A fortnight after its release, fans now know the Manics’ latest album Rewind the Film to be a rich, contemplative affair. The musical dynamics are intimate and seemingly best suited to small venues, like the one that features in the video for the single “Show Me the Wonder”. As I made my way across London last night, I wondered if this new sound was why the band had chosen to downsize from last year's O2 to the cosy surroundings of Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Was this "last phase of the band's development" to be consciously close-up and personal?
To an extent yes, though not straight away. The evening started off as business as usual with the declamatory “Motorcycle Emptiness” followed by “Ready for Drowning”. The sound was excellent, with James Dean Bradfield’s guitar soaring and his voice note-perfect. Yet the performances weren't quite getting the emotional juices flowing.
The first real moment of audience connection happened in “Show Me The Wonder”. Bradfield told us that Nicky Wire's words were about moments of magic and the grey area between certainty and uncertainty. Looking even smaller than normal behind a giant acoustic guitar, he beamed defiantly. Maybe it was a sign of rebellion against middle age - something else the song seems to be about? Gavin Fitzjohn played thick trumpet motifs to his left and gangly Nicky Wire, in a bright red suit, threw shapes to his right.