Almost two and a half years after the Manic Street Preachers last set foot in this very venue, the Olympia Theatre is sold out and full to its 1600 capacity; a testament to the lasting allure of their punky alternative rock. A simple white and blue backdrop, and some halogen lamps arranged in flower-like clusters are all that adorn the stage – save for the obligatory Welsh flag hanging from the amps, of course. James Bradfield is dressed in a casual black jacket, jeans and brand new (we were informed) Nike trainers. In his renowned extrovert style, Nicky Wire is wearing a seventies style red velvet suit, tinted sunglasses and has sequins on his cheeks. Some things never change. That goes for the audience too. The age profile suggests that there are plenty of old-school Manics fans here; it’s hard to spot many fans under thirty. The band themselves, on the other hand, bound about the stage like hyperactive teenagers.
In the process, they perform just a handful of tracks from their latest offering Rewind The Film, despite its top five showing in the Irish charts. Of these, the highlights come when support act Cate Le Bon joins them on-stage for ‘4 Lonely Roads’ (which Wire dedicates to the late Seamus Heaney) and Bradfield’s emotional solo acoustic reading of ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’, which gives the bassist a frankly unnecessary opportunity for a costume change into a white linen suit and captain’s hat.
It’s clear though that the decade-old songs are evoking a much livelier reaction from the loyal fans. The crowd sing-alongs during their classic hits are as loud as the already deafeningly loud PA. There is occasional brief banter between songs during guitar changes, including stories of their first trip to Dublin in ’91/’92 when Wire ended up in hospital after damaging ligaments in his leg, and details of Bradfield’s hernia. They also made a point of stating that the Olympia is one of their favourite venues in the entire world. But they probably tell that to all the girls.
As the set draws to an end, a blistering rendition of ‘Motown Junk’ gets the crowd in the upper circles on their feet, and provokes some pretty rowdy behaviour in the pit resulting in a few over-zealous fans being escorted out by the gentlemen in white shirts. The Manics don’t bother with the clichéd faux-finale followed by a supposedly impromptu encore, spurred on by chants of ‘one more tune’. Instead, the band stick to the job at hand, and give their fans an almost uninterrupted set of no less than twenty songs spanning their 27 year career. The climatic finale of popular radio tune / anthem to class pride (and what other band could pull that off?) ‘Design for Life’ keeps the energy flowing, ending the show on the highest of notes, with happy faces all round – both on-stage and off.
Photo: Olga Kuzmenko