“It’s a long way to the top of the ladder, but we’re going to climb it!” the singer of Crushed Kid bullishly proclaimed at the rackety conclusion of their debut gig. Well, there’s nothing wrong with showing a bit of ambition. Indeed, with his skinny frame, perfect cheekbones and immaculate floppy fringe, pouring heart and soul into a set of gritty, soaring, garage guitar anthems, you might well agree that this cocky upstart had all the makings of a rock star, if he wasn’t already one.
Promoted as a “brand sparkling new post punk band”, Crushed Kid was an assumed name for Britpop pioneers Suede, playing a secret gig at the 300-capacity MOTH Club in Hackney, East London. With its low ceilings, tasselled gold stage curtain and cramped dance floor, this ex-Serviceman’s bar was the kind of venue the five-piece haven’t had to occupy since their supercharged sleazy garage glam re-energised the whole British rock scene in the early Nineties.
Of course, just as every young band starts small and dreams of playing bigger venues, every established band is full of nostalgia for the intimacy of the clubs where their identities were forged. “It’s f---ing loud and it’s f---ing hot!” roared 54-year-old Brett Anderson, as he threw himself about the tiny stage with the energy and fervour of a passionate dreamer with something to prove. By the fourth song, his white shirt was so drenched with sweat it had become translucent, clinging to his skin as if he had just stepped out of a tropical rainstorm. The sound was rough and raw, the lighting basic, the mood in the room intense and celebratory, as a densely packed crowd of hardcore Suede fans revelled in getting up close and personal with their heroes.
It was a set of all-new original material, which is not something guaranteed to delight most audiences of classic bands, but the loyal crowd were more than willing to buy into Suede’s conceptual reinvention. It certainly helped that the songs themselves were direct and exciting, charged with overdriven electric riffs and solos, built on lean post-punk bass and drum grooves and replete with the kind of choruses that can be picked up and sung by the second time you hear them. So many voices joined into the “ooh ooh”s of 15 Again you might have thought it was a long-lost classic.
You might almost have described it as a back to basics set, except that Suede were never particularly basic even in their earliest incarnation, creating songs of moody grandeur with sweeping melodies to suit Anderson’s imperious, Bowie-esque vocals. This was a set of sophisticated songs played with adult mastery but tapping into the energy and directness of their younger selves.
The afterlife of a successful band can be a challenge, as notions of artistic progression come up against audience nostalgia. Suede have negotiated these conflicts as well as any band has. They had fallen from popularity by the time they broke up in 2003, but since reuniting in 2010 they have rebuilt audience loyalty with high-quality albums all with interesting conceptual frameworks, pretty seamlessly integrating the best of their new material into live sets packed with greatest hits.
The Blue Hour in 2018 was their most expansive concept album since 1994’s classic Dog Man Star, while forthcoming ninth album Autofiction switches tack to reconnect with the punkier thrills of their 1993 debut, Suede. Yet it seems unlikely that the younger Anderson could have written a song as emotionally affecting as Suede’s latest single She Still Leads Me On, a storming anthem for his late mother, whose death devastated him when he was just starting out in 1989. Autofiction is the sound of Suede past through a lens of their fifty-something present. On the evidence of this joyously rampaging set, it could be something quite special. A star is reborn.
Touring until October; suede.co.uk