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SUEDE - 'Dog Man Star Live' - London ICA - September 23 2003   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Sunday, 17 October 2004

The next night we return, battered and tired to the ICA. Here they come, the beautiful ones. No longer so young, no longer so gone. The years etched into our faces. Despite our every effort to halt the tide, the wave of time always washes away youth and ambition. Our skin pocked, marked, our hearts hopeful but no longer with the dire that could set the world aflame.
I’m reading too much into this. It’s just a gig. It’s just a band. It’s just some songs. Right? Wrong.

This is “Dog Man Star” night. This is the runt of the litter. The songs that, at the time, seemed the antithesis of everything the world was about. At a time of the mockney anthems of Blur, the vaccous escapism of Oasis, and the glamourous yearning of Pulp were the polar opposite of Suede. Dog Man Star was the band in tatters, abandoned by their errant guitarist, their singles no longer charting, the tide turned against them, desperate to prove, on the ropes and on their last chance.

One shot. This is all they got. They didn’t play gigs anymore. They went to war. They fought for their very lives. And I remember those days. Richard was a mystery. What was me? A gifted mimic? A rent-a-boy genius jailbait plucked from obscurity to keep the band going?

And then, as now, when he Richard picks out the Cherry Red and opens out the skeletal chords of “We Are The Pigs”, the years just melt away. I’m taken back to that place. With all the hope and energy of youth, and yet the slight tinge of regret that experience gives. I know that in this, this is the sound of the ability to resist. Not even successfully, but even the act of defiance is good enough.

From the first, lively throb of “Introducing The Band” - played live in its entirety for the very first time - and it’s vital, and it’s important, and it’s brilliant, to the final notes of the final song, this is even better than last night. Every last song from “Dog Man Star” is played in order. With barely a word from Brett, looking dapper, concentrated, back on form, the band reel out every song as if their career depends on it. And in some ways it does.

Because this is the time. Expectations have never been higher. And we are rewarded.

Every song sounds better than ever. Bolstered by two guitars, each song is moved from being merely brilliant to sounding full, strong, fulfilling the potential you always knew they had.

And it doesn’t get better than “Daddy’s Speeding”. Previously only ever seen in a barebones, acoustic form at the tail end of the demented 1995 tour, now the song suddenly flowers, blossoms, and breathes. It becomes the beast its previous, infant incarnation promised to be. With Alex on board the song becomes no longer a mere skeleton ; it becomes a shuddering, jeering animal. Slowly, like The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”, it changes from a gentle beautiful thing into something – monstrous. The venue becomes lost in a cacophony of feedback.

This. Is. Fucking. It.

We gave them the power. They made us believe.

And after “The Power”, comes the best song Suede ever did. Seriously. I know, I know. It’s a tall order. But it is true. “New Generation” is a stomping, invincible rock monster. With three choruses (that’s three more choruses than most songs I hear these days) , it is, undoubtedly, best song of the night. Richard does that thing where he stomps his foot in time to a barely audible guitar part, before doing that thing where he tilts to one side, stares up at some point in the ill-defined heavens and unleashes the kind of guitar solo that Jimi Hendrix couldn’t even imagine.

Between you and me, and don’t tell anyone, I want to bum him for his guitar playing abilities alone, let alone his cute puppy dog eyes.


After the allegedly perfunctory “This Hollywood Life”, comes “The 2 Of Us”. Richard takes his traditional place at the piano, whilst Alex teases out ghostly spectral noises from his guitar and Brett, in a first, manages not to sing about crawling out of coffins and stinking gits. For those of us who’ve seen the band ooh, a hundred times or more, this stuff is important.

But this isn’t all. Unlike previous Suede shows, the crowdpleasing singalongs which see Brett offering the crowd the mike, and saving his roadbattered voice from straining to hit the high notes, Brett hits every note. Not just one or two. But every single one of them.

He’s still got it. I don’t know what it is. But he’s got it. And it’s wonderful.

After the live premiere (and probably the only ever live performance) of “Black And Blue” – again, sounding as perfect as the record – the audience, poised on tenderhooks of anticipation., literally all cream our pants as one, when Richard slowly, gently teases out the opening note of “The Asphalt World”.

This is “Dog Man Star”s very own Heart Of Darkness. Its dark taxi ride through the cold, midnight streets of a broken city, strung out on unrequited love, chemical affection, self-love, self-hate, and multiple selves. This is every human emotion at once.

And when, after five minutes, it all goes quiet, comes the calm before the storm. Richard (aided by Alex faithfully replicating every complex part of the string orchestra from the record) curled over his guitar, squeezing out rising waves of wah-wah feedback before the band break into the long, luxurious coda found on the record.

It’s even better than the record. And it’s the fastest ten minutes of my life.

And after this. “Still Life”.

“Still Life”, the quiet, resigned, beautiful hymn to the redemptive powers of hope. Of love and patience. As Richard gently picks out every last note, and Alex again, acts as a virtuouso orchestra leader, armed only with his trusty two keyboards manages to aid and abet every swell of the music. Every last counterpoint of the rising swell and tide of this executed perfectly.

And then, as the band exit the stage, the rising crescendo of the orchestra tape –

- is cut off by some stupid twat who pulls a lead out off the stage.

The fucking idiot.

Even an encore of Brett’s solo rendition of “The Living Dead” fails to redeem. At least he doesn’t perform it as a medley and jam all the chords up lazily – it’s still gorgeous.

The mood then is abruptly broken by “Attitude”. It still sounds like a good album track as opposed to a stonking single. I wonder what it is about Greatest Hits albums that make bands think they don’t have to write great singles as the new material. (see also ”There By The Grace Of God” and ”Music Is My Radar”).

All is redeemed by “My Dark Star” and that violent, wonderful, hidden classic called “Killing Of A Flashboy”. Brett has said more than once that it should’ve gone on the album. And he’s right. “Flashboy” stutters and swaggers like a London gang wideboy. Oozing with threatened, implied aggression and the sad, soft underbelly of a life lived through others, “Flashboy” always, always takes the roof off anywhere, anytime it’s played live.

After this then, it’s back to the now traditional Greatest Hits section. “Trash” is thankfully given a break. Instead we get the punky, spunky, funky “Can’t Get Enough”, the oddly cheerful “Obsessions” and the by-now-obligatory “Beautiful Ones” (which continues Brett’s habit of having at least one song an album that steals a Prince title on every album). They’re all big, brash stomps, arrogance-teetering-on-hopelessness crunchy lists of bizarre behaviour, community-through-the-freaks, the unity-of-the-dispossessed anthems to all of us who don’t feel that the world as it is, the 2.4 children, the safe suburban flat, the dull, dead job, is enough. That there is more to life, more to all of this. Looking for answers from the great beyond. Looking for something more than this.

Looking to the Next Life.


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