national treasures


Manic Street Preachers

O2 Arena

17th December 2011



Celebrating the passing of the situationist express little pill

that was the punk pop rock 'n' roll single.*

Having never been able to raise the enthusiasm to visit the Millennium Dome in Greenwich at the turn of the century and with stadium gigs being anathema to me, it was with a faint air of disbelief I approached the O2 Arena for the Manic Street Preachers’ farewell show before they ducked into voluntary and indeterminate hibernation. Not many bands would have dragged me out here on a December night, but I had followed the Manics’ career with some interest from their youthful sloganeering through disturbed fame, loss and rebirth, to their present comfortable dullness. Even in today’s unchallenging phase of their career they have an endearing quality, perhaps created by a lack of aloofness about their success which makes it feel like you are going to watch your mates play: a real band of the people.

First rumours were that this might be their last ever gig. The band declared they would not play again for three years as they looked to plot out the next phase of their career and in that time who knows what may happen? Whether this would be so or not, what was on offer was all thirty-eight of their singles which had been simultaneously released on their National Treasures collection. This meant an evening of some three and half hours (no support) for around twenty-two quid, which was no rip-off by any stretch of the imagination.

The O2 turned out to be hugely impressive, a whole town under a roof containing roads packed with restaurants, a multi screen cinema, a plaza with its own stage, and of course the Arena itself able to hold some twenty thousand people, precipitously high and steep around its edges, but offering great views of the stage throughout and stunningly good sound even for those of us in the very back rows. Spotlessly clean, well signed, and well staffed with friendly and efficient personnel, the place was a credit to the capital and this all helped to make the evening more enjoyable. It had been announced the band would take to the stage at 7.30 sharp but they finally showed up at 7.50 with James Dean Bradfield offering apologies for their tardiness. Normally this wouldn’t matter in the slightest; here the band’s lateness made the difference between bunking out early to catch the last train home or catching the whole show and spending the night on the station. We’ll see how it goes.

It had been debated whether the band would play the singles chronologically, but that they wouldn’t was immediately confirmed when they blasted off with the anthemic ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’. From the kick-off it was apparent why the band has survived and prospered for so long. While Sean Moore is a quality drummer and Nicky Wire has developed into a decent bassist – though he remains more catalyst than virtuoso – it is the sailor-suited Bradfield who runs the show, a man of simply monumental talent. He might complain a song has “a million chord changes,” but he plays and sings immaculately throughout, exudes bonhomie, and the band must be grateful their almost unrivalled camaraderie runs so deep that fame appears not to have changed him in the slightest.

But even Bradfield can’t do everything; the band was supplemented by a second guitar, keyboards and horns in the background stage left, but of course they remain a man down and the presence of Richey Edwards was everywhere, his image filling the big screen as his songs poured out. ‘Love’s Sweet Exile’, not heard live for many a year, got the crowd excited before Bradfield announced, “There’s many songs that many of you might go to the bar for, but this one I think everyone stays for.” ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ sends the crowd into raptures.

The audience appears a mixture. As the singles from Everything Must Go are played, thousands of voices in the seats sing every word. In ‘Little Baby Nothing’ when Bradfield encourages the crowd to take on the band’s early mantra of ‘culture, alienation, boredom and despair’ there is near silence. Yet there are plenty on their feet getting off on the early records, Wire proclaiming ‘Faster’ to be Edwards’ “f***ing masterpiece” before a storming version almost blows the roof off the venue. The band are certainly buzzing and Wire bounces around like a maniac as ‘Stay Beautiful’ gets everybody involved and ‘If You Tolerate This’ sees the first half of the evening end on a massive high.

Fifteen minutes later, a change of clothes and they are back, kicking off with ‘Australia’ and the brilliant ‘La Tristesse Durera’. Introducing their cover version of ‘The Theme From MASH’, their first major hit, Bradfield narrates a tale of a night spent in Hamburg. “We were staying in some shite B&B and somebody’s getting banged next door all night. I was thinking you might be getting laid but I’m in the top ten.” Success was always important for the Manics, but success on their own terms. There was little compromise in the storming ‘Revol’ where Wire remembers Edwards smashed out of his mind before an appearance at a Portuguese festival stating he had written an amazing lyric “about group sex in the Kremlin” to which he had replied, “Sounds like a winner to me, Rich.” As the band lashes through the number Wire’s acrobatics cause him an injury and he complains, “In typical fashion, I’ve totalled my f***ing shoulder. I should be doing f***ing yoga and pilates like Coldplay, shouldn’t I?”

It’s easy to forget just how many quality singles the band has produced as they pour out in a seemingly endless stream. Bradfield doubts the popularity of ‘So Why So Sad’ as he muses, “I don’t know if any of you really ever f***ing liked it to be honest,” and at its conclusion adds, “You still don’t like it much, do you?” But there are not many songs here you would instantly dismiss. Even the modern numbers such as ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ sound huge and anthemic; three hours in and the band are still on fire and loving every second.

There are guest appearances. I’m not sure they are necessary as they seem to strike at the surprising intimacy that exists between the band and the thousands in attendance. Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys does a sterling job with the underrated ‘Let Robeson Sing’ while Bradfield duets nicely with the Cardigans’ Nina Persson on ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’. We’re on the home straight now. ‘Slash & Burn’, ‘Tsunami’ and the early Heavenly single ‘Motown Junk’ lead us to the finale which turns out to be ‘A Design For Life’. The whole venue sings along, Bradfield describes the missing Edwards as “an essential molecule of this band”, Wire smashes up his bass and a night at the station beckons.

The Manics engender many debates and their whole history is riddled with contradictions, but when it comes down to it, they inspire affection and put on a pretty bloody fine show. I’ll continue to follow their progress. Dammit, they’re my mates.


*James Dean Bradfield, 17.12.11

First Half

1. You Stole The Sun From My Heart
2. Love's Sweet Exile
3. Motorcycle Emptiness
4. Just The End Of Love
5. Everything Must Go
6. She Is Suffering
7. From Despair To Where
8. Autumnsong
9. Empty Souls
10. Let Robeson Sing
11. Faster
12. Life Becoming A Landslide
13. Kevin Carter
14. Little Baby Nothing
15. This Is The Day
16. The Everlasting
17. Indian Summer
18. Stay Beautiful
19. If You Tolerate This

Second Half

20. Australia
21. La Tristesse Durera
22. Found That Soul
23. There By The Grace Of God
24. Some Kind Of Nothingness
25. You Love Us
26. Theme From MASH
27. Revol
28. The Love Of Richard Nixon
29. Ocean Spray
30. The Masses Against The Classes
31. Roses In The Hospital
32. So Why So Sad
33. Postcards From A Young Man
34. Your Love Is Not Enough
35. Slash And Burn
36. Tsunami
37. Motown Junk
38. A Design For Life