It’s a strange quirk of some forms of entertainment that the audience can sometimes play as important a role as those they’ve paid to see perform.
Live rock music certainly falls into that category, and I’ve never seen that chemistry work so well as it did at the Ritz for the arrival of the Manic Street Preachers.
I’ve seen them six times now over the last 17 years, including their epic National Treasures show at the O2 Arena, but while that was a special night, this was a much better gig.
It helps that they’d squeezed their Mancunian fanbase into a smaller venue than usual (they’re generally found over at the Apollo), and the Ritz’s close quarters made for a closer bond between those on stage and those off it.
From the opening lines of Motorcycle Emptiness, James Dean Bradfield had the lyrics bellowed back at him in a way that genuinely seemed to astonish. If you’d walked in halfway through, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was a triumphant encore finale, not the opening number.
I’d had some reservations beforehand about the setlists I’d seen from earlier in the tour, slightly disappointed that they hadn’t taken the opportunity to play more obscure and acoustic songs from their back catalogue, ditching the likes of You Love Us and You Stole The Sun From My Heart.
I was wrong.
While those old favourites may be a bit over-familiar at times, the blend of them with the new acoustic material worked really well and the atmosphere would have been much more subdued if they’d done it my way. That’s why they’re the Manics and I’m not.
The newer material from the great Rewind The Film all went down well, with good audience participation for the jaunty Show Me The Wonder and Bradfield doing a passable impression of Richard Hawley on the title track (his hair even seemed to go into a quiff at that point too).
Nicky Wire‘s turn on vocals was surprisingly effective too (I still have nightmares about seeing him sing Wattsville Blues on the Know Your Enemy tour), with a self-effacing intro and touching sing-a-long with the crowd on a snippet of Some Kind Of Nothingness before launching into As Holy As The Soil. He did well.
The crowd came into their own though when Wire and Moore left the stage for Bradfield’s acoustic solo spot. After a tribute to local guitar heroes, a blend of This Sullen Welsh Heart, You’re Just Too Good To Be True and The Everlasting showcased his own six-stringed skills and ability as rabble-rouser.
Of course, tracks like Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, It’s Not War (Just The End Of Love) and If You Tolerate This had the Ritz in uproar, and it was nice to hear Wire pay tribute to local super-fan John Slatex (of Manic St Mania fame) before the always welcome Sleepflower, as well as to Richey Edwards before Revol.
There were also jibes and jokes about the coincidental timing of their gig taking place in Manchester at the same time as the Tory Party Conference, and any visiting politician would have felt a bit out of place during 30 Year War off the new album.
By 11pm, it was time for a special night to come to a close with predictable majesty as everyone in the room gave their all one last time for Design For Life. And majestic it was. It’s not often you come away from a gig reading ecstatic tweets from both fans and the band, but it’s not often you have a gig where they combine so spectacularly as this.