Gig Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Academy 2, May 2, 2007

Apologies for reviewing out of order, but this one is half-written in my head and the three James gigs will take longer to describe. Plus, we’re enjoying being controvertial at the moment and I suspect that anything I say about Brett is going to spark a bit of lively debate.

In any case, I had the feeling, heading down to the Uni, that this gig was going to be a bit of a let-down. After all, I’d spent the week watching James perform songs that I’d never expected to hear live, watching the inaugural Grinderman performance as well as Mary Margaret O’Hara’s first live gig in 15 years. Brett Anderson playing songs from an album I find devastatingly mediocre was bound to be a disappointing end to a very long and exhausting 8 days of gigs. I did not even really want to go as I had a nasty cold and had not had a full night’s sleep since some time in the middle of April; but, as I’d paid roughly £18 for the ticket and the fact the show hadn’t sold out meant I knew I couldn’t sell it, I dragged myself down there expecting disappointment. I’d heard he was subjecting his audiences to some of the worst moments of Suede, namely “Obsessions.” This was clearly a bad sign.

The opening band, the Silky Peaches (or something like that) were on stage when I got inside. The most memorable thing about them was the P.A. blowing about 2 songs before they finished causing them to have to end their set early. I felt bad, they were very gracious about it. But they were also entirely unremarkable. It’s a shame. Brett has Charlotte Hatherly opening for him elsewhere on the tour. I’d have been excited to see that.

Brett Anderson at Manchester AcademyThe P.A. was working, however, in good time for the man himself to emerge on stage, looking very much like a banker, with a backing band which includes Mat Osman, formerly of Suede. He started with “To the Winter,” a track that had gone right past me on the first 7 or 8 listens, but now I must admit has grown on me, it’s one of the more honest and vulnerable tracks on the solo record and it sounded nice live. Brett’s voice is certainly on form at the moment and he’s a warm and witty performer, playing to his crowd well. The second track, “Love Is Dead,” which is also one of the more listenable tracks from the solo record, seemed a bit marred by the fact that he sounded like he was struggling a bit with his voice, a dry throat or something. Beyond that the singing was never in question though.

He tore though a bunch of solo tracks: “Scorpio Rising” gets worse every time I hear it; “Dust and Rain” works well live despite the idiotic lyrics; “Intimacy” should be dirtier but gave Brett an excuse to shake his rather shapely backside; “One Lazy Morning” had the crowd going but is so cringeworthy it made me embarassed to be in the room. It struck me that although most of these songs are meant to be personal and intimate, and despite their softness, Brett was still striding around the stage like he was belting out “Animal Nitrate,” waving his arms in the air, striking rock poses. Maybe this is reflex and he doesn’t realise he’s doing it, but often it seemed very self-conscious, as if he knew very well the crowd were there and felt he had to perform this way to satisfy expectations. It is at odds with the tone of the songs and distracted from them.

Moreso, while his on-stage renditions seemed to defy what he says he wanted to achieve with his solo record, it seems that even Brett realises he has won no new fans with this record and has worked out the crowd really just wanted a Suede reunion. Somewhere in there, as a result, we got “By the Sea” and Brett asking us “Do you recognise this one yet?” I’ve never heard Suede play “By the Sea,” one of my favourite tracks off Coming Up, and I must admit I was thrilled. It was followed up with “Colour of the Night” which is the song whose production works the best on the album, but bothers me with its mysogyny, “Back To You,” a wonderful track recorded for Fred Ball’s album which is what prompted Brett to work with Fred Ball on his own solo album and is one of the best things Brett has written in a long while, and “The Infinite Kiss” which I must admit is a great song.

At this point, the Dark Overlord of the Fringe took himself off stage so they could swap the setup, bring out a stool and a different microphone for him. He returned to take requests, just him and an acoustic guitar, for the Suede portion of the show. Two things became immediately apparent: stripped of the protection of a full band, just him and us, the whole thing became more honest and more vulnerable and this seemed to be the tone that he needed to strike for the solo material to work live; also, nobody really seemed to care about hearing the solo stuff, they wanted old Suede gems. Brett must have realised this and seemed happy to oblige, taking requests for “The Living Dead,” “The Big Time” and “The Wild Ones,” which seriously and quite pathetically made my night as those are three of my favourite Suede tracks and they sounded wonderful. He properly won me over though when, in response to a request for “Lonely Girls,” possibly the worst song ever written in the history of songs, he said “You really want to hear that? No. It’s a bit shit really.” Too bad you can’t go back in time and not include it on A New Morning eh Brett?

After another short gap, Brett returned with the full band to tear through “Can’t Get Enough,” “Trash” and “Beautiful Ones” and I found myself singing along and dancing despite myself, even though I’m pretty sure there is something cringeworthy and pathetic about someone approaching forty still playing songs about being a wasted youth as part of his live show. It’s like seeing the Who play “My Generation” now. It is somehow wrong. But he still looks and sounds great playing them and they dragged me back in time ten years. And after all, I was dancing to “Trash” in an indie disco when I first noticed The Ledge. I guess it was just one of those moments.

So, it was a great gig. Brett Anderson is a great performer. But I walked away feeling that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much. As good as he was on stage, it seems sad that in order to keep his audience happy he realised he had to make the set about his past instead of his present. Hopefully this is a wake up call, not to a Suede reformation which would be nothing more than nostalgia, but about upping his game a bit, pushing for that intimacy and honesty he nearly had when it was just him, us and his guitar, and making himself vulnerable again. If he did that, he’d probably never write a duff song. But the same thing could be said about any good songwriter.

“Back To You” – Pleasure feat. Brett Anderson

“The Big Time” – Suede

6 Responses to “Gig Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Academy 2, May 2, 2007”

  • neskav Says:

    you are too generous.

  • JustHipper Says:

    You thought that was generous? I have to say what I see and he put on a really great show. I can’t deny that, whatever I think of his solo album. I enjoyed watching him. I always do. I want him to make great records again because I find it sad watching someone whose music meant (means?) a lot to me having to rely on past glories to make a living.

    As Nick Cave and Grinderman proved very definitively, middle age angst and anger is probably way more powerful than youthful angst and anger because it’s more directed, more contemplative and more based on actuality and real failure and disappointment. It is possible for aging musicians to make powerful, snarling, raging rock songs that are very much of this moment, not of their glory days. Sadly, few of them do it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

  • Suedehead Says:

    “But I walked away feeling that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much.”

    A hilarious statement. Talk about overthinking. Seems you can’t trust your own reaction, so why should anyone listen to you?

  • Leda Gascot Says:

    I enjoyed reading your post – it made me think… Also, thank you for letting me to comment!

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