It’s not every night you get to see two artists who have both, in their own ways, subverted expectations and fought against the predictable narrative of rock’n’roll self-destruction. But last night Suede and The Pretenders did just that, joining together to raise money for crew member and friend John Brandham, who recently had a stroke.
First up is The Pretenders, who emerge from the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire’s darkness with Chrissie Hynde exuding a near-superhuman level of cool.
What’s immediately striking is how impeccably tight The Pretenders’ current line-up is, the most notable of which being frenetic guitarist James Walbourne and original drummer Martin Chambers. Though their set traverses numerous decades, there’s a consistency of style and high standard of material that never lets up, the band smoothly transitioning from the newer pounding snarl of ‘Gotta Wait’ right back to their emotive version of The Kinks’ ‘Stop Your Sobbing’. The punk pop of ‘Back on the Chain Gang’ still sounds as fresh as it did in 1982, while the mesmeric lull of ‘I Go To Sleep’ – a special request tonight from Brandham – enraptures the crowd.
The most absorbing element though remains Hynde herself. Sporting a specially-made ‘Brandaid’ t-shirt, while her indomitable vocals soar with a majesty that hasn’t waned.
As Suede make their suitably dramatic appearance, a realisation occurs; even the most ardent fans of the Britpop pioneers couldn’t have foreseen the flowering of their creative renaissance over the last decade. Their hat trick of post-comeback albums has seen a band that many once considered spent again penning exhilarating music.
Suede’s presence on the touring and festival circuit over the last ten years has seen their fanbase swell further and Suede’s fan club – ‘The Insatiable Ones’ – are out in force tonight. They launch headfirst into a brand new, raucous number entitled ‘White Boy on a Stage’ – a confident statement from a band firmly keeping their sights fixed forwards.
Like The Pretenders, Suede’s set veers from recent material to those beloved 1990s crowdpleasers. In the context of the band’s second life, ‘So Young”s appeal to hedonism and youthful abandon sounds like a vital manifesto, while the stinging intensity of ‘Animal Nitrate’ has lost none of its bite in the past 26 years.
Brett Anderson continues to prowl the stage with an unrivalled vigour. At times he appears to be a man half his 52 years, exhibiting a Jagger-esque disregard for the march of time. Anderson not so much performs Suede’s set but inhabits every lyric, melody and rhythm.
In an era of ever-disposable media, it’s inspiring to witness these culturally-affecting, game-changing musicians up close. Though their respective fires may have first been lit decades previously, they show no signs of burning out. Andy Price