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Three Songs No Flash

You're Never Alone: Luke Turner On Suede Live
Luke Turner , April 29th, 2019 12:06

Suede bring their Blue Hour tour to a close on a Sunday night in Cambridge where, led by a sweaty and shirt-ripping Brett Anderson, they once again prove that their continued existence has nothing to do with nostalgia. Photos by Valerio Berdini

At gigs by bands of a certain vintage I’m often left wishing that the audience would act their shoe size rather than their age, so static and dour-faced can they be. A Sunday night in the unforgiving and cavernous surroundings of Cambridge’s Corn Exchange then might feel like an inauspicious place to see Suede play the final night of their UK tour in support of last year’s brilliant eighth album, The Blue Hour.

Thankfully, nobody seems to have told Brett Anderson. As opener ‘As One’ looms and glowers around the ornate rafters, he struts onto the stage, all shoulders and shirt and cheeky grin that belies his 50-odd years. Suede launch into the whirling ‘Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You’ and essentially don’t let up for the next 90-plus minutes, a war of attrition against the time of week and any lethargic tendencies in the thousands in front of them. Increasingly Suede sound and feel like a solid unit, both on record and live, messrs Mat Osman, Richard Oakes, Neil Codling and Simon Gilbert determined and powerful even as they recontextualise new work and old alike - never resting on their laurels, they've been playing vastly different sets on every night of this tour. This seems to have allowed their frontman to reach levels of intensity that go even beyond their 90s heyday.

I’ve never seen anyone work a crowd as hard as Anderson does tonight. He prowls, he leaps, pirouettes and gurns, he takes the tricks from his repertoire - swinging the microphone on a giant arc around his head before letting it wrap his body etc - to whip up the crowd. By the end of the fifth song, a bravura run through ‘So Young’, his shirt is ripped from armpit to arse; by the end of the set its open to his waist, and sodden with sweat. Nobody else could get away with this, at his age, but this utter lack of shame, and with it the sense of complete joy that he has in performance, means he does. When Suede split back in 2003 Anderson said that he “needed to do whatever it takes to get my demon back”, and my word he’s found it. Except it wasn’t a demon at all, but the profound relationship Suede have with their audience, a shared energy, a sense of love.

While all the hits are present tonight – a still-feral ‘Animal Nitrate’, snarling ‘Drowners’, ever-anthemic ‘Trash’ – the material chosen from the back catalogue adds great depth. The juddering ‘Can’t Get Enough’ is still a wonderfully stomping anthem to the dire perils of compulsion, ‘He’s Gone’ a fraught dive into its aftermath. They’re both timely reminders that Suede’s moderately derided 1999 album Head Music contained gems. And then there's ‘Europe Is Our Playground’, a b-side but one of Suede’s finest moments, tonight juddering with bass and synth drones as the stage, rather poignantly, is bathed in EU blue. If anything I could do with new songs like ‘Chalk Circles’ and ‘Cold Hands’ that follow ‘Europe’s lead in continuing Suede’s under-explored but brilliant gothic synth territory over the guitar pop likes of ‘Lazy’ or ‘Beautiful Ones’, but that’s a minor quibble.

Anderson is, as ever these days, remarkably self-effacing. As he sets himself up at the front of the stage with acoustic guitar and microphone to play by himself as the rest of the band take a rest, he warns the audience that his voice is rather crocked by over-exertion and he might not make it. Yet the room falls silence for a tender new song called ‘Blinded’ that seemingly picks up on the grief he felt at the death of his mother, so movingly explored in his recent memoir Coal Black Mornings. Whatever cracks there are at the top of his range are made up for by the direct simplicity of the lyricism, and how the last few notes then trickle into a hushed version of ‘The Wild Ones’ that’s the best I’ve ever seen Suede do, the crowd singing along. It’s quite a lot like church.

After that, ‘Pantomime Horse’ is grand and stately and preposterous as ever. Suede are, of course, one of those rare groups who understand that pomposity is not to be avoided in embarrassment, but a vital energy. It’s perhaps why they’ve never had the everyperson success enjoyed by many of their peers – you have to put the effort in, to join the band on the journey, to want to scale the dizzy heights with them. Suede understood that rock & roll ought to be in-your-face, libidinous, dramatic and camp, and in that sense I am increasingly behind a dear friend’s brilliant theory that they have more in common with Def Leppard than Blur or Oasis.

I’ve always been less interested in how music is made than how music makes us, and Suede certainly made me. It’s why seeing them play live decades after they formed never feels like an exercise in nostalgia, especially when they’re turning out records as brilliant as The Blue Hour. In Suede live in 2019 is everything they did for me a quarter of a century ago, and in the reaction of this no longer static crowd, you can sense it’s the same for a lot of people here too. Yet it’s not just those of my middle age either, a babysitter to be relieved back home and thoughts of work in the morning - there are a lot of daughters here who seem just as enraptured as their dads, for instance. And then, at the last song, Anderson invites the front rows up to sing along with him, and suddenly the stage is full of people who look half the age of everyone in the room. The band play ‘Life Is Golden’, a rolling, sunlit new song and one of Suede’s best ever, and its vaulting chorus of solidarity and simple, affirming joy that I think gets to the heart of why this band mean so much to some of us: “You're not alone look into the light and be heard / You're never alone; your life is golden”. It’s an odd feeling as the song carries me high, because I’m suddenly struck by how these late teens and early 20s onstage look familiar, as if I’m seeing back into my own past. They’re the awkward kids, queer kids, the misfits for whom something as simple as a band can mean the world and I feel hot tears flowing down my cheeks as I see that Suede are still changing young lives, as they did mine.

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