One of the great things about living in Manchester is its closeness to contrasting day-trip destinations. So when the trend for big bands to tour less obvious, often seaside, locations offered the option of The Manic Street Preachers plus afternoon tea in genteel Llandudno, I didn’t take much convincing.
Arriving just as the band took the stage it was immediately obvious that all wasn’t well in the Manics’ camp. While lusty singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield got quickly into his stride his usually buoyant sidekick Nicky Wire was noticeably subdued, his trademark scissor kicks and lip-synching completely absent.
Sound-wise the band made a great job of the show’s opening half, a complete run-through of stirring new album Journal for Plague Lovers. The Manics have never had any trouble making a lot of noise live, and with an additional guitarist and keyboardist on stage tonight was no exception.
Leading with a lot of new material is a brave decision for any band with more than a decade behind them, highlighting as it does the number of ‘legacy fans’ in the crowd waiting patiently for those greatest hits, but the album received a politely warm reception (and, of course, cheers for its missing-presumed-dead lyricist Richey Edwards).
From my vantage point, though, which put both Bradfield and Wire in my line of sight throughout, the contrast between the singer’s frenetic activity and bassist’s inertia set a strange tone. Only as Wire took over vocals for the album’s final track did Bradfield reveal that he was suffering with a prolapsed spinal disk (which thankfully didn’t prevent a more tuneful rendition of ‘William’s Last Words’ than the album’s).
After a convention-breaking interval the band returned to churn out an hour of those crowd-pleasers, from the joyfully received ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘Faster’ to the stadium pomp of ‘Australia’ and ‘If You Tolerate This’ (we did). Bradfield, drummer Sean Moore and the (kind of) home crowd were all on top form, but the weird sensation of watching two different gigs continued with Wire standing with his back to the audience several metres from his mic stand. Half an hour later he was sitting on a hastily-procured chair, clearly in a lot of pain.
Audience anthem ‘You Love Us’ and the soaring ‘Design for Life’ were the unsurprising hits of the night, but every song hit the spot and Bradfield’s enthusiasm and undeniable talent carried the day. Sadly Mr Wire left the stage without any words for his fans but apologised online the next day; the absence of his familiar stage persona having cast a palpable shadow over the band’s live return.