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Manic Street Preachers in Detroit

As is somewhat normal, one night Jen was talking about one of her favorite Brit bands, the Manic Street Preachers, telling me tales of when she saw them long ago and how awesome they are…well, awesome in Britain but not really known here. The Manics were releasing a new album and I mentioned she should see if they’re touring the States. Lucky enough for us, they were and we were going…to Detroit.

The Road to Detroit

Now keep in mind the Manics were also playing in Chicago, which is a city we both love, close, and also where we saw New Order several years ago. But no, we’re heading to Detroit. The rep Detroit gets is known far and wide thanks to movies and real life suck. I talked to some friends that had lived in Detroit, looking for pointers to survive. Their stories of the “war zone” that is Detroit didn’t really surprise us, but got to us to travel light and even blend – I wore my Red Wings jersey.

After the four hour road trip we discovered that Detroit was indeed a hole, but it was far from the described war zone. But keep in mind we were in downtown Detroit at the Majestic Theatre, which was only a mile or two from the arenas where the Tigers and Lions play. If Detroit has a “good” part of town, this was it. But it was empty. Shy of the couple hundreds going to the baseball game, the streets were barren. It was kind of sad thinking how great and mighty Detroit once was and how completely empty it is now. So we drastically overestimated the fear that Detroit offered…but that’s not to say we’d want to spend a weekend their or anything.

Is this the right line?

We parked in the hospital parking garage and only had to walk a block to the theatre where there was a small…and I mean small…line waiting to get in. There were maybe 30 people in line, shivering on the sidewalks of Detroit. These were the people that actually knew who the Manic Street Preachers were and just how big they are in Britain. Jen had told me this countless time but it was confirmed by friendly British chap that came up behind us and asked, “is this the line for Manics?”

We told him it was and he was baffled by how few people there were. He went on to tell us the last time he saw them it was with 125,000 people in an arena in the UK. But here in the US they didn’t get any fanfare or media coverage. No stadiums or arenas, just a past-its-prime theatre that was falling apart. The only hint that the Manics were playing was a piece of paper scotch taped to the front door that read “Manic Street Preachers – Cover $15” in size 24 font.

I found it fascinating that I was going to see a band that has a shit ton of money and fills stadiums over seas but here they are, to most people, just “another local band” until you hear them say, “we’re the Manic Street Preachers and we’re from South Wales,” at which point the people that don’t know them probably go, “well geez, that’s a long way to travel for a no-name band.”

And speaking of no-name bands, the opening band was just bad. So bad that I will only give their name so you can avoid them. Bear hands.

Hitting the Stage

After the yawn and pain that was the opening band, the Manics hit the stage in front of what couldn’t have been more than 200 people that didn’t even come close to filling the cavernous venue that is the Majestic. I’d say that 75% of the people there knew who they were while the rest were just there to hear some music and drink some beer – just another Friday night to them. Being the crowd was small and we got there early, we stood in the third row.

I’m not a Manics fanatic like Jen, but I enjoy a lot of their songs. They’re good straight up rock-n-roll. It’s unfortunate that they’re not more popular here in the States because they have some good tunes. As I’ve been told, out of the 10 or more albums they have to their credit, only one song managed to even chart here in the US.

They put on a great show and sounded really good. The acoustics in the Majestic weren’t too bad but I’ve heard better. The lead singer is also the lead guitarist and he is grossly underpaid. Well, probably not, I’m sure he owns a castle in South Wales with a garage full of Ferraris, but nonetheless the guy plays and sings his ass off. Their bassist, the striking Nickey Wire, didn’t do much but look like he just raided Duran Duran’s closet. And the drummer…well…who really cares about him, after all, he’s a drummer.

So the show was a great and everyone enjoyed themselves with no major incidents. It’s midnight in Detroit, lets head home, right? But no…

Meeting the Band

Being that the Majestic was a small little place and the crowd was so small, all the fans in attendance headed to the alley behind the theatre to meet the band. Now in most cases, especially if you consider big American bands, that would be a joke. Most bands probably wouldn’t take the time to meet passionate fans after a hard-played show. But the Manics humored everyone and hung out with fans signing anything and everything and also taking photos.

From all that I could gather watching them interact and chat with fans, they seemed like honest guys that truly appreciate their fans. And honestly, how can’t they over here. I doubt they made any money for the concert in Detroit. At $15 a head and less than 300 people means not much. There was your standard issue merchandise table where you could buy your $20 t-shirt and $10 CD and I guarantee that’s the only profit they made all night. But hey, they don’t need to make money here – they have pounds upon pounds of her Majesty’s money back in Wales. The small band of fans waiting in a back alley in Detroit are the reason the Manics can even tour here in the first place.

If anything, the band spent too long chatting with fans, especially the lead singer, James Dean Bradfield. As people were praising him and thanking him, he would start up a little conversation that would make the next person waiting in “line” to scowl as their patience waned. Some people had stacks of CDs and magazines for them to sign – and they signed each one without question, shit, the man brought his own Sharpie – but we just wanted a photo. While waiting for him to make his rounds, the bassist came out and we flocked to him quickly. Nickey Wire is a tall, lanky guy and Jen’s favorite. I’m surprised she didn’t squee like a groupie, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her look happier in any photo in my life. I stood and took pictures not so much in awe like many of these people, I stood there really impressed that these guys were taking the time to treat their fans.

And while we just wanted a photo with some music idols, the other folks waiting for their time with them were pretty funny, if not typical. You had your Jack Black guy with an original poster and LP to sign, you had your full blown groupies in makeup and costume, and you had your Lets Talk Music guy that was asking about why they didn’t play a certain song and which was their favorite. Not that that conversation wouldn’t have been interesting, but do it someplace other than an alley, all right? I’d say the average age of people there were probably early 30s as most of them probably discovered the band in the early 90s when they were still in college. But that’s not to say there were not older folks there. One girl waiting next to us for autographs said she saw them 10 years ago when she was 12 and that her dad took her to the show…and guess who was standing behind me? Her dad. As corny as that is, it was kind of touching.

So was it worth the long trip? Absolutely. I’ve paid twice as much to see bands that suck twice as bad. Driving home from Detroit at one in the morning wasn’t too fun, but it was worth it. Worth if for a great music and a great experience meeting the band. And if I ever go to South Wales I can walk around saying, “yeah, I met them.”

There’s a lot more photos from the trip and concert over in the Morning Toast Flickr collection, including the photo of Beef Jerky Unlimited. And check out a couple videos below, the first my favorite Manics song and the second, one of their most popular in front of their “normal” type of crowd.




  1. Jen Jen October 3, 2009

    You spelled Nicky’s name wrong. Fix it now. :)

    Nice review. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself. Sometimes I feel badly that you have to endure my tales of the glory days of Brit pop.

  2. Tim Tim November 6, 2011

    A friend and I drove up from Columbus, Ohio to see this show, which was great but since we’re both huge fans from the late ’90s it would have take a massive failure to let us down. I’m jealous everyone got to meet the band, we just left.

    Did want to mention, although the Majestic ain’t perfect, back in ’96-97 I saw Son Volt, Wilco and Golden Smog, and they were three of the best shows I’ve ever been to. The place was packed, the bands were loud and energetic, just a great vibe during that time.

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