A CHILLY TUESDAY EVENING in Camden Town and there’s enough leopard print in the Roundhouse to have TV naturalist Steve Backshall foaming at the mouth. But it’s not so much a case of Deadly 60, more the Crucial 3 – specifically James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire, the Manic Street Preachers, playing their final engagements of 2014, a year in which the band has successfully forged new routes for vitality while paying homage to their storied past. This second instalment of a three-night residency at the converted north London engine shed had been prefaced by dire fan forum intimations of a possible cancellation due to Bradfield’s affliction by a Christmas bug, which had impaired the singer’s performance the previous evening. But Valley boys are made of stern stuff: fortified by Fisherman’s Friends and the stalwart support of his bandmates, Bradfield has clearly kicked the lurgy into touch, returning stronger, harder… Faster.
“I knew The Holy Bible was a stone cold classic when it got ignored for the Mercurys.”
These are, of course, no ordinary Manics gigs. Scheduled on the 20th anniversary of the last three shows with Richey Edwards and at the venue closest in size and location to the now-demolished Astoria Theatre, the band play The Holy Bible, their third album, in its unflinching entirety. Both a commemoration and celebration of Edwards, the album’s main philosophical architect, this act is inescapably emotional, as well as physically demanding – not least for Bradfield, who in the absence of the band’s regular auxiliary live musicians is shouldering even more of the sound.
But configuring as a pure trio, in honour of Edwards, heightens the impact of the material, terrifyingly so, given that we’re talking about the likes of Archives Of Pain, 4st 7lbs and The Intense Humming Of Evil: consumptively powerful rock songs, but worrisome in their detailed depiction of private and public woe. Knowing what is coming next heightens the experience: it becomes a perversely thrilling ordeal, like The Exorcist meets Apocalypse Now! How the band maintain composure is beyond belief.
In fact, they’re in good spirits, dispensing seasonal cheer and gallows humour between songs to alleviate the tension. “I knew the album was a stone cold classic when it got ignored for the Mercurys – what the fuck were those cunts thinking?!” declares Nicky Wire, before admitting to a cock-up on the cosmetic front. “I’ve left my make-up at the hotel.”
Before PCP’s scalding finale, Bradfield pays tribute to Edwards, demanding that the audience show their appreciation of his absent friend, and The Roundhouse shakes in response.
For many in the audience this would have sufficed, but it’s merely part one. After a 10-minute costume break, they return, Wire by now in full slap mode after a mate had legged it back to the hotel to fetch his sponge bag, and we’re treated to the Manics’ Christmas party set. Well, kinda. Now augmented by guitarist Wayne Murray and keyboardist Nick Naysmith, the band dispatch a few big hits, a welcome chunk of material from 2014’s stellar Futurology, and some deep cuts for the faithful: the ragged glory of Donkeys, the elegant 1993 B-side that’s the greatest song Pearl Jam never wrote, and 1985, lightning bolt opener from 2004’s Lifeblood – a flawed but too-easily dismissed Manics album whose day for reappraisal shall surely come.
With a final nod to the 1994 Astoria shows, Bradfield essays a brief rendition of Wham!’s Last Christmas before tearing the ensemble through an exultant A Design For Life. Twenty years ago, the Manics finished the third night by trashing all their gear and the lighting rig, a shared recognition that this was the end of something. There’s no way they’d do anything like that again this time… is there?
Yes / Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart / Of Walking Abortion / She Is Suffering / Archives Of Pain / Revol / 4st 7lbs / Mausoleum / Faster / This Is Yesterday / Die In The Summertime / The Intense Humming Of Evil / PCP / (Interval) / Anthem For A Lost Cause / Motorcycle Emptiness / Dreaming A City (Hughesovka) / You Stole The Sun From My Heart / 1985 / Europa Geht Durch Mich / If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next / Donkeys / Futurology / Divine Youth / You Love Us / Last Christmas / A Design For Life
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