Suede – Southampton Guildhall

Suede Bloodsports

Suede – Southampton Guildhall – 22 October 2013

Suede’s new UK tour kicked off with a great performance only inhibited by the terrible sound quality that has always been a feature of Southampton Guildhall.

Obeying the rule that the support should never overshadow the main event, the first half of the gig is devoted to playing the entirety of their new album, Bloodsports. That’s not to say it’s a bad album – there are some very good tracks on it – it’s just that it’s not… well… none of the songs will sit too happily among what’s too follow.

The second half of the show is a reminder of why we are all there and why Suede were a big deal in the first place. The band play each of their first 10 singles, running through from The Drowners to Beautiful Ones.

It’s a fascinating journey that started 21 years ago. Something that is hugely scary to think about. Suede’s eponymous debut album was the first of my ‘modern’ purchases (read: the first I am happy to own up to), and represented the beginning of my love for vinyl.

It’s amazing just how fresh and exciting The Drowners still sounds. It’s as though it’s been vacuum-sealed because it’s still fresh and invigorating. That initial burst of drums opening the song is perhaps the most dramatic way for a new band to introduce itself to the world and then Bernard Butler’s riff cuts through air and then… and then… Brett Anderson asks someone to give him a gun in a vocal style that to my musically uneducated ears is like no one else. The opening of that song, especially to a 15 year old who, up until that moment has had, at best, questionable taste, was an awakening. It seemed to redefine what music could be on some level.

Similar statements can be made about the other 3 singles from that first album, Metal Mickey, Animal Nitrate and So Young. Overall, that album stands unique. You can trace lines through it, before and after, but nothing sounds quite like it, and that includes the future works from its authors.

Of course, in the process of making Suede’s follow-up, Dog Man Star, Bernard Butler left the band and Richard Oakes, a youngster from Poole joined the band’s ranks to replace him. The album only features Anderson/Butler compositions, but the sound was already progressing and moving away from what had come before. Stay Together was the epic non-album track single that came between the two, and is luxuriated in on stage. The lyrics, which Anderson has previously dismissed as weak, disappear into background as the guitar comes to the fore.

We Are The Pigs came as the first single from the second album and is nowhere near as alienating as the title makes it sound. I love the song, at times it is my favourite of theirs, and it’s still in the tradition of what went before, but after this things start the change. The Wild Ones represented the first slower ballad released as a single, and it’s swept up in romantic notions in a way that escapes the grit and the grime of the first album.

Finally, New Generation showcases the new direction for Suede – it’s a brilliant pop song, and again, one that I love, but listening to the progression played live it’s clear how much of a transformation occurred between these two time periods. Where once it was the outright weirdness of

“She sells hearts, she sells meat,
Dad, she’s driving me mad, come see”

… for a chorus, now it’s the much more traditional

“Oh but when she is calling here in my head
Can you hear her calling
And what she has said?
Oh but when she is calling here in my head
It’s like a new generation calling
Can you hear it call?
And I’m losing myself, losing myself to you”

When we then move on to Trash and Beautiful Ones, the beginning of the Oakes era, it’s clear just how much has changed. Perhaps it’s in the production or perhaps it’s in Oakes’ writing but the guitars are no longer as clean and crisp and cutting as they were. Trash, as played here, is clearly a significant cut below the tunes that surround it. At the time of its release I remember struggling to pick the tune out properly, but it grew on me, but in such illustrious company it’s as flimsy as the litter on the breeze from the chorus.

Oakes needed a hit to reassure the fans who weren’t happy about Butler’s departure and hadn’t been convinced by Trash, and they duly got one in the form of the next single and final song of the night, Beautiful Ones, which is, again, a brilliant pop song, and one filled with the kind of guitar-work fans had been pining for, but aside from references to being “High on diesel and gasoline” and “drag acts, drug acts, suicides” could actually have been the work of any number of guitar pop bands. It sounded like Suede because it was Brett Anderson singing, but musically it didn’t bear much resemblance to the band that had come before. That said, the sing-along “La la la”s at the end of the song are a magnificent way to head of stage and leave a crowd wanting more.

There was no more to come, of course, because the best had already been. It was an exhilarating journey through the back catalogue of a band who had number one albums and sold out gigs at the O2 while, along with the Manic Street Preachers, seeming like one of the less commercial bands of the 1990s. The 90s were, of course, the decade where Sky took football from the terraces and hooligans and made it mainstream, it was the decade that launched a thousand lads mags, and yet the band that launched Britpop (like it or not) where androgynous and of ambiguous sexuality. But that’s what cracking tunes can do. What’s most shocking, perhaps, is that if Suede had never existed and The Drowners was released now, it would sound as fresh, different and out there as it did 21 years ago.

A

And hopefully this will work… A Spotify playlist of the gig…

Amanda Palmer: “Theatre Is Evil” and AP vs the hate-trolls

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This is a bit of an experiment for me. I love music and have a plenty big collection of both vinyl and CDs, but I don’t have the first idea to go about talking about it in a way that expresses exactly what it is I like about it – I tend to be more on the side of saying “I likez it cos it be done sounding goodz to me”, or some such rubbish. Still, at some point I have to dive in and say something on the subject and the person who has pushed me over the edge is Amanda Palmer.

I can’t remember how I first became aware of Ms Palmer’s work – I read something and looked her up on Spotify and had a little listen to her first album while I was writing How To Fill A Black Hole – but sometime last year the fact that her new album was due was flagged to me. The moment I started listening to Theatre Is Evil I was hooked, and now I’m going to attempt to explain just what it was that pulled me in…

Music and sex are intimately entwined and have been for time immemorial, no matter mow much the carols sung in churches up and down the land try to prove otherwise, but all too often that sex is portrayed in a masculine-led manner, no matter the singer. Even artists as popular and seemingly in control of their careers as Beyonce and Madonna seem to be pandering towards male fantasies in order to sell their music rather than owning their own sexuality. We live in a society which likes to ‘slut-shame’ – where a woman who likes sex and doesn’t mind admitting it and owning it is told how bad she is for doing so – but that is beginning to change. While feminist ranks are in disagreement over the ‘SlutWalks’ of 2012, there can be no doubt that attitudes are changing for the positive – even if we live in a world where a female politician can be asked to leave a state Senate by her male counterparts for using the word “vagina”.

The most vocal and visible person in music on this front is without a doubt Lady Gaga, but if you ask me Palmer is both the stronger and more interesting voice (that’s not to do down Gaga’s work, more to elevate Palmer’s). In fact, I’d say her voice is perhaps the strongest and most original to come around since Shirley Manson sang about “The queerest of the queer” back in the mid-90s. Manson got a little swallowed up with the sheer degree of success that came her way and ended up wearied by the experience, while never quite following up on the strength and brilliance of that first Garbage album.

But where Manson and Garbage were worn down by the demands of a major label, Palmer owns her career in a way that would never have been imaginable back in that 90s heyday. Theatre Is Evil was funded in its entirety through Kickstarter, allowing Palmer to produce the album on her own terms, commissioning great artworks to decorate the album and enclosed booklet. And the power that she has displayed in pulling the album together is also on display in the songs themselves.

While a good music journalist is like a wine critic in being album to detect the subtle notes and flavours of influence, I tend to just know that I like a good pinot grigio and be done with it. However, I’ll try to pull out a few of the random influences I’ve detected in there, the first of which seems to quite clearly be Cabaret, the 1972 Liza Minnelli musical, which is on display both in the short “Meow Meow Introduces The Grand Theft Orchestra” that opens the album (and excuse my naiveté/stupidity, but is Meow Meow a reference to the Kit Kat Club of Cabaret fame?), and in Berlin, the penultimate track. Alongside that, there’s a lyrical and musical reference to My Sharona, the great 70s single from The Knack. In addition, I’d throw in Garbage and a number of 90s indie bands, but then that’s where most of my music taste lies so that’s probably me picking out what I want to hear rather than the influences that were actually there.

Of more interest to me are the lyrical stylings. There are a number of tracks which utilise long strings of words which, when written down, you struggle to find the rhythm, and yet in Palmer’s hands they become some of the catchiest lyrics around.

I never met a lady quite as pretty as Melody Dean and even though I know you are a little bit angry with me you know that it is you I love and you I want to get me off but you can only do that when you’re here and right now you are not.

The above chorus from the cocky confessional Melody Dean is repeated again and again in its addictive staccato way and now I can’t help but say it in time to the music.

Similar things happen with what, for me, is the standout track of the album, Lost, which starts as a mournful hymn and ends on a note of almost euphoria celebrating the lives rather than mourning the passings of those loved ones lost.

Nothing’s ever lost forever it’s just caught inside the cushions of your couch and when you find it you’ll have such a nice surprise. Nothing’s ever lost forever it’s just hiding in the recess of your mind and when you need it it will come to you at night.

But where Palmer really underlines the sex and power this album oozes is in the single (I think), Do It With A Rockstar. Where so many male rock stars (and, lest we forget, R&B and rap stars too) are urging women to throw themselves at them to service their every need (as Palmer sings on Grown Man Cry, “The radio is blaring … as the boys declare their feelings … it’s like they just want blowjobs”), so does Palmer – there is no doubt who will be doing the using, turning the usual sexual tables on their heads. Are you man enough to take her on? or…

Do you wanna go back home?
Your animals are all alone
Oh there’s a chicken waiting on the stove
And your cousin left his DVD of swinging in the seventies
Or do you wanna go back home
Check your messages and charge your phone?
Oh are you really sure you wanna go
When you could do it with a rockstar?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot more to this album than just the sex – through the 15 tracks Palmer takes in a full range of emotions and is in complete control of all of them. This is an album that deserves to be listened to from track 1 to track 15 – no random play – taking you on the full journey. Something I have done almost daily since I picked up the album in the week of general release.

10/10 (4 stars)

As an addendum to this post, I just wanted to mention Palmer’s latest blog post, inspired by some ego-surfing that revealed at hate-filled post at the New Yorker blog (of all places) which led her to google “Hate A…”. The auto-complete brought up Amanda Todd, a name Palmer wasn’t familiar with. Some further research revealed that Todd was a teenage girl who posted a youtube video of her despair before ultimately taking her life, along with some horrible parallels between that video and some work Palmer had been doing around the same time. Anyway – go read the post – Palmer can explain her emotions better than I can summarise them.

Now she’s trying to think of how she can use her position to help just one or two (though hopefully more) of the teens that are experiencing similar levels of despair. It reminds me a lot of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, something which was born out of Dan’s position and the increasing number of young LGBT suicides. Hopefully she will find a way to help do something, and in the meantime we can all look around us to see if there is anyone we might be able to offer comfort and support to, anyone in our lives who might be despairing and in need of kind words.

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