Gig Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Royal Northern College of Music, 26th September 2008

Dear Brett Anderson,

Last night’s gig at the Royal Northern College of Music in support of your new album, Wilderness, was many things, but it was far from being a typical Brett Anderson gig. I know we’ve had our musical differences over the last couple of years but seeing you on stage really made me worry about you. You looked gaunt and a little ill – a thin man who is noticeably thinner, eyes sunk into his skull, brings out my mothering instinct. Please, let me send you a casserole, or some brownies. You need a good feed or twenty. It might cheer you up. I’m deadly serious, if you want me to feed you, let me know. I’ll send a care package. I promise not to send Pot Noodle. I also promise not to poison you. I’d hate to see the songwriter whose Dog Man Star and Coming Up albums got me through the two worst years of my life starve to death. I’d also hate for you not to receive the same comfort from somewhere that your records gave me.

The first twenty or so minutes of your performance, where you emerged to the piano without even acknowledging the audience were excruciating. Running one song into the next, the songs from Wilderness all have the same tone and pace, are even in the same key, and the cello arrangements are so monotonous that I didn’t notice when “A Different Place” turned into “The Emperess.” With you staring at your hands, tearing through these slow dirges, it was hard to engage with what was occuring on stage. Although I adore “Back To You” it felt soulless, the way you were jauntily hitting the keys with a plink-plink-plink, even though it was slow and quiet, it felt hurried, lacking in the necessary brooding and restraint.

I was so relieved when you finally moved to your stool and took up a guitar. “Love Is Dead” was a bit better, even though you still kept your eyes closed and for the first time ever I quite enjoyed “Song for My Father” – it was the first moment in the show where you actually seemed to be really singing something like you meant it. Now this is not to say that you landed a note out of place, but watching you perform with such obvious disengagement from the gig, like you were entirely in your own head, barely acknowledging the crowd or even your cellist, Amy, was so unlike you as a performer that it really detracted from the experience.

I kept expecting you to open your eyes, banter with the crowd, tell a dorky anecdote, but we got nothing – just closed eyes and song after relentless song.  “Funeral Mantra” connected a bit better than it had when I was listening to the album, “To the Winter” suffered the same fate as “Back to You.” I wanted to scream “WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT US!” on a number of occasions but the pace between songs was such that I’d have had to interrupt your playing – and I’m not quite that rude (nearly, perhaps). I was terribly disappointed when you left after 45 minutes for the interval.

The problem I had, and I continue to have this morning is that just over a year ago I saw you perform songs from your eponymous debut, Brett Anderson, at the Manchester Academy. Despite promoting an album you described as personal and intimate you were strutting around like a rock god, waving your arms, shaking your arse and the gig lacked that intimacy – until you did an interlude of acoustic songs with just your guitar. That was an amazing 15 minutes because you stopped being a performer and just sang to the audience. You were engaged with us, you were open and you talked with us and for a few minutes the wall dropped and I felt like we were seeing a vulnerable, honest performance. You can see what I said in my original review. I’m also not the only reviewer to have expressed this sentiment.

Strangely, a few months later you went out on an acoustic tour and then recorded an acoustic album. Maybe you already had this plan in mind, but the cynic in me wonders if you read your reviews and thought that in order to achieve songwriter gravitas you had to pursue this direction – whether you wanted to or not. The worry is that something in your head told you that Brett Anderson at 40 cannot be a rock star, can’t explore and experiment with computers or electronics, plugged in instruments – that people wil say you lack dignity if you don’t go all singer-songwriter acoustic. The worry is that you feel that acoustic and slow is the same thing as honest, open and vulnerable – it is not. I have seen screaming punk rock performances, electronica acts who were raw and expressive and honest. It wasn’t the fact you were playing acoustically on your own – it was the fact that you weren’t delivering a performance, you were, quite simply, singing songs that mattered to you back to us.

Last night was a different story, however. Now, maybe I have it wrong and these songs are so emotional for you that you find it hard to perform them and you need to go inside your own head to get through the performance – but I just find that hard to believe. You produced some very raw performances of some very emotional songs with Suede and there was rarely a moment where you were disengaged from your audience – even when you were at your worst, while promoting Head Music. But mostly, this conclusion comes from the fact that the Suede part of the set consisted of much of the same disengagement.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled when you came back on stage and played “Europe is Our Playground”. “The Wild Ones” still has the ability to completely make the world stop for me and “Still Life” nearly brought a tear to my eye. On the other hand, one of my all-time Suede favourites, “Pantomime Horse” suffered a bit from the sudden need to express emotion which involved violent strumming and headbanging – open your eyes, stand up and express it as a singer, don’t just phone it in with a rock cliche! “The Living Dead” suffered from the same fate.

When you moved back to your piano and treated us to “Another No One”, “Down”, “He’s Gone”, “The 2 Of Us” and “Asphalt World”, I finally felt that you were coming out of your shell a little – you looked at us a couple of times, or maybe I just love those songs that much that your coldness didn’t matter.

The final two songs, however, were an absolute disgrace. I made a joke in our Manchester Gig Guide earlier in the week regarding hearing “Trash” and “Animal Nitrate” on acoustic guitar and cello. I did not expect to get this performance – albeit “So Young” instead of “Animal Nitrate”. For starters, even though you acknowledge that playing “So Young” is a bit ironic that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t retire it entirely. It sounded ridiculous. Ok, it was pretty, but the slow, acoustic delivery completely destroyed the anger and energy of the song. “Trash” sounded moronic when you played it in that format for Jonathan Ross on Radio 2 a few years ago, it sounded even more idiotic last night. Singing a bombastic song about mis-spent youth, clubbing and drugs in the same dirge-like manner as the rest of your recent offerings just emphasizes the fact that you were delivering what you think you should be doing now, rather than playing the songs in the way that you’re really feeling them.

I enjoyed parts of your performance, you sing beautifully and you always have, however Mr. Brett Anderson, your performance in Manchester last night felt hollow and at times I think you knew that – or you would have been able to make eye contact with us.

Please Brett, before releasing another monotone album where the bland music contrasts and spoils the melodrama in the lyrics, please think about what will work best for what you’re feeling and for what the songs need. Don’t just make an acoustic album so you sound “mature” and don’t just make a bombastic rock album because that’s what the legions of fans who have deserted you over the last two years will require in order to return to the fold. Think about what you need to write in order to be open, vulnerable and honest with us again and try to write that record.

Oh, and do eat something please.

All the best,


13 Responses to “Gig Review: Brett Anderson, Manchester Royal Northern College of Music, 26th September 2008”

  • zebras54 Says:

    There are many performers who concentrate on their instruments during singing and acknowledge the audience in between. A grand piano is an ackward instrument, and if you are sat on the left, you are likely to watch the performer’s back during songs. I don’t think that musicians need to hawk their music to audiences, some members are happy to listen to the songs and I don’t think that most audience members know Suede/Brett music by heart and therefore take the live performance at face value. Therefore if the songwriting is solid and the performance is good, then there is no reason why an audience member should no enjoy themselves.

    Writing a review like an open letter is a strange idea to begin with, and I find the personal comment regarding the performer’s body shape a tad patronising.

    Your blog is an insightful review of what goes in the head of a fan who can’t let go of the past and therefore good on you that you put it here. I’m looking forward to see him play in Brighton. An acoustic song performance on piano, acoustic guitar and cello sounds great.

  • JustHipper Says:

    Point taken that everybody wants something different from a gig and different performers behave differently, but this was very unusual form for Brett.

    Music is a funny thing. When you listen to it on album it’s a solitary experience, you have a CD or an MP3 or whatever and you’re sat hearing it, generally on your own, and reacting to it on your own. Live is a different experience – it’s collective. The best gigs are not about a performer on one side and a crowd passively watching – they’re an interactive experience where one feeds the other. Last night was very much a performer doing one thing and a crowd watching it like a TV program or a film – it was entirely passive. The thing is, watching back the video, he sounds beautiful and the whole thing sounds amazing – but live it was very sterile. A performance should never sound better on tape or video – video is passive and sterile and lacks atmosphere. That this was actually better when I couldn’t see his facial expressions says a lot.

    That was the second time I’ve been in that venue this week and the other gig was also from a musician who’s now doing the rounds as an elder statesman. It was quiet, seated and reverent – but it was far from passive and it was not sterile in any way. This week I’ve also been to a gig in a church by a performer known for staring at his shoes more than for his audience interaction…and that was warm and breathtaking and at times witty and charming – but never passive.

    I can’t argue that I’m stuck on Brett’s past – my knees go weak and I have to stop what I’m doing when I hear certain Suede songs. This is not to say I don’t want to see him move forward and I don’t want to like what he’s doing. But I don’t. I would love to see Brett do something strange and unexpected but so far all he’s done is be very unimaginitive and entirely unsurprising – except where he seems less inspired and emotionally toned down. Yes, the melodrama is still there but he doesn’t seem to carry it as well these days.

    It’s a shame. I was really hoping to come out of last night’s show feeling like I did after the gig in 2007 – which was feeling warm and happy – but I didn’t.

    Maybe next time.

  • zebras54 Says:

    I see what you mean. You felt like you were going to the theatre.

    It is undeniable that Brett has changed physically and musically over the past years. If making his musical journey and finding his style is important to him, then I’m sure he’ll understand why some fans can’t follow him in his wilderness. Perhaps, his current life is peaceful and therefore he doesn’t need invite the melodrama in his performance and therefore him playing his older songs is like someone who is revisiting his memories or metaphorically speaking your relative showing you family photographs.

    The other Manchester gig you went to was an electric performance. I went to a similar one in Glasgow.

    As long as you have good memories of this particular performer from past concerts and some of his music, I may say that seeing him again on stage shows that you have a bit of affection for him. Enjoy blogging and enjoy Manchester gigs.

  • Fiona Says:

    I haven’t seen Brett perform his new album, but I saw him a lot in 2007. I like his acoustic set. I think it is great that he is following his musical and artistic heart instead if giving in to what others expect from him.
    Wilderness is the last Album, because to me it is the final piece in the Brett Anderson Chapter… however for a new audience this is just the beginning of a long and captivating journey, that hypnotic voice.. the allure that will keep them interested on the road ahead.
    I think he carries the accoustic shows very well, he seems to have reached a place in his life where he set the counters to zero and is creating his own musical experience.
    Some Suede songs are a little out of place at these shows and sound like sleeping feet feel, however, it is his show, he worked hard to get there, I just hope he doesn’t forget that it isn’t just the people who come to his shows and indulge him that helped him get to this place, or those that frequent his forum but all of the ‘fans’ from around the world that allow him to be a little self indulged. I know you sound a little miffed with your review, let down by him, but on the other hand… Brett has changed with that so has his on stage persona.
    Would you really rather see him slapping his arse, jigging?
    Maybe this is the end of the Brett journey for you, just like it is for me. At least you have something to look back on and great memories to keep with your forever.. some fans out there never got to see him and never will.

  • Karol Says:

    how can you justify calling that a review when one of your key points (of contention) appears to be bretts appearance? it’s childish at best to stoop so low to personal and potentially hurtful attacks like that.

  • Karol Says:

    “I was really hoping to come out of last night’s show feeling like I did after the gig in 2007 – which was feeling warm and happy”

    are you sure about that? From this review…
    …I read the same bitter musings as above mostly. You appear to be a very damged person.

  • JustHipper Says:

    @Fiona and @zebras54 thanks for taking this as intended. I did feel I was watching a theatre performance – maybe that was the intention but it detracts from the experience of live music. I’m not a big fan of watching classical performances either though.

    @karol – If I’d said he looked gorgeous nobody would have complained. It’s a gig therefore both visual and aural so commenting on what stuff looked like makes sense. If you were a regular reader of this blog you’d know we are many things, but reverential is not one of those. Many people appreciate that. Some don’t get our sense of humour – which is fair enough. I do think he looked very gaunt.

    And yes, I did very much enjoy the show in 2007, I was giddy when I came out. I’m not sure how that was anything but a positive review – if you are any sort of an analytical reader you’d realise that my point was that I enjoyed that gig despite myself and even though I thought the newer songs were very weak on record and I believe that an artist trying to establish himself in a solo career shouldn’t need to fall back on his “hits” from his past to draw in audiences – the new songs should stand on their own as a new project (kind of like, ahem, The Tears).

    Why is it everytime we are critical of something we get called “damaged” or “stupid” or “incestuous”? I feel this was a very fair description of my experience of this gig – which is what we do on this blog. I thought he sounded nice but was very cold and detached. I don’t like the new songs but I did enjoy both “Song for My Father” which is a track I find dreadful on record and “Funeral Mantra” – perhaps because it offered a much-needed change in pace. It was lovely hearing the Suede songs because they mean so much to me but I feel at times they lost something in the delivery. How is any of this unfair? Or am I simply not allowed to hold an opinion if it is not the one endorsed by the official fan club?

  • jason Says:

    Is it just me or does this sound like someone who hasn’t got anything better to do other than really get stuck into someone who has more talent in his fingernail than you will ever have. I am a Suede/Brett fan and went to Manchester with my wife in the knowledge that he would pull off a great night! He did not disappoint and I would suggest to anyone who wants to see a real musical performance to get along next time. Anyway rant over. This was 10 times better than last year at the academy and was probably the best I have heard him sound since Free Trade Hall 1994. One thing I agree with though, he does need to relax a bit and connect with the crowd. If this had been achieved it would have been even better.

  • Fiona Says:

    One thing that will never fail to amaze me is the inability of Brett and his we will take anything army of fans is this.. they cannot and will not accept negative constructive critique! Even Brett has at least acknowledged he has a waning audience.. he knows there will be many Suede fans out there who will not appreciate this stripped down sentiment. Why is it a reflection of someones personality if they felt let down and didn’t enjoy this show, how many Brett, Amy and Piano gigs can you go to without becoming bored of the same old sentiments?
    JustHipper I understand where you are coming from and am glad to see you had it in you to speak up. I do think Brett has a way about him that captivates audiences, I also think he will keep on doing this..but he needs to do it without resting on his suite of Suede songs.

  • Joan Batt Says:

    Last night’s gig in Brighton was dreadful. We left after the 3rd song in the second half.
    Basically all songs sounded the same! The piano playing was like a child learning, just banging away at the same level constantly, no soft notes, no crescendos, just banging.
    Worst gig I’ve been too. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. PLEASE BRING BACK SUEDE. So much more lively and intense. Last night was boring boring boring, so boring that my husband fell asleep!!

  • JustHipper Says:

    Mmm…yeah…monotonous. Pretty much. I’d say I’m glad I’m not the only one, but…then I’d be wishing a night like that on others….

    What’s with the link? Is it irony or marketing?

  • IanChode Says:

    I saw him play in London a couple of days later, and I absolutely loved every single minute of it. He performed what he wanted to perform, and a musician of his calibre has earned the right to do that.

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