During the intense promotion the Manic Street Preachers have been engaged in for latest album Resistance is Futile (the full Sunday Brunch, if you will) they discussed feeling at odds with the world, disillusioned by politics and alienated by technology, and hinted that it could be their last. Tonight at the Hydro, however, when they blast out anthemic lead single International Blue they sound like a band at the height of their powers. Conversely, recent interviews with the band’s chief lyricist Nicky Wire finds him in a malaise, with little interest in new music, reading or politics. This disillusionment also comes across in second single, the Bradfield penned Distant Colours (“Are we living in the past?/Where there’s nothing left to fear”) which is sung beautifully but lacks the emotional punch it strives for.
No wonder the Manics feel alienated as the threesome head to the big 5-0. The particular circumstances which made this most special of bands possible –politicisation by the Miners’ Strike, University living grants and record company patronage – can never be recreated. And as much as they wished to “escape from our history” back in 1996, they are as obsessed with their past as we are. Tonight, Bradfield tells us they have gigged in Glasgow for their whole musical career, and when introducing You Love Us, Wire asks us to pretend its King Tuts in 1991. They dedicate the number to missing fourth Manic Richey Edwards, who is with us tonight according to Wire, those big sad kohl rimmed eyes peering out from the video screen above.
Along with You Love Us, they play Slash and Burn from Generation Terrorists, a curious choice amongst some other perverse decisions in tonight’s setlist. Their number one single from the year 2000, the dubious The Masses Against the Classes, gets an airing, as does Kevin Carter b-side Horses Under Starlight. Possibly due to the anniversary tour in 2015, there’s no tracks from The Holy Bible apart from an acoustic version of Faster. Poor Bradders is left to strum this along with Sleepflower and Kevin Carter in a mini acoustic set mid gig while Wire pops backstage for a costume change. It does at least give the crowd an opportunity to fully appreciate that powerhouse of a voice. He truly is a Welsh great – Jones, Bassey, Bonnie and Bradders. In the current edition of Q magazine, Wire moans about the boring style of middle aged men, and tonight he gives the finger to age appropriate tastefulness with silver spandex trousers and a bizarre white panama hat that makes him look vaguely like a butcher.
Rousing renditions of Motorcycle Emptiness, Your Love Alone is Not Enough and Kevin Carter all get lapped up by the crowd. They couldn’t end tonight with anything other than A Design for Life, the quintessential song to display their unique charms, which is accompanied by glitter canons spraying the audience in gold. It’s not merely one of their best, but one of THE best pop songs of all time. Sounds like Spector, heartbreaking lyrics about class struggle, and specifically the dignity, self-improvement and subsequent misrepresentation of the British working classes, with one of the best opening lines ever (“libraries gave us power”). If they are in their twilight years as a band, go and see them live while you still can.