What were you expecting? Skies ablaze with fireworks? Rivers of booze and piss flooding city centres the world over? A final celebration before society collapses in on itself? The millennium and its lead-up have always been a struggle for meaning and the final arrival of the big date seems tinged with exhaustion. [a]Manic Street Preachers[/a], on the other hand, suffer no such uncertainty or crisis of meaning tonight. Heroic and indignant, they bleed passion and glory from every pore. The 56,000 gathered in the Millennium Stadium don’t expect anything less. It’s about pride and resilience you see.
For health and safety reasons they’ve had to put the roof on the venue, separating the stadium from the carnage outside. As Nicky Wire‘s brother [a]Patrick Jones[/a] shouts poetic polemics and the arena fills up, it seems oddly intimate sealed inside such a huge space. The red dragons are, of course, everywhere – on flags, T-shirts and faces – but it’s not intimidating. There has been a renaissance in this part of the nation. Wales has emerged from the post-industrial sink and tonight the kids want to celebrate this; to be offended by the fury of red and white would be ridiculously urban and isolationist. It might be their victory and vindication, but everyone’s invited.
Including Shack, who this year have finally made their songs heard above their history of misfortune and addiction. But it’s been a long year and Mick Head seems tired. As it’s a night for survivors they should be embraced by the crowd, but it’s indifference they find. ‘Natalie’s Party’ and ‘Streets Of Kenny’ are lost to all but the first few rows. Shack‘s old bones might need to rest for a while but they must never be forgotten or ignored again.
Feeder are younger, thinner and noisier than just about anyone here tonight but it’s their lack of imagination that grates. Rabble-rousing chants of “Wales, Wales” can’t save them from indifference as impatience for the main event grows. They want to be loved so badly, but as hard as they try to convince they can’t seem to give anything of themselves away.
As the hour itself approaches, the night changes down a gear. Video screens display messages from Welsh luminaries including rugby legend Gareth Edwards, boxer Nicky Piper and, er, Max Boyce. But it’s Arthur Scargill filmed in front of the International Brigade recruiting poster that inspired ‘If You Tolerate This…’ that sets the tone for the headliners.
And initially, that tone is somewhat dour. The huge yellow lights laser the crowd as James skips on into ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ and for a terrible moment the switch flicks us back to the countless, and mostly workmanlike, festival appearances over the year where toilets, Billy Bragg and bitterness were the dominant themes. Recently the Manics have seemed like a cause without an enemy, mummified Generation Terrorists wheeled out again for another indifferent show, but that misses the point.
As other heroes grow old embarrassingly, the Manics‘ searing presence and defiance sees them here tonight more graceful and expectant than ever before. Nicky‘s pink miniskirt and ‘Culture Slut’ T-shirt make him appear howlingly cool rather than Dot-Cotton-ridiculous during ‘Faster’. James looks like any other reveller on the Cardiff streets looking for action. There’s a sense of brutality about the way he plays and screams. A trooper for whom performance has always been war.
They dig in further with ‘La Tristesse Durera’ and ‘The Everlasting’, the set solidifying into a snarl as Nicky implores the crowd to buy ‘The Masses Against The Classes’ and “get those fuckers off the top”. ‘Masses…’ is a hot blast of defiance, a wannabe punk reaction against their critics who will inevitably find it a bit paranoid, but here there’s an audible sigh of relief among the feather boas and smeared lippy with the realisation that this is what made them great in the first place.
The hour comes and goes without massive aplomb or carnage. ‘Small Black Flowers…’ is dedicated by James to the missing Richey Edwards “The best and coolest companion of the decade”. The inevitable, monumental ‘A Design For Life’ concludes the set and by then it’s getting rather emotional. Tears trickle and screams break out as Nicky trashes his bass in ritual fervour. The Manics‘ armour is rusting and splitting, waiting for a new champion’s blade to finally cut through the history and hysterics of the greatest band of the ’90s and leave them to finally rest in peace. Until then the future somehow, incredibly, still belongs to them.