Thursday, April 30, 2015

On 'The Holy Bible' 20th Anniversary Tour, Manic Street Preachers Testify to Their Enduring Power -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Manic Street Preachers
with opening act The Kickback
Metro, Chicago
April 29, 2015

A variety of factors can play into one's enjoyment of any rock concert, beyond merely fondness for the artist, their songs and a quality performance.

The venue, your personal comfort, companions, expectations and more can all have much to do with how you perceive the show.

In deriving substantial delight in seeing the Manic Street Preachers for the first time, I have to thank not only the band, but, Spotify, the Metro, my friend Paolo and all the citizens of greater Chicago who were not interested enough to sell out the show ahead of time.

The Manics, as they're known in short, are a prime example of what I've dubbed a Hidden in the Isles band = one from the U.K. that has enjoyed exponentially greater success there than in the U.S.

Some years after its release, I got into the Welsh band via their terrific 1996 album, Everything Must Go, which made them superstars in England. I also have a few of their more recent albums, and have generally enjoyed what I've heard, but wouldn't say I've devoured their entire output, which, dating back to 1992, is plentiful. Or even all too often revisited what I had once known.

Although I now know that MSP have toured America--as lead singer James Dean Bradfield noted from the stage, this was their fourth time playing the Metro; most recently being in 2009--I never before had noted any Chicago area shows.

So I took notice when I saw awhile back that they would be in town on Wednesday night (as would one of my all-time favorite bands, The Replacements, on the first of a two night stand at the Riviera). 

Because I knew Paolo would really want to see Manic Street Preachers, I was able to get us Replacements' tickets for Thursday night, but didn't initially buy myself a Manics ducat.

Although the Metro is a storied, well-run venue that I've been to many times, it generally is standing room only...with fans usually packed onto the main floor like sardines.

I'm too old and fat to enjoy this type of situation, and experience genuine discomfort standing through entire shows. My last experience at Metro, a 2012 sold-out show by Garbage, reiterated my aversion to attending shows there, at least per typical circumstances.

But as the Manics' gig approached, and I had looked up some impressive concert clips on YouTube, I decided that I really did want to see them--and when else would I have the chance?

So just two weeks ago, I bought a ticket for just $35 as a band that plays to huge crowds in England didn't sell out the Metro. Then I half-jokingly told Paolo to see if he could get us one of the few seats in the balcony, which seemingly are allotted only to Press/VIP/Disabled.

To his credit, he reached out to someone at Metro, explaining both my desire to review the show and my discomfort in standing, and was graciously granted a table in the balcony for us.

At that point, I also tuned into--per recent shows listed on fact that Manic Street Preachers were continuing their 2014 tour celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the 1994 album, The Holy Bible, their last before guitarist Richey James Edwards disappeared forever. (He has never been found and is now officially presumed to be dead.)

It was supposed to be a terrific album--as I now can corroborate--but I didn't know it at all. But also noting that in addition to playing the album in full, MSP were playing the same other songs at each American tour stop, I made a Spotify Playlist and listened repeatedly.

I tell you all this because it would be one thing to convey that I saw a fantastic show at an intimate venue by a lesser-known (in America) band that I've long enjoyed.

But that would miss the point that not only am I extremely grateful to have had the comfort of a prime balcony seat, but that of the 21 songs the Manic Street Preachers played--this is a Toronto setlist, but it's the same--I really only knew one of them just two weeks ago (the magnificent, show-closing "A Design for Life" off Everything Must Go).

Thanks to my crash course, everything not only sounded phenomenal--the 3-piece band really has a thunderous sound and Bradfield is a terrific vocalist--but familiar.

Sure, I've only delved into Edwards' notoriously dark and sometimes twisted lyrics for The Holy Bible a little bit after the show. So unlike many undoubtedly more devoted fans, I really didn't know or care what Bradfield was singing about, I just loved the way it all sounded.

And yeah, I could wish they had played more songs I knew a bit better, and I always imagine it being preferable--even for the band itself--to change things up somewhat from show-to-show, but as a truly remarkable first live encounter with an extremely powerful, polished and professional band, I really can't bitch over the content they decided to deliver.

I'm also really glad I was forced to get to know The Holy Bible pretty thoroughly.

Almost all of the Manics' songs are dense enough to require some time to digest, but tunes like "Yes," "She is Suffering," "Revol," "Faster," "P.C.P." and others all sounded pretty tremendous.

I also now feel silly for never knowing "Motorcycle Emptiness" until this past fortnight, as the song from 1992 debut album Generation Terrorists was perhaps the best of a show filled with high points.

Yet "Walk Me to the Bridge," from 2014's Futurology--another album I must admit to not having explored--was also wonderful.

I'm probably not doing a good job of explaining specifically why Manic Street Preachers were so good, but really only the music itself can do that.

Certainly they have a fiery sound, a social consciousness and an energetic stage demeanor, and though Bradfield, bassist Nicky Wire and drummer Sean Moore are all original members dating back pre-'92--a touching moment came when Wire recalled the band, with Edwards, playing the Metro way back when--I didn't get any sense that I was seeing the Manics past their prime.

Suffice it to say, I found the Manic Street Preachers' performance to be extremely good.

And though it conceivably could have been a show where I hated standing, being smushed and listening to a bunch of songs I didn't recognize, thanks to Paolo, the Metro, and Spotify, it was far, far better than that.  

1 comment:

Paolo Palazzi-Xirinachs said...

As per usual, a great review of a great show, Seth. I hope you spend more time writing your reviews and getting more and more people to read them. They are refreshingly objective.