Stephen Bray 02/05/2007
Suede have returned, and here they are at the Academy 2. They appear to be playing a set of album tracks or something. Certainly the sound is familiar, even if the songs are not. But it must be Suede as we can quite clearly see
a pretty boy keyboardist, and look, there's Matt Osman on bass! They've got the histrionic guitarist thrashing his way around the stage, the vaguely competent drummer, and then there's Brett, preening away as of old. But wait…what's wrong with him? He looks terribly thin. And those wrinkles! My word, he looks so old! And is he wearing jeans with that jacket?
Thus it is that the Brett Anderson show rolls into town. Brett doesn't look at all well. The man once known for his sartorial elegance is dressed like Jeremy Clarkson with wasting disease. The wrinkles cut deep into his face and his hands are claw-like. His legs are like twigs, an effect only exacerbated by the ridiculously tight jeans that he's wearing under his
pinstripe jacket. Brett Anderson is 38 and looks to be in his mid-50s. The man who started his career looking like Bowie but 20 years younger now looks like Bowie's brother who's gone to seed. It's a worrying sight.
The new songs are all fairly worthy, but rather dull. There are few good lyrics, and no songs really stand out. The band play competently, but there's no real sense of passion or excitement like with the Suede of old. The guitarist manages passable Bernard impressions, but he's so low in the mix that it's not really worth it. It seems that Brett's found himself
another new Bernard, but one who'll deign to every one of his master's whims.
The only thing to grab one's attention throughout the show is Brett himself. He preens, he chats, he goes into the audience to shake hands again and again. He seems desperate to be loved and to be needed, and so he exhorts the audience to constantly shout louder, to cheer louder. When they play the
token Suede song - By The Sea - he comes to sit at the front of the stage and with a “Oh, so you know this one do you?” he's off and yes, it's a good rendition, but even this (fairly unremembered) Suede song stands head and shoulders over the rest of the set. A paragon of beauty and passion and, if
you close your eyes, it could almost be ten years ago…
After the main set is over, Brett settles down with an acoustic guitar to take requests. We get 'Another No-one', 'The Living Dead', 'The Big Time' and 'The Wild Ones', and although it's wonderful to hear them all and yes, it is great hearing Suede songs live again, it does seem to be slightly over-egging the 'Suede' pudding when, after all, the man disbanded the band a few years ago to do his 'own thing'. And yet here he is, taking requests like he's on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit. Compared to Jarvis Cocker's triumphant return to (a larger venue in) Manchester the other month, this becomes even more apparent, especially when one recalls that Jarvis played a set entirely constructed from his debut album. There weren't even any requests for Pulp songs at the Jarvis gig, but one couldn't imagine Brett being able to get away from here tonight if he didn't play a few Suede songs. Jarvis is able to stand on his own two feet, yet Brett is not.
A further difference between Cocker and Anderson occurs in some banter early on. A female audience member tells Anderson to get his shirt off. He says that he will do if she “takes all her clothes off. Right now. Come on!” It's
seedy rather than funny, and even his laughter sounds false and unnerving. At the Cocker gig, someone yelled out for him to “show us your arse.” He replied with, “What? You really want to see the arse of a 43 year old man?” to much laughter and applause. There's a bit of style and self-deprecation
in that. Nothing like Anderson's cockiness and frankly disturbing demands for constant ego massaging tonight.
He returns for an encore that he's made us beg for. When he actually comes back on stage, he complains that we're not cheering loudly enough, so he makes us cheer him even more. Again. And then the band play 'Can't Get Enough', 'Trash' and 'Beautiful Ones', all of which see the microphone thrust at the audience whilst Brett cavorts around demanding, yet again, that we show our enjoyment and appreciation! This used to work on teenage Suede fans at arenas several years ago, but in the comparably small Academy Two on a weeknight to an audience well into their mid/late twenties (if not older), it really does fall quite flat and smells of desperation. As do the song choices.
In short then, as great as it is to hear Suede songs performed by a healthy minority of the band, it's somewhat bittersweet when one remembers that these songs are now rather old indeed, and that the only really good parts of this gig are the nostalgia-fests that are his back catalogue, rather than his somewhat uninspiring current one.