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LIVE REPORT: Manic Street Preachers In London
Patrick Clarke , May 18th, 2019 13:39

Patrick Clarke sees The Manics perform their biggest, and yet most divisive, album in full, plus a greatest hits set peppered with live rarities

Continuing their recent trend of anniversary ‘album in full’ shows, tonight in Shepherd’s Bush the Manic Street Preachers will be playing their 1998 megahit This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, from beginning to end. Though it’s their most popular record by far – a triple platinum seller that catapulted them to the pedestal of Britain’s biggest band, for a time at least – the prospect of hearing it live in full fills me with just a touch of apprehension. It’s a good record – as I wrote for tQ on its birthday last year, a more powerful political statement than it's often given credit for – but unlike, say The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go, it has its ponderous moments.

And there are portions of the show that, yes, are a little slow, but there’s far, far fewer of them than you might think. In fact it’s only when a run of ‘My Little Empire’, a glacial ‘I’m Not Working’ and ‘You’re Tender And You’re Tired’ is aired early on that the set loses its punch. For the most part, The Manics make the album tracks work tremendously by treating them to a heaped tablespoon of the unabashed passion and heart that has always been one of their greatest qualities. For all its clunky lyrics, ‘Born A Girl’ is gut-wrenching in its sparseness. ‘Black Dog On My Shoulder’ is lent a beautiful sweep that proves it one of their great under-rated songs. ‘Be Natural’ sounds ten times as heroic than on record.

The Manics have always been in touch with their past, the way their many phases have been perceived in the past and are perceived now. Nicky Wire recalls signing a fan’s record with ‘Be Natural’ – “She said ‘I fucking hate that song!’” – and explains that the songs on This Is My Truth are so “fucking miserable” because they were written “at high altitude, on a lot of painkillers.” Their self-awareness led to one of their greatest B-sides, the rollicking ‘Prologue To History’, to be newly promoted to the album when it was re-issued last year, and it’s ecstatic to hear it live. It injects the pace and power that this collection of songs always lacked, and in a certain respect is what glues this gig together.

So too does the decision to shift ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next’ to the end of the first set. For all the excellence with which they perform the album tracks, it is of course the megahit singles – ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’, ‘Tsunami’, ‘The Everlasting’ – that provoke rapture and hysteria in the stalls. That said, ‘South Yorkshire Mass Murderer’ which precedes it, the band’s righteous, furious lambast of the corrupt authorities whose failure led to the Hillsborough disaster and its subsequent cover up, remains this record’s truest moment. As I wrote in my re-appraisal of the album's political power, they never before, and have never since written anything quite like it. Perhaps it’s my own Liverpudlian roots, and first-hand experience of a city that still reels from the aftermath of 1989, but hearing it performed as it is here, grand, angry and elegiac, it’s hard not to feel a little overcome.

This Is My Truth, then, has worked far better as a live experience than I could have hoped. The ‘greatest hits’ set that follows it is a surprise of a whole new kind, however. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘You Love Us’, ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’ and a couple of singles from last year’s Resistance Is Futile get the expected airing, but so too do some fascinating picks from the back catalogue. They open the second half with ‘Sleepflower’ of all songs, the bonkers hard-rock riffing first track of that great forgotten Manics LP Gold Against The Soul that has almost become a meme among hardcore fans so often do they decline to play it live. Their sole foray into baggy, ‘La Tristesse Durera (Scream To A Sigh)’ gets an airing too, as does ‘Solitude Sometimes Is’ from career-nadir synth-pop plodder Lifeblood - “one for the hardcore fans”, as James Dean Bradfield describes it.

‘Design For Life’, never short of life-affirming, closes as it always does, but it’s been a weird old Manics gig – an album simultaneously their most popular and most divisive played in full, and a greatest hits set peppered with the kind of fan-service that may well have left many of the casual, This Is My Truth focused fans baffled. It feels appropriate. The Manic Street Preachers remain multi-faceted and complicated, happy to revel in subversion even when playing a set sold entirely on comforting nostalgia. They remain their own kind of brilliant.