Pop PHOENIX FESTIVAL Stratford upon Avon

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The Independent Culture
Poor old Suede. Even their most pitiless detractors have to spare a thought for the hapless indie pouters, whose hubris at demanding to close the Friday night of the Phoenix Festival - in other words, to go on after Bob Dylan - is roughly rewarded by a torrential downpour of an already soggy day, 10 minutes before they take the stage. The hardcore Dylan fans, of course, are already gone, but the cataract sorts out the waverers, too, leaving a decidedly thinned-out huddled mass for Suede's big moment.

They acquit themselves well in the circumstances, with the kind of big- rock show visuals the previous performers had rigorously eschewed. Brett Anderson, in particular, seems on a mission to inhabit the entire stage, rushing around gamely, thrashing himself with microphone and floppy fringe, and generally trying to engage the audience. It makes a change: for several hours past, ever since the new, cheery Van Morrison wrapped up an unusually good-natured set with an impassioned "It's A Man's Man's Man's World", impersonality has been the watchword. Perhaps that's appropriate for a festival whose audience - an uneasy mix of crusty ravers, dour indie lads and older couples pushing baby buggies - reflects the oddly mismatched billing.

Tricky and his band follow Van, coming on just as dark clouds are gathering. It seems right for his ominous trip-hop music, but Tricky, unfortunately, has not surmounted the usual problems involved in transforming sample- groove music to the live arena. As his band do their best to approximate the album tracks, he just wanders around the stage smoking a humungous spliff, occasionally clutching the mike to utter a dark imprecation or two. The most effective number is Tricky's version of Public Enemy's "Black Steel", which is already trimmed to fit the rock arena.

For Dylan's set, the screen at the side of the stage is switched off, rendering him pretty much invisible except for a white jacket. His current band, of course, are virtually invisible anyway, as anonymous a set of journeymen as a major star has ever surrounded himself with. Not strong enough (as was, say, G E Smith) to impose a modicum of structural discipline on Dylan's shows, they follow this most wayward of performers in whatever half-baked direction takes his fancy.

At the moment, this appears to be towards the kind of lumpy boogie rock more often associated with Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, only without the guitar technique. Songs as disparate as "All Along the Watchtower" and "Silvio" are ground out with grim determination but little skill, and when the band switches to acoustic instrumentation for "Tangled Up In Blue", "Mama You Been On My Mind" and "One Too Many Mornings", one realises with horror that it is Bob himself who is taking the cack-handed solos - some of which have more than two notes, but not many more. The perfunctory boogie encore of "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35" is perhaps the perfect conclusion to such a ramshackle performance, though the heavens needn't have taken the title as meteorological gospel.

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