Damningly dismissed as "a quick fix... pseudo-bumboy androgyny" in Luke Haines's Britpop memoir, Bad Vibes, Suede have hardly grown in critical stature since their split in 2003. Abiding love of a hardcore fanbase aside, current pop circles tend not to register the influence of thrill-seeking, Bowie-esque fop-rock. Brett Anderson's fringe rarely dominates music magazines anymore, either. But a reversal of fortunes does not seem beyond their reach at this warm-up gig for a Teenage Cancer Trust reunion show, where a super-charged Suede stake a sure claim to being both the most exciting live guitar-pop band of their era and a more visceral proposition than their fey-wastrel reputation suggests.
A tiny comeback gig before a hometown crowd might seem to make success a given, not least because Suede's core constituency were bound to front demand for tickets. Even so, the ferocity with which Suede tear into the set is startling. A panther-sleek "She" and vigorously catchy "Trash" make for a thunderous opening salvo, Anderson working the stage in a blaze of charisma. Leaping down to the stage barrier, flapping his sweaty fringe at the front rows and flicking his microphone lead like a man in a state of agitation over a tangled Hoover cord, he throws himself into the occasion with glorious abandon. Suede's one-time aura of cool, detached poise is all but left for dust.
Wasting no time on between-song chitchat, Suede work up a brash head of steam, their sense of purpose anchored in the Suede-ian dramas of suburban dreams and squalor. A weapons-grade mix of melody and swagger drives "Killing of a Flashboy" and the rampaging "Can't Get Enough", both nailed with typically louche machismo. "Pantomime Horse" and "The Asphalt World" slow the pace down but thicken the air with druggy and sexual insinuation; the latter cuts like a rush of blood into "So Young", the mismatch of song title to singer's age (42) obliterated in the rejuvenating force of Anderson's vocal and Richard Oakes's savage guitar riffs.
The reunited line-up draws on the period from 1996 to 2000, Suede's valedictory years, when Oakes replaced the virtuoso Bernard Butler while still a teenager and Neil Codling looked dreamy on keyboards (he still does). Number-one albums seemed only to be Suede's due back then, given that Coming Up and Head Music packed in more hooks than a fishing-tackle shop. If such peak-era resonances raise the stakes for the fans, the wave of emotion that washes over the crowd for the ineffably romantic echt-Suede ballad "The Wild Ones" comes like a sense of relief. With audiences expectations assuredly hit, "New Generation" and "Beautiful Ones" capitalise on the spirit of celebration, earned in rivers of sweat.
Hair plastered to his forehead and granddad shirt drenched, Anderson leaves us with a teasing, "Let's do it again in another seven years' time." A joke, or is this impassioned re-acquaintance really to be so brief? Tough to say, but it hardly matters when the "quick fix" is this thrilling.
Suede play London's Royal Albert Hall tomorrow ( Teenagecancertrust.org)Reuse content