A young family prevented me from swooping into the Britpop explosion. Early Oasis, Pulp, and Blur all came and went. But I did catch Suede, although perhaps just a couple of months after their high- water mark. The good news is that it was on the “Dog Man Star” tour in 1994. The bad news was that it was just after Bernard Butler had left.
I liked their debut album, a bit rough, but with some great songs. But “Dog Man Star”, their second, was a different package altogether. It was ambitious, musically complex, sounded lush, but still with the energy, albeit refined, of the first album. It was Butler’s flawed masterpiece. He had walked out during its recording leaving songs incomplete, there were arguments over arrangements, production and song length- but somehow the results are glorious.
Live, Richard Oakes, then only seventeen years old was hired to play Butler’s guitar parts which he learned note for note. Incredibly, it worked.
The band could have folded, instead they, and in particular lead singer Brett Anderson, emerged defiant. Wiry, sinewy and sedulous, he combined flamboyance with an instinctive understanding of what a front man should be . Setting himself apart , and distinct, from the likes of Liam Gallagher, Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn.
The Wolverhampton Civic Hall is a great traditional rock venue with a large standing floor area, wide stage, and seated balcony. The acoustics are fabulous. It was an ideal showcase for the band with wiry frontman Brett Anderson prowling the stage, as fey as Marc Almond, as arty as David Bowie, with the moves and energy of Mick Jagger.
The set was as good as it would ever get. The high energy “Animal Nitrate”, teenage crie de couer “So Young” combined with the epic sweep of “Stay Together” and “Asphalt World”. They played pretty much all of the “Dog Man Star” album, “Introducing the band/ We Are The Pigs” the obvious powerful opener.
After the second album they drifted away from the edgy, arty, energetic sound in favour of a more commercial, pop one. They became a pop band. Without Butler’s inspired song writing that was inevitable – most thought that Butler’s departure would be the end for the band. But it wasn’t, and “Coming Up” the third album had no Butler songs whatever, but did include the catchy, if lightweight “Trash”. Surprising many, including me, they have survived, endured and prospered through a combination of ability, hard work and determination.
That night it was obvious that the band were something special, but often in pop it is for a moment, when the stars collide, and then tastes move on. But also, there are times when you see a band live and you have caught them at a special moment. Musically, I suspect that a show with Butler would have been better, but that tour caught them at a crossroads, where defiance and determination triumphed over loss and introspection. What a night it was.