Thursday, October 15, 2009

Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers Tour [concert review]

* October 4th, Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
While the Manic Street Preachers might not have an abundance of fans in America or Canada, they certainly have a loyal, rabid core of them that have waited a long time to see them play live. Ten years, in fact. The Welsh band last toured these parts in 1999 in support of the This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours album. The breakout success back home in Europe for their previous release, 1996's Everything Must Go, had also spilled over for its followup, but their success didn't make the journey across the pond. The band decided not to force the issue by attempting to buck the trend of innumerable British bands failing to crack the North American market, instead focusing their career mostly in Europe where they routinely play to packed stadiums in the tens of thousands.
The Phoenix Concert Theatre was a hair shy of what I'd consider "packed", but it was a strong turnout of an estimated 1000-1300 people. That was a marked improvement on the estimated crowd of only 250-300 attendees in Detroit two nights before. When the band hit the stage the crowd erupted, thankful either for the opportunity to finally see them again or for the first time. Manic Street Preachers is James Dean Bradfield on lead vocals and guitar, Nicky Wire on bass and Sean Moore on drums. Two extra musicians, a guitarist and a keyboard player, joined the band on stage. I must admit, I couldn't even hear a hint of any keyboard sounds coming from the P.A. until nine songs in, when he played the intro to "Tsunami". This reminded me of the last time I saw the band, almost 10 years ago to the month at The Warehouse (now Kool Haus). I thought the exact same thing back then in regard to the extra keyboardist playing with them. Aside from that, the sound mix for this latest show was actually quite good.
Live staple "Motorcycle Emptiness" topped the setlist, immediately drawing in the crowd for vocal accompaniment duties, a trend that would continue throughout the tight 95 minute set. The distinct arpeggioed intro of the next song signaled "No Surface All Feeling", one of my favourite Manics songs. "Peeled Apples", one of four songs played off the band's latest album (Journal For Plague Lovers) was next, with Bradfield introducing it with a word of recognition towards the song's lyricist and former guitarist, Richey Edwards (now presumed dead - click here if you're unfamiliar with the story). The new material translates well live, especially "Jackie Collins Existential Question Time". Given the band's long absence, I'd say it was a smart decision to limit the new songs to four, allowing a little more room in the setlist for a couple more favourites fans have been dying to hear.
Toronto band Rush got a couple of shout-outs during the show - Bradfield played a snippet of "The Spirit Of Radio" before kicking into a stomping version of "Faster", while at another point Wire stopped to recite several lines from the song as if speaking at a poetry reading. Very cool. Wire's second finest between-songs moment to the crowd addressed the most obvious question of the night, to which he said, "I really have no idea why the fuck it's taken us 10 years to get back here". A little past the show's halfway point, Bradfield strapped on an acoustic guitar for beautiful acoustic versions of "This Is Yesterday" and "The Everlasting". His strong voice and exceptional guitar skills are the heart of the band, in my opinion, and he writes challenging material which involves a lot of odd and complex guitar chord formations, making for a complicated combination with the addition of his singing duties...the sum of it is, the man's a highly talented musician.
The mellow portion of the show was then rudely interrupted with the return of the rest of the band and a forceful rendition of "Send Away The Tigers". "You Stole The Sun From My Heart" saw Wire, Bradfield and many in the crowd pogoing during the song's chorus section. Manics classics "Motown Junk" and "Little Baby Nothing" sandwiched the newer "Me And Stephen Hawking" before the energetic "You Love Us" , with the crowd and Bradfield singing the title during the chorus to each other with heartfelt conviction. Yes, that sounds corny, but it is factual. Bradfield introduced the final song, "A Design For Life" with the reminder that the band doesn't do encores. The audience responded in turn with their loudest singing of the show and soaking in what remaining moments with the band they could take with them.
"Long suffering" would aptly describe a North American Manic Street Preachers fan, but if some silver lining can be gathered from the metaphorical cloud represented by the ten year drought it's this: absence, indeed, makes the heart grow fonder. It was a full-on mutual admiration society at The Phoenix, with the crowd as loud and attentive as I've seen at a Toronto show in recent memory and the band, in turn, visibly appreciative of the response (by all accounts it was the best audience on the brief twelve date North American tour). "Mega" was the word Bradfield used more than once to describe the concert-goers.
The band promised to return in about two years, which I have faith they'll try to do, but a lot can happen in two years so I headed into the show determined to savour the entire experience, as I figured I might not get the chance again. Based on the virtually flawless show I witnessed, I hope I'm proven wrong.
Lead singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield at The Phoenix
(picture from
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★★