Suede @ Hammersmith Apollo, 13th October 2018

It was always going to be a compelling event, this second and last of two shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, the only English dates on Suede’s Blue Hour tour. The titular album, the band’s eighth in the studio, was released in September with a haunting internet trailer, and subsequent song-by-song breakdown discussions with the band have given their loyal fans an insight into the subject matter and creation of this haunting new collection of songs, a descendant of 2016’s brooding Night Thoughts.

A humid night after an unseasonably hot October day and the packed venue is already sweating en masse, as support band The Horrors conclude their set. The sheer curtain which divides the band from the audience sets the scene as the menacing opening bars to the album’s overture, ‘As One’, cuts through the crowd’s babble; the string sound of discordant nightmares, a menacing choir, dramatic and startling. Eerie lighting projects vastly outsized chiaroscuro shadow puppets of the band, as Brett Anderson’s wonderfully iconic voice cuts through: ‘Here I am, here I am, talking to my shadow, head in my hands’. It is a tremendously powerful start, an accomplished band presenting a theatrical performance to match the darkly operatic lyrics of this final piece of the musical tryptic which started with 2013’s Bloodsports.

The set won’t just linger on the last decade however and the initial track’s closing crescendo leads immediately into the familiar drum beat of ‘She’ from Coming up, a strident return to the dirty glam pop of Suede’s third album — abrasive, startling, wonderfully, unashamedly trashy. And as Brett struts from behind the veil which obscurs the stage — two songs in and already drenched in a glistening sheen of sweat — the crowd erupts. This man undoubtedly has it. In fact, he has more of it than ever and the audience responds euphorically to every pose, every gesticulation.

As we are plunged back into the dark 4am torture of Night Thoughts and ‘Outsiders, Suede’s clarion call for the lost, the crowd’s energy feeds the band; every word sung back passionately to them from the audience. This band inspires intense adoration, it reaches out and clings on to the deep hidden parts of your psyche; it resonates with the darkness that dwells within this crowd of Insatiable Ones.

Indeed, we are rewarded for our loyalty, as the band hurtles into ‘Killing of a Flashboy’, glam rock B-side to ‘We Are The Pigs’, the first single from the band’s second album Dog Man Star; its release infamous for being the point at which Bernard Butler departed. And this crowd – many of whom hadn’t even been born when this song was released – screams every word. Followed by its A-side, we are transported back to 1994, an overblown acid trip of burning cars and apocalyptic visions: ‘and as the smack cracks at your window, you wake up with a gun in your mouth, oh let the nuclear wind blow away my sins and I’ll stay at home in my house’.

The early days of the band are continued with welcome airings of ‘So Young’, and ‘This Hollywood Life’ and it is clear how much the crowd’s energy is fuelling the front man, who comments on the reciprocity of a live gig: ‘this is not the cinema’ he reasons with us, encouraging our participation as we are pulled back in time to those early years of hedonism and electric energy.

The crowd rapturously echo back the words to ‘Europe is our Playground’, from Coming Up, a bleakly ironic reminder of what we have taken for granted: ‘run with me baby let’s take a chance, from Heathrow to Hammersmith, from the Eastern Block to France’. And so we are brought back to the present day, with ‘Tides’ and ‘Roadkill’, the latter’s idiosyncratic spoken word poetry mesmerising us in this welcome two minute breathing space. Brett enunciates and gesticulates, holding his crowd’s rapt attention, his words stark and brutal: ‘forlorn you lie, scraped and drossed by the wind savaged by the tyres and tossed in the tar, broken on the English dirt’.

‘I Don’t Know How to Reach you’, Night Thought’s most haunting track, finds Brett clawing the empty air, almost toppling into his crowd: ‘now I don’t know how to reach you, I don’t know where to look, I turn away from my mistakes, try not to look… I turn away, I fold the page, I close the book’. Followed by ‘Cold Hands’ the moment is book-ended by ‘It Starts and Ends with You’, Bloodsports’ most achingly romantic and desolate love-song: ‘I fall to the floor like my strings are cut, pinch myself but I don’t wake up, spit in the wind cause too much is not enough. It starts and ends with you’.

As if to mitigate the emotion generated by such intense songs, the band’s next tracks are a flamboyant throwback to the days of sleazy guitars and androgynous posturing, with ‘Filmstar’, ‘Metal Mickey’, ‘Trash’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’ hitting the crowd with a wall of sound; Brett’s voice sexually sibilant and electric. Nothing however, could have prepared us for what comes next — a truly standout moment, which finds Brett alone on the stage, accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar and no microphone, for ‘The Power’. 5,000 people can hear every word, his voice soaring, yet vulnerable and I found myself holding my breath, a hand over my mouth in wonder at the moment, which then leads into a beautiful rendition by Brett and Richard Oakes, of one of the band’s most heart-breaking songs ‘Still Life’. These moments are what live music is truly about.

The set ends as it started, with The Blue Hour, with ‘The Invisibles’ and ‘Flytipping’: ‘what is my name? What is yours? Do we own these things? What has it all been for?’ Brett begs his crowd, crouching down to grab our hands, the song soaring, painfully beautiful, the crescendo reverberating across the ceiling as the front man leaves the stage, allowing the band to fill the room with sound.

Or course there is an encore and we are treated to ‘Beautiful Ones’ before ‘Life is Golden’, a personal favourite from the new album, with Brett imploring his audience to sing along if they know the words. Of course they do. The song reaches out to those who take refuge in the dark, whose ‘same thoughts sink through your pillow’. It draws in the Suede fan, it is at once desperately sad and achingly tender: ‘you’re not alone; when the world puts all the winter in you, you’re not alone; I’m there in the words that you use, you’re never alone; your life is golden’. 5,000 voices sing in unison, arms raised high; I find myself with tears in my eyes, this song’s dark, elemental poetry speaks to me and its potency stops me in my tracks. The band look stunned, Brett Anderson thanks his crowd again and again; thirty years later and Suede are still — maybe more than ever – a truly incredible force.

Reviewer: Sally Hamilton

About Author

2 thoughts on “Suede @ Hammersmith Apollo, 13th October 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *