I meant to write this blog over two months ago, but somehow the words could never quite come together. You see, Manic Street Preachers are my FAVORITE BAND OF ALL TIME, and seeing them live for the first time was a momentous occasion right up there with losing my virginity or graduating from community college or receiving a DM on Twitter from Jane Wiedlin. I overuse the word "epic" like a motherfucker, but that's the only word I could use to describe the feeling. Nervous and giddy like a schoolgirl, I could have floated on a cloud to Chicago, so driving five hours and change didn't seem like that big of a deal. We're talking about the band that literally changed my identity and helped shape me as a person here!
I honestly thought it would never happen. Except for an aborted tour with Oasis over a decade ago, the Manics haven't bothered to tour in the US, which is the only country that never appreciated or understood their music. Once upon a time, they were the biggest band everywhere else in the world but here. As I got older and more jaded, I pretty much gave up all hope. The band that defined my years as a young adult did nothing but disappoint me in the 2000s. A lot of people look to religion for guidance, but I looked to the Manics. From Generation Terrorists to Everything Must Go (not to mention 20+ b-sides that are easily their equal), every word and melody from those dudes was like a sacred text. Anxiety is freedom. We don't care about love, we only want to get drunk. All I want to do is live, no matter how miserable it is. I laughed when Lennon got shot. We don't want your fucking love.
Maybe it was creeping middle age or the lack of firepower that their tragic, long-gone lyricist Richey James Edwards supplied, but everything the Manics did bored the fuck out of me for a long time. I moved onto new obsessions but still kept in touch, always giving a fair shake to the oddball synth-pop detours and mediocre solo albums they coughed up on occasion. Did I really have a right to be so disappointed? I got older, and so did they. The bored, intellectual, pissed off kids that released "Motown Junk" were adults now, and they had every right to move on. Still, the lifeless, sleek Euro-pop of Lifeblood offended my ears. The chest-beating passion seemed to be gone, and I began to question why I loved them so much in the first place. It was like watching a family member slowly dying.
It might have been a desperate PR move, but last year the Manics announced the release of a new album, produced by Steve Albini and featuring lyrics from one of Richey James Edwards' notebooks he left behind. Of course, I was sold right away! It might have been pandering, but "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies is one of my favorite songs of all time, so shameless pandering is A-OK with me. The fact that the resulting album, Journal For Plague Lovers, is freakin' brilliant made me really happy. That it also resulted in a US tour made it absolutely momentous. So, I assembled a crew of friends who I'd turned onto the Manics like a pied piper and headed for Chicago on a cloud, or in a Ford Focus which needed an oil change. Same deal!
Manic Street Preachers @ The Metro, 10/01/2009
Photo: Bridget Volle
I guess at this point you're expecting a bunch of rapturous accolades, but for once I was truly speechless. My favorite band of all time was playing my favorite songs of all time right in front of me. That's all I really wanted, and that's all I got. This was my first time at the Chicago Metro and the one thing that struck me was how small it was! After playing impersonal European soccer stadiums for over a decade, I could tell that the Manics were seriously jazzed to be playing to a tiny group of followers that had waited forever to see them and like myself, driven hundreds of miles for the pleasure. Whether it was gorgeous gals decked out in raccoon-eye makeup and homemade spraypainted "Forever Delayed" t-shirts, dudes in "Faster"-era military hats, or stockbrokers dusting off their "If you tolerate this, your children will be next" shirts for the night, everyone shouted all the words and looked on with blissful adulation. For one night, the awkward confusion of the bar scene was put to the side. All I saw was a bunch of stupid grins that silently shouted "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!!" It felt like New Year's Eve, the best birthday ever, and armageddon all rolled into one.
Manic Street Preachers @ The Metro, 10/01/2009
Photo: Bridget Volle
Once upon a time when the Manics were mythical beings to me, it was impossible to look at them objectively. When I was a kid trying to sing along with the high notes in "Motorcycle Emptiness," I just lost myself in the perfection of the song. Seeing them right in front of my face though, I marveled at how James Dean Bradfield could play those riffs while singing like a seriously wounded angel. And they had the nerve to open with it! The most epic song of the '90s not called "November Rain" exploded in front of me in glorious living widescreen. All we want from you are the kicks you've given us. All we want from you are the kicks you've given us! Approximately three minutes and forty-five seconds into the set, I felt like a goddamn fool for ever doubting their passion and fire. Under neon loneliness, everlasting nothingness. They were discovering their love of rock n' roll again in front of a bunch of faithful converts in real time.
You are pure, you are snow, we are the useless sluts that they mold. Rock n' roll is our epiphany. Culture, alienation, boredom, and despair. Like any kid who obsessed over the iconic cool of Richey James carving "4 REAL" into his arm for a jaded NME reporter, I jammed my brain with broken heroes, loved their myths, and adored their failures. They made a few wrong turns and wised up, then emerged slightly apologetic and fired up, more honest and wise then they were before. That's a part of growing up, right?! One day, you have to accept your heroes as people and take them for who they really are, not just as impossibly beautiful pictures on magazine covers. The Manics had given me so much and taken so little, but even after they blew my mind a million times over, they still managed to give back.
It was cold and rainy as fuck after the show, but for whatever reason, the Manic Street Preachers decided to hang out on the sidewalk outside the Metro for awhile. I was a kid when they first came out, so I was well aware of their reputation as the junior Clash. Still, they pulled some Joe Strummer shit that I will remember forever. James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, and Sean Moore stood outside of the Chicago Metro in the pissing rain and smiled and talked shit to everyone with the nerve to say hello until everyone who had the nerve to say hello went away. For a minute, I wished I'd brought my Japanese import copy of The Holy Bible that I'd spent serious cash on and waited forever for back in the day. Instead, I just shook James Dean Bradfield's hand and told him the Manics were my favorite band of all time. My friend Emily Kate took a pic, but she was drunk as piss so all she got was my shoulder. I don't give a fuck though, because that shoulder is the happiest one of all time.
Zach B. and James Dean Bradfield @ The Metro, 10/01/2009
I keep coming back to the song "Condemned To Rock N' Roll." The past is so beautiful, the future's like a corpse in snow. I think it's all the fucking same. It's a life sentence, babe. I finally got to see my favorite band of all time and I'm still seriously fucking excited several months later. As much as I wanted the Manics to bust that song out, I understand why they didn't. Back in 1990, all they wanted to make was an epic statement to serve as an epitaph for setting themselves on fire on live television. Like I said before, the Manics have kinda shaped my whole life, and I'm glad they didn't go through with it. There's nothing I wanna see, and there's nowhere I wanna go. I kinda like it that way.