Suede have never been a band to shy away from melodrama. Whether it’s within the music or the group’s interpersonal relationships, one can trace restless, primal energy and an aptitude for shocking the pop press back to their initial success in the early 1990s. Their latest album, The Blue Hour, proved no exception, hailed as an elegiac and cinematic ride into an un-sentimentalised rural nightmare, full of luscious string orchestration and the band’s signature piercing guitar sounds.
Neither has Suede’s cultish fanbase waned since the success they enjoyed during the height of so-called ‘Suedemania’; some went so far as to follow the band around the continent on their tour. Indeed, I thought of myself as a hardcore follower (I am a proud member of the band’s exclusive Facebook fan-page, ‘The Insatiable Ones’!). This was until I arrived at the venue – London’s Hammersmith Apollo – three hours early to find an already sizeable group from around the world donned in various pieces of handmade merchandise. One fan told me she had been waiting since ten that morning – a sizeable feat considering she had also attended the show the previous night and was travelling to Dublin for the gig the following night. It is little wonder that frontman Brett Anderson dedicated the transcontinental majesty of ‘Europe is Our Playground’ to the so-called Insatiable Ones during the show that evening.
Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’ – one of Anderson’s favourites – played in the venue beforehand, an appropriate promise that “something good [was] going to happen”. Sure enough, a gauze soon dropped as the stage was lit from the back, throwing up elongated shadows of the band members as the quasi-Gregorian chant ‘As One’, their newest album’s opener, started to play. Melodrama indeed.
I found myself at the front of the crowd, something that I would regret as I was practically torn limb from limb once Anderson approached the crowd barriers, reaching out to clutch the grabbing hands of his devoted followers during the second song of the night, and it was here where the tone was more accurately set as Suede launched themselves into a back-catalogue of spiky tracks centred round urban sleaze.
The mobbing should have come as little surprise with songs such as ‘Animal Nitrate’ (about explicit gay sex), ‘So Young’ (its carpe diem sentiment blatantly expressed in its alternative title, ‘Chase the Dragon’) and ‘We Are the Pigs’ littering the setlist. The latter was inspired by a – drug-induced – dream in which a mob from the brutalist Archway council estates stormed the palaces of Highgate; the music video was banned by MTV in 1994 for excessive violence, which somewhat matched the zeitgeist of the crowd that night.
The punky ‘Metal Mickey’ had seen an epoch-defining Top of the Pops debut that had resembled similar gender-bending “what the fuck was that?” performances by David Bowie and Boy George decades earlier, and I am happy to report that Anderson’s arse-slapping microphone antics have changed very little since 1992. However, the mid-show climax undoubtedly came with ‘Trash’, the quintessential Suede anthem: a brash celebration of the band and their fans – “the litter on the breeze” – all in glorious technicolour.
It was not all moshing and borderline assault, however. A particularly poignant moment saw the rest of the band exit the stage, leaving Brett and an acoustic guitar which he used to serenade us with ‘The Power’, a track inspired by David Bowie’s ‘Quicksand’. The formerly uncontrollable crowd was drawn into the song’s melancholy hush that was soon broken by the entire venue uniting for a rousing chorus: “give me, give me, give me the power”. The moment highlighted the importance of Suede; I was part of a mob of misfits who had all experienced isolation and alienation. Bands such as this, like The Smiths before them, had introduced a sense of belonging to a whole army of people who, much like the band members themselves, had never quite fitted in– ‘Outsiders’, if you will.
Classics such as ‘Still Life’, the cinematic grand finale of Suede’s ostentatious Dog Man Star album – which originally featured the seventy-two-piece Sinfonia orchestra – coupled with The Blue Hour’s lavish and eerie tracks reminded us that Suede should never be confined to one category, and that they can deliver a performance with real hauteur as well as rampant excitement
The rest of the band looked at ease throughout the gig, with co-songwriter Neil Codling appearing as a mass of hair most of the time, whilst his cousin Simon Gilbert on the drums delivered his characteristically energetic performance with a customary smirk. Mat Osman* – who has slightly less hair – and criminally underrated Richard Oakes flaunted some of the group’s most impressive bass and guitar acrobatics respectively. But it was Brett who stole the show, unable to stay still whilst working the audience into a frenzy of reckless abandonment whether he was strutting round like Mick Jagger, launching himself off speakers, or unbuttoning his sweat-drenched shirt in a camp yet primal fashion. It was Anderson’s performance that contained all that ambition, ego, drama, vitriol, passion, controversy, and pure naked thrills that Suede has always represented. Few bands could justify their lead singer flagellating himself with a microphone while screeching “what does it take to turn you on now you’re over 21?”, and yet from start to finish it was so deliciously Suede.
The encore featured the band’s most well-known hit, ‘Beautiful Ones’ (before which Anderson playfully commented with a smirk: “if you don’t know the words to this, I don’t know why you’re here!”). This was followed by their latest single, the soaring ‘Life is Golden’, which grabs your heart and moves you to tears, proving the perfect uplifting end to an overwhelming night – though I may stick to the more tame balcony seating next time for the sake of my ribs, it must be said.
*brother of Pointless presenter Richard Osman for any pub quiz fanatics out there.