Joe Costello witnesses Suede storming the sedate heights of Symphony Hall.
Suede were a band I struggled to see the appeal of for a very, very long time before finally being won over in the last couple of years. I put this down to in part to the adoration heaped on them by the music press at the start of their career that I chose to wilfully ignore, completely misreading the Bowie comparisons (Metal Mickey sounds nothing like Let’s Dance) which was cemented by my younger sister’s damning appraisal of their Birmingham headlining debut at Edward’s No. 8 as “not as Godlike as I’d been led to believe”.
Remarkably, this 1992 concert is available in its entirety on YouTube and I watched it as I was composing this. I don’t think my sister was quite right, with the benefit of hindsight. A venue as intimate as Edward’s will be difficult to maintain any divine distance between the band and the audience, while the audible banter between the crowd and Brett Anderson is also a testament that they are but mortal and communing with their fans has always been part of their appeal.
And so to their latest appearance in Birmingham, at the substantially more expansive Symphony Hall. Prior to the show, I had formed the opinion that we might be in for a more sedate experience than might be expected in a standing venue. And again, I was proved wrong about them. It seems almost as if Anderson surveyed the rows of seats and saw the task in hand as a challenge as they went about the following hour and a half with a performance of energy, aggression and intensity that was palpable even in our seats in the Grand Tier with a setlist designed purposely to render the seating plan irrelevant and adhering perfectly to my newly-formulated theory of two-thirds old, one-third new being the golden ratio of material for veteran live acts.
Kicking off the show with three songs from last year’s Autofiction album, the closing track Turn Off Your Brain and Yell serving as the show opener, after which Anderson embarks on the first of several forays off the stage and into the crowd, five years older than me but with 50 times the vigour.
They then begin mining the back catalogue with The Drowners, Animal Nitrate, Trash and We Are the Pigs. There is no let up in the early exchanges before a few of their slower numbers are played to allow us and the band to get our breath back, the standout moment of this interlude being a piano-only accompanied rendering of The Power. This is equalled if not bettered a little later on as the rest of the band leave the stage to Anderson, who says a few words on the importance of live music as a means of bringing us all together by way of introduction to a solo rendition of The Wild Ones, performed solo with an acoustic guitar while sat on one of the front of stage monitors.
The main set ends with more anthemic standards, Metal Mickey, New Generation then a single encore of Beautiful Ones, and that is it for the evening and the first time in a long time that I have left a concert where the band had played everything I expected and wanted to hear.
My older sister who accompanied me enjoyed it so much she obtained a ticket to see them again in Manchester the following week if you want more evidence of the quality of the live experience. A look at Setlist FM reveals a more diverse setlist than the one we witnessed together, a few of the crowd pleasers being replaced with some of their deeper cuts, so not a band content to phone in their performances either in terms of the material or effort.
That the new album can, in my opinion, comfortably rub shoulders with their earlier work promises that there is more to come in the future. I only wish I’d been more receptive thirty years ago, but better late than never.