Manic Street Preachers @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 26 May
The Manic Street Preachers celebrate the twentieth anniversary of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in Edinburgh
“A curious mixture of dancing and thinking” is how James Dean Bradfield describes This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, the Manic Street Preachers' fifth album being celebrated and played in full tonight. It's an apt description – if dad-rock fist-pumping is interchangeable with dancing – though it's probably heavier on the thinking than the dancing. This makes it slightly problematic in terms of live delivery, where high-octane riffs and anthemic choruses have always taken precedence over the dour, reflective musings that give the Manics' best work its balance on record.
After opening with two of their biggest hits, The Everlasting (with a fantastic vocal turn from Bradfield) and You Stole The Sun From My Heart, there's a considerable lull, with large swathes of the crowd switching off as lesser-known songs get a rare workout, like Be Natural and I'm Not Working. These could be viewed as interesting diversions en route to the pre-ordained destination, but it's a long seven songs between Tsunami and Prologue to History with nothing but soupy melancholia and understated arrangements (or “the apex of my despair” as Nicky Wire terms it).
Anticipating such a predicament, the band wisely save If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next to close out the album section of the set, which jolts the room back into life with its rising, ecstatic chorus. From there on out it's hit after hit and the band really get into their stride, with Motorcycle Emptiness and Your Love Alone is Not Enough providing full-throated, lager-fuelled sing-a-longs.
The biggest surprise of the night comes with Bradfield's rejoinder to those who think the band are “miserable fuckers”: a cover of Guns n' Roses' Sweet Child o' Mine. It's a little bit karaoke, but you can't deny the fun out of it as the band channel their inner hair-metal and Nicky Wire throws out a couple of wholly appropriate scissor-kick jumps. Wire gives a short tribute to Richey Edwards, his “mysterious” former songwriting partner, before an excellent rendition of You Love Us, while Bradfield thanks Scotland for its influence on his musical upbringing, listing The Skids, Associates, Roddy Frame, The Fire Engines among others.
A Design for Life is a predictably rapturous closer that shows why the band have been filling arenas for the last 20 years. However, the performance as a whole also demonstrates the way the band have dug themselves into a hole (and a very lucrative one at that), as live audiences don't seem anywhere near as interested in their contemplative, thoughtful lyricism as with their rousing, hard-rocking barnstormers.