Manic Street Preachers and Editors @ First Direct Arena, Leeds

Posted by vibrations on 02-06-16

Earlier this year I dismissed an up coming Leeds band with an obvious debt to Joy Division with the observation that the last thing that anybody needed right now was another bloody Editors. A band, who when they really, really wanted to move away from the Joy Division comparisons ended up stealing from ‘Porcupine’ era Bunnymen. Perhaps unfairly, I’ve regarded them as a pale copy of better bands with bolted on U2 choruses.

However, it’s good to be proved wrong and this evening Editors are fantastic. In the past I’ve found Tom Smith too mannered and overwrought a front man but on the Arena stage his performance is perfectly judged and his voice beautiful. ‘Munich’ and ‘Papillion’ charge by with energy and gusto and a mid set rendition of ‘Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors’ is perfect. Only bassist Russell Leetch’s awkward, out of time attempts to dance and punch the air detracts, but, to be honest, it only makes Editors more endearing. Yeah, they were great and I’d go see them again in a heartbeat.

It’s twenty years ago to the day that ‘Everything Must Go’ was released. Commercially, it was Manic Street Preachers’ most successful period but sartorially, it was a low point. Looking back at footage from 1996 it’s disheartening to see this most image conscious of bands looking like they’d just stepped out of the pages of the ‘Next Directory’. So, I’m pleased to report that they’ve smartened up their act. James Dean Bradfield really works that ‘night out at the Miner’s Club’ look he’s perfected recently and we’re treated to not one but three different Nicky Wire costume changes. Lucky us. Sadly, no skin-tight camouflage dress though.

Not only are they dressed better these days, they sound phenomenal. Bradfield makes a low key entrance to open with ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’ playing like an artist, looking like a mechanic and singing like an angel. The rest of the band explode mid song and we’re off on a high speed breeze through the album. Nicky Wire scissor kicks his way through ‘A Design for Life’ and Sean Moore’s drums hammer home during the title track. I find that, despite not having listened to it as a whole piece for years, ‘Everything Must Go’ is one of those records where I know every single word. The rest of the audience are with me too. A good communal singalong is sometimes just what you need.

The album we’re celebrating tonight suffers in reputation from a) not being ‘The Holy Bible’ and b) its sheer ubiquity on release. As tonight demonstrates such misgivings are unfair. The politics, the euphoria and despair in ‘EMG’ is miles away from the indie landfill of most of the Britpop era. It’s a world away from TFI, Loaded and ‘The Joy of Sex’ being republished with tasteful line drawings of Liam and Patsy lookalikes. ‘A Design for Life’ remains staunchly necessary today and if you miss the bleakness of the album’s predecessor, then look no further than tonight’s highlight – the sublimely sung ‘Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky’.

Once the last notes of ‘No Surface All Feeling’ ebb away and the red, white and green streamers fall to the floor, we’re given five minutes before the band return to contemplate this quote from Stanley Kubrick, “However vast the darkness we must supply our own light.” The second set provides more than enough to illuminate these grim times. Sixth form poetry they may be but the fury in ‘Motorcyle Emptiness’ and ‘Natwest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds’ take on more significance with every passing day that George Osborne remains alive. ‘Show Me the Wonder’ and ‘Walk Me to the Bridge’ remind us that despite hauling themselves on the anniversary trail for the past couple of years, the Manics did so from a very strong position- ‘Rewind the Film’ and ‘Futurology’ both proving they can still inspire rather than go through the motions. Once they’re done commemorating their most iconic moments, albeit in fine style, it’s clearly time to get back to the real business of the here and now. Tonight was wonderful, the best fun I’ve had in ages, but I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Alan Stewart

On the Vibrations stereo...