Review: Suede ignite Symphony Hall with thrilling display of songcraft and showmanship

Peter Ormerod reviews Suede at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Brett Anderson of Suede. Photo by David JacksonBrett Anderson of Suede. Photo by David Jackson
Brett Anderson of Suede. Photo by David Jackson

You wonder if they did it for a bet.

A Tuesday night at a venue more used to Mozart than moshing, row upon row of seats resolutely in place. Their gigs can be incendiary affairs. How would Suede ignite Symphony Hall?

It certainly helps if you have one of the great British vocalists, who has also - and he may not like the term - become one of the great British showmen. And then if you launch salvo after salvo of crunchy yet melodic indie rock at those assembled. "We got there in the end, didn't we?," said Brett Anderson to the crowd as the set neared its close.

Neil Codling and Mat Osman. Photo by David JacksonNeil Codling and Mat Osman. Photo by David Jackson
Neil Codling and Mat Osman. Photo by David Jackson

Suede are now as good at this as anyone. They may have lost some of the danger of old, some of that mystery and menace and darkness, that beguiling sordid glamour. But what they now have is an unabashed desire to please, to do all they can to get the crowd to share in their own thrilling vitality. And so Anderson frequently cavorts with his fans, planting himself among them, or he pleads with them, demanding they reflect the energy being hurled at them. He does all this with great charm, and it works a treat.

Their first album was released 30 years ago this month. It and they were something of a phenomenon, winning the Mercury Prize and selling shedloads of records with songs that drew from the artier end of classic British rock. What seems remarkable now is that they were routinely dismissed as a product of hype, as a confected sensation. It turns out they had the substance to match the style, and then some.

They could be forgiven for slowing down a little since those days. But if anything, they've sped up. Their first two albums were replete with brooding balladry; even singles like So Young and The Drowners had a stateliness to them. But their latest album, Autofiction, is as direct and brutal a record as they have made. And in Birmingham, this translated from the studio to the stage in spectacular style.

They maintained an exhilarating pace for half an hour or so, songs new and old alike careering across the hall and sounding like they always belonged together. Anderson's voice retains its astonishing force, lacerating the air and then caressing it. Bassist Mat Osman gave the occasional sashay. The band sounded better than it perhaps ever has; it is always more raw and aggressive live than on record, but there is pulverising potency now. "Release the animal!", yelled Brett; the ensuing Animal Nitrate was savage indeed.

Brett Anderson of Suede. Photo by David JacksonBrett Anderson of Suede. Photo by David Jackson
Brett Anderson of Suede. Photo by David Jackson

Saturday Night and The Power brought some respite but there was no loss of energy, the former song having acquired a dramatic wistfulness, the latter performed in a stripped-back style that works better than the studio version. Then it was back to the fusillades, interrupted only by Brett performing The Wild Ones alone, on acoustic guitar, in heartstopping fashion. Befitting the leanness of it all, Beautiful Ones was the encore’s one song.

Suede are doing something generally remarkable. They have a hunger that puts most of their supposed peers to shame. They got there in the end alright. And they brought us all with them.

Setlist here

Tour dates here

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