Back in the late 80s/early 90s Sat David’s Hall, situated at the heart of Cardiff’s city centre, was the go-to place for touring bands (of any genre) wanting to add a Welsh date to their UK tour. Anyone who was anyone played the multi-tier venue and as a gig going punter if you were lucky enough to get a ticket within the first 5 rows you were pretty much guaranteed a top night out, as that magic number of rows meant you’d avoid the security cordon placed in the aisles and be in the crush at the front no matter what come showtime. Those shows became the stuff of legend.
In the decades that followed, the place morphed into a much more sedate comedy/cabaret show kind of venue with the odd proper music gig thrown in for good measure, and as a result it’s known now as a venue for all seated shows, and in accordance you stay seated for fear of being thrown out for the crime of simply having too much of a good time.
I’m telling you this because this is the dilemma I faced when Suede initially announced the UK leg of the tour in support of their amazing (and my RPM album of the year 2022) ‘Autofiction’ record. Do I go to Cardiff and risk it being something akin to a night at the opera, or do I go to Bristol and be packed into the Bristol Academy paying way over the odds for anything and everything thanks to that venue’s owners?
Common sense prevailed though when thanks to a band sanctioned pre-sale ticket link I managed to acquire seats within that magical first 5 rows area within the stalls of Cardiff’s once number one live music venue, and all I had to do now was hope that the new generation (ouch) of fans that follow Suede would be having none of this sitting down malarky that my age group seemingly seem all to happy to oblige with. I mean even Saxon – one of the first heavy rock bands to ever play the venue played it recently to a largely seated crowd – what the hell is that all about?
Arriving early to catch tonight’s support band, the Fierce Panda signed Desperate Journalist, the initial signs of what might follow are not necessarily encouraging. Everyone is seated and very much subdued for what is essentially a masterclass in early 90s indie music, but then again, the band, now four albums into an already decade long career, are hardly the household names they could be, so I’ll not panic, just yet. Fronted by Jo Bevan, who whilst possessing a voice to die for is tonight also wearing a vintage ‘Gold Against The Soul’ shirt not knowing that Manic St Preachers singer James Dean Bradfield is actually watching too. The London based band effortlessly deliver a set of quality tunes, all seemingly honed from the same period in time when The Cardigans, The Sundays and Bjork all sold bucket loads of albums, and St David’s Hall was losing its rock audience to the recently opened Newport Centre. A venue I first saw Suede play at all the way back in (I think) December 1994. And I can’t help but agree with their frontman Brett Anderson when he would later go on to say (whilst thanking the band for their support on their final night together on this run of shows) “Desperate Journalist, are a band I expect to see a lot more of following this tour”.
As the house lights go up, it quickly becomes obvious that behind the young lad selling interval ice creams (I kid you not) there’s no barrier in place in front of the stage here tonight, and as some of the younger members of the audience start to position themselves around the edge of said stage my heart skips a few beats (which is not always a good thing when you have AF), as the prospect of this being a proper old school St David’s Hall night out becomes more of a reality.
By the time Suede take to the dry ice drenched stage with ‘Turn Off Your Brain and Yell’ (which also acts as an instruction manual for those now tightly pressed up against the stage) the whole of the front section is already bouncing (thanks to its sprung floor) and its a world away from the sedate gig environments I’ve experienced in the same venue of late, where gentle applause is de rigueur and standing up is a strict no no, well maybe for the encore.
Tonight, everyone, and I do mean everyone, in the stalls is up on their feet from the get go, not least for fear of the band’s snake-hipped frontman Brett Anderson spotting you not enjoying yourself, something I think he’d actually take as a personal insult. These days he’s far more savage (but a nice kind of savage you know) in his craft as he stalks the edge of the stage cajoling the faithful at every opportunity to get involved for the 90 minutes his band up there on stage.
Now some 30 plus years together (granted there was a decade long hiatus included in that) and with God knows how many hit singles to choose from, Suede are thankfully one of those bands who don’t play the same set night after night, realising that a sizeable chunk of their core audience will attend multiple shows, they are always throwing curveballs (for example in Liverpool over the weekend they played a host of tunes from their ‘Bloodsports’ album to celebrate that record being a decade old), and tonight is no exception, with newer tracks like ’15 Again’, ‘She Still Leads Me On’ and ‘Personality Disorder’ sitting side by side with deeper cuts like ‘This Hollywood Life’ and a completely bonkers, yet totally amazing, piano and vocal reworking of ‘Obsessions’, introduced as “the only good song from the shit album” by Anderson, something I don’t actually agree with him on this time around, as I still quite like ‘A New Morning’.
Of course, the hits like ‘Trash’, ‘The Drowners’, and ‘Animal Nitrate’ are all included, but then so are ‘Europe Is Our Playground’ (the first brief respite coming 9 songs in) and ‘Its Starts And Ends With You’, providing us punters with a set list that keeps us totally on our toes, in more ways than one.
Addressing the audience mid-set a sweat drenched Anderson asks rhetorically why do we come to live music shows when we could just stay at home and listen to the music? The answer is of course is to experience an other-worldly connection, not just with the band, but with our fellow gig goers too, and if I were to single out one area that Suede truly excel in these days (outside of writing absolute genius music) it is this very area. From the simple fact that the band look like they are loving every second of tonight (I’m sure Neil Codling even manages a smirk at one point) through to the fact that their tickets and merchandise are all reasonably priced, this is the sign of a band at one with their core fan base, something that is reciprocated via the “sold-out” signs flashed across all of the nights on this tour, and boy what a proper multi-date UK tour it is too. One that would put bands half their age to shame in the current financial climate.
Closing down the main set tonight with the double early Suede glam-thems ‘So Young’ and ‘Metal Mickey’ its not just Brett Anderson who is grinning from ear to ear but everyone in the building, and that right there is once again the secret to Suede’s undying success. If you’ve read the frontman’s superb autobiographies you understand what the five guys involved have sacrificed to do what they do and the effort it has taken to get to where they find themselves, and the fact that this tour isn’t so much a celebration of their past and more about what lies ahead (I think I counted 7 songs from ‘Autofiction’ in the set), is what really excites me most about the band here in 2023.
Encoring with a full-on crowd participation run through of ‘Beautiful Ones’, Suede, and in fact St David’s Hall, have never sounded better than they do here tonight. It was life affirming to experience such an inclusive live event in a venue so dear to so many of us old school music fans, and I’m so glad I made the choice I did at the top of this review.
A simply magnificent night of live music!
Author: Johnny Hayward