Manic Street Preachers @ The Manchester Evening News Arena 06.12.02
Have the Manic Street Preachers sold their souls by releasing a greatest hits album or is it unfair to hold them hostage to ideals expressed a decade ago? If the principles of the band have changed then this evening also shows that their fan-base has expanded and altered to such an extent that feather boa draped groupies weighed down by eyeliner are now the exception rather than rule. Whatever ethical dilemma was sparked by their compilation release, this greatest hits tour is a chance to hear the old favourites without them being interrupted by too much material from a new album. This is particularly welcome as each new Manic Street Preachers recording is greeted with more trepidation than anticipation.
Any criticisms of the band are swept away the instant the stage is illuminated and the band open with the epic anthem to alienation 'Motorcycle Emptiness'. The Manics follow this with breathlessly vibrant versions of 'Australia' and 'You Stole the Sun from My Heart'. This last song, like the others taken from the 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours' LP, sound reinvigorated when isolated from the crushing adequacy of the album as a whole.
There is a positive aspect to banal songs, as latest single 'There by the Grace of God', ends the moshing in the crowd and prevents my lungs from exploding. Nobody else seems to share my relief at being offered the opportunity to inhale and the song title is greeted with a variety of groans. As recompense the booming bassline ushering in the start of 'Kevin Carter' receives a rapturous response after it replaces the lacklustre new tune.
Songs that have not found a place in recent Manics set lists get an airing tonight and are performed by a five piece band (the usual suspects plus a keyboardist and percussionist). They tear into an incendiary 'Slash n Burn' and there is overdue recognition for the 'Gold Against the Soul' album with superb performances of 'Life Becoming a Landslide' and 'Roses in the Hospital'. These two songs bring the gig back to life with a start after James Dean Bradfield temporarily switches to an acoustic guitar for a staggeringly beautiful 'Little Baby Nothing', an understated 'Faster', plus a cover version of 'Suicide is Painless'.
The gig concludes with the bands biggest hits, the anti-fascist anthem 'If You Tolerate This' and 'A Design for Life'. This last song was performed in front of the video to the single, which displays the forces of law and order brutally attacking a protest march, and provides a visual reminder of the band's political passion. The Manic Street Preachers sound as vital as ever when the arm waving auditorium crowd chants each word of 'A Design for Life'. The song reinforces the sentiments expressed earlier in the set during 'Masses Against the Classes', that if only people could find a common purpose then they could be an awesome force for change. When the revolution starts here, it seems so very wrong to have to shuffle out to the metro-link. Filing out of the arena like sheep towards the overcrowded pens of the tram was disappointing after the insurrectionary fervour of five minutes before. Mind you I didn't buy a ticket now watch the system crumble.