Monday, October 5, 2009

Manic Street Preachers concert review

My review originally ran in the OC Register Soundcheck blog

Manic Street Preachers
Avalon Hollywood
Sept. 25

Manic Street Preachers emerged with their brash full-length debut Generation Terrorists in 1992, right as the Britpop phenomenon was gestating. Initially inspired by the Sex Pistols, the young Welsh glam/punk upstarts specialized in political themes and sloganeering. Sarcastic song “You Love Us,” aimed at the slavish music press, was first in a long line of U.K. top 20 singles.

When the band did it Friday night before a reverent and packed crowd at Avalon Hollywood, the title refrain’s meaning felt more along the lines of we acknowledge your adulation and it is reciprocated.

American fans have waited an eternity for the Manics’ live return to the States (the last area gig was exactly a decade ago – September 1999 – at the much smaller Troubadour). Three studio efforts and a retrospective came in the interim, but few had U.S. label distribution. Until now.

"Journal for Plague Lovers," produced by Steve Albini (Nirvana), came out last week. Raw and frequently aggressive, the lyrics were written by founding member Richey Edwards. The rhythm guitarist gave his bandmates notebooks filled with song ideas and poems before mysteriously disappearing in 1995. Edwards’ car was found abandoned on an English bridge, but a body was never discovered (he was finally declared dead last year). Manic Street Preachers went on to become one of the biggest rock groups in Europe, routinely selling out stadiums and racking up multi-platinum albums there.

At Avalon, the trio (augmented by a second guitarist and keyboardist on backing vocals) launched the supercharged 90-minute, 21-song set with “Motorcycle Emptiness,” from Terrorists. Singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield played the glorious, careening notes with abandon. Flamboyant bassist Nicky Wire, clad in white sailor hat and jacket, stood behind a mike stand festooned with bright feathers, grinning from ear to ear. Two fans near the front of the stage waved large Welsh flags around.

Bradfield thanked the audience for their patience before the ominous “Peeled Apples,” the first of four potent songs off Plague Lovers. The pop-inflected, orchestrated rocker “Your Love Alone is Not Enough” (originally a duet with The Cardigans’ Nina Persson from 2007’s solid "Send Away the Tigers") came across fantastic live with four guys on harmonies.

“Here’s a perfect example of how bad my French is,” joked Bradfield, before doing insanely catchy early hit “La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)” about Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide note. The singer had no trouble hitting those falsetto notes of yore and showcased some impressive chops on his axe during a solo. Bradfield jumped all around the stage all evening; Wire was no slouch in this department either.

The new “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time,” which revolves around religion and infidelity and bears a rare humorous Manics chorus (“Oh mummy, what’s a sex pistol?”), was driven by Sean Moore’s precision beats and clarion call guitars.

Wire told a brief story about how bemused he was to find their British Airways flight audio guide had recommended Plague Lovers, but deleted the profane selections. Later, he and Bradfield would each slag Coldplay.

The five-piece band was extremely tight throughout the set. Bradfield wailed vocally on the sweeping Phil Spector-esque drama of “Everything Must Go” and instrumentally during the reverb squalls on “If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next.” Everyone left the stage so Bradfield could do a couple acoustic numbers and fans were in such rapt attention, you could almost hear a pin drop.

Other standouts included the haunting “Little Baby Nothing,” with passionate group vocals and fiery, punky “Motown Junk.”

More rousing anthems came courtesy of “You Stole the Sun From My Heart” and concert closer “A Design For Life.” No encores, though (Bradfield warned they didn’t do them, but thanked everyone again for waiting and promised they’d be back for the next album). This gig was a testament to the Manics’ staying power, a welcome return and ranks among the best I’ve seen this year.

Motorcycle Emptiness/No Surface, All Feeling/Peeled Apples/Your Love Alone is Not Enough/La Tristesse Durera (Scream to a Sigh)/Jackie Collins Existential Question Time/Let Robeson Sing/Faster/Everything Must Go/This Joke Sport Severed/From Despair to Where/If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next/Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky/This is Yesterday/Send Away the Tigers/You Stole the Sun From My Heart/All or Nothing/Motown Junk/Me and Stephen Hawking/Little Baby Nothing/You Love Us/A Design For Life

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