Concert Review: Manic Street Preachers at the Metro, 4/29/15

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Selling out soccer arenas overseas for over two decades, Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers have never had much luck courting an American audience.

They never had their "Song 2," "Wonderwall" or "Bittersweet Symphony," and their music reaches for an intellectualism that, let's face it, isn't likely to win over new American converts.

Beginning their life as an English version of Guns N' Roses without the misogyny and with some outspoken leftist politics, the band made tabloids overseas for their punk attitude and super-dark lyrics courtesy of their wild-man guitarist Richey Edwards. When Edwards disappeared in early 1995, it was no big surprise: the man had already made headlines with issues with addiction, alcoholism, anorexia and a long laundry list of self-destruction.

This all came to a head with their 1994 classic album The Holy Bible, dripping with so many personal demons it made In Utero look like a walk in the park.

Song titles like "Of Walking Abortion," "PCP," and the eye-catching "IfWhiteAmericaToldTheTruthForOneDayItsWorldWouldFallApart" pretty much send a instant red-flag to any working therapist.

After Edwards' disappearance, the guys could have easily called it a day, but instead they kept trucking along as a three-piece. Most of the darkness left with Edwards, and the resulting new sound had one foot deep in gorgeous, symphonic britpop. The following albums launched Manics into the upper stratosphere of British music complete with hit singles, videos, awards and sold-out tours.

Somehow in America, the major labels they signed to didn't really give any effort to sell this massive band to the states. Delayed releases and no love from American MTV meant that the Manics were doomed...well, doomed to sell out massive arenas across Britain, Europe and Asia for the following years.

Doesn't sound so bad.

Last Wednesday, the stage of Chicago's legendary Metro was adorned with military netting, giving away the fact that this wasn't going to be a Manic's play-the-hits night. In fact, the guys are celebrating (more like paying homage to)the 20th anniversary of Richey's disappearance and release of The Holy Bible album.

So Wednesday night singer/songwriter/ guitarist James Dean Bradfield, drummer Sean Moore and bassist/lyricist Nicky Wire took the stage and played the complete Holy Bible album with an intensity that would blow away 99% of bands half their age.

Nicky Wire is the larger-than-life rock star of the band, his towering frame bopping around the stage mouthing the words off the mic like he was part of the audience. Bradfield, adorned in an old-school sailor uniform concurrent with the attire of their 1994 era, quietly impressed with his technical but not flashy guitar leads. Moore being the silent anchor of the group bashing at his drums with a mathematical precision.

The album, while being completely filled lyrically by Richey Edwards with themes of desperation, paranoia and anguish, never becomes a downer.

In fact, with its chanted choruses and perfect mesh of grunge, goth, pop and punk, the album lifts up the listener and in the end becomes actually inspiring.

It's a shame that the album didn't have that effect on the lyricist.

So the crowd at the Metro Thursday night was packed with respectful die-hard fans. Part of it felt like the greatest funeral or memorial one could ever attend as Nicky and James told stories of their fallen bandmate and remembered how Richey played with them on that very stage in 1992..."probably pissed (drunk)." Laughs were had at the gallows humor. After the album wrapped with the Sex-Pistols-meet-The-Beatles rush of "PCP," Bradfield and company played some of their biggest UK hits such as "A Design For Life," and "If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next" ending the night on a nice, positive note.

The evening was a perfect, beautiful tribute to one of the greatest albums of the 90s as well as one of the greatest lyric writers britpop has ever seen.

While this brief tour is already finished on this side of the pond, Manic Street Preachers live is highly, highly recommended.

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