The best Suede gig I’ve ever been to. An exhaustingly uplifting, rioutously emotional triumph.
Having not been in the peak of health lately, I went into this gig thinking I should find myself a comfortable space at the back from which to take a relaxed view of the proceedings. This resolution lasted about 0.2 seconds into Suede’s set. I may be 43 years old, but this night I leapt and screamed and sang with just as much fervour as I did the first time I saw Suede 21 years ago, and so did the majority of the middle aged throng. Many of my favourite bands from the 90s are still touring today, and I have been to many of their gigs in recent years, but it has to be said that Suede put them all to shame. Their sheer energy and commitment to their live show is unrivalled.
A sheet of gauze hung over the stage as the lights went down to the sound of a doomy medieval chant. Coming on to the “As One”, the stridently atmospheric opening track of their latest, incredible album “The Blue Hour”, the band performed behind the gauze, with their eerie shadows projected huge onto it like some kind of demonic shadow puppet show. I did wonder, as this gig commenced, whether this night’s setlist might comprise a complete run-through of the new album, as one of their recent previous gigs had. But this notion was dispelled at the end of the first song, when the raucous drumbeat and descending clatter of chords heralded a storming rendition of “She” from “Coming Up”.
There followed a night of classics, new and old, obscure and celebrated. I went into this gig with a wish list of songs I hoped they’d play, and to my joy, so many were included. The deviantly dystopian “We Are The Pigs” from “Dog Man Star”, five songs in, was probably top of my list. It is one of the most darkly thrilling songs in Suede’s canon, and this rendition, ending with a call and response of the the closing chant of “hey ho, hey ho, we will watch them burn” set this gig soaring into a peak of excitement that carried on to the triumphant “So Young” which followed. Brett Anderson may be 51, but with such energy and enthusiasm in his performance, you can truly believe him when he hollers “we’re so young!” This song culminated in Brett swirling his mic around on its lead in terrifyingly huge circles, narrowly avoiding decapitating several other band members. It was the most gloriously un-health-and-safety thing I’ve seen for years.
After the joy of hearing “We Are The Pigs” I hadn’t even begun to hope to also hear “This Hollywood Life” from the same album. This trashy, sleazy anthem was one I first heard on a bootleg CD I bought in Australia early in 1994, when its working title was, appropriately, “Trashy”. As a teenager in Perth obsessed with the UK music scene, I despaired at all the gigs I was missing out on, but hearing this Suede live bootleg with so many as-yet-unreleased songs on it made me feel that little bit closer to the scene I so desperately wanted to be a part of. This particular song stood out to me then as the one I most hoped I would get the chance to hear live myself one day. So suffice it to say, when they drove into the dirty opening riff of the song, I may have deafened my surprisingly unmoved neighbours in the crowd with my screams.
The soaring, melancholy menace of “Europe Is Our Playground” came next, dedicated to the Facebook fan group The Insatiable Ones, or more particularly, those members of the group who travel the world to catch every Suede gig possible. Following this was a brace of more recent tunes. I was thrilled that their choices from “The Blue Hour” included my absolute favourites on the album: “Cold Hands”, a stomping glam rock classic to rival any of their trashiest 90s hits, and “Tides”, a majestically swelling ode to being carried away by the sea, building up into a magnificent holler of “it’s wonderful!”
From here, the setlist hurtled from incredible to amazing to quite frankly flabbergasting. An astonishing barrage of 90s classics cam next, with “Filmstar”, “Metal Mickey”, “Trash” and “Animal Nitrate” falling hard upon each other, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of hysteria. Then, abruptly, it was Ballad Time: first a heartstopping solo acoustic version of “The Power” from Brett – another of my wishlist songs ticked off – then three songs which each would be a show-stopping finale for any other band: “Still Life”, “The Invisibles” and “Flytipping”. The fact that the latter two are new songs from “The Blue Hour”, freshly implanted into fans’ consciousness and yet just as timeless as the classic from “Dog Man Star”, speaks volumes about the absolute continued relevance of Suede today.
A brief respite before the encore allowed me to scoot into second row to gratefully grab some water from the security lady up front. Then, a monumentally celebratory “Beautiful Ones” and to finish, “Life Is Golden” – another new Suede song already imbued with as much power and emotional resonance to the fans as anything from their entire career.
I’m just going to go right out and say it: when it comes to guitar music, Suede are the best live band I’ve seen this year, in fact for many years. I am continually astonished at the power and energy of their performance, undimmed by the decades – if anything, it is enhanced, magnified. Suede may never mean as much to me as the Manic Street Preachers do, but as much as I’ve loved the Manics gigs I’ve been to this year, they have felt comfortable, predictable, safe. In comparison, Suede play every gig as though they have everything to prove and nothing to lose, soaking in the adoration, propelled by it, living for it.
And the magical key in all of this is Brett, that whirlwind of sweat and emotion. Jumping into the crowd time and time again to be groped and worshipped by the adrenalised masses, he understands with every fibre of his being why we need this: music, bands, gigs, rock stars. Why we need to leap and sing and reach and scream and cry. He embodies that contract between star and fan: that he will be everything we need in a rock star, as long as we need him utterly. And in this respect, he is truly unmatched and untouchable as a frontperson.
The Suede live experience in 2018 is everything a gig should be: electrifying, emotional, and infused with the transporting, transformative power of music. For anyone who cares about music, it is an experience not to be missed. It truly is wonderful.