On the second night of live premieres of their upcoming album Night Thoughts, Britpop pioneers Suede delivered an intense two-part gig at Camden's Roundhouse. The night's unconventional set-up included a screening of a feature film accompanied by a live performance, followed by a more regular show consisting of Suede's self-proclaimed hits and treats from past years.
For the first section of the show, the band played Night Thoughts, due to be released in January, in full behind a screen displaying a feature film that narrated and complemented the album. The film, directed by British music photographer Roger Sargent, portrayed a story of loss, guilt and despair through clips focusing on specific events from the main character's past and present in a non-chronological order. The horrific scenes of his father's suicide and son's death unravelled, one song at a time.
Starting off with Night Thoughts' opening song, 'When You Are Young', and merging straight into 'Outsiders', the film started with dramatic scenes of the main character's suicide. Showing snippets of “happier times”, as well as seemingly manic episodes and drug-infused parties, the film tells the story of a young man's eventual breakdown and transformation from a somewhat regular young adult to an unstable, violent shadow of his former self. Consumed by the guilt for the deaths of his loved ones, he eventually resorts to aggression and abuse and even kidnapping his partner. The themes of the film were intensified by Suede's haunting melodies, working brilliantly together in perfect harmony. So as to not draw attention away from the film, the band were barely visible for most of the night's first half, causing a strange disconnect from the band with no direct interaction between them and the audience.
However, the stage was cleverly lit in a way that allowed lead singer Brett Anderson and guitarist Richard Oakes - and briefly the rest of the band too - to be seen through the bottom corner of the screen, whilst dramatic scenes were playing directly above them. The moments chosen for this gave the film a slightly more biographical feel relating not only to director Sargent, but also to Anderson – this was most noticeable when the main character was shown singing into a microphone in front of his partner's house in the middle of the night, whilst Brett could be seen through the screen singing in sometimes near-identical poses. Perhaps the film is a symbolic nightmare describing Anderson's fears as a parent and sorrow at the loss of his own parents. Having discussed how songs like the aching 'I Don't Know How To Reach You' were born out of thinking about his relationship with his own father, it is hard not to notice the parallels between the distraught man on screen and the person behind it, dropped to his knees.
An extraordinary setting for a gig, the audience remained entranced throughout the premiere of Night Thoughts, an eerily beautiful album that showcases Anderson's voice and the band's ability to move their audiences and still write relevant music two decades after their peak. The album tackles familiar themes from a sense of detachment – emphasised in 'Outsiders', during which the entire band were visible through the screen – to relationships and love. The songs echoed some of Suede's earlier material, with 'Tightrope' exuding the same delicacy and melancholy as 'The 2 Of Us' from their 1994 album Dog Man Star.
Night Thoughts does not sound nostalgic however – while it is certainly reminiscent of the band's early days, it sounds new and fresh, like a direct follow-up to their 2013 album Bloodsports. Having grown both as a band and as people, the album sounds more assured than anything they have done before.
The audience rarely clapped as the songs changed from one to the next, partly due to the emotional impact of the film and partly due to the concept that tied all the songs together instead of presenting them as individual pieces. Instead, they showed their awe and appreciation at the end of the film, with half of the room in tears as the lights came back on for the interval.
The second half of the night followed with energy and enthusiasm that showed that Suede haven't grown tired of their old hits, and most certainly have not slowed down. 48-year-old Anderson took control of the audience that chanted along to even more rarely heard songs like 'Breakdown'. If the first act had been intense with the fears that come with parenthood and the changing dynamics of growing up, the second was an ode to youth.
The setlist consisted mainly of frenetic songs that left no room for breath, but the fast pace did not detract from the quality of the performance. Suede, and in particular frontman Anderson, were over-the-top as ever – on several occasions, Anderson walked into the audience, swinging the microphone like a lasso above the ecstatic crowd in his barely-buttoned shirt. Despite their continued exuberance, Suede still managed to retain their credibility.
Ending majestically with 'Still Life', the band seemed to go from slightly arrogant – as anyone would be in front of a home crowd that could recite every line of every song – to humbled. It's rare for a band to be able to return after a decade's break and be able to bring out two new full-length albums and still manage to thrill, excite and bring something new to every gig, but Suede are doing exactly that.
1. When You Are Young
3. No Tomorrow
4. Pale Snow
5. I Don't Know How To Reach You
6. What I'm Trying To Tell You
8. Learning To Be
9. Like Kids
10. I Can't Give Her What She Wants
11. When You Were Young
12. The Fur & The Feathers
Hits and Treats:
13. This Hollywood Life
14. Killing Of A Flashboy
16. Animal Nitrate
17. We Are The Pigs
20. For The Strangers
22. New Generation
24. Animal Lover
25. So Young
26. Metal Mickey
27. Beautiful Ones
28. The 2 Of Us
29. The Asphalt World
30. Still Life