Sweaty, tense anticipation drips from the smoke-stained ceilings. Throngs of teenagers in second-hand shirts with over-sized collars. A crowd who have clutched this band’s three singles to their bosoms, their hearts and their undernourished waists. In two day’s time, their debut eponymous album will be unleashed; a chance to prove to their Irish audience what all the excitement has been about, why they are being dubbed “the best new band in Britain” by Melody Maker. But this was Saturday, the 27th of March 1993 when Suede stunned a zealous Tivoli audience who had bought in wholesale to the sleazy glamour and epic grandeur that Suede were serving up.
So, fast forward eighteen years and both band and audience are a little older and the fervour is not quite as maniacal as it was back in the Tivoli. And for an album that is so clearly enthralled with youth and hedonism as Suede’s debut is, the reservations about a group of (mostly) forty-something men singing about “tough kids” and extolling the marvels of being “so young” are quickly evaporated. Although this may be a somewhat different line-up to that of 1993, the tunes from that self-titled record are attacked with as much gusto as ever. Brett Anderson has no difficulty in reminding everyone exactly why he is an extraordinary frontman but it’s guitarist, Richard Oakes that steals the show tonight. Forever painted as simply a poor man’s Bernard Butler, every note is played with a point to prove – that the person who he replaced, who hasn’t been in the band for seventeen years, is just part of Suede’s legacy and doesn’t need to be here.
Listening to the album in this live context, the most noticeable aspect of the debut album itself is the fast song, slow song order of the album which somehow stunts the possibility of getting the crowd properly worked up into a frenzy. Perhaps tonight’s show would have benefited from a similar approach to Primal Scream’s recent Screamadelica tour where the album running order was re-imagined for a live setting. In fact, it’s not really until the four-song encore when the band purposely concentrate on upbeat tracks that the audience seem to reach anywhere near the type of elation that was palpable at their debut Irish gig. The irony is that the biggest response from the crowd comes when tracks from their third album, Coming Up, are played. And while it may have been ‘Trash’ and ‘Beautiful Ones’ that got the crowd roaring, some of the subtler album tunes such as ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Pantomime Horse’ really shine tonight. ‘Pantomime Horse’, particularly, sees Brett collapse to his knees in an attempt to discover if you’ve “ever tried it that way”.
As it happens, Melody Maker were absolutely correct about the importance of Suede. They were the first British band since The Smiths to swagger and strut and actually mean something. Suede’s mistake was that somewhere during their career they became just another band, rather than exploring what it was that made them so bloody special in the first place. By re-visiting their early career, hopefully Suede can create something as exceptional and as idiosyncratic as the records that are forever tattooed on the hearts, bosoms and slightly larger waists of so many fans.
Photos by Julie Bienvenu.