There are probably few in the audience who, back then, would have put money on the Britpop trailblazers still being around. The release, which Anderson describes with a so-so wave of his hand, was recorded when he was in the grip of drug addiction. Its follow-up, A New Morning, was so disappointing it’s been excised from the band’s collective memory and led to a seven-year hiatus.
This disillusionment isn’t in evidence as the quintet promote The Blue Hour, the third release since their return in 2013. A magnetic presence from the start, Anderson emotively hurls himself onto the floor so often there are mats to protect his knees (although he frequently misses). His energetic performance, which sees him repeatedly vanishing into the crowd, also results in his shirt being shredded by the end of sixth song ‘Metal Mickey’.
The physicality of his stage presence has something of the punk attitude he credits as a youthful influence. Yet in concert the band are also far removed from their fey and foppish reputation, with tracks such as ‘We Are The Pigs’ having a driving muscularity that maintains a sense of menace as the band are bathed in a queasy shade of green.
These live arrangements help to embolden their tales of outsiders, faded glamour, and love in the urban wastelands into unifying anthems. ‘Trash’ and ‘Beautiful Ones’ trade their spidery, slightly tinny studio quality for two pumped-up guitar parts and a full throated audience sing-a-long (“If you don’t know the words, what the f*** are you doing here?” jokes Anderson).
The same is true when they tone down the grandeur. A stripped back ‘The Wild Ones’, accompanied by just Richard Oakes on guitar, creates a moment of heartfelt emotion, despite Anderson croaking out the last off-key notes, while ‘Daddy’s Speeding’ reveals its indebtedness to Bowie’s Hunky Dory when performed solo and acoustic (“It’s the first time I’ve ever done this…”).
Irrespective of these low-key moments, their ambition is writ large from the moment they walk on stage to the choral ‘As One’. It immediately signals that while the new material has matured, it remains unafraid of grand, gothic gestures. Balancing their darkly urban DNA with an acknowledgement of their advancing years, the sombre ‘The Invisibles’ and the soaring encore of ‘Life Is Golden’ are among the most thrilling tracks they’ve ever written.
The quality of this material warrants their wariness of the nostalgia market, Anderson noting that they need to keep writing songs that excite them to justify their existence. Despite this, they’re smart enough to acknowledge that the audience wants to hear the hits and the 21-song set generously delves into their back catalogue.
These youthful tracks retain a freshness and rush of excitement, especially the drum rolls that start ‘The Drowners’ and the defiance of ‘So Young’, which transcends the possible irony of being played by men now in their 40s and early 50s. The epic, prog-rock influenced ‘The Asphalt World’, meanwhile, maintains the melodramatic romanticism that made them connect with so many misfits.
These are nonetheless outsiders who found their home in Suede and who, as Anderson soaks in a self-described ‘applause bath’ on the edge of the stage, have come to realise that in their music they’re never alone.