield given chance to breathe on the rhythm guitar and concentrate on those guitar solo's the spotlight is taken off Nicky Wire and onto their official frontman for the first time in the bands history. Entering straight into "Faster" the atmosphere couldn't be more different than the almost ambient opener, the taut angular guitar lines, which informed Franz Ferdinand and much of the contemporary music scene, fit perfectly over the stop start lyrical couplets.

It's then the opportunity to play the first of 6 songs from the bands new album. "1985" features a backdrop of images that tokk a hold of the band including Thatcher, The Miners strike, riots and Morrissey amongst others. Other new tracks include their Keane moment, "I Live To Fall Asleep" and the assured pop single "The Love Of Richard Nixon". The thought runs through my head that maybe the band would be better releasing one EP a year and offering the rest of the tracks as free downloads for the completists out there.

The set a mixture of their whole career, noticeably with the exception of the "Know Your Enemy" album, mixes up "You Love Us" next to Cardiff Afterlife" and "La Tristerra Durrera" next to "Die In The Summertime". James Dean Bradfield again takes centre stage for an abridged acoustic version of "Archives Of Pain" before an emotional "Small Black Flowers". When Nicky Wire returns he's lost the Holy Bible esque combat gear and changed into the glamtastic tiara and knee length skirt, you can almost imagine the sight of his wife and daughter in a few years time: "Yes, that's you dad - the one in the skirt!!!".

Ending on the double whammy of "Motorcycle Emptiness" and "Design For Life" they prove that they're still one of the best live bands around at the moment. Sure, they could have played a few choice Manic's moments such as "Little Baby Nothing", "Stay Beautiful" or "Motown Junk", but each fan would have their own setlist heaven. As long as the Manic's carry on playing the old songs I think they'll always have a place in our hearts

Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

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