Suicide – live review from Primavera

May 2011

“Everybody go and see Suicide now,” commands Nick Cave at the end of the stunning Grinderman set at Primavera, adding ”Ëœthey were the reason we’re all doing this.’

It’s just another accolade for the New York duo, who are well into their fifth decade pf provocative, pulsing, art noise and seem to have got even more intense with it.

During their soundcheck an excited member of the brilliant thequietus website texts me to say that it’s ridiculously loud. From that point it’s obvious that Suicide are not here to win friends, they are here to provoke. When the pair enter the stage they ooze a surly cool and the 5000 punters hold their breath. The barrage of throbbing noise starts and Suicide lift off.

There are few bands in music as influential as this and it’s an honour to see them play again. All that has changed since going to see them in the eighties is that there are far more than the usual 20 desperadoes here to witness their sonic adventure.

Legendary for being hospitalised during their Clash support tour in the seventies and again supporting Pop Will Eat Itself in the late eighties, Suicide are one of the few bands who were truly ahead of their times and prepared to deal in the confrontation that comes with it.

All the time, though, they were changing people’s perceptions of how to make music – Soft Cell, Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys were listening and by extension a whole swathe of synth pop and techno and house innovators from Any Weatherall to Autechre – infact anyone who has ever put a slight edge into keyboards – also listening were Big Black, Nick Cave, the Fall and any post punk crew who were alert at the time. Suicide’s pulsing keyboard take on the Stooges nihilism and their futuristic soundscapes were touching raw nerves everywhere.

Somehow they tuned this into 21st century pop, frontman Alan Vega’s vocals were like some sort of fifties crooner from hell and even at nearly 73 he commands the stage with that strange, twitching presence that he always had. He still makes those great vocal sound, the slapback yelps, the breathy mence and the trademark croon are all still there.

Looking like Colonel Gaddafi on day trip across the Mediterranean he has the rock star cool thing down to a tee and commands the space. Martin Rev stands there at his bank of electronics punching the keys with his fist and flicking on that strange old fluttering drum machine that sounds more and more effective over the years.

The frantic bass drum beats that once wound up twitching speed freaks in the punk era sounds so seductive now and the squelches of keyboards on top still sound futuristic like the band have been beamed in from another dimension to hypnotise us with their skuzzy tales of inner city low life.

Suicide are the sound of sex and madness and steamy nights of danger. They are like no other band. Their genius is in their confrontation and their originality. They are playing their astonishing debut album tonight and it hasn’t dated at all – they peak with a ten minute run through of the dark ‘Frankie Teardrop’ which details a murder and is greeted like a long lost hit from the planet ZED.

They even play an encore of ‘Dream Baby Dream’, the closest they have to mainstream song with its neo ballad crooning and almost fifties keyboard shape – Bruce Springsteen loved this one and covered it live and released a recording of it last year – a touching homage to the band and yet more evidence of their ability to touch musicians in a way that they cannot have expected themselves.

As the years go by some innovators slowly crumble into respectability but not Suicide, they remain as dark and dangerous as when they first convened – the ultimate cult band. They are portal back to when rock was truly scary, a time of the Stooges and the Doors, they are the last people standing from an ancient era who defy the conventions of the rock museum and somehow manage to create a strange aura around themselves.

Whilst everyone else is craving respectability they just continue to create their strange world and as their cavernous electronic skree ends everyone is hypnotized by their genius.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. […] to the angular noise in front of us. There has been some great music on with key Albini influence, Suicide, already displaying their genius the night before, the ante has been well and truly […]

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  3. Saw Suicide supporting The Stooges at Hammersmith Odeon a while back. An ATP event when James Williamson cam back to the fold in a rather disappointing style.
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  5. […] do \’1970\’ or something, which there is obviously no point in doing whatsoever. But obviously, Suicide, The Stooges, are touchstones for the band, for all of us, […]

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