SUEDE Brussels Place Des Palais 09 August 2014
22 years later, I could never have considered that I would be here. Still doing the same old stuff. Still getting really near the front at shows, still going to see bands, still listening avidly to music. But this is who I am, no more or less than father, lover, brother, child, colleague, friend, I am all of these things, and none at the same time. Here I am, in my forties, still seeing bands, and still seeing this band – a band for whom I have known all their public life, and here I am again, seeing them for around the 54th time, this time in Belgium. On cobblestones in a park next to the Royal Palace to around 12,000 people. Surely there comes a time, some think, where you let go of these childish things – music? Surely, sometimes, you must get into cars, and slippers, and mediocrity. Not for me. Either you change the world, or you change, or somehow you navigate through the world unchanged. Why be boring? Why give up? Why not always try to live life, and not merely exist?
After Ozark Henry supported – and he is apparently huge, performing a set that is equal parts Massive Attack, Coldplay, Sigur Ros, Cocteau Twins, with lashings of the forgotten Tin Star – Suede come on stage to end their 18 month tour to support “Bloodsports”. 2014 has seen them play a short series of shows (largely in London, Moscow, and Japan) to make the 20th anniversary of “Dog Man Star”, and also to end the “Bloodsports” era, and also to blood new songs from the unrecorded next record. It’s an ambitious ploy, but perhaps, the alternative – playing the same 20 songs in the same order 110 times in a row – is a form of spiritual death they have chosen to avoid. There’s no sense of a knackered band, for now they divide time between writing sessions and weekend gigging, and like almost every other show I have seen, Suede are vibrantly alive. Sure, in their 2002-2003 death throes, I saw a band where a singer didn’t really want to be there, the rest grimly holding him up, but now? Now Suede are slicker, and more efficient, more spiritual, more honest perhaps, than at any point they have ever been. 2002’s earthy attempt to connect with something ‘organic’ and ‘real’ they never really had roots to was, in retrospect, insincere, and now – especially with the newer stuff, it’s fairly obvious the band no longer throw out songs that sound like Suede. After all, if you’re being yourself, how can you be anything other than true to your own muse?
This is a Suede that value themselves. That needed to come back to appreciate what they had had – and still have. A band whose interregnum, by the way, was at six and a half years, still shorter than the gap between Guns N Roses tours. A band in themselves, with an occasionally animated Neil Codling looking utterly at home, especially when he smiles as he comes onstage for the encore (which, in 20 years, I have never seen), and when Richard Oakes giggles as he steps away from an errant singer swinging the microphone like some kind of weird pop lasso.
Being the last show of the tour, and the last for the year, and the last until who knows when… Suede offer two things, a set tailored for both the hardcore fan, in the shape of the relatively obscure and rarely played “Europe Is Our Playground” and “Killing Of A Flashboy”, as well as a breathtakingly strong new one “Tightrope”, and the utterly heartbreaking “Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away”, and one for the casual fan of their past, with 14 songs, and three quarters of the night, made of hit singles. Not only did Suede know what they wanted, they know what we want. The moments where Anderson stands at near enough the lip of the stage with a glint in his eye makes it clear that he has back what he always wanted : a second chance – and this time he won’t fuck it up.
As far as band reunions go, Suede are one of the very very few that have turned a reformation or reunion into a continuation, into a second act of redemption, where they win back an artistic crown and shed the weight of their ancient decline. With their best known configuration and a new record that is genuinely very very good and better than many of their original life, their reunion – shorn of bloated sessioneers doing all the work, and embarrassing moments of squeezing into unbecoming positions – is a band doing it right.
After all, it’s a town square, next to a palace, 18 years after their biggest record, and they are still, to be honest, as good as they were then. We’re older now, and clever swine, but we’re also true to ourselves. There's still that sense of abandon at the front, the greasepaint, and, from the stage, although the band seem now accepting of their world. And, also, there's never a oment where one could doubt that this isn't a definitive lineup. Having seen near enough every version of the band barring the playing-to-a-dog-with-a-drum-machine years, it's almost bizarre to think of them now being any different, of being a rabid four piece with Bernard (and without), or their Alex Lee era – not to pretend they didn't happen, but that when they acquit material from Butler era, there's no sense that any members of this band are playing other people's songs ; whilst modern day Oakes would not write “Metal Mickey”, neither would Butler, and here Suede acknowledge their past without being slavish to it, with the gorgeous and fragile “Tightrope” as proof that they are still looking forward, and the splendid “It Starts And Ends With You” sounding like a worthy next chapter.
But we only have one life, only path, and one chance. And that might be why Suede exist now, because frankly, where others have fallen and succcumed to the temptation of a cashgrab victory lap (endless reissue box sets aside) before disappearing until they need another bonus, Suede have done something else. They began again, unapologetically, and sometimes, lightning does strike twice. The stunning and near endless assault of gorgeous perverted pop that characterised them, even now as they age and – well, not so much mature, but look beyond the original traits of gay animal sex, drugs, and decadence – are still in place, having come through the other side.
The final strait is somewhat breathless, of being battered over the head by an endless succession of great songs, most old, but some new. Seen in this light, it's worth remembering that even the oldest of us were young once, dreams, hopes, and big nights out in small cities that weren't big enough for ambitions. With “Saturday Night”, played for the first time since Bejing a year ago, fading away at gone midnight, I chalk up another night where Suede are still, baffingly, as good live as they have ever been.
Europe Is Our Playground
It Starts And Ends With You
We Are The Pigs
Killing of A Flashboy
The Wild Ones
By The Sea (not played)
Can’t Get Enough
Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away
Everything Will Flow
The Beautiful Ones
She’s In Fashion
New Generation (not played)