Manic Street Preachers live in London: potent missives bring life to the party

December 3, The SSE Arena Wembley: the Welsh rock veterans offset newbies with Christmas crowd-pleasers to re-emphasise their vitality

“Good evening, Wembley,” beams a glammed-up Manic Street Preachers bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire. “Thank you for giving me a reason to get out of my fucking tracksuit and slap on my make-up and white jeans. This is stuff I’m banned from at home!”

Wire has clearly been missing this: you might imagine the famed former misanthrope with a penchant for solitude to be well-suited to lockdown – but that’s not what the Manics were built for. They’re a band all about connection – albeit in their own literate, punk and cliché-free manner. Tonight’s about exactly that. “You look good, you smell good – do you move good?” questions frontman James Dean Bradfield. “Thank you for being through all the shit you’ve been through and still coming out”. As a mark of gratitude, tonight’s set is largely filled with the bangers and driven by their inimitable arena energy.

Opening with wailing 1992 epic ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, the show’s first quarter that also sees them throw in bittersweet 2007 resurrection single ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ and the poptastic ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’. The Manics are playing to their people-pleasing strengths tonight. “Fuck it,” smiles Bradfield, “let’s stay in the ‘90s,” before bursting into autumnal grace of the best-single-they-never-had of ‘Everything Must Go’ album track ‘Enola/Alone’.

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Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers performs at The SSE Arena on December 03, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Lorne Thomson/Redferns)
Nicky Wire of Manic Street Preachers performs at The SSE Arena on December 03, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

That said, the Manics are far from their Christmas panto circuit yet. The big numbers are used to compliment and showcase the neighbouring melody-soaked cuts from 2021’s acclaimed ‘The Ultra Vivid Lament’, their first Number One album in 23 years. Lead single ‘Orwellian’ feels as ready-made a classic as anything else, the aching ABBA Scandi-pop pomp of ‘The Secret He Had Missed’ lands well in a room of this scale and Wire’s ear-to-ear grin proves infectious during the Berlin-era Bowie space-age melancholy of ‘Still Snowing In Sapporo’.

Throughout the latter, he’s backed by wonderful footage of missing-presumed-dead guitarist and manifesto maker Richey Edwards at his most divine and youthful. Underrated ‘90s rocker ‘Tsunami’, meanwhile, tears the bloody roof off, before stately newbie ‘Complicated Illusions’ is a warming and welcome hug for the comedown. With a few curios thrown in (including rarely-played glam-punk-metal single ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’ and a cover of The Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ dedicated to late record producer Steve Brown), it seems the Manics still have plenty of compulsion to stave off stagnation for a while yet.

When Wire channels John Lydon to bark “ANGER IS AN ENERGY” to the final bars of ‘You Love Us’, and when the ticker tape rains down with the screens emblazoned with the lyrics ‘LIBRARIES GAVE US POWER’ for the standard closing of ‘A Design For Life’ – an ode to working class pride and resilience – you feel their drive. There’s still a reason for the Manic Street Preachers.

Manic Street Preachers played:

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‘Motorcycle Emptiness’
‘Orwellian’
‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’
‘The Secret He Had Missed’
‘You Stole the Sun From My Heart’
‘Enola/Alone’
‘Still Snowing In Sapporo’
‘Everything Must Go’
‘Happy Bored Alone’
‘Love’s Sweet Exile’
‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’
‘La tristesse durera (Scream to a Sigh)’
‘She Sells Sanctuary’
‘Motown Junk’
‘Afterending’
‘Slash ‘n’ Burn’
‘Tsunami’
‘Complicated Illusions’
‘You Love Us’
‘A Design for Life’

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