London, Kentish Town Forum
Oop. Sorry I’m late. Shit; it’s started. Have I missed much?
As I eventually shut the fuck up and take my, er, pigeon-jostle perch amid an over-sold Forum crowd, the screen on stage shows some random images synchronised to the strains of Suede’s newest long-player, and I feel like some late-coming cinema knob immersed in a missed plot. A colleague had earlier texted the jolly news: film starts in 5 min & ur going to be l8 u dik. x
Not being made aware there was a film to be late for in the first place, my dyslexic friend’s taunt is nevertheless apposite: this is an event that, unlike any other gig, you can be LATE for. Not the sort of thing that’s customary of a Friday night in London town, nor even of the band in question: Suede cordially invites you to a night in front of the telly. Amyl nitrate optional.
With new album Night Thoughts still a relative stranger, When You Are Young makes for a disconcerting entrance, all ominous strings selling science-fiction romance and death (probably), being given a sexual bashing by Bretty-blue’s gyrating meerkat vocals. This is rompingly rampant Suede here, so sex is like a dribbling thing everywhere, but there’s also a warm familiarity that’s like coming home. It’s Sunday lunch and porno at your parents’.
Yes, perversity reigns and anticipation humps the air like a randy goat, though the atmosphere is more brooding than seductive; where much of their formative oeuvre strove to get in our pants, this feels like the stirring consequence of succumbing. Thus impregnated, a night in front of the telly is probably just the ticket.
Except that’s not it at all. While the screen holds the entire auditorium under its spell, the allure of image-induced passivity is suddenly roused from its slumber as the house lights illuminate what’s going on beyond.Inside
“She puts her faith in the moment – OUTSIDERS”…
The words erupt like liquid hormones and horror from the depths of Brett Anderson’s bowels, and the lights come streaming onto familiar angular limbs that hide just behind the screen. At the sight of this prurient, perfectly preserved praying mantis sashaying in the murky near distance surrounded by his rhythmic conspirators, the suspension of disbelief one normally takes to the movies is jolted into reality where incredulity is the paradoxical law.
Up until this point, it is conceivable this is simply a recording set to visuals, such is the sound’s implausible perfection. It’s a Wizard Of Oz moment in reverse; once we glimpse the men behind the curtain, the broken illusion heightens the majesty. There is alchemy here, and it’s showing its working.
Visually, it’s like a surreal incantation that has the eerie slow-motion effect of a snow dome – of life preserved in perpetuity beyond the flurry that dances in the foreground. In parallel, Anderson’s voice throws out crystalline nodes of music that resonate in a sonic stasis. The accompanying images – ostensibly a montage of life in all its beautiful mundanity, and all that crap – lend a haunting air to the music that begins with shivers and ends with earthquakes riding through colossal basslines. It’s all very metaphor central, I’m sure, like a Mike Leigh metafilm of a day in the life of a day in a life, set to a soundtrack by, well, Suede – but Suede screaming in an isolation tank.
In fact, there’s a sense of closeness here that borders on claustrophobic, not least when the screen starts filling up with water and we’re submerged into a Radiohead video. And while the No Suprises treatment is no surprise to me – another colleague had warned I was in for a swim – the effect is nonetheless breathtaking, literally and figuratively. The woozy vertigo of Tightrope plummets like a deep-sea dive into the unknown, enticed by the sonorous sonar of Anderson the merman’s ethereal, submarine vocals as the screen becomes fully submerged below the water line. It’s an aural and visual drowning that’s refused mouth-to-mouth as it segues relentlessly into the amniotic fluid of Learning To Be’s womb-like somnolence, before squeezing through Rosemary’s Baby’s creepy la-la-la birth canal into (aptly) Like Kids, a brattish bouncing thing born in the image of Suede’s newfound paternity. It’s a visceral, organic segue that moves from hanging at the end of one’s rope to falling into regressive, baptismal rebirth in a three-song progression. From tightrope to umbilical cord, only Suede can make these connections appear seamless, pervaded as they are by a shared sense of life’s delicious precariousness.
Inside the screen, way below the water line, Anderson is on his knees (in the middle of the road, according to the images, though anywhere but in reality), imploring his vocals into being like a phantom of the operatic, the dying seduction of epic album closer The Fur And The Feathers a recalcitrant final breath. Accompanied by images of wading through water and cornfields, the cycle-of-life theme is blatant – as naive as a child’s drawing and just as perversely accurate – but at the same time perfectly aligns film and music and draws all matter back into itself, as if to begin again. The bookend of When You Were Young’s stirring finale echoes the beginning while portending the end… and another beginning, fledgling, sparsely feathered and on the verge of flight with a colossal, emergent outro. And as the spotlight fades on Anderson coiled double centre stage, a foetus suspended in fluid and fluidity, Suede’s new beginnings wash over a subaquatic Forum crowd like a biblical tidal wave – a deluge of regenerative destruction awash on a strange but familiar shore.
If this is the end, the world and Noah are gonna need a bigger boat: the Drowners are back…
And then they are. And when they are, they are.
The new operatic proclivities of Suede mk… um, three-at-least apparently requires an opera-style intermission, so we’ve sought oxygen after the scuba dive, only to return to see the aquarium now become a suitably attired dive.
Screen removed, the stage is newly adorned with sleaze-swatch purple velvet beloved of whoever directed Suede videos in the 90s; all looks like a brothel again, and mankind’s parity is restored. Anderson has crawled out of his trench at the bottom of the ocean and is once again Madame Androgyny in his/her lascivious lair, grabbing his crotch and shagging ears all over with some dangerous aural insertions.
Hump-hump. That’s Anderson’s magnetised pelvis thrusting its way centre stage as This Hollywood Life fires up the second half with a sledgehammer thigh-slap. Click-click: that’s the pushing-50 dude in loosened shirt and discarded tie in front of me throwing some Brett shapes… and possibly his back out. If the first half were a sombre David Attenborough affair in front of the telly looking at fish and their plight, part two is fucking JAWS vs. PIRANHA The Porno in 3D, and we’re gonna ponder the error of thinking it was safe to go back in the water – while our nuts get bitten off.
So, as the man in front ably demonstrates that mid-life crises have external symptoms (who knew?), a well brushed and distinctly leathery Suede go about the business of eviscerating anachronisms and showing that turning back the chronometer doesn’t have to be chronic. The still snake-like Animal Nitrate slithers about the place with its original original-sin allure, Anderson’s jutting throat a come-hither Adam’s apple to the slither of baying Eves (and Steves) down front. As he vocally pirouettes and preens from falsetto to baritone, etching each note with a variety of body shapes like a collapsible clothes horse, the prurient ambiguist (new word: n. Brett Anderson; his arse) teases and temps, by turns berating and becalming, scorning and seducing, and ultimately loosening and unzipping a deliriously confused audience down to a very sticky floor. Whether it’s the de-suited middle-aged uncle-dancer or the newer generation being born Freudian slippery into this cultish cauldron, the age boundaries are as blurred as the sexual preferences; the ensuing celebration that fires up when Filmstar parades the collective red carpet engenders a kind of pan-generational amorphous coming together of which Suede are the highest proponents.
There are no ages here; there is no prejudice or politics; this is music for being alive to, without condition or conditioning. Even when cocksure anthem So Young ruffles its spring-chicken feathers – with Anderson somehow suddenly in the middle of the crowd, getting plucked to death by his plugged-in battery coup – its call-to-arms teenage mantra is emancipated by its lack of restraint. Unlike the stigma Supergrass face with the minty-fresh Alright, this young ‘un doesn’t need to embody in order to feel. By the end, everyone is chasing the dragon, with the legendary Anderson riding its hide like Kinky Arthur the nuclear knight; even my newfound embarrassing-uncle friend (who I’ve decided is a banker – he holds not himself to account) is somehow more congruent, even if just on loan (by the end he’s pissed me off again, with interest). There is mayhem here that belies its years – an aberration of nature that feels so natural, so timeless, so absolutely fuck-it.
And didn’t this night start out in front of the telly?
As he stops stripping off and starts stripping things back, Anderson has to orchestrate some calm among his enlivened stock of spring chickens and old goats, turning inward to sentiment and retrospection. A few of the herd don’t get it; dedicating a beautifully sparse acoustic version of High Rising to a collection of European fanatics who have shadowed them across the continent, Anderson spots some unruly chicks still chattering. “You can talk about fucking EastEnders later,” he says pointedly, and the fuck is upwardly closed. In the stillness, Anderson folds inward, physically and emotionally, as he excavates the living soul out of the music’s blackened depths with a miner’s blindness.
“I want to thank the Forum for all you’ve done for us over the years,” he says to the Forum, before revealing that the last time they were here (in 1992), a girl had just fled from his life. Rolling back the years with candour, the surprise appearance of Justine Frischmann seems more coincidence than contrivance, Anderson making the comment offhandedly. He seems sanguine. So sanguine, in fact, that he thanks the frigging Bull & Gate next door, clearly oblivious to the fact the once-beloved venue has ditched the sleaze and gone gastro. Suede, on the other hand, have dragged their sleazy arses into a new generation and nestled their leathery hips right in the middle, planting their flag right in at the end with New Generation, an unscrupulous, untameable, ungovernable riot – led by Anderson’s screaming “Here they come!” and echoed to the rafters with “The beautiful ones!” – that’s always and forever heading this way, like a tidal wave, coming for us all – drowners, waving…
In front of me, the banker who likes to play Brett has stopped shorting his assets and is coming back into himself. Show is over; the time machine has hit the brakes, and… I swear this man looks younger. Has he lost some years, or have I gained some? After a slight pang of fear, I shrug and decide it’s all relative.
As the homogenous crowd files away to once again become filed away, the uncategorisable (another new word: adj. free) sense of boundlessness is a resonant tune. What started out as a night in front of the telly (albeit a massive, subaquatic one) and ended with having it largely unrestrained on the dance floor seems to evolved some pan-generational indifference to time; because we’re young and naive, we can be born every minute.
In this case, we’re reborn Suedean slippery.
*An edited version of this article is published in Flood magazine in the US and Record Collector in the UK
(full album: Night Thoughts)
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 And The Feathers
This Hollywood Life
Killing Of A Flashboy
High Rising (acoustic)
For The Strangers
Everything Will Flow (acoustic)
To The Birds