Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
A Design For Life
Manic Street Preachers at The Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangFashion has never been the Manic Street Preachers’ strong suit, and that’s not just with regards to Nicky Wire’s penchant for heavy eye makeup and dresses. From their early glam-punk days through the bleakness of The Holy Bible and guitarist/songwriter Richey Edwards’ subsequent disappearance through their rise as one of the UK’s biggest arena acts in the mid-’90s, the Manics always seemed set apart from their contemporaries, many or most of whom would dissolve, reform and dissolve again while the Manics steadfastly carried on. Overtly political, unabashedly intellectual, unashamed of grandstanding guitar solos and not at all above slagging off other bands, the Manics would remain a cult band at heart, no matter how big they got.
And nowhere was that truer than in the US, a land that seemed to simultaneously enamor and repel the band. They were infatuated with the American mythology of rock’n’roll, in the life- and world-altering power of music, but their socialist values were fundamentally at odds with the States’ capitalist ideology – America inspired their dreams, drew their scorn and has always permeated their work. So the fact that they hadn’t crossed the Atlantic in over a decade – their last visit to North America was in 2001 when they performed in Cuba in front of an audience that included Fidel Castro – was curious, to say the least. No, they never achieved the sort of commercial success that some of their peers did, but they had a few singles gain traction in the wider consciousness and had the sort of devoted fanbase that some bands who had toured over here could only dream of. But whatever the reason – recent interviews indicated the band couldn’t even fully explain it – the Manics were finally, unexpectedly but fantastically, coming over for a modest tour of a dozen dates around the continent, including this past Sunday night at the Phoenix in Toronto.
The Manics continue to play arenas and massive festivals in the UK, but in North America they were undertaking a club tour, playing rooms many, many times smaller than to which they were accustomed. The Phoenix was full though not sold out, and by most reports boasted the largest crowd of the tour. But even if the audience could be generously counted at a thousand, the energy and anticipation in the crowd felt much greater. Though the tour was ostensibly in support of their ninth and newest album Journal For Plague Lovers, a stunning return to form featuring lyrics left behind by Edwards days before he vanished, all the shows had been much more career retrospectives, a reward to their fans for their patience and a reminder of why they still cared.
And from the moment James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore took the stage to huge roars and returned the favour with the equally huge roar of “Motorcycle Emptiness”, for the next 90 minutes there was no other band in the world. Playing with an energy and vigor that would have been impressive coming from musicians half their age, the Manics tore through a career-spanning set list that offered something from almost everything, but at the same time seemed to not feature enough from anything. Only two songs from The Holy Bible? Just a pair from Everything Must Go? Not one selection from Lifeblood? But going down the “why didn’t they play such and such” can only lead to tears, and this show was the furthest thing from that. It was a steady stream of someone’s favourite song followed by someone else’s favourite song, a celebration of the Manic Street Preachers, of their lost brother Richey Edwards and a life dedicated to making anthemic, intelligent and above all ass-kicking rock music.
Though more accustomed to playing much larger stages, the Manics relished the more intimate environs and being in closer contact to the zealous audience which Bradfield called, ” the loudest on the tour so far”. In return, they paid tribute to their favourite Torontonians with Bradfield playing the intro to “The Spirit Of Radio” before segueing into “Faster” and Wire later quoting lyrics from said same song. If there was a spot where the show waned a bit, it was when Bradfield took a solo acoustic turn on “This Is Yesterday” and “The Everlasting”, a move which I suspect works better in front of much more massive crowds, but that dip was only relative to the unflagging highs of the rest of the set, which would culminate in a glorious “Motown Junk”, never truer “You Love Us” and anthem of anthems show-closer “A Design For Life”. It was a fitting finale to a show that took my sky-high expectations and showed me that they weren’t nearly high enough.
Long. Live. The Manics.
And sorry about the massive video list… the Manics just upped high-quality versions of all their videos to YouTube and I got a mite carried away going through it all. But good stuff there. Gooooood stuff. And I forgot I had this remix of “Motorcycle Emptiness” lying around – it was a b-side to the “Australia” single circa Everything Must Go and sounds majestic. Strings!
Photos: Manic Street Preachers @ The Phoenix – October 4, 2009
MP3: Manic Street Preachers – “Motorcycle Emptiness” (Stealth Sonic Orchestra remix)
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Indian Summer”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Autumnsong”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “The Love Of Richard Nixon”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Empty Souls”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “There By The Grace Of God”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Ocean Spray”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Found That Soul”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “So Why So Sad”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Let Robeson Sing”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “The Masses Against The Classes”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “The Everlasting”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Tsunami”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Ready For Drowning”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “A Design For Life”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Everything Must Go”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Kevin Carter”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “She Is Suffering”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Revol”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Faster”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Roses In The Hospital”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “La Tristesse Durera (A Scream To A Sigh)”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Little Baby Nothing”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Stay Beautiful”
Video: Manic Street Preachers – “Motorcycle Emptiness”
MySpace: Manic Street Preachers
Los Campesinos! have released a video from their as-yet untitled third album, due out in the early part of 2010.
Video: Muse – “Uprising”
Leeds’ Grammatics, who caught my attention last year before I was, I dunno, distracted by a shiny object, are building interest for a new single out in November and second album to follow in the year year by releasing an MP3 from their self-titled debut from earlier this year. And it’s worked as far as encouraging me to put the album on my iPhone so I can forget to listen to it while at work, not just at home. The track also features vocals from Laura Groves of Blue Roses, whom I’ve also meant to pay more attention to.
Their labelmates and countrymen Frightened Rabbit are releasing a new single entitled “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” on November 16 and which will appear on their next record, due out in early 2010. The two sides are currently streaming at their label website.
Though it’s been all the rage digitally and was made available for sale in Canada a few weeks ago, The xx’s debut XX is out in the US today and is streaming at Spinner. They’re at the Phoenix on December 2 in support of Friendy Fires.
Stream: The xx / XX
And sorry about the heinous outages/slow load times/general crappiness of the site lately. My hosting has been kind of shit lately. Looking into it.