SUEDE Manchester Albert Hall 09 February 2016
At the sumptious Albert Hall in Manchester, a converted – and once derelict – church built in 1910 and now a Grade 2 listed building (nearest known equivalent, the now closed Que Club in Birmingham), there are quite a few people I know, and yet, I seem incapable of talking to most of them, for some reason, my brain is thinking I should talk to you and say hello and not have a kind of weird, crippling shyness and yet at the same time my brain goes no, I can't talk to anyone tonight, Not Happening, Sorry. And then when words leave my mouth they're not very good.
So yesterday was one of my 'not very good at talking to people' days.
With their seventh record, the top five, “Night Thoughts” - Suede, firmly established beyond the nostalgia circuit of their reformation, have mastered the elusive art of the middle aged – sorry, experienced - rock album. The majority of their peers, such as Pulp, Oasis, and so forth, have either descended into unproductive nostalgia touring the same handful of twenty year old hits... or gamely release mediocre records that sound like 20 year old b-sides, play one token song from it on tour, and then disappear back into... well, you get the very small picture. In the meantime, “Night Thoughts” has managed the rare feat of being a genuinely great record made by men not intent on capturing former glories but creating new ones of their own. They're an art band that rocks these days, not a rock band that hints at art.
The first half of the show sees the band performing the 12 songs from “Night Thoughts” in full and in order whilst the accompanying, non-linear silent film tells the tale that thematically matches the songs : lyrically the songs are dense and layered, and musically they follow a sort of thematic structure, as motifs, phrases, and elements, reappear from song to song and within each song. The film is chock full of trigger warnings for our sensitive souls, with the usual, pregnancy, suicide, death, drugs, and tragedy.
One thing that is fascinating with some artists is... seeing them grow older. Seeing artists change their concerns and their work so they reflect … not just who they are, but who they are now, how they reflect the world now, and what it is to get older, how your priorities change from gay animal sex, drugs, and bands and gangs, to the themes that “Night Thoughts” reflect, parenthood, children, responsibility, love, loss, age.. how to remain engaged in a world where culture is no longer interested in you, but in other people with disposable income and no attention span. Being AC/DC, and still going on about Sinking The Pink and Rock Shockers when you're 72.. much as I love AC/DC, that's just.. boring. Suede have remained firmly not in the boring camp. (And when they edged towards it, they split up for several years).
The film that they perform behind is.. by no means an easy watch : a domestic tragedy of a normal life. The whole thing builds to a chilling crescendo around when you realise that whatever you have done to get this far in life might simply not have been enough to make the battle worthwhile. Most bands don't touch this kind of subject matter. They're too chickenshit to do so, instead preferring to provide a pleasant Indie Disco for a nights escapism.
And Suede reward your patience. After a ten minute break to see the projection screen removed and a slight reconfiguring of the stage, they return for a brief, and powerful hour encore set : Alongside a set of staples that burn like fire - “So Young”, “Animal Nitate”, “Metal Mickey”, “New Generation”, “Trash”, “The Beautiful Ones” - there's the sight of an often barechested Brett singing from inside the crowd, or their secret weapon, multi-instrumentalist Neil Codling, or longstanding guitarist Richard Oakes, peeling off riffs that stadium rock bands would sell their desperate souls for. Alongside the known hits, there's also appearances for the rarely played “Introducing The Band”, and “Obsessions” (from the unloved pre-split “A New Morning”), both of which are appearing from the first time in a number of years. Having seen Suede quite a lot over the years, and having seen every lineup at every era, from the dingy pub days of pre-album shows to yesterday 24 years later, theres no doubt that Suede successfully walk the tightrope between looking back, and looking forward, of remaining relevant but respectful of their history, and of growing older in a young world with the kind of artistic vision intact. If only others could grow old quite so … brilliantly.
When You Are Young
I Don't Know How To Reach You
What I'm Trying To Tell You
Learning To Be
I Can't Give Her What She Wants
When You Were Young
The Fur & The Feathers
Introducing The Band
Killing Of A Flashboy
The Beautiful Ones
Everything Will Flow