Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Music review: Manic Street Preachers - a satisfying and varied show

4.00

 

Less than two years ago, the Manic Street Preachers played the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena. Now, they play to a tenth of that audience size, the intimacy of this west London venue - and others on this tour - ideal for their new, 11th studio album, Rewind the Film, which revolves around gentle acoustic modes. It seems that in their middle age the Welsh band are embracing subtlety (musically, at least).

But the trio have not mellowed completely, as tonight’s performance attests. The show erupts into "Motorcycle Emptiness" – the band bathed in the glare of red light, James Dean Bradfield’s vocals as impassioned as ever, Nicky Wire resplendent in a striking red suit – and the band’s precision guided by the tight beats of drummer Sean Moore. It’s the first of 20 songs which span their 27-year career, in a show that is for the fans. The urgency of "Revol", from their darkest, angriest album, The Holy Bible, and the punk garage of live favourite "Motown Junk" show them to be as vital and energetic as they ever were.

The new material stands out, but certainly not for lack of audience participation – the crowd appears to be singing the lyrics throughout. The uplifting "Show Me the Wonder", which Bradfield introduces as being about the "grey area between certainty and uncertainty", is bolstered by majestic trumpet, adding gorgeous harmonising over Bradfield's vocals. More wistful is the title track of their new album, for which Sheffield star Richard Hawley arrives onstage to a rapturous reception, his rich baritone adding still more gravitas to poignant lyrics such as "There is too much heartbreak/ In the nothing of the now/ I’ll want to see it all/ Never want to let it go", in which Wire contemplates the despair of ageing. Yearning string samples accompany Bradfield’s subtle, finger-picked guitar.

Another highlight is a tender medley performed solo by Bradfield, with a wistful pair of songs – the new "This Sullen Welsh Heart" and a pared down version of the 1998 single "The Everlasting" – placed alongside Franki Valli's "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You".

The band roll out one fan favourite after another. Crowd-pleasers "You Love Us", "You Stole the Sun from My Heart" and "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" have the room bouncing, and completing the vocals at the request of Bradfield – who, alongside the ever cheerful Wire, remains one of rock’s ultimate showmen.

What the new album has given the Manics is a wider array of emotions, sonic textures and gentler dynamics  – resulting in a most satisfying, varied show.

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