At the helm of deviant wannabes Suede, he reignited interest in English eccentricity and paved the way for Britpop. Now without a record contract, Brett Anderson points the way in the post-label age for fortysomething artists.
A generous two-set performance, first his forthcoming album, in order, then a greatest hits medley, is perfectly weighted for hardcore fans, who receive a copy of Wilderness on a memory stick.
As a solo artist, Anderson shows a more mature, considered side, so tonight's all-seated venue makes an ideal setting to preview the follow-up to last year's eponymous debut. On last year's debut, he stripped away his former band's glam pose. Touring that record included a one-off acoustic date, for which this is in part a sequel, though for Wilderness he has stripped down his accompaniment even further, relying mainly on piano and acoustic guitar.
Tonight he performs in a duo with a cellist, mainly in front of a baby grand, occasionally creeping forward to play guitar. His voice remains as sure and smooth as in his latter Suede days. For his opening set, Anderson picks meat off the bones of a relationship, remembering happy times on "A Different Place" and feeling loss on "The Empress". Yet pace, subject matter and mood are all monotonous.
Songs played on guitar come with heightened emotional focus and added variety. "Clowns" brings a new metaphor for troubled relationships, while "Funeral Mantra" provides a clear-eyed examination of the process of mourning.
The mood lightens with the arrival of Emmanuelle Seigner, film actor wife of Roman Polanski, to whisper in classic, faux-naif Gallic fashion over "Back To You". She appears and disappears with a minimum of fuss, emerging to sing her own "Silent Words", to suggest Carla Bruni may have competition for the glamorous ingénue role.
Anderson's second set is a thank you for the patience involved in hearing an unfamiliar album played in its entirety, not to mention his audience's long-term support. He swings between what he hopes are camp-fire singalongs, though people have not paid 30 quid a ticket to hear others bawling, and cuts loose on more meaningful numbers.
The generational anthem "Wild Ones" loses impact as the performer sings cocktail-bar style, while "The Two of Us" is beautifully romantic. He ends "Asphalt World" dramatically, slamming down the piano lid before storming off. Anderson has played 24 songs, yet the crowd demand more and, of course, get it. He knows who to rely on now.