If anyone ever tells you that rock and roll is dead, you can be sure that that person has never heard of the Manic Street Preachers.
Hailing from a small town called Blackwood in Wales, the Manics are veterans of the “Britpop” explosion of the early-mid ‘90s, but with a decidedly edgier sound than many of their contemporaries. When they first emerged on the scene back in 1992 with their debut album Generation Terrorists, the band donned black eyeliner and flamboyant outfits and seemed to draw much of their inspiration from the punk and glam rock scenes of the ‘70s. The poster-boy for the band at that time was guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards. Edwards was not much of a skilled musician but he had charisma, looks, and is said to have written approximately 80% of the band’s lyrics, which were highly poetic and dealt from everything from the personal to the political.
But Edwards’ contribution to the band was short-lived, as he struggled with many personal demons such as depression, alcoholism, self-harm, and anorexia nervosa. And on February 1, 1995, Edwards mysteriously disappeared. To this day nobody knows what became of him, but it is assumed, by his former bandmates and fans alike, that he committed suicide.
In the wake of Edwards’ disappearance, the Manics decided to continue on without him as a trio, the band now consisting of singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, bassist Nicky Wire, and drummer Sean Moore. And many of their subsequent albums have gone on to earn them much critical acclaim and commercial success. The album that really put them on the map, however, was the last album to feature Richey Edwards, 1994’s The Holy Bible.
And this is what brings us to 2015, as the Manics are now embarking on the North American leg of their tour (which began in the UK last winter) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Holy Bible. Their lone Canadian stop on the tour was at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on April 27 and I was lucky enough to get a ticket for this once-in-a-lifetime event. It was the band’s first show in Toronto since 1992, when they played The Opera House in support of Generation Terrorists (“There were only about 3 people there,” Bradfield joked during the set while reminiscing about the show) and it was well worth the wait. In a set that lasted nearly 2 hours, Bradfield, Wire, and Moore treated the audience to all 13 songs on The Holy Bible, as well as a handful of songs from the rest of their discography including their latest album, Futurology.
The energy in the room was undeniable. The band, though now in their mid-40s, still played with the same amount of passion and enthusiasm as they did 20 years ago. Bassist Nicky Wire in particular was fascinating to watch as he jumped and paced around the stage, often giving little smiles and nods to the audience members screaming his name. The vocals of James Dean Bradfield never faltered either, proving he is undoubtedly one of the most underrated singers in alternative rock.
And there were some touching moments, as well. Just before launching into the Holy Bible track “She Is Suffering,” Wire took a moment to remember his departed friend and bandmate, Richey Edwards. “We know he’s still here,” he proclaimed and the crowd went wild.
Once they had played the album in its entirety, Wire and Moore left the stage, leaving Bradfield alone with just an acoustic guitar. He then proceeded to treat the audience to a couple of acoustic numbers, “Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky” and “This Sullen Welsh Heart”, which really showcased his vocal prowess. The rhythm section then once again returned for a few more songs before the set concluded. Among them were “Motorcycle Emptiness” from Generation Terrorists, “You Stole the Sun from My Heart” and “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” from their 1998 album This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, “Walk Me to the Bridge” from 2014’s Futurology, and, finally, their 1996 hit single “A Design for Life.”
I’m sure that everyone in attendance probably could have stayed and watched this talented group of Welsh men perform all night, but alas, all good things must come to an end. Perhaps we will see them again in another 20 years.