My autumn of Manics gigs came to a close with this duo of Q&A plus acoustic set shows from the boys. These shows were announced in the frantic week of the release “The Ultra Vivid Lament”, to encourage fans to pick up an extra copy or two bundled with a ticket. My collection of the album expanded with a picture disc, and a standard vinyl plus 7 inch, in order to be able to attend both these shows.
So off we went once again to shiver in a queue. My previous gigs this October – Nick Cave at the Royal Albert Hall and the Manics in Cambridge – had taken place on unseasonably warm days, but autumn has finally hit with full force, and it was a cold evening in Kingston as we waited – some of us twice – for this up close and personal glimpse of the Manics.
Both the matinee and evening shows followed the same format: the first half seeing Nicky Wire interviewed on stage by music journalist John Harris, and the second half a short set of acoustic songs from James. Both of Nicky’s interviews began with a chat about the inspirations behind “The Ultra Vivid Lament” before heading into previously submitted questions from fans.
My 28-year-strong Manics fan career has had many highlights, but a new one was added this night, in Nicky’s reply to the question I had submitted, which was the first of the evening to be answered. As a Bowie obsessive I’d noticed a few distinct echoes of him on the new album , in particular that “Blank Diary Entry” has a very similar chord progression to “Blackstar”, so I asked if this was a conscious influence on the album. Nicky replied that it was, and that Sean in particular loved that final Bowie album, before concluding “good spot”. It’s safe to say that I’m outrageously pleased with myself to have achieved Nicky’s approval of my musical ear.
Other questions over the two sessions covered many topics of interest. “Lifeblood”, my personal favourite Manics album despite its occasional dismissal by the band, was given a positive appraisal, with promises of many exciting rarities to be included on a 20th anniversary reissue. In other exciting news, Nicky’s second solo album was revealed to be complete bar a final mix, and so we can now sit in anticipation of this long-awaited follow up to “I Killed The Zeitgeist”.
The final question of the evening was around what the 21 year old iconoclasts of the early 90s would think of the now gang of 50-somethings being album of the week on Radio 2. Nicky replied that James and Sean would probably have been happy with that, but he and Richey would have despaired at the failure of their grand plan to sell a million records with their debut and then split up.
James’s two sets were identical barring one extra tune in the second show. They began with fan favourite “Sleepflower”, the opening track to GATS which is frequently shouted for at gigs. James tackled the verses in his lower register before belting out the choruses to impressive effect. Following this his lower register got even more of a workout when he sang Mark Lanegan’s verses in a stately rendition of “Blank Diary Entry”.
The 1993 B-side “Donkeys” came next, a song I’m pretty sure I only heard live before at their 2003 HMV gig for “Lipstick Traces”, and to experience this again not once but twice was a rare thrill. “Prologue to History”, which was next, has had some more recent outings at the 2019 “Truth” tour, and despite it being normally a piano-driven monster, the acoustic version worked exceedingly well.
After hearing Nicky speak about how they’ve stopped playing song from “The Holy Bible” since their 2014 anniversary tour of the album, as they don’t really fit in with the rest of the set, it was particularly wonderful to hear my favourite track from the album “Die In The Summertime”, as hauntingly caustic in its acoustic version as its original. Next was “Complicated Illusions”, which has rapidly become one of my all time favourite Manics songs in the last month. It seems to hold the pure essence of what we love about the band, the aura of joy and melancholy perfectly fused.
As in the recent gigs I’ve attended in Cardiff and Cambridge, James’s voice was in magnificent form, showing no wearing with age but clear and powerful as ever. For the second set we got one extra track, which prompted a flurry of requests. I put in a hearty shout for “Stay Beautiful” but I was not too sad when, in the end, “A Design For Life” won, as it is the quintessential Manics gig closer. For the first time in the evening the crowd abandoned reserve and hollered along with gusto, despite James teasing us by delaying the chorus for a few beats.
Tumbling out into the torrential Kingston rain, my season of Manics gigs was now over bar the Christmas extravaganza at Wembley. Having seen the Manics five times in just over a month, it feels like a long, cold wait for the final TUVL hurrah in December. But I’m pretty sure that when we get there, it will have been absolutely worth the wait.