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Manic Street Preachers: Corn Exchange Cambridge, Tuesday May 8

Who you calling grandad? The Manics are back to terrorise another generation

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iconic image, an image that’s become as ingrained in Manic Street Preachers iconography as making friends with Fidel Castro, wishing death upon Michael Stipe and, of course, that Richey photo.

After 21 years together, the Manics have made more than their share of history, infamously misplacing one poor soul along the way. They’ve sweated every bodily fluid imaginable in the name of rock’n’roll, achieved moments of pure vitriolic genius and generally had what you’d call a good innings. Good job chaps, you’re free to go.

Ah, except this is the post-greatest hits era, and this is the Manics – resolutely obtuse and refusing to do what’s expected of them. Their latest stab at the old magic, ‘Send Away The Tigers’, has been lauded as the best thing since ‘Everything Must Go’ and tonight is the first night of what Nicky Wire promises will be a tour of Springsteen-length setlists fuelled by “working class rage, make-up and dumb punk fun”. But does anyone still care?

From the off, it’s clear that the band still think so, even if no-one else does. “You love us,” grumbles James Dean Bradfield at the disciples, before a flurry of fretboard histrionics that usher in an old Manics love-in: ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’’s eternal, Guns N’ Roses-aping guitar riff, ‘Born To End’’s guttural glorious racket, Nicky Wire still dressed as the bastard child of Sid Vicious and Dame Edna. But as well as a shamelessy populist Greatest Hits set, tonight is about the future. ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ might sound flat without Nina Persson’s call-and-response vocal, but it’s still a soaring return to form, as are ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Autumnsong’. ‘The Second Great Depression’ and ‘I’m Just A Patsy’, meanwhile, boil over with that classic Manics mix of angst and ire, sitting proud among the likes of ‘Kevin Carter’ – dedicated to its author, Richey – and ‘Faster’.

There’s even room for a couple of surprises for the completists: the snarling, Strummer-esque ‘Freedom Of Speech Won’t Feed My Children’ and an acoustic rendition of ‘Yes’ from James, prefaced by an admission that he’s shitting himself because it’s the first time he’s done it.

“This is the greatest lyric I’ve ever sung,” he says, and it’s hard to disagree. Played acoustically, it loses none of its rage, instead gaining an unsettling air of sweetness. And let’s face it, who else can pull this off when singing: “You want a girl so tear off his cock/Tie his hair in bunches/Fuck him, call him Rita if you want”?

This is why we’re still addicted to MSP. And, as Nicky Wire returns to the stage in a miniskirt to inform the audience that, “I had an offer from the BBC today to take part in a reality TV show where you learn how to be a conductor at the proms. I told them I’d do it if I could say, ‘Fuck Queen and country!’”, their status as a national institution is once again sealed.

Barry Nicolson

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