There we were, back in the day at the start of Britpop (which wasn’t even called that then), and did we guess, even for a second, that it would all end up at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with Brett Anderson sitting sedately in front of a piano while an eight-piece string orchestra reinterpreted songs from across 15 years, two bands (three if you separate Suede with and without Bernard Butler) and a solo career?
An Evening With Brett Anderson (and a string ensemble, and a piano) opens with To The Winter, slowed down and dressed up, one of five tracks from his recent solo material that will get this treatment tonight. Followed by three more, it’s not until the fifth song that he feels the need to delve into his back catalogue, melding mid-career Suede favourite She’s In Fashion onto the back of One Lazy Morning before treating the audience to a beautiful, acoustic guitar-only version of the always heartbreaking Saturday Night. This works better than you might expect.
Brett is looking remarkably good for his age, still stick-thin with more cheekbones than any man should possess, let alone one the wrong side of 40, dressed impeccably in a tight pale grey suit and white shirt. He looks more accountant than androgynous these days, a sign of growing old gracefully.
Back To You and By The Sea swim beautifully through the superior acoustics before the first half of the evening finishes on two string-drenched classics from Dog Man Star, The Power and The Asphalt World, sounding as orchestral here as they were always destined to.
One short break later, Brett’s back, beginning act two on stage alone for a three-song medley containing old favourite/obscure extra CD-single track (delete according to level of Suede obsession) My Insatiable One, a song no Suede fan in 1992 would ever have expected to hear in these circumstances. But he won’t, he makes clear, give us The Drowners, no matter how much we want it.
Tonight is not about regrets, but it is about maturing. Anderson has taken a decade and a half of songs that often bristled with the anger of youth and sexual ambiguity and has turned them into something gentler, smoothing out their edges in the same way that many of the concrete jungles of which Suede once sang have since been pulled down and regenerated.
The songs, like their singer, have aged well. The irony is that it’s the middle of his career that Brett has wiped from existence. There is nothing here from Suede’s final album A New Morning (perhaps unfairly – in Lost in TV and Obsessions in particular it did have its moments) nor, more tellingly, from The Tears, who both he and Butler now seem happier to pretend never happened.
Maybe any reminder of The Tears would have would have been out of place tonight, amongst the orchestral pomp which allegedly drove them apart during the production of Dog Man Star. If Bernard was here, would it be at the expense of hearing virtually half of that album? If so, it wouldn’t have been worth the price.
If anything can make the evening better, it’s the encore. Brett calls the audience forward for a rendition of The Wild Ones that drips with irony as a 40-year-old man, seated on a stool with an acoustic guitar, strums gently to the 30- and 40-somethings gathered around him before morphing the song into So Young, the only song tonight from a debut album that seems to have come so long ago.
Tonight, as he has on so many nights, he finishes on Trash, a song that has long been the Suede fans’ anthem. You know as well as he does that there is less than a razor’s edge between that description and the audience in front of him here.
There’s even an official recording of the evening to take away, a legal bootleg with the cheers of the crowd in the background. Somewhere, I am amongst them. I listen to these CDs again as I write this review, the emotions still fresh in my mind. I can count the bands I like more than Suede on the fingers of one hand. Their best album was Dog Man Star. Tonight, I go home very, very happy.