This was supposed to be a secret. The name on the bill is Crushed Kid, described as a “brand sparkling new post-punk band”, but there’s a remarkable number of Suede T-shirts in the room and no audible gasps of surprise when the Britpop pioneers (who reunited to great effect in 2013) take to the stage. The grapevine must be very efficient.
Moth Club, a 300-capacity ex-servicemen’s club backroom with a backdrop of chintzy tassels in which Simon Gilbert’s drumstick gets briefly ensnared, is unusually small for Suede, but they do like to start again. They stretch out (or break up), then snap back to basics. It happened with 1996’s Coming Up and 2013’s Bloodsports, and now again with new album Autofiction, hard on the heels of their debut single’s 30th anniversary. While their last album, The Blue Hour, featured strings, field recordings and spoken word, Autofiction sounds like five men in a room making a handsome racket, as if casting a spell to ward off middle-aged complacency. Hence the frantic intimacy of the Moth Club. For the first time in many years, Suede are extremely loud and incredibly close.
On the album, the songs’ debt to a certain strand of post-punk is more obvious, with Cure basslines and Cult guitars (leather-jacketed keyboardist Neil Codling actually looks like he’s in the Cult), but the venue’s rough acoustics give them a garage-rock spin. With eyes closed, you might sometimes mistake them for the young Horrors. The taut songwriting shines through though: 15 Again is a barbed anthem, That Boy on the Stage a flashback to their falsetto glam-rock roots, It’s Always the Quiet Ones a magnificent rush.
Singer Brett Anderson has talked of feeling diminished by lockdown, unplugged from the electricity of adoration, and he looks to be recharging before our eyes. Despite the album’s undertow of fiftysomething angst, he’s ageing as smoothly as Hugh Grant, all cheekbones and fringe, in a white shirt that’s translucent with sweat by song four. He introduces the fabulously overripe What Am I Without You? as “a love song to the audience. I’m nothing without you.” When he crouches down, arms outstretched to the faithful, one thinks of David Bowie’s Rock’n’Roll Suicide: “Gimme your hands, cause you’re wonderful.”
Suede wrap up after just 50 minutes, following the cathartic lose-yourself manifesto Turn Off Your Brain and Yell, and exit via the crowd with a buzz of elation. An encore of songs from their urgent, hungry debut would have been an apt bonus but perhaps that would have diluted the purity of the concept. Anderson sustains the pseudo-pretence to the last. “We’re Crushed Kid,” he says with a grin. “Hopefully we’ll see you again. It’s a long way to the top of the ladder but we’re going to climb it.”
The acid test of a gig like this is to imagine if this really were an unknown new band with no reputation to trade on. What would you think? On this ferocious showing, you’d tell your friends they’ll go far.