Sunday, 22 June 2014

919 SUEDE, Gruff Rhys, Westonbirt Arboretum, Saturday 21 June 2014

An outdoor gig on the hottest, sunniest and longest day of the year so far, with the pollen count stratospherically high and me having already had one hay-fever induced sneezing fit already today thanks to my rather recklessly mowing the lawn this morning? Well, it’s Suede, 90’s faves and recently reunited and definitely revitalised, so why not? Truth to tell, when this gig – a continuation of the “Forest Live” Summer gig series at the Arboretum which saw me catching up with Simple Minds on a sodden gig 822, 3 years ago – was announced, we booked it up as a birthday outing for me, fully aware of the vagaries of the British Summertime and therefore half-anticipating a murky, slate-grey evening, and mist evocatively rolling into the arena through the outlining trees. That would actually have worked really well, given Suede’s pre-disposition towards a slightly sinister mood, vocalist Brett Anderson himself admitting at our Hallowe’en Birmingham gig, last time out, that they were the ideal band for that evening! How on earth would their sleazy glam pop work, on an evening awash with brilliant sunshine rather than damp drizzle? Still, they’re always good value “live”, so here goes…
With Grandma on holiday, Tim and Tracey, so often gig companions, were our babysitters tonight! So we set off after settling the kids in with them, driving down on a sun-drenched evening, experiencing surprisingly easy access to the event field, parking up and wandering over to the strains of the Jam and, more welcomingly, Wire’s classic “Dot Dash”. The first point of notice was that the “arena” was smaller, the barriers brought in considerably from the Simple Minds gig, and the entrance a lot closer in to the stage. Probably a couple of thousand here tonight, then, most people relaxing on lawnchairs and picnicking! Nice crowd for a lazy and convivial Summer evening outdoors, but an odd one for a gig… Anyway, I was never much of a fan of Super Furry Animals, so support Gruff Rhys, on solo at 10 to 8, was onto a loser for me from the outset; however he made it worse by using those wretched tape loops to embellish his dour singer songwriter solo stuff. Rach found it telling that the only early number I clapped to was 3rd one, “American Interior”, which was his first not to use loops! A couple of later, more uptempo numbers sounded better at the end of his set, but by then we’d completely lost interest and gone to get chips! Comes to something when his Bob Dylan “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-styled placards were the most entertaining part of the set…
We saw some familiar faces for a chat before the Sex Pistols’ nasty punk classic “Bodies” surprisingly heralded the entrance of the band, emerging into the still-bright mid-evening at 9 and easing into the slow, moody sweeping drama of “Pantomime Horse”. The glam riffery of the subsequent “Flashboy” picked up the tempo if not the atmosphere; despite all-action Brett Anderson’s exhortations, the sound was thin and one-dimensional, guitarist Neil Codling struggling with technical difficulties which continued intermittently throughout. The set needed a kick-start – and it got it with “Trash”. A tremendous version of this “manifesto” number really got the crowd bouncing, Anderson dramatically delivering the soaring chorus and inviting the crowd to fill in the hookline. “Animal Nitrate” followed, completing a superb double-whammy, Anderson all energy, leaps and jumps, putting himself fully into his performance and demanding the same commitment from the crowd; “what does to take to turn you on?????”, indeed!
A really strong early set-section continued with the touching late-night Bowie-esque balladry of “The Wild Ones” and a splendid “Drowners”, during which Anderson leapt the barriers and wandered through the front rows to massive squeals of delight. The set meandered a little for me thereafter; as this wasn’t a “normal” Suede gig, they’d clearly decided on a “Greatest Hits” set selection at the expense of material from their recent, superb “Bloodsports” CD, a crowdpleasing decision, but for me a shame. However, an excellent “Metal Mickey” and the set highlight of “New Generation” rounded off the set well, before another singalong of “Beautiful Ones”, and the sole encore “Stay Together” finished their seemingly slightly truncated 1 hour 20 performance.
I grabbed a set-list (to the confusion of the woman on the barrier next to me – “what’s that??” “It’s a set list…”) and we drove home after a remarkably easy egress from the site, Rach and I both coming to the same conclusion. Great start after “Trash”, sagged in the middle, great finish, shame there was only the one “Bloodsports” track, much better last year at Birmingham; but as I said at the outset, even an average Suede performance is good value and a damned entertaining evening, particularly with Brett Anderson, a true star, doing what he does best!

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