Review: Manic Street Preachers live at the 02, London

The Manic Street Preachers played a stunning 38 song National Treasures set at the O2 in London
The Manic Street Preachers played a stunning 38 song National Treasures set at the O2 in London

“WE DON’T want to mean anything to anyone,” once said the barbed mouthpiece and bassist of the Manic Street Preachers Nicky Wire – “We want to mean everything to everyone.”

Across a span of over two decades, the Manics have proved polemic and prolific.

The Manic Street Preachers played a stunning 38 song National Treasures set at the O2 in London

The Manic Street Preachers played a stunning 38 song National Treasures set at the O2 in London

They went from snotty art-punk cult heroes to stadium giants. Along the way, their guitarist and haunted genius Richey Edwards disappeared, they played a controversial gig before Fidel Castro and bothered the top of the charts with their articulate anthems about everything from the British Library system and the Spanish Civil War to forgotten war veterans and Richard Nixon.

They are in short, a band like no other, and tonight is a celebration of everything that makes them great.

For a slightly portly, middle-aged Welsh gentleman in a sailor suit, James Dean Bradfield may seem like a somewhat unlikely rockstar on paper, but on stage, as a true guitar hero with a voice as huge as the band’s lofty ambitions, he holds the audience enraptured from start to finish as we’re treated to all 38 of their singles in an epic and historic three-hour set.

Opening with the shimmering summer-pop gem of You Stole The Sun From My Heart, the Manics kick-start a relentless tour through the vast sonic terrain they’ve covered in their colourful history.

Few bands could play the sombre and folky Let Robeson Sing before tearing into the vitriolic post-punk beast Faster so seamlessly, but the package of the Manic Street Preachers is a complete one, and their acerbic spirit runs through every moment.

The criminally underrated There By The Grace Of God fills the stadium with it’s autumnal and melancholic charm, but receives a fairly mooted response, as does the bizarre Beach Boys-esque So Why So Sad, which even Bradfield himself takes the time to apologise for.

“You still don’t much like it, do you?” smiles Bradfield, humble but confident.

But they were minor troughs in what was otherwise a relentlessly ecstatic experience. Other highlights include the glorious If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, the awkward but awesome Revol, the youthful exuberance of You Love Us and a glorious rendition of Your Love Alone Is Not Enough featuring the beautiful Nina Pearson of The Cardigans.

This is as close to perfect as a gig can get. A great roar erupts in memory of missing Edwards as Bradfield describes him as “still an essential molecule of this band” before ticker tape rains down as a vast sea of fanatics holler the words to A Design For Life back with a religious vigour.

Glamour, politics, poetry, working class pride and true rock n’ roll legend, all combined in perfect measure and reflected in the weird and wonderful cross-section of society that fills the O2 tonight – young and old, from the teens in feather boas and the disenfranchised in military garb, to the mums and dads in the rafters and the bellowing football fans.

For tonight at least, the Manics mean everything, to everyone.

By Andrew Trendell