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Suede – Glasgow Barrowlands

Brett Anderson. Gonna need some Persil.

Brett Anderson. Gonna need some Persil.

Many a band have gone from press darlings to punchlines, but rarely has the lustre came off as completely as  it did with Suede. In 1992 they were the vanguard of the UK’s response to grunge. 1993 saw them viewed as flouncy demigods, harbingers of a new age of guitars and glamour. By 1994 Tim Burgess of The Charlatans was able to look down his nose at them in the inkies, safe in the knowledge the audience was with him. Even back then, the dreary Manc band was obviously only musical methadone until the Stone Roses got off their arses and made an album. When even Burgess could have a pop without being assaulted with a hearty chorus of ‘hang on! You’re in the fucking Charlatans!’ then it was clear that Suede were way past the point of critical adulation.

So what happened? Well, Suede were easy targets. They were pretty, fey, ambitious, silly, energetic, dark, exciting, pompous and about a hundred other things all at the same time. Brett Anderson’s lyrics could be witty but he certainly did not live in fear of being called overblown. And, most of all, they were arty. They were not lads. When Britpop crashed into the mainstream consciousness, you simply had to be (Oasis) or pretend that you were (Blur). To be art school was death. The worst epithet you could throw at a British band in 1995 was ‘pretentious’. And Suede were certainly pretentious. Listen to Suede (1993) or Dog Man Star (1994). Actually, just look at the covers. But, pretentious or not, those albums were great.

They made a comeback in 1996 with a poppier sound on Coming Up which proved to be their last special album. 1999’s Head Music was patchy. 2002’s A New Morning didn’t even qualify for that description. Gradually disintegrating, they split up in 2003 after the Singles compilation. And it was probably time. But, as many a band has found out in the last few years, absence can make the heart grow fonder if you once had a committed fanbase. Reuniting for a one-off gig in 2010, the band (second incarnation; Richard Oakes on guitar rather than Bernard Butler) enjoyed it and continued to dip their toes in the water. Finding the temperature conducive, the comeback gathered enough momentum to lead to a sixth studio album, this year’s Bloodsports. And, all colours of tinted specs aside, it was really good, easily the best thing they’d done since Coming Up.

So, to the Barrowlands. Being a 90s kid, your writer saw all the main Britpop bands of the era several times. And of them all – including Oasis, Blur and, Pulp – Suede were the best live. But time can play tricks on you. And even if it hasn’t, what happened then has no bearing on what will happen now. Barrowlands is at its best; packed, hot and loud. The sell-out crowd are up for this. The band?

Well, first impressions is that they look the part. Time has been kind to all of them, with really only Oakes showing any sign of middle-age spread. Anderson is lithe and wiry, almost having grown into his face. They begin with an acoustic version of ‘Still Life’, the achingly beautiful closer to Dog Man Star. After that, it’s into a trio of the best from Bloodsports – ‘Barriers’, ‘Snowblind’ and ‘It Starts and Ends With You’ – which set the tone. The crowd, sufficiently warmed up, go positively tonto as ‘Trash’ gives way to ‘Animal Nitrate’, one of the best guitar pop singles of the last thirty years. ‘Filmstar’ is a chunky beast of a thing, massive and thundering. It’s proper old-school wildness, all pogoing and pints chucked up in the air. It’s joyously feral.

Which could also sum up the band. One thing those who never experienced them back in the day may not realise is just how violent a Suede gig felt. Like The Smiths, that wallflower image was shed the second they stepped on stage. They eviscerate the place, just absolutely ripping it up. Anderson is a superb frontman. Hips shaking, floppy hair flying around, long limbs stretched to clap, he’s as foot-on-the-monitor as Metallica one moment and the brooding son of Bowie the next. It’s one part performance to two parts natural star quality. He’s mesmeric. he dedicates a song to Lou Reed, a nice gesture.

Some b-sides (‘Killing of a Flash Boy’, ‘My Dark Star’) please the diehards, before the place comes unglued for ‘the Drowners’ and ‘Metal Mickey’. Age has certainly mellowed them, or rather, stripped away the over-earnestness of youth that all of us once serious young men are guilty of. Singalongs are being led by the band! Audience participation at a Suede gig? In 1993, this would not have been accepted, never mind embraced. Hey, we’re all getting older. Let’s just have some fun.

And in the end, that’s what this is. Suede are one of the great British bands of the 90s, and it’s nice to see them getting the recognition they deserved. They aren’t as influential as The Smiths or as wearyingly popular as Oasis, but they made (and continue to make) some corking music and put on a live show that will blow you away. What more do you need?

Picture by Gordon Reid.

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