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NME Awards Big Gig, O2, London

These old Taffs can't hide their true genius

The word "genius" has been horrifically devalued of late, not least by the NME Awards, having bestowed the 2006 "Godlike Genius" title upon Ian bloody Brown.

This year, the accolade has gone to a deserving recipient: Manic Street Preachers. Although, to be strictly accurate, the Manics contained just one bona fide genius – icon and poet, the departed Richey Edwards – and this, being a retrospective award covering their 20-year journey from angry, beautiful revolutionaries to still-angry elder statesmen/national treasures, must be considered his as much as anyone's.

They retain, in James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, two stunning musicians and composers, and in Nicky Wire a fine lyricist and a fantastic star. If there can be such a substance as collective genius, the Manics have it. Which is partly why, when Bradfield introduces the chip-pan-headed chav from The Enemy as a "fucking genius", and lets him strum irrelevantly through "You Love Us" in the stage-right spot perpetually held vacant for Richey, this long-term Manics fan feels a little queasy.

It's not only Bradfield, of course: Wire, too, has been disappointingly kind about some unworthy Tesco Rock non-entities of late, some of whom (Cribs, Bloc Party, the anomalously excellent Klaxons) form the undercard of the biggest indoor show the Manics have played since Millennium Eve.

Kaiser Chiefs, kings of the mass ohh-ohh and aah-aah chant and the four-times-repeated refrain, could fill this place five times over. Ricky Wilson finds himself adored by the very people who picked fights with him in taxi queues in "I Predict a Riot". It's a situation the Manics themselves recognise only too well. What to do, other than seize the day and throw yourself into it headfirst? Wilson leaps deep into the baying mob with preacher-man zeal.

Heralded by a band of bagpipers, some of them wearing Wire-esque leopardskins, the Manics instantly reassert their relevance: in a week when Castro announces his resignation, they open with "Masses Against the Classes", a single which used the Cuban flag as its cover, and follow it with "Motorcycle Emptiness", a single that pointedly derides "this wonderful world of purchase power".

The Manics' now-famous version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" works miraculously well. Cerys Matthews does an exquisite job of deputising for Nina Persson on "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough". Their missing genius is represented by "Faster", Richey's declaration of autonomy. The words circle the entire room on a huge dot-matrix loop: "Life is for the cold made warm, and they are just lizards..."

The band that Bradfield self-deprecatingly calls "a bunch of old Taffs" end, as is customary, with "A Design for Life". As the beer-chuckers leave, the last thing you see through the glitter cannons is Orwell's motto "Hope lies in the proles". A very Manic moment. A genius moment, in fact.