Music Review | Suede | Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall, London

You wouldn't know it from the reaction they receive at their reunion show for the Teenage Cancer Trust, but Suede are the great what if? of 1990s British rock.

For a thrilling, but fleeting moment, it looked like they might be the defining band of their era. They appeared to have everything: fantastic songs, a striking image, an incredible guitarist – Bernard Butler, who has clearly declined to take part in the reunion – and a singer who realised that a truly great pop star is often a piquantly ridiculous figure.

A cynic would question precisely how piquantly ridiculous Brett Anderson actually realised he was – at 42, he seems to have calmed down some of his more florid onstage gesticulations, which given that it takes him all of about three minutes to start jumping into the crowd and shaking hands, juggling with flaming clubs etc gives you some idea of just how florid his onstage gesticulations used to be – but there wasn't much in the way of cynicism during the band's rise to fame.

But Suede ended up being hugely influential, just not in the way people once thought. They defined the career trajectory that dozens of "firework bands" would follow: catapulted to stardom by a wildly overheated music press, as exciting as they would ever be on their debut single, the victims of diminishing returns after.

You get a hint of the diminishing returns in their set tonight.

There's no doubt that latterday songs like Can't Get Enough don't have the same impact as the tracks from their imperial phase, when they could throw something as good as Killing Of A Flash Boy away on a B-side, but it's all mitigated by the ferocity with which the band play everything.

If the audience hysteria doesn't suggest that this is a band that split up in the face of widespread public indifference only seven years ago, and seemed to have been largely forgotten ever since, you could probably work out as much from their performance.

The legendary insouciant cool of the keyboard player, Neil Codling, is still much in evidence – whenever he's not playing, he stares into the audience, wearing the expression of a man who wishes he'd brought a book with him – but there's hint of real hunger about their intensity: they play like a band determined to prove a point.

You could argue they sound better than they did at their commercial peak. Ironically, they had their biggest hits in the football's-coming-home summer of 1996, but they somehow already seemed like a band awkwardly out of time, reminiscent of the years before Oasis. Tonight, there's something vigorously alive and in the moment about Metal Mickey and Animal Nitrate.

Weirdly, given that they're relying on songs nearly 20 years old, the power emanating from the stage isn't purely nostalgic. Whatever their past, they sound like a band who might conceivably have a future.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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