Suede, Dog Man Star Live at the I.C.A.

Though not an official release, last September’s shows in London were so spectacular that they deserve to be. Until these tracks are tacked onto a box set or some-such, we’ll just have to make do with what we have.

One-time Britpoppers and glam-rock revivalists, and according to Melody Maker in 1992, even before the band had released its first single: ‘The Best New Band in Britain.’ A bold statement for sure, but then Suede, long ago, was full of bold statements—their androgynous style, their intricate, instantly energizing music, their interviews; Brett Anderson’s quip ‘I’m a bisexual man who’s never had a homosexual experience’ may seem tame today, but it made a stir at the time.

The band’s first sequence of singles and the debut album shocked audiences and critics alike, seduced as they were by the band’s determined, charged sexuality and affected sleaze. But on top of the good looks, there was no denying the top-notch brilliance of the music, and the originality of it all. Anderson’s fey, screeched vocals and evocative lyrics intertwined with Bernard Butler’s involved, layered guitar lines and subtly dramatic solos.

The glory didn’t last long, however, as Butler acrimoniously departed the band just before their much-anticipated second album, 1994’s Dog Man Star. That seemed like it would be it for Suede, and what an ending it would be: Dog Man Star’s breadth of material, sweeping across barnstorming rockers, into depths of emotionally bare balladry, was purely astounding. Its genius eclipsed everything else in the music world—everything, that is, but incipient juggernaut of Oasis, who would soon take every ounce of Suede’s thunder and then some. But that’s another story…

Beaten but not broken, Suede employed new guitarist Richard Oakes for the Dog Man Star tour, leaving him to fill some of the biggest shoes in pop music. Under the new lineup, the band carried on, often hitting more moments of greatness, and often not.

Years later, and the band’s persona and material had decidedly deteriorated. Poor record sales, the lack of an American audience, and Anderson’s nasty bout with a crack-cocaine habit drained the band of the life they had once exhibited in droves. The band, in a move that was inevitable for a couple albums, went on indefinite hiatus at the end of 2003.

But just before that, when they were surely aware they were nearing the end, they had an idea: to have a series of concerts where they’d play each of their albums in order, in its entirety. Tickets went on sale, tickets sold out. Entry to the Dog Man Star night was at a premium, with tickets going for £1,000 a pair on eBay.

At the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London on the evening of September 23, 2003, the pulsing synth hum of album opener ‘Introducing the Band’ erupted through the P.A. speakers, sending the audience into shrieks of delight. The band took the stage and banged through song after song of Dog Man Star, every word pitch-perfect, every track note-perfect, and showing a professionalism that simultaneously hearkened back to their spirited early days and showed how dramatically they’d improved since. Many of the songs played that night are leagues better than the original album versions, perfected through years of touring and reworking. ‘Daddy’s Speeding,’ once an album throwaway, now brims with tender intensity. ‘The 2 of Us’ is awash with guitar effects, fully blowing the melody into the tragic air it only hinted at in 1994.

Citing a lack of inspiration, Brett Anderson claims he’s ‘lost his demon’ and that Suede is on break until he can regain his desire to write songs. If this performance is any indication, they should be with us again soon.

[ band site | video excerpt 56K, broadband ]

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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