Liverpool Royal Court

They're a nasty, brutally efficient rock band: what newer songs like [B]'Electricity' [/B]and [B]'Elephant Man'[/B] lack in immediate melodic clarity, they more than make up for with raw punk fu

It’s a grim night for a battle. The rain pours down hard on a dull grey Merseyside and Liverpool’s Beautiful Ones huddle together outside in the cold, their cherished individuality, for the moment, washed away in a blur of leather jackets and sour grunts. This wasn’t meant to happen. This is supposed to be an event. Where’s the glamour? The mystery? The intrigue? Surely, they’re thinking, [a]Suede[/a] will save us in the end, just like in the olden days. Inside, meanwhile, Suede are preparing to save themselves.

So far in 1999, Suede have conspicuously failed to make an impact. This should have been their year, a triumphant return in the face of minimal competition, yet here in Liverpool we find them trying hard to impress. They’re on fine form, for sure, tight and ragged and hungry, but deep down they know that ‘Head Music’ tested the loyalty of the faithful and won them few new fans. These days, you can’t afford to make average records. And whatever [a]Suede[/a] may have been, it certainly wasn’t average.

The dream, it seems, has become reality. Where once they toyed with the heady romance of being outsiders, today that’s the position they find themselves in. Perhaps if they’d toured ‘Head Music’ when it was released they wouldn’t need to prove themselves on this belated trek around the same old venues. The thing is, [a]Suede[/a] still believe in themselves, they know what they’re capable of. And that’s half the battle won.

Brett Anderson isn’t taking any chances either. Looking lithe and healthy, his voice strained after two gigs in consecutive nights, he spends much of the show atop the monitors, insisting Liverpool bellow back the choruses. Long gone is the frilly-shirted, arse-slapping Brett, replaced by a sleek, fighting fit frontman striding about the stage smiling, delivering, the troubled fop of old an amusingly tragic memory. But it’s an image [a]Suede[/a] nevertheless seem keen not to tarnish.

It’s fittingly weird, then, that the Sex Pistols intro music splutters into the gnarled riffage of ‘Can’t Get Enough’, a song about drugs sung by a man who looks like he’s just bounced out of a Gillette commercial. Urban alienation simply doesn’t feature in the new-look [a]Suede[/a]. Sure, the gorgeous, pouting Neil Codling may look as though he’d rather be pulling his toenails out with broken glass, but that’s because he’s sick with ME and ought to be tucked up in bed with a hot-water bottle.

Together, they’re no longer the litter in the breeze or the misfits sniffing glue in derelict industrial estates. They’re a nasty, brutally efficient rock band: what newer songs like ‘Electricity’ and ‘Elephant Man’ lack in immediate melodic clarity, they more than make up for with raw punk fury and visceral energy, while the chance to watch the almost lean, almost mean Richard Oakes make furious love to his guitar is, frankly, unmissable.

You could argue that by diluting their original, striking aesthetic, [a]Suede[/a] have sacrificed everything that made them interesting in the first place, but you’d be wrong. For as difficult as it is to be convinced by a 32-year-old bloke hollering, [I]”Oh daaad, she’s driving me ma-had!”[/I] during ‘Metal Mickey’, if you can’t suspend your disbelief at a [a]Suede[/a] gig, then where can you?

Lighten up, it’s only [a]Suede[/a]. Nothing to be scared of. Not any more.