Never meet your heroes they say. They’ll only let you down. Well, bollocks to that. I’ve waited nigh on twenty years for this, a night with Brett and the boys. For a solid two month period back in 1994, Dog Man Star punctured my dreary suburban existence. Behind the carpeted halls and net curtains, the tended front gardens and rows of neatly parked Rovers, Suede opened a window into another world, a late-night universe where desire and hedonism ran free. They turned bright city lights from a symbol of opportunity to a shining beacon of excess, injecting much-needed excitement into teenage ennui. Of all the bands that helped usher in Britpop, you wouldn’t have bet on Suede enjoying a cultural renaissance in 2013, but here they are. This feels like the consummation of a life long love, a chance to revel in a moment where the past and future meet in perfect, joyous symmetry.
Not many would choose the sombre melancholy of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 as walk-on music, but then Suede were never like other bands. Tragedy and misfortune stalked the Russian, illness, death and revolution taunting the last great Romantic of the Golden Age of classical composition to his grave. I’m sure Anderson sympathises; while penury and fate transpired to keep the pianist from his first love – writing – the enigmatic singer has his own tales of woe, the drugs, breakups and volatile passion that underpinned their shattering early singles slowly pushing the fiercely intelligent and articulate 22 year-old who’d been hailed as the voice of a generation back into the shadows.
But oh, for a few years, how they could do no wrong. Those delicious hooks and doomed romanticism were delivered with a knowing wink and the fearlessness of youth. “What does it take to turn you on?” he wailed on ‘Animal Nitrate’, getting both violent sex and a drugs reference onto daytime radio. Suede’s brash, fey glamour always sat awkwardly between the boorishness of Oasis and the smug Blurites, supporting them akin to cult; you had to get it. Ultimately, not enough did, Britpop’s catalyst left in ladism’s wake with just the loners and outsiders for company. It was a sad, inglorious and seemingly permanent end for a group who deserved better.
All this flashes through my mind as they stroll casually on stage, one after the other. Here he is in the flesh, lithe of limb and floppy of fringe, clean and radiant in the spotlight his presence has always deserved. They start with a haunting, spectral ‘Europe Is Our Playground’, Anderson stood stock-still, reverential almost, hands firmly griping the microphone stand. I’d expected them to swoop in on a storm of noise, but this is better; sensual and slow, it builds the tension like all good foreplay should. He’s teasing us; we know it, and he knows we know it. And, as the final notes collapse into a quiet sustain there’s a pause, a moment of reflection as they drink it all in before the opening snare of ‘Snowblind’ explodes above us, kicking in the door to another dimension. That familiar falsetto, a snaking guitar line, and they’re off.
Have they always been this good? Too many bands chasing the glory days polish all the energy from their sound, perfection swallowing the spark of genius that made them so damn watchable; Suede aren’t one of them. It’s warm and inviting yet as tight as you’d expect from a group who’ve staked their comeback on being better than ever. ‘Trash’ is magnificent, Anderson slyly getting the crowd to sing the high notes, before a ripping rendition of ‘Animal Nitrate’, the dance between that riff and Matt Osman’s bass an even more beautiful moment live than on record. Those on a nostalgia trip go suitably crazy, but there are two girls next to me, no older than 20, who know every word and nuance. We’re only five songs in and already I feel sated.
By now, Anderson is in his element; with a sweat-streaked brow and his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, he leaps from side to side, hurdling over speakers before plunging to his knees. On all fours he crawls, serenading the front rows, as grabbing hands thrust up towards him. He sings entire songs in this position, occasionally sliding off stage to take a wander through his disciples; during ‘Sabotage’ he makes it to the middle of the floor, arms aloft, the perfect circles formed around him a neat visual. And it’s not just the stompers and power ballads that bewitch; an acapella ‘What Are You Not Telling Me?’ is simply stunning. Just the soft tinkling of piano plays as he slumps next to a monitor, the lovelorn loser perfectly conveyed through beautiful vocal dexterity and lines like “the mysteries of love are not for us”.
For Suede – for Anderson – this venue seems cramped, limiting even, and they play as if trying to push back its walls through sheer force alone. The set is also perfectly paced, and he slips with ease between the Showman and the Natural Romantic. The band follows obediently in his wake, diligent and precise one moment, free flowing and loose the next, the peaks and troughs made to look effortless and carefree. And so ‘Can’t Get Enough’s chugging rumble gives way to a new, acoustic song – ‘Simon’ – before an epic run of the finest torch songs imaginable; ‘The 2 Of Us’, ‘Still Life’, ‘For The Strangers’. They’re brutal and breath-taking, anthems for when the party’s over and all you’ve got for company is a hangover and regret.
Perhaps their greatest triumph is the strength of the new material; next to the classics, nothing is out of place. ‘Barriers’ is easily the equal of ‘The Drowners’, ‘Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away’ just as poignant as a half-speed, acoustic ‘She’s In Fashion’. All that old energy, that fizz and sparkle, is present and correct, Anderson as arch a protagonist as always – who else could get away with writing, at the age of 46, “Lips like semaphores to my heart”? It’s the urgency of a man whose fires are still raging, who needs to perform; their youth may be a hazy memory, but bitter defiance always suited them so well.
It’s the last date of the year and the Bloodsports tour, and as past and future collide, it’s somehow fitting that the curtain comes down in Amsterdam, Europe’s own Sin City, filled with smoky dens of vice and iniquity. I’m sure their younger selves would approve. But tonight is no valedictory last hurrah. It’s confirmation that Suede still matter, a glimpse at what’s possible for a band hitting their stride (again) in their fourth decade; this can’t – surely won’t – be the end. “Let's stay together” he croons, saving the best – and the tears – for last. “Let's stay, these days are ours.” Here’s to the future Brett. Here’s to life.