Eleven years after they toured Australia for the first time, the Manic Street Preachers roll back in to town, having gone from being firebrand iconoclasts to becoming national treasures in the UK. Time and growing up may have softened the group of young upstarts who littered their first album with lines such as ‘Repeat after me, fuck Queen and country’ and ‘I laughed when Lennon got shot’, but it also gave them commercial crossover with 1996’s Everything Must Go and sees them packing out stadiums and massive theatres in the UK. Australia never seemed to ‘get’ the Manics, perhaps their intellectual posturing and UK-centric political bile scaring off radio and press.
Nonetheless, their commercial crossover sees them packing out The Forum on a warm spring night and surprisingly the crowd are mostly locals rather than UK expats. Perhaps being considerate of the 11 years that have passed since last touring here, the band’s set draws significantly from their earlier albums. The band fire up proceedings with their usual self-immortalising finale, ‘You Love Us’ off their 1991 debut Generation Terrorists before launching in to the latter day pop hit of ‘Your Love alone…’ off 2008’s Send Away The Tigers. Packing a punch early, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is still heartbreakingly beautiful teenage angst writ large, while ‘It’s Not War, it’s Just The End Of Love’ delivers on the band’s promise to write unashamedly commercial songs on Postcards From A Young Man. ‘Roses In The Hospital’ and the baggy beat of ‘La Tristesse Durera’ represent Gold Against The Soul, while the stadium choruses of ‘Australia’ are dedicated to support band Dead Actor’s Club.
The crowd, a few of whom have dragged out stencilled slogan shirts which the band splayed with their manifesto back in the early days start literally jumping with ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’ although it’s comprised less off teenagers in heavy makeup and glitter, and more of sensibly dressed fans approaching middle age and remembering the passion and devotion the Manics once inspired in them. A surprise inclusion of the band’s infamous cover of the Theme From M*A*S*H*, ‘Suicide Is Painless’, is lapped up along with ‘Motown Junk’. James Dean Bradfield takes the stage solo for a tender rendition of The Everlasting that has the crowd singing the choruses back to him, before the incendiary nihilism of ‘Faster’ with its I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer/I spat out Plath and Pinter refrain reminding us that this wasn’t a band that wrote soppy love songs. The final encore of ‘A Design For Life’ is another epic sing along and the perfect reminder of the period when the band went from being media baiting agit-prop upstarts to having tradies whistling their songs on building sites.
– Jim Murray