Manic Street Preachers @ Neumos, Seattle, September 21, 2009
It has been ten years since the Manic Street Preachers last performed in the U.S. Usually when a band has taken this long between shows, they’re probably on some sort of a reunion tour. Not in this case. In 1999, the Welsh trio were reaching the peak of their popularity and in the years since have headlined several huge festivals and released four additional albums. Unfortunately their success at home and abroad didn’t result in the band touring here. All those lost years, the aforementioned albums, plus the band’s five previous releases equals many starving American fans. Monday night, the hungry ears of the crowd at Neumos in Seattle were the first to be treated to the return of the Manics.
The audience lined up early and did their best to fit on the narrow side street filled by two large tour buses. Many wore Manics shirts, some the self-made kind like the band’s early outfits. Once inside the anticipation built up slowly as people, most of whom had never seen the group in person, shared info on the band and how they became fans. People from all over the country, not just the west coast, had traveled to see the show. Of course, much of the talk also surrounded the anticipated setlist. The Manics’ new album Journal for Plague Lovers, has been one of their best critically reviewed albums, but again, a lot of ground needed to be covered.
As the band finally took the stage, every type of reaction was elicited from the crowd: people screaming, bodies jumping up and down, couples hugging each other, fans pushing their way up front, but mostly grins. The band kicked things off unexpectedly with one of their early signature songs, “Motorcycle Emptiness.” It was a fortelling sign that the band would include many of their early hits in the night’s performance. The fans sang along and continued to belt out lyrics throughout the night. “Peeled Apples” was the first song played off the new album and, right before “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time,” lead singer, James Dean Bradfield, remarked, “We won’t pretend to know the meaning of the following lyrics.” A nod to the fact that the latest album was based on lyrics left by late band member Richey Edwards.
The night continued and it was one of those shows where I kept looking at my watch because I didn’t want it to end. I think the feeling was shared by most in the crowd. The band has a new supporting guitarist, pushing James from the left to front and center of the stage. Nicky Wire and his feather boa’d mic stand was stationed far right as usual and Sean Moore sat behind the drums in the shadows. Some of the night’s highlights include not one, but two, solo acoustic songs from James, and a rare performance of “Little Baby Nothing.” The band ended with one of their regular closers, “A Design for Life.” I remembered too late during the song that the Manics never, as a rule, do encores. Somethings you’d rather not remember.
It would have been fitting if they had kickoff’d the tour in Los Angeles. This was the last city that they played: two back-to-back nights at the Troubadour in September of ’99. Fortunately the wait won’t be long. After a short visit to Canada, then San Francisco, the group will perform this friday at Avalon Hollywood. It should make for great stories in 2019.