Last night, the Zodiac played host to the eagerly-awaited debut of this new indie sensation. The Tears are: Brett Anderson (one-time collaborator with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann) on vocals; Bernard Butler (McAlmont & Butler, also successful solo career) on guitar; Makoto Sakamoto (Bernard Butler, Bert Jansch, Frou Frou) on drums, Will Foster (Sophia, Heather Nova) on keyboards, and Nathan Fisher on bass.
Oh, who am I kidding? Never mind the indie credentials: Brett and Bernard from Suede are back together again. If this makes their reconciliation sound like the rebirth of a romantic relationship, we've only got them to blame: Bernard was smiling shyly behind his mass of hair and pouring all his feelings into his guitar, and Brett was bouncing around the stage, brimming over with the sort of excited energy that you'd expect from a teenager who's just discovered sex.
That sort of teenage energy is as catching as the songs are catchy. I'd tried hard (well, okay, I'd tried a little bit) to be nonchalant about the gig, but I had too much of my adolescent history invested in Suede to be able to stay cool; when Brett and Bernard finally appeared, it was as though I'd rewound 11 years of my life, back to my first ever gig: Suede, April 6th 1993, Manchester Academy. I was 14, I was terrified, but I WAS THERE; and there was Brett, live on stage, and bigger and better than any of the posters and newspaper pictures I'd plastered over my bedroom walls. I squealed and cheered and clapped and cried and jumped up and down... and this time I didn't even have the excuse of actually being 14.
That this time-machine effect could happen at all is testimony to how good the Suedesters are looking: Brett could easily pass for a decade younger than his 37 years, and could probably even convincingly lie about the time in rehab. (And hey, hardly anybody remembers the unfortunate 'beardy' years.) He may be grinning like a schoolboy with a crush, but he's also regained the sexy swagger, the decadent glamour, and the fuck-me fringe that stole the heart of the early 1990s. Yet inbetween the songs he's touchingly shy: he announces the songs' titles awkwardly, and asks the audience what they think of the music as if their reaction could make or break him.
So what do we think of the music? We've all built expectations on it beforehand -- whether we're Drowners in nostalgia, or hoping for a New Generation of post-Suede indie brilliance -- but as we're waiting for the band to come on there's an air of nervousness in the audience: what if they're rubbish? What if, after selling our grandmothers on eBay to get tickets for this elite fan-club-only we-were-there-first gig, all we were there for was a last desperate shot of mediocrity?
We needn't have worried: we can name that band in one. The first three bars of music are quite enough to tell us that, pseudonyms be damned, this is the Suede we know and love; this is 1994 in an alternative universe where Bernard and Brett patched up their differences after the glorious burnout of Dog Man Star and went back to a cleaner, sharper, more upbeat sound. They've got a tighter rhythm section; they're leaner, meaner, and in control of their material. The lyrics may be slightly Suede by-numbers, peopled with the usual cast of faded filmstars running hand-in-hand through the grey suburban wasteland (guys, if you need a co-lyricist, I'm free), but who could resist the instant hit single with the chorus of "Your imperfections make you beautiful"? Who could fail to be moved by Brett's soaring falsetto singing of tidal waves and summer rain? And what hand-holding indie kids, staring through fringes across the dancefloor, could hear "We are the lovers" and not feel as though they'd invented love?
... well, okay, all of you guys, probably -- including addedentry, who giggled indulgently at my teenagerishness (but didn't forget to catch me when I half-swooned as Brett announced the song "Beautiful Pain"), and acronym, who was probably more focused on chords and guitar licks than choruses and fringe flicks. They kept their cool, but "I can't control my animal soul." But, hell, if you wanted an objective assessment of the collective talent of Messrs Anderson and Butler, you could do better than asking the girl in the faded purple Suede t-shirt who looks like her Christmas came early.