Suede at the Astoria on a Saturday night in 1999. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Exactly one week before this gig, a fanclub show to herald Suede’s flamboyant return with their fourth album “Head Music”, I turned 24. I have absolutely no memory of what I did to celebrate that birthday, however, because I didn’t deem it important enough to write about in my diary. After all, it’s not like it was a gig, was it?
Celebrating this new era of Suede was far more important, and to do so at the Astoria, which was second only to the Brixton Academy as my favourite venue in the world, was perfect. The video for their comeback single “Electricity” had featured this venue heavily, and I was overjoyed to find myself within its walls for the first time in over a year. It feels a bit melancholy, writing about this gig here in early 2019, where the Astoria is long gone and the 10th anniversary of its closure has just passed us.
But there we all were that night in ’99, the Suede faithful, to bring in the new. In retrospect, “Head Music” does not stand up as a timeless classic as the band’s first three albums do. But in early ’99, hearing these songs for the first time, this new insouciantly poppy and deviously electronic direction seemed a thrilling thing. And, let’s face it, it was just so great to have the band back again, playing incredible gigs.
I arrived at the venue at ten to six, and was surprised at the relative shortness of the queue. From my diary: “I thought the queue’d be making its way up and down Oxford Street by the time I got there, but it barely made it to the back of Sutton Row.” Once inside I found myself a spot two rows back Neil-side, as I’d become rather enamoured of him at the “Filmstar” video shoot in 1997, and tried to come to grips with the reality that Suede were actually, finally BACK. “I resolutely could not believe that I was about to see Suede, it seemed a ridiculous whimsical wishful thinking fuelled notion.”
There was a support band, and then a curtain went down at the front of the stage, onto which was projected the new video for “Electricity”. I loved it. “It’s rapidly becoming one of my fave Suede tunes ever, and it was a particularly fantastic thing to watch the vid, with the band flickering in and out of existence outside the Astoria, and actually be in the Astoria waiting to see them for real.”
We were then treated to some more footage of the band and “just about every Sex Pistols song ever” before the band came on stage. “A lonely piano tune resonates and the full on screaming commences.” They began with the new album track “Can’t Get Enough”, which was “an almighty screamer that made perfect sense after all that Sex Pistols, in fact it could almost have been the same band.”
But of course, me being me, there was one important thing to consider apart from the music, which was: how were my extravagantly-cheekboned boys looking this evening?
“My view was ludicrously perfect. Neil was right in front of me and never out of my sight, and being so close with short people in front of me, it was better than I could have even imagined. Having said that, I spent a good half of the gig unable to tear my eyes away from Brett, who bounced on after the rest of them had blasted out a few cacophonous bars of the first tune. Brett!!! And oh what amazing gorgeous deviant-alien form he was in too.”
The second song was the new single “Electricity”, “and god it’s fantastic, those huge filthy stabbing guitar sounds, that chorus that dives straight for your heart, it’s the most irresistible, bracingly embraceable comeback since “Trash”, which is next! We all quite frankly go mental and I find myself exhausted at the third song.”
Soon however it was back into the new tunes, but this was by no means unwelcome, “for judging by what I’ve just seen and heard “Head Music” is going to be Suede’s best album ever.”
A bold statement, and of course, blatantly not true. I find it hard now to think of “Head Music” as anything other than the least good of their first four albums. But I genuinely did love all these songs on first hearing. They were all so impeccably shiny and dazzling in a way Suede had never been before.
“There were a thousand ballads, one with sliding shining keyboards and a defiantly sad tune, one just completely moody, one called “Down” about drawing the blinds and feeling down and it seemed to be the story of my life and it was beautiful. There was rock’n’roll! I particularly loved the deranged headbanger “Elephant Man” and the insistent, riveting “Savoir Faire”, which is Brett’s fave on the new album, “because I get to sing on it”, he said, cryptically.”
But at this point I’d clearly spent far too much time dwelling on the music and not the beauty of the boys.
” “Starcrazy” was when I suddenly recall what eyes are for, which is, of course, staring at Neil Codling for hours on end. Oh there’s just something about the way he sings “staaar staaar crazeeeee!” that is so perfect, like a prim schoolboy newly debauched by neon excess, yet retaining his baby lizard cool. From then on, through “Lazy” and “Europe Is Our Playground” I alternated my gaze between Brett and Neil, and apart from the occasionally glimpsed Richard (whose haircut I can’t get used to) I only saw those two all evening. Which was fine by me.”
To end the main set was another new track “He’s Gone”, which they’d premiered at the Reading Festival nearly two years previously. “How bloody long have I waited to sway along to this again! Reading ’97 I was hoping for gigs the following April, but I was nearly a year out. Well it’s here now!” After this the band departed apart from Brett and Neil, “my two”, and Brett sat down with an acoustic guitar to play “Crack In The Union Jack” with Neil adding the odd note on keys. My conflicted loyalties veered towards Brett at this point as I struggled to describe the majesty of his voice. “I’m trying to think of words to describe Brett’s voice, and I’m getting crumpled silk, arsenic and milk, but the only word really is just Brett, that unique wonderful thing, and tonight he was Brett in excelsis.”
I was so sleepy by this point in my diary entry, a bit past midnight on the Sunday morning, that I was slipping into incoherent silliness. “So they go away, we kick up a fuss, they come back, h’ray!” The encore began with”Beautiful Ones”, which was dedicated to “you lot”, and “was one of my greatest gig moments ever, sheer demented joy, armflinging euphoria of leaping magnificent madness.” Then, during their final song, my attention had strayed from Brett for a moment with surprising consequences.
“And then they do “Saturday Night” and I’m so busy staring at Neil that with a shock I realise that Brett has meanwhile come down in front of the barrier like, right in front of me! I reach out singing and manage a millisecond’s feathertouch of his hand. It’s enough for me. Suffice to say that was one gig I never wanted to end. A good old fashioned evening of glitter’n’screaming. Thank Cod(ling) for that! (sorry).”
I had only one thought on my mind after this gig, which was how long I’d have to wait until my next Suede gig.
“I’m just devastated that I’m not going to see them again ’til V99 in flippin’ August! Oh well.”
But I was very wrong. I’d see them twice before V99 came around – and in the end, I didn’t see them at V. But all these are stories for weeks yet to come.