Girls who go all slutty at the sound of British accents couldn’t have done any better than be panty-free at the Avalon last Friday when U.K. rock icons Manic Street Preachers played L.A. for the first time in 10 years.
The male-to-female ratio was easily 20-to-one and American ears attempting to decipher crowd chatter would have done well to bring am interpreter, as the majority of the audience was audibly not of this continent.
For the uninitiated, the anchor of this Welsh trio’s lore is that talented-but-troubled writer and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared, all mysterious and Eddie of Eddie and the Cruisers-like, shortly after the release of the Manics’ critically shouldered but commercially lackluster The Holy Bible — his car being found abandoned near a bridge popular with those into one-time base jumping and musing over the latter half of Shakespeare’s “to be…or not to be.” While his family gave him a solid 14 years to reappear, they finally declared him dead late last year, with their announcement followed shortly by the release of the Manics’ latest album, Journal for Plague Lovers, featuring – wait for it — songs composed entirely from Edwards’ left-behind lyrics.
If ever there were a time for Edwards to make a Michael Pare-ish comeback, this would be it, but as it stands, Richey’s comrades have gotten on perfectly well without him; they played plenty as a trio before fully recruiting him into their fold, and likewise played without him well before his disappearance — while he was doing a stint in rehab — ostensibly to foot the bill for his treatment (come to think of it, that’s a better reason for suicide than most). In fact, the Edwards-free Manics have become one of the U.K.’s most celebrated bands, achieving not only widespread commercial success,* but the usually elusive critical acclaim to go with it. Of course, here in America, the sum of their sales and accolades has translated into… relative anonymity (see also: Placebo, Supergrass, Stereophonics, Tindersticks, Jarvis Cocker and until recently, Muse).
If they were at all dismayed at the prospect of playing an undersold L.A. club date, however, it didn’t show; the Manics brought their arena-style A-game to the Avalon and spent the next hour and forty minutes rocking the socks off their countrymen and the handful of former students aboard, record store clerks, college radio djs and label types who’ve actually heard of them here in the former British colonies.
Early in the set, bassist Nicky Wire – who, with his bleached bangs, boat captain’s cap and white sportcoat easily could have been mistaken for a member of a yacht-rock band, or possibly Duran Duran’s John Taylor (25 years out of time) – took a few moments to comment how chuffed he was to see their new album had made the in-flight playlist during their trip across the pond, although their next number, “Jackie Collins Existential Question Time,” had been left out “apparently for being too offensive.” When the crowd murmured their disapproval, Wire agreed the rationale was beyond him as well, adding “but they’ve got the whole Coldplay album on there – how offensive is that?”
Shortly thereafter, as singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield took up an acoustic guitar for the first time in the set, he told the tale of how their next song had undergone some serious revisions before being released. By way of explanation, he noted he had demo’d the song by himself one night while Wire and drummer Sean Moore were at supper, who then offered only one comment after hearing the product of Bradford’s toil upon their return: “that sounds like Coldplay, ya prick.”
If any of these anti-Coldplay comments were cheap ploys to garner favorable crowd response — they worked. Judging by the response, the only thing Manics’ fellow countrymen hate more than selling tax-free tea to colonists are bands who steal from the likes of Joe Satriani.
After a brief solo acoustic set courtesy of Bradfield, things simultaneously ramped up and wound down with older, more familiar material, eventually putting the final coffin nail in their career-spanning set with “You Love Us” and “A Design for Life,” which Bradford preceded by stating “we have a policy of not doing encores, so be sure to applaud after this song because we won’t be back – we’ll’ve blown our load.”
Moments later, Bradfield spun the mic toward the audience, who were clearly blowing their own loads carrying out the song’s chorus of “we don’t talk about love/we only want to get drunk.”
Come to think of it, maybe the Avalon wasn’t the place to be Friday for girls who get all slutty for British accents – after the Manics’ thunderous ball-draining set, it’s doubtful any of the men there would have been of much use.
*While it’s expected that a death, disappearance or case of LSD (Lead Singer’s Disease) would permanently derail the career of any band, the outcome of the Manics’ trajectory from the time of Edwards’ Houdini act to now is far from an isolated incident; rock annals are littered with acts who’ve been perfectly accepted, if not more so, after the loss of a key member, including New Order (nee Joy Division), Alice In Chains, Journey, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, The Libertines, Van Halen, Def Leppard, INXS and Genesis. Even the former members of Creed killed time with the commercially successful Alter Bridge while they awaited Scott Stapp’s resurrection after he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried.