It’s body language that gives the game away as much as anything. The way he wears his fringe over his eyes, like he’s saying ‘You can’t see me.’ The way he glares determinedly into the middle distance, never focusing on the audience, like a child reluctantly reading before the school assembly. He and his band look like they’re performing into a mirror, which doesn’t make for a bad looking performance, but it utterly fails to engage with its audience or project more than an anonymous bunch of Sleeperblokes throwing shapes and rocking out in their own imaginations.
Then you remember this is the man who used to insist on clearing the studio before he sang. Not the actions of a man completely comfortable with public vocal performance, you might think. This man is [a]Bernard Butler[/a], one of the greatest guitarists of his generation. And one of the most reluctant singers.
[a]Suede[/a] from 1992 were on telly the other day, and you were still startled by their raw power. You listen to ‘Dog Man Star’ and it still takes you to another planet. Likewise McAlmont & Butler stuff like ‘Yes’ is sublimely transcendent pop music. But tonight Bernard and band remain strictly earthbound. He looks the part, sings with feeling and everything, but he never really connects or convinces. Maybe it’s the songs, which, with the possible exception of ‘You’re Not Alone’, just don’t sound remotely memorable. But then you suspect they might be brought to life by a Brett or a McAlmont.
Good fretboard ‘work’ as ever, all writhing, slithery Hendrixian grooves, and it’s here that Bernard comes into his own, where he doesn’t have to face the audience and can just get lost in music. But then that starts to take over, and as the performance meanders over the hour-mark courtesy of another elongated version of a semi-song, our attention wanders and we start trying to think of a good Keith Richards solo album. Or why there seems to be a gap by Bernard‘s side, waiting to be filled by someone who really wants to be in front of a microphone.