Preston Guildhall, 20.05.07
The trip to this gig had the potential to be a gridlocked nightmare, falling as it did on the second night of the Radio One Big Weekend. However, the journey up the M6 to Preston was unhindered, parking was a breeze and we arrived at the Guildhall to secure a fairly decent spot near the front of the stage.
The support bands on this tour seem to be changing every three or four venues. Tonight it’s the turn of Liverpool four piece Johnny Boy, whose debut single was produced by James Dean Bradfield himself. I’ve seen plenty of support bands and discovered plenty of gems among them; sadly Johnny Boy don’t look destined to join their number, despite the Bradfield endorsement. They seem to be trying quite hard to encompass too many genres with the result that they fall rather blandly in between: neither rock, nor indie-dance, neither psychedelia, nor electronica. There are one or two stand-out moments, particularly the ‘Johnny Boy Theme’, but the band seem overly concerned with matching their music to the backing collage of film, a gimmick that backfires when it only draws the audience attention away from the stage performance.
A quick glance around the crowd reveals a mixed bunch, ranging from the glammed-up hardcore fans with their glitter and feathers, to curious middle aged couples, attracted by the chart-friendly sounds of ‘Your Love Alone Is Not Enough’. There’s half an hour to go before the main act, during which time a feather boa draped mic stand is brought out from behind the drum riser to stand in front of a Welsh flag. Anyone who feared that they had inadvertently stumbled into a Shirley Bassey gig is doubtless mightily relieved as the Blackwood trio explode onto the stage like a charging prop forward, to the stabbing riffs of ‘You Love Us’. The air in front of the stage is a sea of punching fists; there is the briefest of pauses in which many voices are raised for ‘Imperial Bodybags’, and the band immediately oblige to obvious audience delight. They are certainly not coasting along on the wave of recent chart success. They’ve come a long way since their early punkish 20-minute gigs and sneering denigration from the musical press. They now command critical respect; however they fully appreciate the role of their fanbase in achieving this, and reward is due in the form of a lengthy set that is jam-packed both with old classics and tracks from the new album. There’s an elegiac ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and a blistering ‘Faster’, alongside ‘Winterlovers’, album title track ‘Send Away The Tigers’ and, of course, the current single. James Dean Bradfield’s rousing vocals and stabbing guitars are complimented by the pounding backbeat from Sean Moore, while Nicky Wire commands attention, prowling across the stage, posturing and jumping. ‘Kevin Carter’ is dedicated to missing member Richey Edwards. A soul stirring ‘If You Tolerate This…’ sees Moore and Wire leaving the stage at the climax, leaving Bradfield to perform two acoustic numbers, although he has to dose his straining voice with throat spray at one point.
When the others rejoin him, Wire has changed into a fetching black T-shirt / white miniskirt ensemble. Sadly this provokes the only sour note of the gig as an idiot in the crowd takes upon themselves to hurl a pint at Wire. The bassist is understandably furious, still seething and calling out the perpetrator a couple of songs later, and he has the support of almost everyone else in the room. ‘This is for you, ‘Little Baby Nothing!’ snarls Bradfield at the suddenly cowardly assailant. Wire recovers his composure enough to jump down into the pit to embrace the true fans. There’s a stirring ‘Design For Life’ turned to a lusty singalong, then they leave us, having performed 20-plus songs. Across town at the Radio 1 festival, it’s been the turn of the Kaiser Chiefs and Mika. Whether either of these acts will have provoked such a show of affection as the Manics have here tonight is unlikely. And we don’t see any festival traffic on the way home either. Result!