Live Review: Suede, “Dog Man Star” at the Royal Albert Hall, Sunday 30th March, 2014.
I can’t emphasise how much I was looking forward to this gig. I was nineteen years old when “Dog Man Star” was released and working part-time in a record shop in Coventry. I had really enjoyed Suede’s début album, but “Dog Man Star” was like a full and immediate realisation of their potential, all in one ambitious, overblown, bombastic, Bowie-esque swoop. It was dark, beautiful, artistic and it was mine, one of the first albums released in my early adult life that blew me away, a piece of work that made me, for the first time, feel part of the musical present rather than being someone who was constantly harking back to the music of the past. It was true, up until that point, The Beatles, Bowie, The Rolling Stones and other giants of rock had made me feel like the very best music had already been written. Even Oasis’ admittedly thrilling “Definitely Maybe” which was rocking my world at that particular moment in time felt like a re-hashed version of the music I – and, obviously, they – loved.
My first copy of “Dog Man Star” was on a cassette. Although I hated the vulnerability of that format, one play in a low quality deck could impair the sound on that thin bit of magnetically-charged plastic forever and I found myself avoiding playing it because it became too precious to risk on all but my trusted portable cassette player, so it was something that I only listened to when I was travelling to and from work. That was enough, though. Those mundane moments on a Coventry bus from the outskirts where I lived, into the City Centre, were transformed into something special. I absolutely adored everything about it, the artwork, the otherworldly lyrics describing a life that was completely out of my reach; tales of glamour, drugs, seediness, romance and heartbreak. What was especially heartbreaking was the fact that Bernard Butler had left the band before the tracks had been finished; this was the sound of a Suede that would never be the same again. Although I was someone pretty much devastated by Butler’s departure from the band, the fact that it was to be the last album featuring the original line up added to the attraction and the immortality of the songs.
I went to see Suede live at Leicester De Montfort Hall, on the “Dog Man Star” tour and witnessed replacement guitarist Richard Oakes replicate Butler’s sound, look and stage presence eerily. It was my first ever General Admission gig and I got right down the front and gloriously drunk to one of the most bittersweet experiences of my life… yes, it was Suede, but it wasn’t. Needless to say, I’ve got over the departure of Butler. His reunion with Brett as The Tears in 2005 was decent and enjoyable, but proved that the brilliance of their two albums they wrote together were never going to be replicated by any subsequent collaboration – they were of their time and impossible to re-capture. I last saw Suede in October 2013 at a small gig for Q Magazine at The Garage in Islington, London, which was the first time I’d seen them live since Leicester. The band looked at bit different (apart from Brett who has defied the ageing process miraculously), but they were absolutely incredible. Learning that they were going to perform “Dog Man Star” in its entirely, one of the most important albums of my lifetime, at the Royal Albert Hall, for the Teenage Cancer Trust was an experience not to be missed and I was fortunate enough to be able to bag myself a really good seat and the slightly painful price of fifty quid seemed to be just about worth it, especially given the cause.
The dreadful support act “Eagulls” couldn’t burst my enthusiasm and my excitement built with every single minute I waited for them to take the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, sipping my £8 a glass white wine as conservatively as anyone with a grasp on the value of money would. There was a little apprehension as I tried not to allow my expectations to be unrealistic, but it was truly difficult to keep my feet on the ground. As the band took to the stage to the electronic throbbing of the opening track, “Introducing The Band”, the dry ice swirled and almost obscured the stage completely, until the slender figure of Brett Anderson appeared, moving to the pulsating beat of the music. The magic started then and didn’t stop until the final orchestral bars of “Still Life”. The audience sang the chorus of “We Are The Pigs”, enthusiastically and rapturously back at Brett as Richard worked away crafting the chords and tremolo-laced licks and Anderson went down to the front row of the standing audience, being embraced by the collective as the individuals strained to touch the hand of their hero. Then came “Heroine”, the chopping guitar chords, the double-meaning of the lyrics, Brett’s soaring vocals; the adrenaline was pumping through my limbs and my heart beating so profoundly, I could feel it thumping along with the pounding drums of Simon Gilbert.
To hear this album, this deeply personal and precious piece of work being performed in front of my eyes was almost too much and as Neil Codling played the opening bars of “The Wild One” on the acoustic guitar, I could feel my eyes misting over. When Brett burst into the chorus, “And oh, if you stay…”, the floodgates opened. I was nineteen again, heartbroken from a teenage romance I hadn’t yet got over, deeply immersed in lyrics both fatalistic and hopelessly romantic. The underrated “Daddy’s Speeding” was superb and all of the haunting power of the song was interpreted perfectly by the on-form band and refrain of “The Power”, accompanied by a small string section, made all of the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in appreciation. The catchy-as-hell “New Generation” was met by a wave of pleasure and an enthusiastic vocal performance by the audience. “This Hollywood Life” rocked the Albert Hall hard and those in general admission swayed and rippled in time to the undulating riff. “The 2 Of Us”, supposedly written about Lennon & McCartney, but given a more personal meaning by the departure of Bernard Butler was poignant, powerful and beautiful and “Black And Blue” simply gorgeous. Personal favourite “The Asphalt World” was as sublime as ever, but I can’t help wishing that Richard had performed the extended guitar solo I’d seen in Leicester nearly two decades before which had sent the venue into a collective orgasm. The climax of the album, “Still Life”, again featuring the string section, which Brett dedicated to his late Father, was utterly magnificent and the performance of the album ended, once more, with more salt water in my eyes. It was every bit as mind-blowing as I hoped that it would be.
Suede then returned after a brief intermission and played a mixture of hits, B-sides and other tracks. As much as I enjoyed this set which included “Trash”, “Animal Nitrate”, “So Young”, “Metal Mickey”, “Beautiful Ones” and more obscure treats for fans such as “Whipsnade”, “My Dark Star” and ended with “Stay Together”, I was pretty much spent after seeing “Dog Man Star”, especially as I’d seen them perform a superb varied set in late 2013. The second half of the set was arguably just as good as the first, but for me, personally, “Dog Man Star” is what it was all about and I found myself reflecting on just what the compositions from that album meant to me whilst simultaneously singing along to the song they were performing at that time (who says that men can’t multi-task?). I came to the conclusion, that there aren’t many albums which have been released in my lifetime that have meant as much to me as Suede’s second. I was going through an unsure and not at all enjoyable time of my life and it helped me escape away to a different, beautifully rich, interesting world, a world that I found myself deeply immersed within on a memorable Sunday night at the Royal Albert Hall, many years later. Worth every penny.