The Welsh rock icons treated a 20,000 strong Swansea crowd to the whole of their Everything Must Go album – the 1996 collection of songs that propelled them from cult status into the commercial mainstream – and a second set brimming over with rarities, greatest hits and even a world premiere to keep the most ardent of Manics’ fans happy.
But first as the sun blazed a trail from the sky defying earlier predictions of thunder, lightning and torrential rain, support act Public Service Broadcasting neatly showed why their idiosyncratic blend of sampled electronica and synthesised charm is such an unique and potent concept.
Super Furry Animals meanwhile were greeted with the love and adoration of a band who have carved a special place in the hearts of the nation rattling through a greatest hits set that included such thrilling SFA torch bearers as Slow Life, Golden Retriever, Hello Sunshine, Play It Cool, God Show Me Magic and Juxtaposed With You.
There was even an outing for their unofficial Wales Euro 2016 anthem – the Krautrock and techno-inspired Bing Bong – and if you ever tire of watching men dressed as yetis bringing a set to a thunderous climax, then you need to seriously re-evaluate your life.
However, as the sun set over The Liberty it was the Manics – James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore – who proved that their future is as bright as ever.
Everything Must Go by their own admission is an easier album to approach live compared to The Holy Bible’s challenging 20th anniversary tour.
Both albums serve as a reminder of the two sides of the band whose enduring appeal has vaulted the decades.
The Holy Bible may be a fans’ favourite, but it’s Everything Must Go, their first album post-Richey Edwards’ disappearance, which was a million-selling commercial success, that brought reinvention and renewal for a band reeling from their loss.
As a celebratory landmark, playing the album in full at The Liberty Stadium only cemented the album’s status as one of their finest, if not indeed their greatest ever album.
Due to the vagaries of its tracklisting, perennial set closer A Design For Life was the second song in and, as expected, was a communal singalong and then some – wholly fitting for a football stadium, of course.
The Manics’ lost genius Richey Edwards as ever was omnipresent.
Swansea was the city in which he attended university and his lyrics contributed to several of the songs on Everything Must Go – most starkly laid out on the haunting Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky – a hushed moment of beauty among the album’s many anthemic moments, which saw James Dean Bradfield delivering the song alone on stage with an acoustic guitar.
Australia, (renamed Ospreyalia by Bradfield after the city’s rugby team), containing one of the greatest opening salvos in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, was a preternatural force of nature and a solid gold highlight, while Enola/Alone, The Girl That would Be God and Further Away roared with the guitarist’s rocket-fuelled fretwork, underlining his status as one of the rock’s greatest manipulators of six strings.
The giddy head rush of an imperiously delivered No Surface All Feeling brought the curtain crashing down on the first half, as streamers were fired from the stage.
With the 12 tracks of Everything Must Go duly delivered, we caught our breath, readying ourselves for what was to come.
Opening the second half, Bradfield was joined on stage by the Cogan Cannon – trumpet player and erstwhile member of Wales fans’ band The Barry Horns – Gavin Fitzjohn for Ocean Spray and fittingly long time Welsh football anthem Can’t Take My Eyes Of You, sung in congregation by a crowd no doubt thrilled at Wales finally qualifying for a major international tournament.
The rest of the band then took to the stage, including the always resplendent Nicky Wire – having had his first costume change of the evening, returning to the fray resembling what can only be described as a Soviet-era cruise ship captain.
If gigs are all about taking the temperature of your audience, applying the heat and moving through the gears, then the Manics are past masters at conjuring up the undefinable and the unquantifiable – the magic formula that divides those mere mortals from those who permanently shine in the rock ‘n’ roll firmament.
When the opening bars of Motorcycle Emptiness kicked in, our collective hearts skipped a beat and it’s conceivable that if the Liberty Stadium had been built with a roof at that precise moment it would have been blown clean off.
Promising songs from every era of their career as well as a few rarely sighted in public, the Manics were true to their word.
There was Walk Me To The Bridge from their most recent studio album Futurology, Your Love Alone from Send Away The Tigers, and rare as hen’s teeth outings for NatWest Barclays Midlands Lloyds via debut Generation Terrorist and Roses In The Hospital c/o second album Gold Against The Soul.
There was even a world premiere – the band’s official Welsh football anthem Together Stronger (C’mon Wales) given its first live outing.
Buoyed by the band’s erstwhile collaborators The Vulcan Strings’ lavish overture and performed to a backdrop of Kieran Evans’ excellent video to accompany the song, it sounded utterly majestic, stirring the emotions and whetting the appetite for Wales’ assault on Euro 2016. (Especially for those of us who also had one eye on the well-being of Gareth Bale’s legs in the Champions League Final the same evening)
Listen to Together Stronger by the Manics
Head down and into the home straight, the forecast torrential rain finally arrived at the precise moment Nicky Wire re-emerged after his third costume change of the evening, bedecked in a Welsh flag skirt and musical note knee socks underlining his status as possessing the best pins of any fortysomething man in rock ‘n’ roll – and giving the front row quite the treat into the bargain.
Lightning cracked across the sky as the wholly apt You Stole The Sun From My Heart (This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours) rang out, Show Me The Wonder (Rewind The Film), followed and there was something of a curate’s egg – a glacial cover of Fiction Factory’s ’80s hit Feels Like Heaven.
The glorious slash and burn of You Love Us had us screaming its histrionic chorus in unison and a towering version of If You Tolerate This brought the 25 song, career straddling set soaring to its zenith.
Confetti cannons, fireworks and quite possibly a stray kitchen sink left us wide-eyed yet blinking widely, attempting to process quite what we had witnessed.
That is yet another historic night in the company of a band who are an anomaly – in so much as they continue to defy categorisation, continue to confound and thrill in equal measure creating genuinely affecting, brutally honest, intelligent rock music for the head and the heart.
‘Observe precisely, record exactly, neglect nothing, fear no foe, never swerve from your purpose’ – read the fitting footnote on their setlist written by Dylan Thomas.
Manic Street Preachers maybe in the autumn of their history but at The Liberty Stadium they showed that as summer approaches they are more vital, important, needed and loved than ever before.