The best bands are those that split opinion – and Suede certainly do that. Either you swoon to their unabashed ballads of post-modern romance and overdriven pop rock telling tales of drug driven decadence or retch at their pompous self-importance despite being seen by some quarters as being irrelevant for two decades.
Tonight proves to be an impressive show of force by a band still eager to impress. The set encompasses all elements of Suede’s rich history: their classic early singles which causes a seismic shift in the sound of British rock which helped reclaim a sense of identity in the 90’s when grunge was becoming hegemonic worldwide; and their recent material which has allowed Brett Anderson and his band mates to once again reclaim their status as true innovators.
The night kicks off with the eerily haunting monastic choir intro of ‘As One’. It’s a fitting start as the tour is promoting their latest LP The Blue Hour, released last September. Somewhat of a concept album which is a first for Suede, the record explores the deepening divisions across the nations made worse by rising economic inequality and the tensions caused by Brexit using the narrative of a child lost in the forgotten wastes of the countryside. Later on, they will also play thrusting song ‘Cold Hands’ and the melodramatic track ‘Tides’.
However, most people here are really after the hits and there are plenty of them. Their classic material gives singer Brett Anderson the opportunity to do what he clearly loves best – showing off. If he isn’t dry humping the PA to ‘We Are The Pigs’ then he’s swinging the mic dangerously far out into the crowd like a cowboy trying to lasso a squealing swine. The way he tirelessly leaps and bounds around the stage makes it hard to believe this is a man in his fifties. Perhaps this is due to being able to put some of his past demons to rest as he announces their classic single: “I used to be old but now I’m So Young!”
In a time currently dominated by an ever-growing amount of “visceral post punk” bands which tend to take an anti-showmanship approach, Suede are all about the stage presence. Anderson jumps over the barriers to join the ecstatic crowd and sing ‘The Drowners’ together with one ecstatic fan and ‘Animal Nitrate’ prompts such a massive response it threatens to blow the roof off Rock City. In acknowledgement of the band’s many past problems that have threatened to end Suede for good, Anderson flashes his perfect smile in appreciation and states: “That there; that’s why you can’t give it up!”
Flawed as it may be, it would be a shame to not mark the 20th anniversary of their fourth album Head Music, especially as it is their last LP (to date) to top the charts. While it was no surprise to hear ‘Everything Will Flow’, the band challenge themselves by playing ‘Let Go’ for the very first time to a live audience. Anderson tries to warn the spectators that it may not work stating: “This is a song we’ve never played before and there’s probably a reason”, yet it sounds like they have been playing it live for years and it's always a good sign when a band who could easily rest of the laurels continue to push themselves.
I’m not usually partial to the old acoustic song schtick but guitarist Richard Oakes keeps it brash whilst playing ‘Still Life’ saving it from falling into a sing-a-long campfire territory. Plus, you have to hand it to Anderson when he plays ‘High Rising’ not only unaccompanied by the band but without the aid of any mics. Once again, he bends the rowdy audience to his will by lowering them to a respectful silence. The rest of the gang return to play ‘The Asphalt World’ taken from their seminal second album ‘Dog Man Star’ plus two more tracks from their latest LP; ‘The Invisibles’ and ‘Flytipping’ before making a bow and running off stage right.
Though I usually hate the pretence of the pre-planned encore, the audience truly is baying for more – myself included. ‘Beautiful Ones’ is the perfect way to return to the stage and the emotive finish comes with their new masterpiece ‘Life Is Golden’.
Before the gig, I had to wonder where Suede would go next. Having gone to such great lengths in reforming the band, and then succeeding in pulling off arguably their greatest creative endeavour in the form of their recent trilogy of records, I wondered if their energies were spent and we were coming to the end. However, tonight in Rock City they certainly prove to be the insatiable ones and I look forward to seeing them making many more such thrilling performances for a long time to come.
We Are the Pigs
Still Life (Acoustic)
It Starts and Ends With You
Everything Will Flow
High Rising (Acoustic)
The Asphalt World
Life Is Golden