Live review: Suede at Albert Hall Manchester
By Sarah Taylor
Suede have always seemed to occupy a liminal space – not quite outsiders, but not quite in. They are considered one of the Big Four Britpop bands (alongside Oasis, Blur, and Pulp) yet bear a disdain for the laddish label and a taste for glam-rock, post-punk, raw lyricism, and instrumental pomp.
Their self-titled debut, almost universally accepted as the album that kickstarted Britpop, won them the Mercury Prize in 1993. Suede’s androgynous image, bombastic musicianship, and relatable songs about ‘nowhere towns’ led to a speedy rise in popularity – both critically and commercially. Magnum opus Dog Man Star and the unskippable Coming Up followed, as the band deviated from the mainstream, ever experimenting with their sound.
After five albums, Suede called it a day in 2003. They reformed in 2010, releasing a string of successful records that decade including Bloodsports (2013), Night Thoughts (2016), and The Blue Hour (2018) which form a thematic trilogy of sorts. These records saw a resurgence in quality for the band, garnering critical acclaim, but their latest album Autofiction takes things to a whole new level. To put it in frontman Brett Anderson’s words, it’s a “gnarly” and “spunky” post-punk record.
Under the spotlight tonight, Autofiction sounds even better when it’s brought to life beneath the cavernous church ceilings of the Albert Hall. The album peaked at the number two spot in the UK top 40 in September, a feat the band haven’t matched since 1996’s Coming Up, which they performed in full on their last UK tour two years prior.
However, as you can see, Suede do not simply rest on their laurels. They always know how to strike the balance between promoting new material, performing their biggest hits, and sprinkling in a surprise rarity for each audience. On the first of two sold-out shows at the Albert Hall, we’re treated to the particularly poignant ‘High Rising’, with only Neil Codling carrying the track on piano, and ‘To The Birds’, both b-sides featuring on their stellar collection Sci-Fi Lullabies.
Brett Anderson is absolutely mesmerising. You can’t take your eyes off him. At 55, Anderson is still as fit and frenetic as ever, crashing to his knees during ‘Turn Off Your Brain and Yell’, leaping over the barrier and getting stuck in with the crowd, climbing atop the amps for several numbers, and lassoing the mic during the nihilistic anthem ‘So Young’.
Suede’s loyal fans affectionately christened The Insatiable Ones (after ‘My Insatiable One’) line the barrier at the Albert Hall, as they do each night of the tour. It is clear that Brett recognises some familiar faces as he dives into the crowd for ‘The Drowners’, embracing concertgoers and sharing the mic, ensuring everyone gets a moment with the iconic frontman. He’ll repeat this for a further four songs throughout the set including ‘The Only Way I Can Love You’, and the band’s signature song ‘Beautiful Ones’.
For a band whose career is entering its fourth decade, its brilliant to see Autofiction’s lead single ‘She Still Leads Me On’ belted right back by the audience. ‘Personality Disorder’ translates particularly well in the live setting. It’s a stomping tune with a catchy hook, thrashing drums courtesy of Simon Gilbert and a meaty bassline from Mat Osman. ‘Shadow Self’ is a similar stand out. A tender acoustic rendition of ‘The Wild Ones’, sandwiched between ‘It Starts and Ends With You’ and ‘Black Ice’ provides some respite in an otherwise raucous segment.
After a brief illusory departure from the stage, Suede return for a rip-roaring version of 1996’s ‘Trash’, with Anderson preceding the song with a rallying cry of “We’re the litter on the breeze / We’re the lovers on the streets!”
Anderson is of course a master of showmanship, oozing charisma and giving the audience exactly what they want. But Suede are a bit like a jigsaw; each member brings something to the table, and you feel that if one piece were missing, the shows would lack the vibrancy and energy that underscores them.