“It goes without saying this one's for Mister Richard James Edwards,” croaks James Dean Bradfield in his gravelly Welsh brogue as the first half of the show nears its conclusion – and he’s right, it really does. More than any other Manic Street Preachers album of its day, The Holy Bible is the one which is most identified with their disappeared and now presumed dead fourth member. In the 20th anniversary year of its release the band have chosen to play their third record live and in full, beginning here.
It feels strange, then, to hear songs which chronicled the sharp edge of Edwards’ mental health problems just prior to his disappearance revisited in such a context. Since his 1995 departure the Manics’ large-scale political and personal concerns have come bound up with a guiding steadiness, yet they’ve never seemed like a band who would settle for phoning it in on the live stage. So it proves here.
The 13 tracks from The Holy Bible are played first, and they sound utterly authentic to that which appeared on record. A lot of this is down to Bradfield’s serrated yell, a voice which can only muster two brisk forward gears at most, but which sounds utterly thrilling in person. It papers over the cracks in the soul of songs like "Yes", a disgusted view of the brutalities of prostitution, and others about serial killers ("Archives of Pain"), totalitarianism ("Of Walking Abortion") and the holocaust ("The Intense Humming of Evil").
Many of these aren’t concert hall floorfillers (although some are, like hurtling rockers "Revol" and "Faster"), but each is intensely listenable when planed over by Bradfield’s vocal and the noise created by Nicky Wire, Sean Moore and their live keyboard player and guitarist. They don’t make you want to jump around, but they do make you want to listen to the record once more and re-evaluate the tired, yearning glam of "This is Yesterday", for example, or the unsettling discordance of "Die in the Summertime" with an older head on.
The juxtaposition of these songs with another 50 minutes of greatest hits after a short break (“for a snakebite,” says Bradfield, ageing himself) also invites reappraisal of the latter. The adrenaline-racing punk of the Edwards-era "Motorcycle Emptiness" and "You Love Us" are there, as is the vintage B-side "Donkeys" (containing “two of the greatest lines ever written in rock and roll,“ says Bradfield – “put your lipstick on / at least your lies will be pretty”) and the big hits “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” and “A Design For Life”.
Yet it’s also pleasing to note that some of the finest - if least brutal - tracks here were those from the latest album Futurology. Marshalled by a singer in a Reservoir Dogs suit and a guitarist (Wire) rocking disco military dictator style, the instrumental "Dreaming a City (Hughesovka)” was dedicated to each member of Simple Minds by name in their home city; Futurology careened on youthful energy and sentiments; and Euro-rocker "Europa Geht Durch Mich" strode confidently, combining British indie-rock with strident Germanic electronica. It isn’t attempting to find false synchronicity to say this band feels more relevant than they have this century, just as they choose to revisit past glories.