Manic Street Preachers
Ask a Manic Street Preachers fan about the last time the band played the Ulster Hall, and they'll start to reminisce fondly. The Manics had just achieved their first Number 1 single with 'If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next', and their Ulster Hall gig in 1998 is deemed to be one of their greatest ever. In light of this, there was a great deal of expectation for the return of the Manic Street Preachers, and they didn't disappoint.
First up were In Case Of Fire. Only one word could describe their set: loud. Really loud. ATL is quite a fan of their debut album 'Align The Planets' and it was clear to see why based on this performance, but the sheer volume meant that at times the sound was completely overwhelming. ICOF are dark, brooding and immensely talented: 'Plan A' and 'Align The Planets' were two standout tracks from the set: the bassline was constantly chugging away while the vocals were always adventurous. Stephen didn't shy away from the high notes and the vocals were pretty strong, even though they were a little overshadowed by the general mass of noise made by the band.
The Manics began their set with the entire Journal For Plague Lovers album, and on the whole it wasn't bad. James Dean Bradfield's vocals are simply jaw dropping from start to finish - they're so clear, so strong and note perfect. Songs such as 'Jackie Collins Exististential Question Time' are crowd pleasers and get everyone dancing, but it all feels a little robotic, a little restrained and never quite hits top gear. Nicky Wire does what he does best, bouncing about the stage like Bill Nighy in Love Actually, while his vocal performance in 'William's Last Words' is more than adequate. The one overwhelming feeling is that the Manics are beginning to show their age: the first half of the set was underwhelming and not the barnstorming experience we've come to expect.
That all changed, however, in the second half of the set: the cobwebs were blown away and we saw a revitalised Manic Street Preachers. With such a strong back catalogue the lads were pulling out hits right left and centre, with 'Motorcycle Emptiness' and 'Faster' getting a rapturous reception. Things finally hit top gear and of course 'If You Tolerate This...' brought the house down. That restraint shown in the first half disappeared and the band were a lot more lively: we were even treated to a medley of 'The Chain' and 'Stop In The Name of Love', which finally culminated in 'Motown Junk'. The Manics have a great reputation as a live act and it's no surprise why! The final track 'A Design For Life' was showstopping - featuring driving guitars, those wonderful vocals and the passionate choir of the audience in the Ulster Hall. 'Journal For Plague Lovers' was meant to be a final goodbye to Richey Edwards - this gig was one hell of a send off.