Show Review: Manic Street Preachers and Nico Vega at The Fillmore, 9/24/09

by Gordon Elgart on September 25, 2009

Same jacket, different show.

Same jacket, different show.

I’m wholly unqualified to a review a Manic Street Preachers show.  This is because I’m an American.  The Manics (as I’ll refer to them for the rest of our time together) never did have any hits stateside.  They were always a cult band here, and I was never part of that cult.  If I were to make a ranked list of all the Britpop bands that I like (as opposed to ones I’m either ambivalent about or dislike), the Manics would be at the bottom of that list.  They’d make the list, for sure, but they’d be right below Ash, and apologies to Kula Shaker.  That said, I’m going to review it anyway.

I arrived at The Fillmore with absolutely no knowledge of who the opening band was, and it turned out it was someone called Nico Vega.  The name sounded familiar, but I didn’t know who he or she was.  Rather than look it up, I decided to be completely surprised for once.  It turned out to be a band, and when the lead singer walked on stage and began to sing, I knew I was in for a total treat.  By the end of the second song,  I was sending text messages to a few friends that said “You would love Nico Vega.  Holy crap.”

Aja Volkman, the lead singer, is the whole package: voice, looks, stage presence, powerful lyrics.  She’s everything that a woman aspires to be when she aspires to be a rock star.  (Juliette Lewis would be jealous.)  This is great stuff.  I eventually did look them up, and I saw such ludicrous comparisons to other bands, I just had to laugh.  They’re from LA, which always makes me question a band’s true soul, but I’m going to believe that Nico Vega are rockers to the core.

Before the Manic Street Preachers came on stage, it occurred to me that I had absolutely no idea what they look like, how many people would be in the band, or really much else about them beyond the few songs I do know.  I realized that what the Manics are best known for is the fact that their original guitarist and lyricist, Richey Edwards, disappeared and is presumed dead.  I noticed that they leave the front left of the stage empty; I wonder if that’s a tribute to him.

When they started out the set with “Motorcycle Emptiness,” it became clear right away that there were a few people in the crowd who had been waiting years for the chance to go absolutely bonkers.  These people were infectious, but there were only a few of these people.  Most of the crowd was like me–a curious onlooker who has a few favorites.  Because they didn’t have any American hits, I had no foggy clue which songs people would go nuts for.  And because I don’t know the material all that well, I will tell you what the set list said on it, tell you that I’m pretty sure they followed it exactly, and anyone reading can correct me if I’m wrong.  (There’s also a couple of “or” items on the printed set list, which I didn’t notice until this morning, so I didn’t bother jotting down what they played, thinking I already knew what it would be; therefore, I’m sorry about that.)

Motorcycle Emptiness
No Surface All Feeling
Peeled Apples
Your Love Alone
La Tristessa
Jackie Collins Existential QT
Let Robeson Sing
Everything Must Go
This Joke Sport Severed
From Despair to Where
This Is Yesterday
Small Black Flowers or Masses
Send Away the Tigers
You Stole the Sun
A or Motown Junk
Me and Stephen Hawking
Little Baby Nothing
You Love Us
Design For Life

Waiting for the Manics, I dutifully retreated back toward the sound board to take a picture of the set list so that I could provide that information to you, and although the photo came out too blurry to publish, I want to add that at the bottom of the list of songs, there is a quote: “Anything is hard to find when you will not open your eyes.” Yes, they quote Morrissey from “Accept Yourself” at the bottom of their set list. I’m giving them bonus points for this.

I’m glad I went to the show, but I never did feel engaged by it. Instead I felt like I was watching people watch a show. I’m happy to report, however, that the people I was watching were really happy to be there.


Thanks to Flickr user Greenboy for sharing photos.

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony Butterworth September 25, 2009 at 3:54 pm

I should have taken your ticket (once we solve the “too lazy to drive 70 miles” issue)


Gordon Elgart September 27, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Yeah, I think I would have been able to set you up with a ticket if you had been willing to drive up here. There must be some artist who's worth the drive, is there?


Caroline September 29, 2009 at 6:56 pm

DP and I saw Nico Vega at SXSW this past year. I threw up in my mouth when they started playing. Maybe it was the setting or something, but their whole set almost looked like a joke, like they were parodying rock stars. It's interesting to hear your take.


Vanessa October 15, 2009 at 7:34 am

I only know Design For Life because it was mentioned in a Travis song so I looked it up.


Jim Martin May 13, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Wow. That was the crappiest non-review I’ve ever read.

BTW, nico vega sucked. The singer couldn’t decide if she wanted to be Karen O, Stevie Nicks or Janis Joplin. Unfortunately she wasn’t nearly as good as any of them. The drummer was doing his best imitation of Joe Mama Besser from Spinal Tap (holding your drumsticks in the air for 45 seconds in anticipation of where you come in? Please.). And just because the White Stripes can get away without having a bassist doesn’t mean your crappy band can. Cough up the extra dough to at least hire a bassist to go out on the road with you…

The Manics were superb. Wish they had played longer. Wish they had played more songs off of “The Holy Bible”. It’s good that the usual groaner “Here’s something off our new album” wasn’t to be dreaded this time. All of the songs off of “Journal for Plague Lovers” ripped. You’re right. I’d been waiting for years to see these guys and they didn’t disappoint!


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