by Ed Vulliamy
Stone Roses / Manic Street Preachers
It was intended to conclude the year on a high note and a loud note and it would not be Britpop. In the event it was a sort of rock 'n 'roll Haj.
Coachloads came from Manchester as though for a United match, to hear the valedictory address at the end of a tour by the city's co-rulers, the Stone Roses. This long calvary has been sniped at by the critics du salon but hailed as epic by fans, with music on a scale which pushes the Roses towards the U2 premier league.
Others, more sombre and severe, flocked from Wales and the West to see the curio of the evening: a black hole on stage, an absentee. For this was the first appearance by the steely roar Manic Street Preachers since the disappearance of their guitarist and medicine man, Richey Edwards, from a west London hotel last February.
By receding physically into the oblivion to which his songs and lifestyle of black despair and self-mutilation so often alluded, Edwards has achieved messianic cult status.
And at Wembley people like Gerry Owen of Chepstow were convinced that Edwards might reappear, maybe on a golden skateboard sliding down a rainbow. Dressed in the Manics' old hallmark dress (fur coat, make-up) and with spindly effeminate fingers, Gerry was sure that the vanished rhythm guitarist would be here to challenge Wembley's appalling hangar acoustics.
However, it's only us, said bassist Nicky Wire as those who remain took the stage. Whether or not Edwards resurrects, the band showed signs that they may be able to do so without him. The black hole was respectfully filled out by a keyboards player and the set propelled by new confident material - notably, a forceful number called Australia.
But the tears of those pressed against the railings accompanied the songs that looked back: the set concluded with Edwards' comfortless Motor Cycle Emptiness - 'I talked to God but the sky was empty' (the line is credited to Sylvia Plath.)
The critics do not much like the fact that the Stone Roses, hailed as Britain's greatest band for their Byrdsy-Mersey sound, transformed into a bigger, more monumental rock 'n 'roll outfit. But large numbers of people would appear to disagree.
Despite the acoustics, this is an epic rock show full of long, winding adventures on John Squire's guitar. The music is built on a large-scale design embracing both the melodies of the first album and the more dramatic constructions of the new. The architecture is the most grandiose in the pivotal number of the evening, Tears, a statuesque Stairway To Heaven for the 1990s with its acoustic prelude, dramatic electric crescendos and typical Roses pastiche on the 1960s.
So, no rhythm guitarist for the Manics, and a hell-of-a-guitarist for the Roses, who had a good year after all.
[Originally published: The Guardian, 1 January 1996]