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Manic Street Preachers once declared that they would break up after releasing their debut album; after witnessing their live performance at Metro in Chicago, it’s a good thing that they didn’t follow their own advice.
A stadium act with numerous Top Ten singles in the UK, Europe, and Asia, this Welsh band had never really crossed over to the US masses like some of their Brit-pop contemporaries; yet their lack of commercial success on this side of the pond was not evident as their rabid fans filled this 1,500 capacity club on a cold and rainy Chicago night.
Fans who published their own Manic Street Preachers fanzine passed out ashcan issues; others bragged about the amount of driving hours they clocked in just to see a band that hadn’t played these shores since 1999’s opening spot for a Noel Gallager-fronted Oasis. It was the Chicago gathering of the unofficial Manic Street Preachers fan club, and the only requirement for membership was being at the Metro that night.
For many devotees of this brainy trio (that expanded into a touring five piece, adding a rhythm guitarist and a keyboardist), it was their first time witnessing this enigmatic, quasi-political group with a bizarre musical career that has always eluded US commercial success.
The band started in the early 1990s as a four piece. Former rhythm guitarist and lyrical contributor Richie Edwards, who had a history of self-mutilation and mental instability, mysteriously disappeared in 1995. Edwards was recently declared deceased but still never found. On the band’s latest album, Journal for Plague Lovers, (their ninth) the remaining Manics set to music previously unrecorded Edwards’ lyrics, to finally close the chapter on Richie Edwards and accept the death of their former band mate: “Richie James.”
Starting their Chicago set with the full on, energetic “Motorcycle Emptiness” from their first album Generation Terrorists, the band knew they had this Chicago audience eating right out of the palm of their hands. Performing songs that spanned their career, including a cover of The Small Faces’ “All Or Nothing,” and a Nina Persson-less “Your Love Is Not Enough,” the band proved that live, they know how to be stadium rockers as well as the indie darlings.
Singer and guitarist James Dean Bradfield peppered the night’s between-song banter with apologies about the band’s lengthy absence in the US tour market. All was quickly forgiven as the audience ate up songs from the band’s nineteen year career, including songs from their latest album Journal for Plague Lovers produced by Chicagoan Steve Albini.
In the middle of the set, Bradfield made a solo appearance on stage with only an acoustic guitar, demonstrating his exceptional playing. When the band returned for what would be their only breather, bassist Nicky Wire pogo-ed along with Bradfield to the catchy “You Love Us.” Drummer Sean Moore remained with his head down throughout most of the band’s 80-minute performance keeping time like a syncopated watch.
The night ended with the epic ballad “A Design For Life,” and without an encore, since the Manics stated that ‘when a show is over, it’s over.’ Hopefully, North American fans won’t have to wait another decade for their return.
Opening the evening was the Brooklyn-based band Bear Hands: an all male group dressed as hipster wood shop students. Their sound was reminiscent of Siouxie and The Banshees, Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire.
– J. Byrnes