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Suede - Albert Hall, Manchester, 8/2/2016

  by Mary O'Meara

published: 10 / 4 / 2016

Suede - Albert Hall, Manchester, 8/2/2016


Mary O’Meara explores the nocturnal pondering and passions of Suede as they take over the shadowy interior of Manchester’s Albert Hall

Suede have always been a band that I've had a lot of affection for but somehow I've managed not to see them live for a long while. Listening to the marvellous moodscapes of their new record 'Night Thoughts' over the last couple of weeks I’m happy to say, my love of the band just doesn’t fade. I found I could take up where I left off and the years just roll away. And, yeah, a lot rocked and rolled away last night in the Albert Hall but the one thing that didn't was the screen. That screen...a kind of white gauze fabric, not unlike an enormous bandage - it hung there in front of the stage as we found our way to our various vantage points for the night. I'm sure I wasn't the only person to find it a surprise that it was positioned in front of the stage as though we were taking our seats at the cinema not a live music venue. Clearly this film was important to the band if it was going to be beamed out to us in front of them rather than a backdrop to their performance which has become de rigueur with many acts nowadays. So the prelude music of track one on new album 'When You are Young' strikes up, dry ice spews into the hall and images fill the screen - a man on a forlorn beach begins to wade into the sea and keeps going until it looks worryingly like a suicide attempt. This is Roger Sargent's film that accompanies the album, track by track, telling a story with many ambiguities. Vividly we can see and feel a lot of pain and suffering, loss and grief in many shapes and forms. The film was undoubtedly powerful, even shocking at times and impossible to ignore but it left me feeling that my original relationship with the new album had been thrown off kilter a bit. Even drab music can be evocative but music as dramatic and melancholic and even glorious as Suede's is likely to conjure up your own picture show and associations pretty quickly and what was happening on the screen (though a powerful piece of cinematography) didn't especially match mine. I wanted to cling onto my own connection with the record. Whilst the waves of emotion in celluloid were cascading across the screen, the makers of the music were largely obscured behind it. Here and there, depending on the amount of light and detail in the moving images, windows became transparent enough to see Suede playing their hearts out on the stage. Visually they seemed almost like a toy band dwarfed by the characters on the screen but sonically it was the band that supplied the musical highs and lows, the grand and beautiful soundtrack was delivered live and in real time, almost as though they were oblivious to the story on the screen and perhaps that's part of what was being conveyed here...everyone has their own story and, even if we can't see what someone is going through, we can feel their pain in so many other ways, because stories of love and loss, life and death though personal, are also universal. And that gauze-like screen was a symbolic bandage, with music being the medicine that can sooth our souls, help us through. The other thing that struck me about the screen barrier was that it could also be viewed as a metaphor for how in modern life we are (or many of us are) glued to our screens, hooked to our mobile devices, TVs, computers and play stations, often missing the "real" life that's going on around us, converting our emotions into crass emoticons. I was straining to peel away the barrier, unmask the real feelings, expose the band and make more direct contact. Perhaps this was actually the desired effect. I have no idea - but when the second half arrived and the screen disappeared the band stood there, looking somehow more flesh and blood than ever before. I felt a relief, a sense of communion could now commence - which after all is what a gig is usually about and Brett Anderson seemed more than willing to engage with the crowd, as though he too was hungry for the human touch (which he received in surplus from the adoring fans in the mosh-pit). Things kicked off with 'Introducing the Band', and within seconds the Albert Hall was on fire. It was striking to witness the contrast with the first half where the crowd were motionless, simply hypnotized by the film or searching for the band on the other side. Now everyone was moving, singing, waving as possibly the best front man of his generation strutted, preened, pranced and gave every ounce of his being to those songs. A string of some of the best known tracks of their back catalogue belted out one after another - 'Trash', 'Animal Nitrate', 'Metal Mickey', and possible highlight for me 'So Young' which perhaps sounded so poignant because it's now come face to face with 'When You are/were Young' from the new album - a reminder of how much time has passed since that startling debut album which began with that exuberant, yet melancholy track. Anderson performs two acoustic numbers - 'Obsessions' which he says is the best song on a "crap album" in 'A New Morning'. He doesn't diss 'Head Music' quite as much, describing 'Everything Will Flow' as one of the best songs on an "OK" album. He doesn't make any of these comments with regret - more a simple statement of how he feels at that moment and he really does seem in the moment, absolutely enjoying every minute of this delicious experience. He mentions loving the venue and wonders why the band hadn't played the Albert Hall before. I'm not sure he realized it's not been a venue that long but any rate he vows to come back. Looking back on it I'm still staggered at how complex an occasion this was. There clearly were dual performances - one almost distant, like a dream and the other up close and personal. In one you could glimpse but not touch, in the other you could fully participate, a very intimate affair indeed. What I see now is that perhaps part one is an examination of those 'Night Thoughts' - that odd sense of unreality and disconnection we get at night, where little things can get blown out of proportion by tired and troubled nocturnal minds. The screen could almost be a big bedroom curtain, obscuring us, trapping us in our nightmares - whereas part two is the relief that can come with dawn, the feeling that maybe it was just a bad dream and that a new day awaits us. Fittingly the band close with 'New Generation' which, even though it's not exactly a cheerful song it carries that very Suedean notion of survival and struggle, to find our purpose and passion, to keep on searching and most certainly to keep on swinging in the way only Anderson knows how. Photos by Melanie Smith www.mudkissphotography.co.uk

Also at Albert Hall, Manchester

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Suede - Albert Hall, Manchester, 8/2/2016

Suede - Albert Hall, Manchester, 8/2/2016

Suede - Albert Hall, Manchester, 8/2/2016

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