Suede/Noel Gallagher | Pop review

Royal Albert Hall, London

Although hindsight has tightened it, Britpop was by no means a unified movement. Almost immediately, a deep fissure appeared within its corpus, like that which divides the human gluteal muscles. There were, in short, the bands who wiggled their bums, and those who did not. Oasis never did a thing for the hips. What coquettishness Blur had at the start quickly vanished as laddism took hold. Pulp's Jarvis Cocker enacted a pantomime of eroticism crossed with the Ministry for Silly Walks.

Suede's Brett Anderson, by contrast, had a groin which spoke simultaneously of wantonness and waste, embodying Britpop's links with British's music's polymorphously perverse past: the strut of Jagger, the bisexual nuances of Bowie, the carnal angst of Morrissey.

Within seconds of arriving on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, Brett Anderson is shaking that still minuscule rump to singles such as "Trash" and "Animal Nitrate" – as splendidly sordid a tune as Britpop ever produced. He jumps into the photographer's pit for "The Drowners", leaning backwards into the arms of giddy fans; he will return to their embrace time and again.

Clad in the narrowest of tailored trousers and topped off by a flopping fringe, the 42-year-old Anderson might look a bit more like Bryan Ferry than he once did. But seven years on from Suede's farewell gig, Anderson's limbs scythe and twirl with utter conviction; he is no longer the moody artist alone at a piano, eking out politely received solo albums, but a man fronting a band whose reunion is an almost unqualified success. Having played two warm-up gigs, this official reconvention is in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, the charity embraced a decade ago by Roger Daltrey and the Who, instigators of TCT's annual series of gigs.

Tonight's lineup is not the original one, however. Founding Suede guitarist Bernard Butler remains at large, producing records for other people in the aftermath of his success with Duffy. Despite having reconciled with Anderson as the Tears in 2004, the hatchet, once buried, appears to have been disinterred of late. Anderson mentions the absence of someone special tonight, and fans' thoughts turn immediately to Butler. But rather than announcing the ultimate special guest, Anderson dedicates "He's Gone" to a friend, Jesse, who passed away two weeks ago.

The remainder of Suede Mk II are as sleek and well turned out as Anderson. Only guitarist Richard Oakes is a bloke in jeans and trainers, rather than an effete night creature. But as the set motors on, memories of the band's shortcomings come flooding back, as surely as memories of their pomp.

Suede album covers almost invariably featured strung-out people splayed out on bare mattresses. A great many of Suede's less-good songs – "Heroine", say – are inferior glamorisations of the same addled demi-monde that inspired their best tunes. Clichés about drugs and sex don't improve for being slowed down, and Suede's set drags a little towards the end. But their conviction never falters, providing a timely reminder in the wake of last year's Blur reunion that Britpop was far more interesting a cultural moment than its billing as an almighty urination match between Blur and Oasis.

Oasis mainman Noel Gallagher has, in later life, evolved from bullish Britpop guv'nor into something of a mordant raconteur. His arse remains resolutely unliberated, however, and glued to a stool for the duration of Gallagher's first live outing since the dissolution of Oasis.

This performance could have gone two ways. Gallagher could have road-tested a few new songs, and held forth waspishly on a variety of topics. There might have been sly digs at his brother Liam, who has vowed to continue a rump Oasis without Noel. (Guitarist Gem Archer is supposedly involved, making his appearance alongside Noel tonight a talking point.)

Or he could have played a feelgood hits set from Oasis's imperial period and made fun of scousers. He opts for the latter, making for a very happy audience, but a predictable evening. Alone on acoustic guitar with just drummer Terry Kirkbride, they open with "(It's Good) to Be Free", the only indicator tonight to Gallagher's state of mind. Everyone else on stage is seated too – Gem, Oasis keyboard player Jay Darlington, Kirkbride, plus the Wired Strings, an all-female string section who previously played with Gallagher at his Teenage Cancer Trust gig in 2007.

The crowd, by contrast, is on its feet from moment one. Up near the gods is the Crouch End Festival Chorus. They needn't have bothered turning up, as their vocals are drowned out by the crowd. Gallagher confesses that tonight's set is largely the same as three years ago. "Play a new song?" he huffs wryly. "We don't do new songs for charity."

Noel's delivery of "Wonderwall" has mutated in recent years, becoming more nuanced. His maturing voice has become less hectoring too, even as his lyrics remain frozen in the imperative mood. Another small pleasure comes from the deep woody sound coaxed out of Archer's semi-acoustic guitar, and his pithy solos.

There is also fascination in how Gallagher's songs defy the laws of physics to become more than the sum of their meagre lyrical parts. "Digsy's Dinner" is, famously, about lasagne. The collected Wisdom of Gallagher meanwhile sheds the kind of light on the human condition on a par with media-coached sportsmen in post-match interviews. Britpop never had a worthy mission statement, of course. But is it right that, 15 years on, the Albert Hall is full of people bawling along to "Don't Look Back in Anger" as others do to "Land of Hope and Glory"?


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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