To The Ends Of The City: Suede Live At Ally Pally
, April 2nd, 2013 07:07
Suede brave the echoing Victorian splendour of Alexandra Palace for yet another chapter in their triumphant return; Luke Turner explores why their arch sexuality still leaves marks on his neck.
Suede photographs thanks to Maria Jefferis from Shot2bits.net
Alexandra Palace is about as perfect a venue in which to see Suede in 2013 as you can get. Nobody knows quite why either are still here, ornate and grand and from a time past but still rather beautiful, their backs to the suburbs but looking out, boldly, across the whites and reds and oranges of the city of the city at night, and the misadventure that might lie underneath or behind each one.
On the enormous screen behind the band is the artwork to Bloodsports - person on top of man, pushing the right hand side of his head down, muscles blurring. Unlike on the LP cover, you can see the unadulterated details of the original photograph - the pine bedside table with something on it, the feet of the man at the head next to the bedknobs... It's an intimacy at odds with this notoriously cavernous, rattling space. How can Suede - even with an album as good as Bloodsports behind them - cope? They are, after all, the kind of band you'd quite happily watch night after night in a far smaller venue, and this can be a cruel place in which to play - countless are the groups who have come to grief underneath its high, echoing roof and unforgiving brickwork. Victorian architect Owen Jones never had fruity rock music in mind.
Yet, against the odds, Suede triumph tonight. The set is a cunning one designed to work here - more delicate moments from their back catalogue are eschewed in favour of the faster, louder, shaggier moments. Crucially too, at the first big venue live test, Bloodsports holds its own against the older material and, intriguingly, it's the songs from Coming Up and later albums that get a wilder response than anything from Suede or Dog Man Star.
They start with the writers block-breaker, 'Barriers' leading a trio of new bangers. 'It Starts And Ends With You', in particular, has no trouble filling the space, a classic in the Suede tradition of a serpentine guitar and Brett's vocals - he's already down on his knees in this one, shaking his head as presumably his meat reciprocates to the rear.
It's pertinent that much of the first period of the set is cut between early and most current material, courageous but spot on. So 'Sleeping Pills' runs into 'Sometimes I Feel I Float Away'- no real difference in quality... that track even features a bold moment of silence that keeps the room spellbound before it comes sweeping back in. 'Can't Get Enough', from the maligned Head Music, is one of the finest moments of the evening, bolstered by an exceedingly loud rhythm guitar chug from Neil Codling - who is indecently alluring in high necked black shirt or jumper (too far away to tell which, but hell - one swooned) and fitted black jacket.
Bang! 'Animal Nitrate', and a crowd of people in their 30s singing this anthem to first time, perhaps exploitative sex doesn't feel weird. It happened, we're all here now (I dug myself a garden path earlier today) and it made us what we are. It wasn't just Suede who lived Suede back in the day, everyone did - they were as much part of the gang as we were, and vice versa. Suede did, after all, paint portraits of suburban lives gone rather dry, and the tensions bubbling up underneath. Perhaps for some of these fans approaching middle age, many of these lyrics ring truer than they actually did back in the day. As if to prove the point, 20 years-and-a-day since the release of their debut album, Suede play 'Sleeping Pills', that stunning ode to cul-de-sac ennui. Fast forward to today, and of course Bloodsports details the excitement and breakdown of a relationship that isn't set in teenage years, but something in later years, still approached with a yearning, eroticism and drama of romantic imagination that doesn't really want to settle down to mere life. This isn't about nostalgia at all, but finding glamour, decadence and sex in the here and now.
That said, there's a sizeable crowd under 30 here, most of whom seem to be women - Suede's stated aim of being a "girls' band" who don't appeal to #LADS holding true.
Thank heavens for that. In 'Metal Mickey' we've Brett's first shirtlift, by 'We Are The Pigs', it's half undone, the portrait in Anderson's attic groaning and greying a little as the man yelps and struts and pouts onstage. By 'Hit Me' all we can see is the rest of the band as Brett marauds in front of the crowd. Suede are still a fantastically libidinous group - just over there a man, shirt undone a la Anderson gyrates with a blond lady, who in turn is kissing her friend. What other band of Suede's vintage - or any since - would have a 30-foot-wide picture of a man's bare arse projected on the screen behind them? Imagine if you switched the DVD at the Stone Roses at Heaton Park! Or the Oasis reunion 2016... Confusion, riot and calamity would surely ensue!
Like everything Suede have done over the past few years, tonight is a slow build, as if the band can't quite tell whether or not they're going to be able to pull it off, accidentally stumble on the magic, realise everyone is on with it, then really get their teeth into proceedings, and start to rip. By the end, the whole of Alexandra Palace has been won over, people dance, arms in the air, and sing themselves hoarse. "What are we?" Brett asks, leaping off a monitor, button integrity down to two. "So young", the thousands sing back with defiant conviction. Suede - still not so much a band as a state of mind.