SUEDE : "Dog Man Star" : London Royal Albert Hall 30 March 2014
Twenty years is a long time. Twenty years since Suede released the peerless 'Dog Man Star', and twenty years since Bernard Butler last appeared on stage with them. Twenty years since they were written off by doubters. Twenty years since Richard Oakes, an unknown but perfect discovery, rescued the band from oblivion. And now, four years into a spotless reunion, where the band have played the best shows of their lives, and managed to make a comeback record that matches their best material from back then, Suede revisit the scene of their greatest triumph, and come within a hairs breadth of eclipsing it.
But not only that. Returning to the same hall that held their single greatest live show four years after the fact, Suede simply not only have to live up to the best gig they ever played, they have to deliver the elusive “Dog Man Star” - the holy grail of their work – live. And they play one of the best shows of theirs I have ever seen. One that knocks almost all of the others away. Simply put, there's only two shows they have ever played that come near – the final London show in 2003, and the triumphant 2010 return.
And why? Well. Because why not?
Not only is this the single longest show Suede have ever played (albeit by seconds), with a 27 song, two and a quarter hour set, not only do they premiere a brand new – and fabulous song – in the shape of the utterly unexpected “I Don't Know How To Reach You”, not only does Brett sing “The Living Dead” without a microphone that can be heard deep in the crowd, not only do the band perform for only the second time ever in 20 years “Whipsnade”, but they end with, for the first time in history, the elusive “Stay Together”, with strings and a horn section, in a note-perfect nine minute orgasm of guitar fret-wankery that outstrips even the original 12”. Richard Oakes perfectly executes the original five minute guitar climax, adds his own stamp onto the song, and improves upon it. He didn't have to write it to perform a definitive interpretation of it. Does anyone criticise Laurence Oliver for not writing class Shakespeare, after all? Why can't you hang sound on the walls of art museums with a banner saying “Just Listen”?
The whole evening is the sound of the band proving that not only did they justify the legacy that was cruelly stripped from them by time, but returned as bruised champions to take the crown both then, and now, as a superior band that earnt it then, and have kept it now. One of the best there was, one of the best there is, one of the best there ever will be. If you don't agree, you can't be convinced. You either know it or you don't. You can't explain art with a spreadsheet, only by looking at it, and knowing that yes it is.
They open with “Introducing The Band”, and from the opening seconds, Richard locked in a near hypnotic groove, Mat thumping away on bass, Simon Gilbert perfectly in position, Neil Codling reserved and intense but adeptly flourishing guitar and piano as if there could never be a Suede without him, and Brett now comfortably in place as effortless frontman, this is Suede as good as they ever were, and better than they often were, for there's no visible addictions or illnesses blighting their skills.
It's not quite the same as the Dog Man Star tour : no stage projections, no random songs from early records inserted in, but it is the same concentrated intensity. “Dog Man Star” is performed with passion, and with a string section at key points that makes these songs alive. The band perform “Still Life” in a crash of drums and guitars, as the orchestra explodes around them, and this is how it should always have been. This is just as powerful and passionate and relevant as Suede were in 1994, because their music and their songs survived outside of the march of time. Not time capsules, but memories of common emotions. And whilst the cavernous and mostly seated Albert Hall observes and sits, the standing section meanwhile laps up the bands performance.
Two minutes later, and they are roaring through second-best-bside ever “Killing Of A Flashboy”, a 4 minute punk rock stomp thrash better than their so-called competitions A-sides. It roars, it snarls, Brett yells “Here we fucking go!” and guitars bite like angry dogs. We're less than half way through, and there's still so much to come. Richard picks out the red Gibson, and the band play – for only the second time since release in 1994 - “Whipsnade”, which sounds as if it has always been played alive, acquited with a fluid solo and solid sound. The short 4 song b-sides set is a practical lesson in mastery – these are the songs that weren't good enough even to be album tracks that still flatten the then-competition. The arrogance of Menswear in thinking they could even exist in the same physical plain as these songs. And Richard peals out “Together” - one of the great lost Suede songs – and I know, like I have done every time I have heard the band play live, that Richard is the unsung genius who gave the band life at a low ebb, and a man who can make guitars sound like … anything you want. No one who can play this well is lacking in talent. And “Together”, his first song, is still one that sounds like an assured and confident songwriter making yet another hit, not a hesitant first stab from a 17 year old beginner.
And then it's “Film Star” and “Trash” and the Albert Hall jumps up and down as if it were half its age. From here on, it's a greatest hits set = punctuated only by a promising new song “I Don't Know How To Reach You” which continues the band legacy. . Aside from this, the back portion of the evening is a solid 45 minute assortment of hits, where every song sounds like a Number One Song In Heaven in another life, and it ends with the first full length live performance of “Stay Together” - and the first one by this lineup ever - in over 20 years. At a certain point, as the strings match the song, and the sound collapses, and Richard starts to wring out the extended ending from the old 12” single, horns blare, and Brett half-heartedly raps into a microphone covered by his own hand, and the Albert Hall collectively seems to join in unison, and then it's simply glorious. No band has a right being this good : but then again, Suede – who have now made 20 years with (very nearly) the same line-up, who I have seen in every form, all over the place, countless times since the days of Nirvana, are the same band they always were, still so young, so strong, and frankly, as good as they were. This was in the top handful of Suede shows I have ever seen.
Introducing The Band
We Are The Pigs
The Wild Ones
This Hollywood Life
The 2 Of Us
Black or Blue
The Asphalt World
Killing Of A Flashboy
My Dark Star
It Starts And Ends With You
Don't Know How To Reach You
The Living Dead
For The Strangers