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