If there is a theme to this evening, it would haveto be betrayal.
What other way is there to describethe annual awards show of the NME – once the indiebible, now lumbering towards being little more than acorporate brand itself – taking place in the o2 Arena,a sanitized, anodyne boil located within spittingdistance of the accountants and financers of CanaryWharf?
This is indie rock’n'roll re-imagined in a 1980sboardroom by pin-striped yuppies who see only themarketing possibilities. Do they even care about themusic? If this is what Richie James Edwards sawcoming, no wonder he couldn’t bear to face it.
The o2 Arena is a venue at whose doorstep DuranDuran should arrive in a yacht, dressed in Armanisuits. It is not a venue fit for a band who claim tohold communism close to their chests.
Exhibit One: the glistening, polished approach tothe gleaming, chrome and glass dome is utterly devoidof touts – there’s zero tolerance of grey areas of thelaw here and little tolerance of general loitering.Exhibit Two: entrance depends on airport-levelsecurity, and once inside, pre-gig refreshmentconsists of wine and tapas. Unless you’d preferStarbucks, of course.
Is all this worth the compromise it entails? Evento see The Manic Street Preachers be crowned GodlikeGeniuses? After all, it’s not as if we need thevalidation of some capitalist whores to know it’strue.
First impressions confirm that of course it’s allworth it. The Cribs! And Johnny Marr!When this is the bottom of the bill, how could anyoneresist staying for more, even as Ryan Jarman taunts uswith reminders that this is a ‘million pound venue’,twisting the knife a little deeper into our bleedingindie heart.
Next up is another betrayal, this time byKlaxons. Abandoning the flouro sported by theirglowstick waving minions, they arrive on stage dressedas black-clad monks, like the Emo anti-Klaxons from acomedown nightmare. If only Jamie Reynolds had askedsome real Emo kids about waterproof guy-liner though.
Without this sage advice, he looms across the giantscreens like a Frankenstein panda as the band shootthrough a greatest hits set that opens on Atlantis ToInterzone and ends on It’s Not Over Yet. Musically,they are of course brilliant, glowing in the darkwhatever they’re wearing. The vast expanse of the o2lends them a more bassy, echoey sound as the strongwhiff of a jazz fag coming from the row behind megives hope that all is not lost. Yet.
Next up we have Bloc Party who seemremarkably cheerful. Kele Okereke even engages in happy banterwith the audience (though at times he does sound as ifthis is coming through clenched teeth). Their set isaccompanied by the best light show of the night.
It’s hard to decide which band are the audiencefavorites tonight – Bloc Party or Kaiser Chiefs- but whichever it is, there’s no doubting that RickyWilson’s (off)stage antics more than make up for thefact that his band are really nothing more than ahalf-decent pub act. Tonight, dressed as JoshHomme for reasons known best to himself, Wilsonstage-dives, crowd-surfs, runs along the barrier infront of the seats, and seems to spend as much time inthe audience as he does facing it.
When he does manage to stay on stage long enough,he has the confidence and gumption to throw newmaterial in amid Ruby, I Predict A Riot, Modern Way,Oh My God and most of the other usual suspects. He’s atrue showman, and for that we’ll let him offeverything else.
By the time the Kaisers finish, the Arena isbeginning to thin out. God forbid the audience missesthe last train home and doesn’t get the eight hourssleep required to put in a good performance at that9am meeting or sixth-form college tomorrow. Whatway is this to treat the Manic Street Preachers?
Undeterred, the Manics arrive in the style we’vecome to expect, preceded by five minutes of ThePipes and Drums of the London Scottish, who arewell-received by the audience and peel off toappreciative applause and returned salutes.
And then it’s the main event – this year’s NMEGodlike Geniuses. It’s a celebratory event, filledwith special guests (although the language that shouldbe used to describe the mere idea of that stuntedJam-plagarising hobbit Tom Enemy standing in a placethat once belonged to Richie cannot be printed), acareer-spanning set list and a sense of worshipping attheir own altar. Faster’s lyrics flying around thestadium on electronic boards is a special highlight.
Elsewhere we’re treated to Motorcycle Emptiness,You Love Us, Everything Must Go, If You Tolerate This… and many others. They’re joined by Cerys Matthews,as if the Welsh flag draped across the stage aloneisn’t enough to remind us of their national pride, andit’s impossible not to be infected by the pure joyemanating from Nicky Wire as he pogos through a coverof Rhianna’s Umbrella, his “favourite song oflast year”.
Wire starts the evening in blue military blazer andskinny white jeans, a feather boa strung around hismicrophone. Before long, he’s abandoned the jeans toreveal flowery boxer shorts and knee-length socks. Andunlike Klaxons, his make-up lasts the course.
On thescreen behind him, we see him younger, more beautiful.And we see Richie. But, facing the audience, the ManicStreet Preachers never look back. They sound sincerein their appreciation of the support and recognitionthe NME has given them, and finish in a blaze of gloryon a triumphant version of Design For Life.
Is all of this right? Is it really proper? Shouldwe just grit our teeth and remember that this been anexcellent night, filled with great music despite thecorporate branding that looms over us? I feel dirty,as though I’ve somehow compromised all my principlesby coming here.
But then I remember that it was the Manic StreetPreachers who called for a motorway to be builtthrough the Glastonbury mud. The Manic StreetPreachers who took their own toilet to the festival,just because they could. The o2′s toilets arepristine.
As we file out in the cold February night,past stalls selling t-shirts emblazoned with WorkingClass Hero, the feeling can’t be shook that whilesomeone has compromised their principles tonight. It’snot the headliners. They’re incapable.