Gig review: Suede at York Barbican

Suede’s latest album Autofiction was inspired by a post-lockdown need to reconnect with sweaty, joyful live rock performance. So the rather staid setting of York’s Barbican in fully-seated mode is perhaps not a venue where you might expect them to rise to the occasion. But that would be to reckon without the alchemical powers of frontman Brett Anderson.
Brett Anderson, frontman of Suede, playing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto RogataBrett Anderson, frontman of Suede, playing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto Rogata
Brett Anderson, frontman of Suede, playing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto Rogata

Guitarist Richard Oakes steps into the spotlight to crank up the opening riff and the band build a slow-burning intro. Then Anderson strides on to the stage and within five seconds the entire sold-out building is on its feet.

Not a bottom will dare touch a cushion, or a bladder even consider seeking relief for at least the next hour and a half, as he commands the entire room with unrelenting energy, charisma and octave-leaping vocal power.

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The opening song is a statement of intent called Turn Off Your Brain And Yell and your correspondent’s critical faculties have obediently fled the building before the first chorus even arrives.

Brett Anderson, frontman of Suede, playing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto RogataBrett Anderson, frontman of Suede, playing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto Rogata
Brett Anderson, frontman of Suede, playing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto Rogata

During the following Autofiction salvo of Personality Disorder and 15 Again, half the audience finds themselves down the front, where Anderson is magnetically followed by a personal moshpit of flickering camera phones and hands male and female trying to grab the mic lead, or the man himself.

By The Drowners, he’s hurled himself over the monitors to join them.

Let us pause to acknowledge that the band at the heart of the sweat-soaked adulation are dads in their 40s and 50s, Anderson and long-serving bassist Mat Osman are now both also critically-acclaimed writers, and Suede are veterans deep into an impressive third act of their career against all the odds. However, ageing in the Suede universe seems to be a matter of just becoming more quintessentially yourself.

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They sound like a band reconnected with a teenage hunger to conquer the world – but with a heck of a back catalogue to help them on their mission.

Suede performing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto RogataSuede performing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto Rogata
Suede performing at the Barbican in York. Picture: Ernesto Rogata

And notably, most of the songs getting the crowd out of their seats are brand new. Autofiction, which forms the backbone of tonight’s set, plugs back into the feral glam punk spirit of their earliest 90s recordings, along with a pungent hint of the gothy end of the 80s indie disco, and was clearly built for the stage, the songs standing up seamlessly alongside the likes of Trash and Animal Nitrate.

The pace only lets up when Anderson falls to his knees to channel Scott Walker for The 2 Of Us, a Dog Man Star deep cut, and he gives the band a chance to catch their breath on a piano-led Life Is Golden and a solo acoustic The Wild Ones before they open the throttle again.

The raw, heartfelt She Still Leads Me On feels like the centerpiece of tonight’s show, while So Young and the glorious glam racket of Metal Mickey bring things to a raucous close before a final encore of The Beautiful Ones.

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A long time ago a long-vanished music newspaper staked its reputation on calling Suede the best new band in Britain. Now a band with nothing to prove but who are playing like they have everything to prove once again, Suede sound like they seriously want that title back.

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