The Manic Street Preachers have been on the hit-list of the Bristol Sounds organisers for a couple of years and thanks to a bit of a studio-induced hiatus, the Welsh trio were keen to tread the boards again this summer and chose their adopted city of Bristol to do this. They join a diverse series of headliners including Bonobo and Craig David (a convenient Glastonbury warm up date) as well as an inspired Hacienda classic offering.
This gig feels as close as you can get to a homecoming for the Welsh trio without crossing the bridge into Wales. With drummer Sean living in Bristol and the band spending their formative years seeing gigs in Bristol, there's a familiarity and a warmth to tonight's gig that you don't seem to get further East.
The Manics haven't played live together since a rainy Eden Sessions show last summer but, with three decades of musicianship under their belt, this really doesn't show. Singer James is in a playful mood as he jokes about the Wales/Bristol rivalry and name checks some of the controversial topics in Bristol this year - the football stadium and the re-naming of Colston Hall. 'But this is music," he says, "it's not fucking sport!' as he launches into opener 'Motorcycle Emptiness'.
Opening for Manics is The Anchoress, who also joined them at their last gig in Cornwall. A fellow Welsh artist and bonfide Manics fan (heading to the barrier with a bandmate to catch the headliners' set), you can hear those influences as the music and lyrics are a blend of drama, glam, melancholia and a compelling darkness.
The opening song 'Long Year' refers to a 'watery grave', while she introduces 'Your Shoulder' as: 'a song about losing my mind while making an album'. She ends with the title track off her debut album, 'Confessions of a Romance Novelist'. It's hard to believe she's only been around in this guise for just over a year, her craft is honed and the songs carry the depth and richness of an Anna Calvi offering while the gold suit, leopard print and operatic vibe is a nod towards Patrick Wolf.
British Sea Power are also no strangers to a Manics support slot and appear in front of a warm crowd. The greenery that used to adorn their stages may have gone but the dancing black bear and polar bear remain a welcome edition to their set. From 'Remember Me' To 'Waving Flags' and 'The Great Skua', these are euphoric singalong songs which go down a treat in the harbour setting as the sun goes down. The soaring anthems and catchy riffs are a perfect segue between The Anchoress and Manic Street Preachers.
The opening track from the Manics packs a punch, one of the less punky songs from their debut album Generation Terrorists; singer and lead guitarist James Dean Bradfield instantly asserting his guitar playing authority with the space for brilliant solo guitar slots. The set comprises a good mix of new and old, though for many older fans there will never be enough from their first few albums before they hit the big time with 1996's 'Everything Must Go'.
The title track off the aforementioned breakthrough album follows the opener, before the group slips in one of their many recent duets - 'Your Love Alone Is Not Enough', the recorded version of which features Nina Persson from The Cardigans (not tonight though!). 'You Stole The Sun' inevitably draws a big response as the crowd sings along and gets moving, paving the way for the Manic's take on The The's 'This Is The Day', which they claimed as their own thanks to a nostalgic video featuring old footage of the band as a four piece with missing guitarist Richey James.
James recently revealed that he gets asked for 'Sleepflower' from their second less well-known album 'Gold Against The Soul' but said he'd never play it. The hardcore contingent down the front goes mental as he launches into the unmistakable opening lines from that early 90s hit, before blending it into 2001's 'Found That Soul', cheeky f*cker. The latter is a highly-charged number which awakens legs in the soon-to-be moshpit but it's not until 'You Love Us' towards the end of the set that it really comes to life. The average age of tonight's audience has to be around 40, but you can see how much this band matters to people today almost as much as they may have done decades ago.
Sean's solid drumming is often neglected in reviews as the often quite cousin of Bradfield disappears behind his behemoth drumset at the back but it's the glue that holds these sets together. Nicky Wire can be a focal point for many sets, often opting to wear skirts and feather boas while scissoring across the stage. His performance tonight is much more reserved but he still proves an important part of this band. It's Bradfield's unashamed showmanship that makes these live shows though; he likes to use the space available to whizz around the stage, touch base with his band mates and drum up applause for the rest of the group.
An acoustic interjection of '30 Year War' and 'Ocean Spray', the only song that singer James penned the lyrics for - leaving the bulk of the lyrics to bassist Nicky Wire - receives an added layer thanks for some beautiful trumpet. It's criminal that a chunk of the crowd chooses this point to go and hand over a fiver at the bar for another pint of lager, but so be it. Sean and Nicky return to the stage and James plugs in for the last run of songs, including 'You Love Us' and the predictable but brilliant final song, 'A Design For Life' - proving one of those magical gig-ending moments in this beautiful harbourside setting.
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