“Life is all memory” announces a giant video screen as the Manic Street Preachers take to the stage at the First Direct Arena.
Ah, but what memories Wales’ finest rock band have given us over the course of the last 30 years.
A fair few of them are here mixed into an hour-and-a-half-long set, along with a smattering of strong tunes from their 13th album, Resistance is Futile, which rocketed to Number Two in the UK charts on its release last month.
They open with International Blue, a close cousin to their early classic Motorcycle Emptiness, which duly follows – both of them allowing James Dean Bradfield to let rip with the kind of stirring guitar riffs that have become his stock-in-trade.
The latter is one of a number of songs to be accompanied by poignant film footage of the band in their younger days with their totemic co-lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards; its line “All we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us” a powerful epitaph to a talent tragically cut short in its prime.
Elsewhere are reminders that the former firebrands are now mellower in middle-age. Bradfield points out tonight’s gig is the 15th time that the Manics have played in Leeds over the years while bass player Nicky Wire’s jokingly pleads for the audience to “go easy” on Bradfield because he has just found out that one of his favourite guitar makers, Gibson, has filed for bankruptcy. “But the good news,” he adds mischievously, “is his guitars are going to be worth a f***ing fortune.”
New songs such as Distant Colours and Dylan & Caitlyn, featuring auxilliary guitarist Wayne Murray singing backing vocals, stand up well alongside the likes of All Surface, No Feeling and 4 Ever Delayed while The Masses Against the Classes remains surely the most venomous and unlikely of songs to have once reached Number One in Britain.
It’s interestingly juxtaposed with Horses Under The Starlight, an old B-side that shows the Manics have as much of fondness for the jazzy tunefulness of Burt Bacharach as they do wiry post-punk.
During Everything Must Go Bradfield trips over a stage monitor but quickly recovers then stands alone for three acoustic numbers that include Faster, lovingly dedicated to “the words of Mr Richard James Edwards”, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, a tribute to Leeds United and Wales legend Gary Speed.
If the latter part of the set doesn’t have quite the same momentum as the start, there are still great moments. Wire dedicates Let Robeson Sing to the Leeds-born poet Tony Harrison, “a very big influence on the written word in my life”, while Slash and Burn crackles with the energy of old.
They finish with A Design For Life, its anthemic choruses heartily sung along to by the audience while cannons bestrew the arena with ticker-tape.
As ever with the Manics, there’s no encore. But the memories of another vibrant show are enough.