When The Tears play an exclusive pre-London warm-up gig at an intimate venue, you just have to be there. musicOMH was, to see if Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler‘s new band have managed to wipe away the Suede cobwebs.
To all those who murmur “they sound a bit like Suede don’t they” during a Tears gig I have this to say: of course they bloomin’ well do. How can you escape the Suede sound with Brett Anderson on echoey vocals and the guitars of the jangly deity that is Bernard Butler. Melodic highs, somber reflective numbers and raucous riffs – it’s all there. But there’s also something different. Brett and Bernard have grown up – there’s less of the sassy mannequin posturing of old and definitely more of a laid-back smiley time.
It’s good to see them back together. Arguably one of the most mourned song-writing duo break-ups, the volatile pair parted company following 1994’s Dog Man Star, following in the wake of other doomed partnerships such as Lennon and McCartney, Morrissey and Marr and Strummer and Jones.
But now the relationship is palpably stronger than ever. They have stunning upcoming album Here Come The Tears to show for it. And on stage you can tell the two Bs are enjoying themselves for what is an exclusive pre-London warm-up gig at the Fez in Reading. The stony-faced pouts have gone and in its place they’re throwing each other the odd smirk, coyly glancing over at each other and locking eyes – the chemistry between those two is remarkable, leaving the other band members fully in the shadows (though the grinning Japanese ‘Mr Miyagi’ drummer deserves some of the limelight).
Opening with glam-pop upcoming single Lovers, they start on a euphoric note that continues for twenty minutes or so, bashing out uplifting harmonies and shiny music with freshness and enthusiasm. Dressed all in smart dark blue, Anderson immediately connects with the crowd – within seconds of his entrance he sonically catapults every note their way while leaning with one foot on the feedback amps. Meanwhile shaggy-haired Butler jutters about like a loose puppet, jerking his neck left and right as he grinds into his guitar, squeezing out those delicious licks while darting lopsided looks into the audience.
He heads for the keyboards however for their new track, the spartan yet theatrical Song For The Migrant Worker, slowing bearing down on plaintive chords while Anderson mesmerises the completely silent crowd with lyrics such as: “We hide in your shadows, you don’t know our names as we take your trays”. It’s another ‘plight of the underclasses’ song, hanging alongside first single Refugees and new melancholy song, Europe After The Rain which features more drama-laced imagery such as: “There’s cardboard-filled windows and boarded-up doors, and families are scattered on stations”. Who says that social conscience can’t be mixed with atmospheric beauty? Saying that, is there a mini pun in there somewhere? Seventies band Sniff ‘n’ The Tears (of Driver’s Seat fame) also have a song called Europe After The Rain but with different lyrics… hmmm.
The set winds down with the placid and pleasant Two Creatures and the ghostly fairy-like guitar whispers in Apollo 13. Anderson certainly isn’t winding down though, getting up high on speakers until he is literally touching the spotlights to the left of the stage. What a showman! In fact, much stylish tambourine bashing (one half-moon shaped one accidentally flung on to my knee as I was taking photographs – thanks for the bruise Anderson), pogo-jumping and light-hearted sarcasm (“I was expecting more moshing” he grins after one of the quieter tracks) makes Anderson an exciting and dynamic frontman.
Before last track Apollo 13 though he bends his ear to the crowd in mock pantomime style as we cheer. “This is our last song” he remarks, “we may come back, we may not, depends on how much you want us to”. Smilingly calling us a “great bunch” in his Lahndan accent at the end though means that encore tracks The Ghost Of You and Southern Rain are definitely on the cards.
For those clamouring for Suede songs, sorry guys, that era has passed; quite rightly the band play no old material. It’s ‘Here Come The Tears’ indeed, and hopefully this time Anderson and Butler will stay together and stick around.