Suede: London, Barfly – live review!

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 09.58.12Suede
London, Barfly
4th March 2013

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, as they attempted to drum up interest in their greatest hits compilation, coming cold on
the Achilles heels of their critically unacclaimed sonic tombstone, A
New Mo(u)rning, Suede could barely get arrested. Even that artful
rodgerer Brett Anderson bellowing “I’ve got the best drugs in the
whole of London!” from the balcony of his Notting Hill townhouse and
an accompanying snorts and all biography failed to arouse even the
interest of the Met, let alone the general public.

Indeed it was only as the band announced their final farewell to their
dwindling fanbase that people began to remember just how fond of Suede
they had once been – and what a gaping, gangrenous hole in the arm of
rock’n’roll their absence left depressingly unfilled. “There will be
another Suede album,” teased Brett at the swansong performance in
December 2003. “But not yet.”

Few believed him. But fast-forward to the unforgiving new millennium
turning teenager and that other Suede album is not only here, but also
arguably their most eagerly anticipated platter since the eponymous
debut that started all the fuss almost exactly 20 years ago. And Suede
are out to prove that, if not quite reaching the dizziest heights of
their finest moments (that would just be daft), Bloodsports is at the
very least not the embarrassing stain on their heritage that many
diehards considered much of their latter day output.

The occasion is an Xfm showcase at Camden Town’s Barfly, a venue that,
if not the “smallest venue they’ve ever played”, as the enthusiastic
Xfm  presenter wrongly announces, is certainly of a
couple-of-hundred-sweaty-bodies capacity they’ve not played regularly
since the hormone and ecstasy fueled Suedemania of 1992 when they blew
the hapless Kingmaker off stage night after night.

With little fanfare Suede bound on, displaying a new-found vigour and
none of the vim of the sex, drugs, and more drugs Suede of popular
legend. The only white powder involved in Suede 2013 appears to be
whatever soap suds have given Brett’s dazzingly fresh white shirt an
almost angelic glow. The rest of Suede are dressed simply in black
jeans and t-shirts. They all look infuriatingly young. Bass player Mat
Osman even appears to have more hair than he did the last time he was
on stage. The confident, galloping, not-quite-single Barriers opens
proceedings; a statement of intent. There are hints of early 80s
stadium rock in its scorching, muscular guitar lines and it is clear
Suede have got their eyes on the lucrative festival circuit. They
follow with another new one, Hit Me, that sounds like the best bits of
lots of earlier Suede songs stitched together into a not unconvincing
whole. When the first of the actual hits materialises in the form of
the relentless riffing of Filmstar, there is no discernible shift in
quality. Indeed, tonight is one of the few gigs I’ve been to where
I’ve been relieved the band have played an OLD song in order to nip
out for a quick slash.

There are plenty of those old classics. The big guns are wheeled out
in quick succession: Animal Nitrate, Trash, Killing of A Flash Boy and
the best version of He’s Dead I’ve heard them do in their post-Butler
years; “New” guitarist Richard Oakes (who joined 19 years ago)
squeezes new blood and passion from a song that was once regarded as
his hallowed predecessor’s showpiece.

For the Strangers follows, the closest we get to a ballad in this
punk-rock, take-no-prisoners set. The fans in the front row appear to
know and love it already, as is the case with It Starts And Ends With
You, the new single that sounds far beefier in the live setting than
first radio plays might have suggested. “New one. Old one,” announces
Suede’s showman impishly. And it’s back to the very beginning with The
Drowners and its vertiginously stunning b-side My Insatiable One.
Brett playfully acts out the retard wobbling on the high wire of the
lyrics, though mercifully saves us from his impersonation of someone
shitting paracetemol. The brooding, tribal-infused Sabotage follows –
probably what we’d call a “grower” and then it’s hits all the way. If
anyone had forgotten how many of those there were and how great they
are, they’re given a ruthless reminding. Can’t Get Enough, Everything
Will Flow, So Young, Metal Mickey, Heroine, New Generation … it’s
almost a relief when they announce the last song, Beautiful Ones, a
tune so bouncy that it transforms this modest venue into one giant
human trampoline.

Even at their worst, Suede were always a decent band. What’s changed
isn’t so much the band themselves, but how they are perceived by the
faithful. Indeed, such is the turnaround in the esteem in which Suede
are now held by their followers that even a new album that was merely
adequate would probably have been welcomed warmly. On this showing,
Bloodsports is not only not the worst Suede album, but it’s quite
possibly one of the best. What’s more, the fact that more than half of
the audience here tonight were most likely not even born when Suede
began suggests that Brett Anderson’s mythical New Generation is
finally here – and that, in their most audacious move so far, Suede
could yet become the stadium band they always secretly wanted to be.


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24 comments on “Suede: London, Barfly – live review!”

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  1. I solemnly disagree with critic and public that A New Morning is such a bad album. I really like it, and, in my opinion, it is not below any of their previous efforts. It is a pity it has such a negative reputation. To me, the question was more the period it was released than its quality, itself. People were more interested in more alternative sounds. That´s it. And the continual massacration buried what once was a fine album.

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