All the gigs of my life: Gig 40 – Suede, Friday, April 16, 1999, Asylum Studios

A plastic ticket inviting the painted people to get off our heads to Head Music at the Asylum.

I’ve just noticed that the ticket apparently “admits one person only, nude”. It would have been a very different gig if we had all taken that as an instruction.

It has to be said, over the years Suede have looked after their fanbase mightily. Back in the 90s, being a part of the Suede fanclub meant I got the chance to attend many an unusual show, from the b-side only gig at the Forum in April ’97, to the filming of the video for “Filmstar” that same year, to this gig of sanitised neon insanity. This was a showcase of their soon to be released fourth album “Head Music”, filmed for a channel 4 special on the band, and it was, indeed, pretty damn special. From my diary:

“The songs! The lights! The current inability to keep my eyes open! Studios! It’s all an illusion! You hang about in a freezing aircraft hangar for eons on end til you finally get let through and round corners and down corridors til you turn to the left and suddenly, it’s the Gig In Space! The stage! A huge curved wall of shining neon behind them, a massive beam of fluorescence above them, great straight lightning spikes to either side, and a floor just literally Made of Light, it was all light years away from the Astoria or the Forum.”

Having been introduced to many of the new songs at the fanclub gig at the Astoria a few weeks earlier, I was hugely excited at the chance to hear them again, as the album wasn’t due out until the 3rd of May. They were playing “Head Music” as we entered the venue, and I recognised “Electricity”, “Savior Faire”, “Can’t Get Enough”, and “Everything Will Flow” from the previous gig, and then there was “one they didn’t do at the fanclub gig or tonight called “She’s In Fashion” and it’s so ridiculously poppy in the most unSuedelike way it’s gonna be no.1 forever, ‘cos ’99 is Suede’s year.”

It really did feel like a universe-conquering new Suede era was upon us, and even though that did not come to pass, I still loved the album to bits when it was finally released, and am massively nostalgic for this season of Suede gigs that I found myself in during the first half of ’99. And none more so than this strange TV dream of a show. “Suede! It was by and large the same set as at the Astoria. It was so far removed from normal gigland, with this great immaculate stage. It took a couple of tunes for the brain to register that this was Suede! in real time! not some bizarre pop fantasy dream I was having.”

I found myself my usual spot second row Neil side. “It was a tiny crowd, for Suede, going absolutely bananas in the middle, but a bit more subdued where I stood. For the first time ever though I could see every single member!” As at the fanclub gig, I was blown away by the majesty of the new songs they played, especially the ballads. “There was this one called “Indian Strings” which was so immense it sounded like eternity. “Down” was just heart-stopping, I don’t think that song’s capable of being anything else.”

As per usual, I cast around desperately for words that could go one tenth of the way towards describing the incredibleness of Brett. “I get so used to how brilliantly Brett sings that it seems too crashingly obvious to try and describe his voice once again, ‘cept it was LOUD tonight, try and come up with new phrases like wild flirtation, elegantly violent desperation, yes that voice, the sound of Brett, indescribably Brett. He’s great on record but live, truly riveting.”  

But my other favourite deviously-cheekboned boy was also on fine form that night. “Neil!!! He was much more Neilesque tonight than at the Astoria, turning away in petulant boredom whenever he had no notes to play, practically slapping the keyboard in disdain at the end of “Trash”.”

Despite how much I loved the new songs, I was thrilled to also hear some classics from “Coming Up”, like the aforementioned “Trash” and “Starcrazy” which was “particularly monstrous”, But I was incredibly taken by the new tunes and struggled to put into words how they made me feel. “Can I just say that “Elephant Man” RULES! Totally brain-demolishing rawk mindlessness and I love it love it love it. Oh god and “Everything Will Flow” was too gorgeous, too stunning, that tune, that heartbreaking tune, my god the TUNE! Writing about music really is like dancing to architecture isn’t it?”

They ended the main set the same way as at the fanclub gig with the acoustic “Crack In The Union Jack”. “Brett played a little rawkin’ acoustic tune first and then went “ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba” which was really funny let me assure you. Then Brett said “this is the last song we’re gonna do… well no it’s probably not” and then he and Neil do their thing and well, it was sort of quietly resounding and basically divine and then they go away and much stamping and shouting ensued. By the time they came back the throng were so worked up you’d have thought it was a Take That gig, the screams!”

It seems as though there were some shenangians in the encore around playing “Filmstar”, “but Simon the amnesiac lunatic couldn’t remember the drum pattern! (and oh what a lovely pink drumkit he had too). Neil got up to confer with him, perhaps offering to take on the drum part himself like he did in the fanclub gig in ’97, but to no avail.” 

However, any slight disappointment I felt to miss out on “Filmstar” and all its wondrous memories of the 1997 video shoot soon evaporated into nothing as the band proceeded with their final song.

“They did “Saturday Night” then, utterly glorious. It really was a divine rendition, I have to say at the end, when Brett, just standing there, launched into the “aaaaahoh, la la la la la laa” falsetto coda, with Neil in flawless harmony, I could quite happily have died there and then, it was, just that moment, the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard, or felt, or seen. Now that’s the way to end a gig.”

So the gig ended in a monumental blaze of emotion, and of course, this meant there was only one appropriate action: time for a merch frenzy! “I bought the cute Head Boy and Head Girl badges, and the totally apt and wonderful Head Case t-shirt, and wandered home to put it on and scribble, knackeredly.”

And from those very scribblings I bring you this post, nearly 20 years later and still, absolutely, a head case.

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