Love’s Sweet Exile: Manic Street Preachers at the Phoenix Concert Theatre

Manic Street Preachers - 010 - JPEG

Ten years is a long time to wait for anything. So when the Manic Street Preachers finally returned to Toronto, it was tough to predict quite how it would go down. I, myself, had only waited nearly two and a half years, which felt quite long enough for me. My very first post on this blog was a review of the Manics’ second show at the Cardiff Student Union in 2007 as part of the Send Away the Tigers tour. For many of the fans at the Phoenix on Sunday night, this was their first time witnessing their musical heroes play live. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to be in Cardiff in May a couple of years ago, I would have been one of them. People travelled from all over the country to come to this gig (some from just south of the border as well), and several had either already seen gigs on this tour or were going to follow the Manics through the next cities. The dedication, passion and community to be found amongst Manics fans always inspires me and bolsters me after spending most of my time being a Manics fan on my own.

I couldn’t help but make a comparison between this gig and the Cardiff Student Union one. What remains quite fascinating to me is how much shorter this gig felt – despite the fact it was one song less than last time (21 instead of 22 songs). I suppose the Manics have such a large back catalogue now that no matter how many songs they play, it’s never enough, especially for their die-hard fans. While this long-suffering group of fans weren’t quite as flamboyantly attired as their UK counterparts generally are, their enthusiasm and utter gratefulness were overwhelming. Yes, people in the crowd called out the usual requests for songs and the occasional “I love you Nicky/James,” but what was so much more touching and indicative of the atmosphere was the fact that so many people kept shouting “Thank you!”

Manic Street Preachers - 036 - JPEG

I sort of pity any band that has to open for the Manics; no matter who you are, we just don’t care. And in this case, I saw the majority of the crowd look alternately bored and impatient as the opener played. But as the lights dimmed and the Manics came on stage, the audience exploded. And I pulled on my hand-painted black tuque with “JAMES” emblazoned on it a la James Dean Bradfield’s balaclava worn during that performance of Faster on TOTP (I was going to wear it even if I died of heat exhaustion). Against a simple backdrop of the Journal For Plague Lovers album cover, they opened with my favourite Manics song, Motorcycle Emptiness. The power of the music crashed into the roar of the crowd like a sonic boom, and James was a joy to watch for his intricate guitarwork, sending out those whining chords of desperate melancholy, and for the beautiful violence of his hits to his own head and face as he sang, “All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us.” They kept the soaring anthemic feel going with No Surface All Feeling, which I saw as a solo acoustic performance by James last time. Prefacing the next song with an acknowledgement of Mr. Richard Edwards and his brilliant words, the band clattered into the first song to be played off the latest album: Peeled Apples. It was a cathartic performance that brought my singing closer to wild, frenetic shouting – the raw intelligence that the Manics represent simultaneously appeals to my logic and my emotions in a way no other band does.

I also had the privilege of watching a live performance of Your Love Alone Is Not Enough and La Tristessa Durera for the second time in my life (I always get a kick out of the lines that Nicky sings in the former). Then we got a second track from JFPL, Jackie Collins Existential Question Time, which has one of the most memorable melodies in the world and leads into what could be one of the best vocal performances by James with the lyrics “Situationist sisterhood, Jackie and Joan” – I felt my body tense in anticipation of those lines. At this point, they went into Let Robeson Sing, the only song that they would play off Know Your Enemy. Before careening into a blistering rendition of Faster, they pulled out a little bit of Rush’s The Spirit of Radio (the Manics have often stated their unabashed love for the Canadian band, and Nicky also quoted their lyrics before You Love Us in much the same way his brother quoted his own poetry before Love’s Sweet Exile all those years ago: “It’s really just a question of your honesty. Yeah. Your honesty. One likes to believe in the freedom of music. But glittering prizes and endless compromises… Shatter the illusion of integrity.”). During the maelstrom that is Faster, I felt my raised hand clench into a fist as James sang, “I am stronger than Mensa,” and I spat out every word along with him. After the slight reprieve of Tsunami, and in answer to many of our hopes, they then played my favourite track off JFPL: Marlon JD. We were then treated to two regular live standards, From Despair to Where and If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next.

Then as is the pattern, Nicky and Sean left the stage, allowing James to sing a couple of songs acoustically. Last time I saw them, James sang Yes and the aforementioned No Surface All Feeling, but this time he sang This is Yesterday and The Everlasting (according to the setlist, the latter was supposed to be Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky – I’m still hoping I get to hear that live one day). Perhaps what was so astonishing to the band, and even to me for that matter, was the fact pretty much everyone knew all of the words to every single song. This was really apparent during The Everlasting as James turned the song over to the crowd several times. And as one person, who was unfamiliar with the band but attended the show with a friend’s spare ticket, later commented, whenever James was too winded or lost some of his lyrics, the audience completely filled in for him.

Manic Street Preachers - 025 - JPEG

In my opinion, the next performance, Send Away the Tigers, was slightly unexpected, very welcome but unexpected – for some reason, I had assumed we’d get one of the radio-friendly SATT hits, either Autumnsong or Indian Summer. This was followed by You Stole the Sun, a song contemporary with the last time the Manics toured North America. Oddly enough, it continues to be a setlist staple – it’s definitely not among my favourite Manics tracks, but it does tend to get the crowd jumping for that chorus, and I’m more than willing to oblige. The next track, which I firmly believe must get played, Motown Junk, was as punk-rock as ever – I’m fairly certain that I, along with others, couldn’t help but automatically fill in James’s ellided “When Lennon got shot.” Interestingly, the setlist states “A or Motown Junk” – would the Manics actually have considered playing Autumnsong instead? I’m eternally grateful that they picked the classic Motown Junk.

The energy stayed high with Me and Stephen Hawking before two more old stormers were played: Little Baby Nothing and You Love Us. Both of them provided those extraordinary communal moments as all of us chanted and pointed along to the “you are pure, you are snow” refrain and the chorus of You Love Us, which had probably never been so true (the image of all of those arms pumping along almost made me cry). As A Design for Life struck up, it felt bittersweet – as always, it was an anthemic moment with James perched on an amp stack and Nicky up on the drumkit platform, but you always know that quite literally “this is the end.” No arrogant encore. No filler. No regrets.

In addition to scissor jumps and that rolling pacing that he does across the stage, Nicky Wire occasionally leaned over to say something in James’s ear with that maniacal grin of his, and the first time he did it, James playfully batted him away, slightly smooshing Nicky’s face in the process. It was one of those fantastic reminders of how close these guys are. James and Nicky took turns at banter, the former mock-wincing at the sheer loudness of the crowd and telling us how “mega” we were, and the latter making jokes about the size of The Opera House (where they first played in Toronto), asking himself “why the fuck they took so long to come back,” and praising us for holding our own against what he called our “Big Brother” neighbour to the south. All band members wore black, James in a basic military shirt with a few badges and an arm patch and Nicky in a rather subdued Sgt-Pepper-My-Chemical-Romance-type jacket with red details and the usual Urban Decay panda eyes (at one point he slapped on a captain’s hat, but unfortunately no skirt this time).

While I would have liked more songs from The Holy Bible and at least something from Lifeblood (in my opinion, highly underrated and more deserving than Everything Must Go and This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours), the fact we got four songs from JFPL, which are as close to THB as we’re ever going to get, made up for it. And considering I’ve witnessed Yes and Die in the Summertime live previously, I’m slowly getting a chance to hear THB live.

Manic Street Preachers - 024 - JPEG

As the crowd reluctantly filtered out of the venue, they all just looked so sweaty, ecstatic and gobsmacked that I had to smile. The show had been one of mutual appreciation and gratitude – according to other reviews, we were possibly the largest crowd on this tour. Fans were still reaching out to each other after the show, one asking me if I enjoyed the show and another asking me about my Send Away the Tigers t-shirt. It had been all the sweeter for the long absence, our North American exile from the Manics.

When I wrote that review two years ago, I said, “My only regret is not staying outside after the gig to see if I could meet the band – who knows when I’ll ever, if ever, get to see them again, especially at such a small venue. But I suppose that just raises the bar for more dreams – after all, I never thought I would ever see the Manics live and even if I saw them live, I never thought it would be six feet away from them in the closest thing to a hometown gig.” The dream happened all over again, and this time, I got a photo taken of me with my guitar hero, James. It took a bit of speeding down sidewalks (admittedly, my sheer sense of mission took over any sense of tact, and before I knew what I was doing, I had grabbed James’s arm as he tried to get across the street to the tourbus, before asking for that photo). In the clamour of desperate fans surrounding him, begging for photos, autographs and even a tiny moment of dialogue with him, James was graciously patient (especially since it appears Nicky and Sean left him to fend for himself – next time, I’m coming for you, Wire). Amidst all of the demands and requests, James nearly signed the pieces of my writing about the band that I wanted to give him (who knows if they’ll actually read it, but it was worth a shot). Possibly my favourite moment was when a black man, who was begging for money with cup in hand and was inexplicably moving about on rollerblades, started shouting at James, “You’re the white street preacher, and I’m the dark street preacher!” Quite baffled, James just said, “I don’t have any money.” He should have seen the earlier “street preacher” who had screamed at us to repent as we stood in the queue before the gig.

Before they had launched into Let Robeson Sing, James remarked that most of their songs were pretty negative, but that this one was one of the more positive ones. I, and likely many Manics fans, just don’t see their songs that way; the Manics’ music reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from John Gray’s Straw Dogs: “The aim of life was not to change the world. It was to see it rightly.” The Manics didn’t set out to change the world or pretend that they could – their songs always just made you see the world rightly, and the hope and comfort were in that perspective. As is the tradition, the Manics added a quotation to the bottom of their setlist on Sunday night: “We are all modernisers today. We have no idea what being modern means. But we are sure that it guarantees us a future.” By none other than John Gray.

Little Baby Nothing – Manic Street Preachers

Send Away the Tigers – Manic Street Preachers

**NOTE** an extra special Manics-themed weekly mix is coming up.


6 Responses to “Love’s Sweet Exile: Manic Street Preachers at the Phoenix Concert Theatre”

  1. 1 Rol
    October 8, 2009 at 3:43 am

    Sounds like a night to cherish. I’m so glad you got to see them again and they didn’t disappoint.

  2. October 10, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I’ve been looking forward to your review! Sounds like the Toronto show was a lot like the US shows crowd-wise–I heard a whole lot of “THANK YOU!” myself. I’ve never encountered anything like that at a show before, but I guess we North American Manics fans are pretty starved.

    I think “A or Motown Junk” means “All or Nothing – Motown Junk,” referring to the Small Faces song they play a snippet of.

    In Chicago, Sean shoved my friend in the back in his haste to get on the bus, and then stopped in the doorway and signed two autographs with the most stricken, disgusted look on his face. I love that little asshole.

    • 3 condemnedtorocknroll
      October 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm

      Thank you for pointing out my rather stupid mistake (which seems painfully obvious to me now) – I’m apparently not up on my Small Faces material. And my brain probably hemorrhaged with the sheer impossibility of the gig by the time Motown Junk was playing.

  3. 4 Mad
    October 19, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Hey, I think you were standing right next to me! I remember noticing your hat and thinking, ‘She must be dying of heat!’ I was to your right in the second row, in front of a bunch of pretty nice guys who had all bought the JfPL tour t-shirt. :)
    Anyway, awesome review of one of the best nights of my life. <3

    • 5 condemnedtorocknroll
      October 22, 2009 at 8:19 am

      I think I remember you, too, but I didn’t get to talk to you. I kind of regret not talking to more people than I did. Keep in touch – it’s nice to know there are other Manics fans in this country.

  4. 6 jc
    November 2, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    I am so pleased to read all of this. I was nervous that it might not have lived up to your dreams and expectations. It’s great that it surpassed them……

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The only certain thing that is left about me

There is no part of my body that has not been used

Pity or pain, to show displeasure's shame

Everyone I've loved or hated always seems to leave


So I turned myself to face me

But I've never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I'm much too fast to take that test

The Smiths Queen is Dead

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're happy

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So let's go where we're wanted

And I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

But you lose 'cause weird lover Wilde is on mine

The Clash London Calling

When they kick at your front door

How you gonna come?

With your hands on your head

Or on the trigger of your gun


Charles Windsor, who's at the door

At such an hour, who's at the door

In the back of an old green Cortina

You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes

The kind you hoped were dead

They've come to chop, to chop off your head


Then you came with your breezeblocks

Smashing up my face like a bus-stop

You think you're giving

But you're taking my life away


Won't someone give me more fun?

(and the skin flies all around us)

We kiss in his room to a popular tune

Oh, real drowners


Don't walk away

In silence

See the danger

Always danger

Endless talking

Life rebuilding

Don't walk away

Walk in silence

Don't turn away in silence

Your confusion

My illusion

Worn like a mask of self-hate

Confronts and then dies

Don't walk away


You don't want to hurt me

But see how deep the bullet lies

Unaware I'm tearing you asunder

Oh there is thunder in our hearts

Is there so much hate for the ones we love

Tell me we both matter don't we

The Associates Affectionate

I don't know whether

To over or under estimate you

Whether to over or under estimate you

For when I come over

You then put me under

Personal taste is a matter of gender


I wake at dusk to go alone without a light

To the unknown

I want this night inside of me

I want to feel

I want this speeding

I want that speeding


You'll never live like common people

You'll never do what common people do

You'll never fail like common people

You'll never watch your life slide out of view

And dance and drink and screw

Because there's nothing else to do

Vanilla Swingers

All I have is words, words that don't obtain

And I feel I'm a stain on your horizon

So I stay away - it's easier that way

And there won't be no-one I need to rely on

Is it him, is it me

Or is there something only I can see

How did I get here, why do we blow around like straw dogs on the breeze

I'm a special one, what they used to say

But I've to stay on, finish levels-A

You don't need exams when you've read John Gray

The Indelicates American Demo

And nobody ever comes alive

And the journalists clamour round glamour like flies

And boys who should know better grin and get high

With fat men who once met the MC5

And no one discusses what they don't understand

And no one does anything to harm the brand

And this gift is an illusion, this isn't hard

Absolutely anyone can play the fucking guitar

JAMC Darklands

And we tried so hard

And we looked so good

And we lived our lives in black


Plucked her eyebrows on the way

Shaved her leg and then he was a she

She says, hey babe,

Take a walk on the wild side

Said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side


Hide on the promenade

Etch a postcard:

How I dearly wish I was not here

In the seaside town...that they forgot to bomb

Come, come, come - nuclear bomb


Back when we were kids

We would always know when to stop

And now all the good kids are messing up

Nobody has gained or accomplished anything

Wire Pink Flag

Prices have risen since the government fell

Casualties increase as the enemy shell

The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive

And sooner or later the end will arrive

This is your correspondent, running out of tape

Gunfire's increasing, looting, burning, rape


Well, maybe there's a god above

But all I've ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

It's not a cry that you hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah


And what costume shall the poor girl wear

To all tomorrow's parties

For Thursday's child is Sunday's clown

For whom none will go mourning


My body is your body

I won't tell anybody

If you want to use my body

Go for it


Oh it's opening time

Down on Fascination Street

So let's cut the conversation

And get out for a bit

Because I feel it all fading and paling

And I'm begging

To drag you down with me

Mansun Six

And you see, I kind of shivered to conformity

Did you see the way I cowered to authority

You see, my life, it's a series of compromises anyway

It's a sham, and I'm conditioned to accept it all, you see

Japan Gentlemen

Take in the country air, you'll never win

Gentlemen take polaroids

They fall in love, they fall in love


We just want to emote til we're dead

I know we suffer for fashion

Or whatever

We don't want these days to ever end

We just want to emasculate them forever

Forever, forever

Pretty sirens don't go flat

It's not supposed to happen like that

Longpigs The Sun

There's no perfume I can buy

Make me smell like myself

So I put on perfume

To make me smell like someone else

In bed

Calvin Harris I Created Disco

I got love for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's

I've got hugs for you if you were born in the 80's, the 80's


Does his makeup in his room

Douse himself with cheap perfume

Eyeholes in a paper bag

Greatest lay I ever had

Kind of guy who mates for life

Gotta help him find a wife

We're a couple, when our bodies double

Simple Minds Sons and Fascination

Summer rains are here

Savaged beauty life

Falling here from grace

Sister feeling call

Cruising land to land

No faith no creed no soul

Half a world away

Beauty sleeps in time

Sound and fury play

Bloc Party Silent Alarm

North to south


Running on


As if to say, as if to say

He doesn't like chocolate

He's born a liar, he'll die a liar

Some things will never be different


LCD Soundsystem

Well Daft Punk is playing at my house, my house

I've waited 7 years and 15 days

There's every kid for miles at my house, my house

And the neighbors can't...call the police

There's a fist fight brewin' at my house, my house

Because the jocks can't...get in the door

Johnny Boy

I just can't help believing

Though believing sees me cursed

Stars Set Yourself

I am trying to say

What I want to say

Without having to say "I love you"

Josef K Entomology

It took 10 years to realise why the angels start to cry

When you go home down the main

Your happy smile

Your funny name

Cocteau Twins Bluebell


Doesn't she look a million with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Yes, she's a beautiful brunette angel from heaven with her hairagami set

Hair kisses 'n' hair architecture

Augment a beautiful brunette

New Order Power Corruption

How does it feel

To treat me like you do

When you've laid your hands upon me

And told me who you are


You must let her go

She's not crying



Feeling like I'm waiting

Modern times



Hating to distraction

Just leave them alone


Girls in the back

Girls in the back

Puressence Don't Forget

They say come back to earth and start getting real, yeah

I say come back to earth and start getting real

I know I can't


So I walk right up to you

And you walk all over me

And I ask you what you want

And you tell me what you need


The problem of leisure

What to do for pleasure

Ideal love a new purchase

A market of the senses

Dream of the perfect life

Economic circumstances

The body is good business

Sell out, maintain the interest


Sitting in my armchair thinking again and again and again

Going round in a circle I can't get out

Then I look around thinking day and night and day

Then you look around - there must be some explanation

And the tension builds

Psychdedelic Furs

India, India

You're my love song

India, you're my love song

In the flowers

You can have me in the flowers

We will dance alone

And live our useless lives

Ladytron Light Magic

They only want you when you're seventeen

When you're twenty-one

You're no fun

They take a polaroid and let you go

Say they'll let you know


No consolation prizes

Spit out your lies and chewing gum

Cut off your hair yeah that's it!

If you look like that I swear I'm gonna love you more


All the neighbors are startin' up a fire

Burning all the old folks, the witches and the liars.

My eyes are covered by the hands of my unborn kids

But my heart keeps watchin' through the skin of my eyelids


Prince charming

Prince charming

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Don't you ever, don't you ever

Stop being dandy, showing me you're handsome


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