Manic Street Preachers
Toronto Danforth Music Hall
The feeling in the air on this Monday night is one of electric anticipation. Twenty years after its release, Manic Street Preachers are here to play The Holy Bible from start to finish for the first time ever in this country, on their only Canadian stop on the North American tour. Lucky us, indeed.
The Manics have consistently released music since their debut release of Generation Terrorists in 1992 up to 2014’s release of Futurology. With 11 albums now under their belt, James Dean Bradfield’s vocals show no signs of rust when The Manics launch into “Yes”.
“The only certain thing that is left about me/There is no part of my body that has not been used/Pity or pain, to show displeasure’s shame/Everyone I’ve loved or hated always seems to leave” – Yes, Manic Street Preachers.
In 1994 The Manics were in a strange, exciting and unique place in musical history. Amid Grunge, Shoegaze and Pop scenes they were something Other. After five years, they were reaching a height they’d long worked for, and would release The Holy Bible, the first of a series of albums that would become legendary. Bible was celebrated by fans and critics and, in time, embraced by the world as an essential modern classic requiring a high position on any Best-of list worth its salt. But before all that, The Manics went on Top of the Pops in all their regalia, to the delight of a pogo-ing crowd of die-hard fans that cared not about charts or sales but knew this to be their best band in the world, their treasure; one they were married to. James Dean Bradfield played in a balaclava (twenty years before Pussy Riot aped it) in a performance that triggered record complaint calls to the program. Because of the balaclava. This was a moment.
In the months to follow, Richey Edwards, one time band driver/roadie turned (genius) lyricist, rhythm guitarist, glam pastiche artist & beautiful boy whom the camera adored, would descend and finally, disappear after a period of very public and frankly discussed health issues including depression, serious self-harming and struggles with alcohol and anorexia. He was a much darker, more authentic Morrissey, writing beloved quotes from Rimbaud and others on his clothes and skin as intellectual punk rock (and personal) statements. He was an icon to his fans who loved him ravenously. When it got really bad, he’d carve words into himself, or the cuts would be wordless and deep. But before his much mourned departure, Richey created some of the most assertive, striking, authentic and critical lyrics to ever emerge out of Britain (or Wales), or anywhere.
The songs on The Holy Bible form a complete piece of art that stands tall against the old dead white men of the English Literature canon; unlike the preoccupations of the musty “classics”, this vibrant work speaks not of the Pastoral or the cultural revolutions long past, but to our time and to our troubling future. Questions are posed that we all have to face- whether we have a year to live or another half a century- for no one knows when that hour glass runs out.
The Manics’ story did not end with Richey’s disappearance. Nor did the lads lose their edge, their fire, or their lyrical prowess. Instead, they grew, in the midst of rage at the world, in despair and disappointment and with a side of grief. Amazingly, the music they composed and the songs they had built persisted and grew in resistance to their circumstances. The Manics had made something strong enough to transcend all the darkness of the world and become the first record they would hit a cultural nerve with framed on timeless, fearless anthems, both critical of the systems of the world, yet hopeful and very alive.
At the Danforth, Nicky Wire gives a moving shout out to Richey. Bradfield then performs flawless acoustic versions of “Small Black Flowers that Grow in the Sky” and “This Sullen Welsh Heart” before Wire and Moore return to deliver the epic “Motorcycle Emptiness”. What follows is a show-closer selection of fan favourites that thrill and deserve to have a large dose of the praise and acclaim (and appropriate royalties) long showered on Oasis retroactively transferred to them posthaste: “You Stole the Sun From My Heart”, “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” and the endlessly beautiful “Design for Life”. All this, a dash of our own Rush for fun and a cut for cut Holy Bible. Album tracklists were never arranged based on playing and singing the thing live, in its entirety, decades later. It’s a monster to perform and sing live. And the Manics kill it.
For a 3-piece, The Manics have a huge sound punctuated not only by Bradfield’s effortless voice, but his skill on lead guitar. This wizard swaps out what seems to be a truck load of guitars and is a master of all of them. Plucking out the low notes on bass guitar and owning much of the stage, bringing all the tall glam you will ever need, is Nicky Wire. Sean Moore drives the music with his incredibly tight drumming. The original band is still together, united after so many years and fortified against loss, legend and any twists of any journalist’s narrative. They play tight. They are tight. They introduce and credit each other, they are gracious gentlemen rock stars in a sea of jungle netting. At home in this jungle of theirs. It’s a perfect night.
By Step On Magazine Editors
All photos by Dave MacIntyre.