Review: Manic Street Preachers, Live from Times Square, Newcastle

Manic Street Preachers at Times Square, Newcastle. Picture: Carl Chambers.
Manic Street Preachers at Times Square, Newcastle. Picture: Carl Chambers.

Saturday saw Live from Times Square deliver perhaps the strongest bill of this year's fortnight-long run, headed by Wales' finest, the Manic Street Preachers.

Drawing a sold out crowd, the esteemed trio's much anticipated performance was preceded by sets from festival favourites The Cribs and 'archive rockers' Public Service Broadcasting, not to mention what for many will have been an introduction to rising indie pop outfit Dream Wife.

Manic Street Preachers at Times Square, Newcastle. Picture: Carl Chambers.

Manic Street Preachers at Times Square, Newcastle. Picture: Carl Chambers.

The task of opening proceedings, however, fell to Newcastle quartet The Old Pink House, and by all accounts they made a decent fist of it.

They're by no means my favourite act on our local scene, but what is clear is their potential to make a wider impact, what with their potent sugar-coated melodies and frontman Max Middleton's FM-friendly voice.

Based in London, Dream Wife are on an upward trajectory of their own, and demonstrated as much with a vibrant mix of sunshine hooks and punk punch.

Unfortunately, the weather Gods weren't so impressed, though it's testament to the four-piece's endearing verve and charisma that a torrential downpour proved only a minor dampener.

Manic Street Preachers at Times Square, Newcastle. Picture: Carl Chambers.

Manic Street Preachers at Times Square, Newcastle. Picture: Carl Chambers.

Fortunately, the skies largely stayed clear from then on in, something which will no doubt have come as a relief to fellow Londoners Public Service Broadcasting.

The instrumental trio - whose 'vocals' come by way of samples from archive films - were a fitting addition to the lineup, particularly given that their new album Every Valley explores the history of South Wales' coal mining industry.

Although they've reigned in the gimmicks (not to mention their usual visual backing), J. Willlgoose Esq. and company have retained their three piece brass section, a vital element which aids lift-off on new cuts such as The Pit and They Gave Me a Lamp.

They're more than capable of exploring darker avenues, yet live it's lighter moments such as road rage romp Signal 30 and the goofy space funk of Gagarin which continue to translate best.

Topping the supporting cast were The Cribs, a band I've seen and enjoyed on numerous occasions who're regrettably becoming something of a chore.

The Wakefield trio reeled out all the established singalongs and fan favourites, but with no variety whatsoever their set merely segued into a relentless, sloppy and ultimately rather dull racket.

They'll always draw a crowd, however their energy and distortion are markedly diminished on large outdoor stages.

Indeed, there came a point where it became more entertaining to watch imposters scaling the arena walls and evading security - a damning indictment of a group whose presence on these bills is beginning to grow tiresome.

Of course, none of these issues were ever likely to befall tonight's headliners, who boast the type of timeless catalogue few British acts can match.

Personally, I've a greater affinity with the darker material they recorded before lyricist/guitarist Richey Edwards' tragic disappearance, though on this occasion it hardly came as a surprise that songs about fascists, anorexia and mutilation were deemed inappropriate.

Still, a Manics greatest hits set leaves little scope for complaint, and any lingering reservations were effectively wiped the instant they stepped onstage to the iconic swooning riff of Motorcycle Emptiness.

One of their stonewall classics, this glorious curtain raiser did nevertheless set a standard the subsequent 90 minutes couldn't always live up to.

Indian Summer, for instance, does little to justify its regular slot, and while the frustratingly mid-paced My Little Empire will have featured on few deeper cut wish lists.

Even so, this was a parade which by and large delivered in the expected places, from the urgent thrall of You Love Us and the brass-heavy Show Me the Wonder to the peerless shout-along closer A Design For Life.

Less foreseeable was a brief acoustic interlude which saw frontman James Dean Bradfield deliver stirring renditions of Masses Against the Classes and Ocean Spray, with the latter in particular proving a wholly unexpected standout.

For me, though, the high point by some distance came in the utterly magnificent form of If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next - despite an unintentionally comedic climax which saw both stage and band became entangled by wayward streamers.

In a sense, its five minutes typified the entire evening - one which came littered with ups and downs yet eventually peaked with the kind of catharsis which makes these open air events, and the Manic Street Preachers themselves, such a popular draw.