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Culture Reviews
Suede
By Martin Richardson
Nostalgia is always tricky. Part guilty pleasure (did we really listen to Bonnie Tyler?), part sense of regret as more years have passed by - and always menaced by the threat of disappointment when a once-loved act turns out one more time to pay off the mortgage with underpowered shows. So going to hear Suede, a band I'd loved in my teens before we steadily drifted apart, was both exciting and unnerving at the same time. After all, even the band themselves have admitted that some of their later work - released after we'd more or less stopped speaking to each other - was a bit of a flop and while last year's anniversary compilation landed on my CD player (younger readers, ask your parents. I still have one of those) with some fanfare, it was far from conclusive proof that we were ready for a modern-day reunion.

Early impressions of the set were not promising either: kicking off with a new song isn't always a great plan, and reading the lyrics off a scruffy sheet of A4 does nothing to give the audience confidence. If I don't know it, that's one thing. If they don't know it, the temptation is to ask what the hell is going on. For a brief moment, a car crash seemed painfully imminent.

Luckily not. Love 'em or hate 'em (and even in their heyday, plenty found the band's art-school arch-ness more than a little wearisome), Suede could always summon up a good tune. By the third song, "Trash", uncertainty had evaporated and the hall was in full singalong mode. And singing along is a quick reminder of just how good a vocalist Brett Anderson is: his torturous vowels may not be to everyone's taste, but he's flexible enough to hit the high notes and carry his deceptively simple melodies while all around are bawling semi-coherently. The switch in atmosphere recalled the previous time I'd seen them, fey southern androgynes in a tough northern city, winning over any audience skepticism with guitar licks out of Bowie and the thumping melody of "Metal Mickey". This time, perhaps, there was less skepticism from the crowd, but confronting the audience with new material so quickly certainly gave the gig some edge.

There were good things among some of the support acts as well: hotly tipped Russian band Tesla Boy showed an in-depth knowledge of British pop history with a string of songs which channeled the ethos of the Human League through the prism of the Madchester scene. And London-based Krakatoa put on a strong set on the second stage, churning out classic three-minute pop songs with shades of The Jam, The Specials and other musical highlights of past winters of discontent. Leaving the stage with promises to return to Moscow, we live in hope.

But while the apprentices of Britpop had their moment, the night was all about the sorcerers of Suede. They may no longer be "So Young", nor even the heralds of a "New Generation", but they certainly know how to put on a show. It's a tough ask for a band to grab full attention when you've arrived with the prettiest girl in the hall, but this was the kind of blistering show which managed precisely that. At the end of a year which has seen me catch up with a whole host of bands from my youth - from Iron Maiden to Erasure - this probably saved the best of Moscow's 2011 gigs for last.

19.12.11
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