Suede, Royal Albert Hall, London
Brett Anderson and the gang reminded us just how brilliant they were in an astonishing one-off reunion concert for charity
Sunday 28 March 2010
Suddenly, everything stops. Suede have just delivered a swaggering, rump-shaking rendition of "Metal Mickey", their second single, and Brett Anderson simply stands there, gazing around the upturned fruit bowl of the Royal Albert Hall in disbelief, drinking in wave after wave of deafening applause and grinning like a lunatic, occasionally mouthing the words "Come on!" It's a spontaneous moment, and, he'll tell me later, one of the greatest of his life. After a small eternity, he steps back to the microphone. "We ain't finished yet ..."
Suede's five men in black have pulled it out of the fire with fearless hands. And make no mistake, there was fire. The song that precedes their arrival at this reunion show, Sex Pistols' gloriously vile "Bodies", keeps cutting in and out like a faulty hearing aid and, from the cybertronic Shirley Bassey of opener "She" through the subsequent six songs, the band struggle through what is – at least to the ears of this skyline swine in the Circle – the worst sound heard at a professional gig in 25 years.
Whether through English unflappability or obliviousness (it transpires it's the latter), they drive on until, on "Killing of a Flashboy" – their outrageously great B-side from 1994 – everything flows. This, I presume, is the moment that Roger Daltrey, of all people, complains to Suede's soundman that it's "too loud", much to bassist Mat Osman's delight when he's told about it afterwards.
Funny what absence does to the heart. When Suede played their farewell shows in 2003, few beyond the devoted seemed to care. Since they announced this one-off concert, everyone I know has been insane with excitement. I vomit three times before showtime from nerves-by-proxy (there were, admittedly, contributory factors).
Tonight Suede remind us, in considerable style, why they were one of only two British rock bands in the early Nineties worth giving an Eartha Kitt about. What Suede represented was nothing short of a rebellion. At a time of bearded grunge machismo and faux-Americanism, here was a band whose singer had the poise of a Piccadilly rent boy circa 1955, with a debut single which sounded like Adam and the Ants falling down the stairs while a drunk Mick Ronson played the queasy, teetering riff of his life, and with insouciantly provocative lyrics like "He writes the line/Wrote right down my spine/It says 'Oh, do you believe in love there?'"
Brett Anderson emerged as a Byron of suburban ennui, a small-town romantic with a distinctive lexicon of nuclear skies and council homes, and Suede came to embody an entire lifestyle, figureheads for a generation of young, sexually ambiguous hedonists as celebrated and mythologised in such subcultural anthems as "Trash" and "The Beautiful Ones". They also inadvertently kicked the door down for Britpop, but let's not bear grudges.
Suede, with immense class, have played their big comeback card for the Teenage Cancer Trust, the realities of which are brought home by the girl sitting next to me, allowed out of hospital for one night, with an intravenous valve bandaged to each arm.
Anderson has regrown his fringe, the better to resemble the Brett we met on "The Drowners". Others don't need to try. Spookily, Neil Codling, the otherworldly keyboardist, has barely aged over the last decade.
Brett's on ravenous form tonight, going commando in tight, grey Sta Prests (occasionally reaching down to readjust the boys in the barracks), falling to his knees, riding the monitor wedge, plunging into the photo pit to get mobbed and molested, booting bottles of Evian into the air, flipping his hip and clapping like slo-mo flamenco.
Packed into a narrow strip at the front of a cavernous stage, he and the band – reassembled in their late- Nineties incarnation – are on a burning mission to remind the world how great they were. A 21-song salute to their back catalogue takes in their cocky, talent-dripping debut album Suede, the baroque masterpiece Dog Man Star whose troubled birth-pangs culminated in the departure of guitarist Bernard Butler, Coming Up, the exuberant post-Butler classic which propelled them to festival-headlining status, the drug-damaged but patchily brilliant Head Music, a scattering from Sci-Fi Lullabies (the greatest B-sides album ever made), but nothing from the unloved final album A New Morning (though its saving-grace single "Obsessions" was on standby).
This quite astonishing return to the spotlight ends with "Saturday Night", a song whose video featured then- unknown Ashes To Ashes star Keeley Hawes (that's how long ago it all was). Anderson, stumbling to express how happy tonight has made him, jokes "Let's do it again ... in another seven years." Something tells me Suede ain't finished yet.
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