Manic Street Preachers, Roundhouse, Camden, May 29
When did our rock heroes get so old? Across town former Smiths frontman and professional miserablist Morrissey is feeling a bit peaky and has cancelled his three-night stand at Brixton Academy, while over in Camden a subdued looking Nicky Wire is nursing a slipped disc.
Usually the backbone of the band as he lunges and scissor kicks his way across the stage in a whirl of glitter, tonight he's limited to rocking back and forth, hiding behind a pair of shades, an off-white suit in place of his favoured tennis skirt. His frustration was obvious - "I'm sorry - I'm just like all the other ****y bass players now" - but you get the feeling he wouldn't have missed tonight for the world.
The second of three nights at the formerly derelict building where the band filmed the video to radio breakthrough single Design For Life, there's more than an air of sentimentality about tonight. Hot on the heels of the release of their ninth album Journal For Plague Lovers, tonight's show is split into two sets which see them play the new record in its entirety and then delve into their 15 year-old back catalogue. It's a brave move, making such a big deal of a two-week old album, but this one's more than a little special.
14 years after guitarist, lyricist and life-long friend Richey Edwards disappeared, he makes a startling return in the form of lyrics and poetry he left with Nicky, making Journal For Plague Lovers the first Richey penned album since some of his work appeared on 1996's Everything Must Go. He's remained crucial to the band's story, his icon looming over them, but Journal is their most blatant acknowledgement of his influence and absence. It's loud and brash, with the youthful energy and passion that made them a cult band - and live it's an even more powerful beast. Singer James Dean Bradfield clearly relishes the opportunity to exercise his tonsils with a new set of tongue twisters, masterfully squeezing five Richey sentences into one human line. Nicky growls out album closer Williams Last Words, an unsettling ballad that can easily be translated as Richey's farewell. The audience know every word but not surprisingly it's the second set that really gets the place going.
With just an hour to fill and a further eight albums' worth of material to pick from, they picked their set list well. Far more balanced and less populist than some of their more recent tours, there was something for old and new fans alike. For the post Everything Must Go fans there was Tsunami, If You Tolerate This and You Stole The Sun From My Heart, which saw James making a heartened effort to replace Nicky's stage stalking with his own hopping and leaping. For the old school fans there was Holy Bible favourite Faster, early single Motown Junk and rarely played b-side Sorrow 16.
Despite Nicky's problems, it feels like they've reached a place they've been grasping at for years. It was a great gig - energetic, upbeat and musically brilliant, and you get the feeling they've finally been able to lay the past to rest. Call it closure if you like, but I wouldn't be surprised if we don't hear anything from them for some time after this.