Live Review: Suede

23 May

Brixton Academy: Friday, May 20 2011
Suede frontman Brett Anderson was always well-known for his egomania but by 2002 he appeared bitter, washed-out and so far up his own arse that he was eyeballing his intestines.

It was a far cry from the early Nineties when Suede changed the face of the British music scene, obliterating the turgid remnants of grunge with a shake of their hips and anthem-packed albums dripping with sexual charm, theatrical vocals and poetic lyrics.

In the space of a decade he’d gone from penning devotion-inspiring classics such as Animal Nitrate and New Generation to begrudgingly talking to me and six other student journalists about their last album, A New Morning.

Perhaps deep down he knew that with songs like Morning, complete with the opening line “sleepy head get out of bed, big bad world is calling”, it’d have been better titled A False Dawn. Less than 12 months later, Suede were no more.

The simmering tensions in the group were impossible to ignore during that interview as a curt Anderson – the one time poster boy for outsiders everywhere and the man heralded by the music media for kick-starting Britpop – revealed himself to be charmless and seemingly wasted from years of well-documented drug abuse.

It was my first lesson in the dangers of meeting your heroes. To my mind, Anderson had some making-up to do. And on Friday at Brixton, where Suede played in full their second album Dog Man Star, he did it with style.

As the opening rumblings of Introducing the Band signalled their arrival, the almighty cheer that engulfed the venue showed how much this band meant to so many. For the next hour and a half the sell-out crowd was taken back 17 years to the band’s heyday, and Anderson was taken back to the days when he was adored by thousands.

Despite not uttering a single word in between songs, he gave a masterclass in showmanship, shimmying across the stage, clasping hands with the front row and standing arms aloft after every song.

We Are the Pigs and Heroine sounded as urgent as ever, the Wild Ones and The Two of Us were as achingly beautiful as in 1994, while the final orchestral flourishes of Still Life still sent shivers down the spine.

Stay Together – a standalone single released in between debut album Suede and Dog Man Star – was played live so rarely that most of the crowd had to do a double-take to make sure they weren’t hearing things. If the converted thought it couldn’t get better, they were wrong.

An extended encore saw them rattle through Animal Nitrate and So Young, as well as B Sides Killing of a Flashboy and My Dark Star. The fact that they failed the Dog Man Star cut is testament to how high Suede’s standards were back then.

In most cases, the latest fad of playing old albums in full is little more than one last payday for past-it bands while simultaneously fulfilling the nostalgic needs of fans eager for a night-out re-living their youth.

While no doubt the cash will come in handy, this format also allows Suede to temporarily erase their disappointing later offerings and remind us all why they were one of the most important British bands of a generation.

Anderson, consider yourself redeemed.


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