Design flaw

POP Manic Street Preachers Nynex, Manchester
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The Independent Culture
For a group who have long flirted with the traditional tricks of "rawk", this is really a hell of a risk. The potential for misunderstanding the sensitive intelligent world of The Manic Street Preachers in an aircraft hangar containing around 20,000 people is great. Some of the poetry doesn't quite fit the huge projection screens and quips about Camus get lost on a booming PA system. Many of the fans whom the group have picked up since the release of the ultra-successful Everything Must Go LP, here tonight in their checked shirts Liam-ing about with plastic glasses full of flat ale, obviously don't read much poetry anyway. They punch the air red-faced, cherry-picking lines from "A Design for Life" like "We only want to get drunk". Some of them would be just as happy at an Eric Clapton concert and, for a second, the Manics sound like Bon Jovi with A-levels, trapped in a stadium future, victims of their own persuasiveness. A rough guess says that 50 per cent of the audience are only here for the beer and would probably come to the opening of a bag of crisps.

You end up worrying that it's rude to judge a group by the size of its venue but, about three miles from the stage, it's hard to focus on what's happening and you start wondering if Phil Collins wouldn't really be too bad if he was playing in a church hall.

The only bit that really makes sense in this huge hall is the PC Nuremberg Rally of an intro - slogans flashing pompously and images of public school rugby matches and working-class camaraderie designed as some kind of tear- jerking state of the nation slideshow. Nicky Wire attempts to continue the drama by taking the stage in a tiara.

Having seen the group play a truly spirited set a few months earlier at Manchester Apollo, you have to say that tonight it is all a bit ragged. You start noticing the weight placed on James Dean Bradfield's shoulders as, one man and his guitar, he sings and accounts for 75 per cent of the music while trying to fill up the main area of the stage with the occasional prowl between verses. There are many liberties taken with familiar melodies on stuff like "Motorcycle Emptiness" which suggest this one-man engine room is trying to keep himself interested. The closing "A Design for Life", however, still sounds magnificent, like a Last Night at the Proms for a forgotten generation. As with most Manics songs, nobody is ever sure quite what they mean but they sound important. Like Oasis, they remind you that people are still searching for some wide-screen emotion in their pop music, the only contemporary alternatives being the faceless one-dimensional squall of techno and trip hop.

In the end the Manics seem like their own support group. They close with a punky dash through "You Love U" and "Motown Junk", haunted still by video images of missing guitarist Richie Edwards - his disappearance another Manics Fact that makes them seem more like Joy Division and less like the Lit Crit Ramones.

John McReady