TO last in the music business, you need more than talent and looks. What differentiates those still touring into their third, fourth or even sixth decade is hunger. Based on Wednesday’s as-near-as-damn-it sold-out show at the Barbican, Suede still look lean and hungry, 34 years in.
After an excellent short opening spot from Aircooled, the stage was set for a great night. From the moment Brett Anderson strode on stage, the intent was obvious.
Posting on Twitter today (March 16), bassist Mat Osman sheds light on Suede’s state of mind before the final show of their late-winter tour; “on a wet Wednesday. All-seated venue. I had the lowest of expectations but the crowd at the Barbican made it a stormer.”
The crowd had little choice! From the off, Anderson was onto them, terrier-like to “get up, get up!” It felt like he grabbed everyone by the neck and gave us a good shake. Anderson was relentless in creating the atmosphere the band needed and he succeeded, as the lower tiers left their warm seats and entered the hot house at the front.
They couldn’t have had a better view – from the start to the end of the 20th song 85 minutes later, Anderson never stopped. At 55, his skills as a frontman were second to none, and while the voice isn’t what it once was (and it was never all that!), all eyes were on him.
“That man on the stage” was in the crowd, on his back, all over and most often up on the monitors at the front, a talisman whipping up the atmosphere in another huge chorus.
One of the London band’s T-shirt slogans summed it up: “Turn off your brains and yell,” it read. Sing or yell we did, pretty much throughout. Anderson made his point emphatically: rock gigs are about coming together and getting into it.
Suede are enjoying a lengthy second spell of success. Their latest album, 2022’s Autofiction, is a direct and no-nonsense punk rock record; perfect for playing live. That album got a nod or two, but this was essentially a greatest hits set, played as if it were the first or last time they would get the chance.
What of the music? With the original rhythm section of Osman and Brett Gilbert firmly in control, guitarist Richard Oakes has matured from the stripling 17-year-old asked to fill Bernard Butler’s big shoes into this riff powerhouse, his low-slung guitar providing the crunch to most of the songs.
Suede’s music is all about riffs, rhythm and playing as a unit. There’s barely a solo and nothing that isn’t absolutely vital for the song (except perhaps for Neil Codling on guitar and keyboards, who mostly alternated between looking glamorous and bored).
It was ten songs in before the intensity abated, and then only slightly and not for long. Of the two acoustic numbers, The Wild Ones was by far the best – a reminder that even louche rock bands have feelings.
The encore of Beautiful Ones, still their finest 3 minutes 50 seconds, put the cap on the night, almost tearing the roof off. Newcomers take note, if you want to own the stage, you have to mean it – so watch and learn from these masters.
Review by Paul Rhodes