FIBERFIB Festival, Benicasim, Spain, August 2002
Nobody but Suede could kick-start a musical revolution a decade ago and still
make relevant music today. Distinctive and relevant. Not only did Suede save
English rock from the senility of Madchester's twilight days, moving us on from
the swirling layers of shoegazing and dance-pop fusions, but this band also made
English pop proud again, returning the mystique and the three-minute single born
with the Beatles, bred by Bowie and then lost in the introspectiveness, the
desertion and the confusion of purpose caused by the collision of rock and
electronica towards the end of the eighties.
But then frontman Brett Anderson is a disciple of the glam crunch of David Bowie and the romantic bed-sit pop of the Smiths. He and the since-departed Bernard Butler created the sweeping, guitar-heavy sound that has served Suede all the way from those early London days to this balmy beach night in Benicassim, southern Spain. It's music that's darkly sensual, sexually ambiguous, melodic, and unabashedly ambitious. What a terrific juxtapositioning of styles we're treated to. Before Suede's set, American post-grungersBlack Rebel Motorcycle Club serve up their shy, introspective brand of rock. And then the greying Anderson hits the stage. Like Elvis and Jim Morrison, he's the frontal face of a bunch of old-fashioned, self-consciously controversial pop stars. No wonder we all fell so hard for young Suede ten years ago...
Unique in their tour dates this year, Suede's set list was decided largely by their Spanish fans, who voted on the group's website for the songs they wanted to see performed. The band are also showcasing material from their latest album. Top of the new songs to get an airing tonight is "Can't Get Enough." If the rest of the album is this good it'll be a fine record. But if all the songs are of the standard of the next song up tonight, "Electricity", it'll be a corker. "Lost In TV" is another song from the new material, a slow-burner that's set to be a staple in the band's future histories.
After all the Butler-Anderson altercations, Suede have come through and reasserted themselves as a fantastically tight musical outfit. The bond between original members and best mates Anderson and bassist Mat Osman is still the band's essential core, work-horse Osman the perfect foil for Anderson's flamboyant frontmanship. Simon Gilbert meanwhile is drumming like that paycheque backstage really matters. And Richard Oakes makes a mighty contribution as the band's youngest member, lead guitar coming on fire at all the right moments and burning bright enough and long enough.
Once we've got "Animal Nitrate" out of the way we're back to that hit machine, Coming Up, for "Trash, " "Beautiful Ones, " "Saturday Night, " "Lazy" and "Filmstar." The album that returned Suede to the top of the British charts is obviously as popular as ever with the fans. Anderson's penchant for sexual ambiguity is a crowd pleaser too, the slightly hoarse front man twisting, grinding, bumping and shaking his way across the stage. His infamous comment that he was "a bisexual man who never had a homosexual appearance" still applies however and he has the macho arrogance to match.
The crowd having responded to his throwaway prod: "If you shout enough we might do an encore" the band come back out to serve up two treats, "She's In Fashion" and "Positivity." One of the highlights of the festival, Suede proved their still a terrifically relevant group, capable of producing an endless flow of top quality material.
Right it might have been of Bernard Butler to tell the press that his Suede partner was very concerned with rock stardom. He is, but he works hard enough on all the ingredients that make a star to allow us forgive him his narcissism.
Suede, the band with the nuts to appear on the cover of Melody Maker as the "Best New Band in Britain" without ever having released any material, rock so hard and so well ten years later. We can only eagerly await the new album, due shortly.