On a night designed to pay tribute to the past, the Manics are in no danger of fading out just yet
James Ayles
17:30 18th May 2019

Wales' finest Manic Street Preachers packed out the first of a two-day run at Shepherd’s Bush Empire during a 13-date UK tour in celebration of 20 years since the release of  their biggest-selling record This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. While the album forms a huge part of their history, there's always intrigue when relying on such a divisive record to drive a whole live set, especially two decades on.

Support is provided by compatriot Gwenno, delivering the sort of enigmatic, ethereal and occasionally bonkers set that has become her forte. Moving with ease through songs in both Cornish and Welsh, this is a masterclass in doing things your own way and doing them incredibly well.

Next up were the headliners, launching into album opener ‘The Everlasting’ with impressive gusto and obviously keen to rekindle some of their old magic. Seven albums on from This Is My Truth… the band seem to have just about navigated that potentially awkward transition from punk-rock insurrectionaries to middle-aged soothsayers, but still find a good balance between the old and the new. 

That’s not to say all the fire has gone. Even at 50, both James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire have no problems throwing themselves around the stage as if it were 1986 all over again. The band dutifully plough through the album with fervent energy and swirling guitars. While the album itself is due praise and had a huge impact, there are moments when committing so fully to it costs the set some of that energy, with the ‘greatest hits’ section arriving just in time.

At first they give little heed to speaking to the audience, instead letting their music do plenty of talking, but gradually they loosen up and take a reflective view of the three-decades worth of songs they’re laying out. Nicky admits many of the album’s songs were put together "on planes after a lot of painkillers” and that self-deprecation runs through their performance, happy to make light of some of the darker themes they touch upon.

There’s the occasional danger of over-egging the show, such as the confetti cannons exploding late on and a light shows that once or twice seems to be trying too hard. However, ultimately now these guys are masters of working up a set and knew just when to send them into a thrashing mess and when to strip it back as Bradfield took on lone acoustic duties.

It did feel, however, that despite the homage to This Is My Truth…, that the set was always, inevitably working towards the soaring crescendo of ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, greeted with such fervour that Bradfield didn’t join in the first two renditions of the chorus.

From that high point, the Blackwood trio gradually wound the set down and close as ever with 'Design For Life', leaving a capacity crowd satisfied that, on a night that was about paying tribute to the past, their idols were in no danger of fading out just yet.

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Photo: Jon Mo