Going from one of Britain’s most successful bands to a solo career can be fraught with danger. Once you take away the ingredients of what originally made it all work to try new directions is an area that many musicians have failed at over the decades. When Brett Anderson embarked on his own solo journey following a long hiatus from Suede, many critics had already written him off with next to zero chance of success. His first post Suede project, The Tears, which saw him mend the bridges with Bernard Butler turned out to be a critical triumph. It would be the first step to a new life in the world of music on his own. Eventually.
In the space of just over four years, Anderson released no less than four studio albums. None of them performed well in the charts (his debut reached number 54 in the UK charts whilst the next three nose dived) though it really didn’t matter because he was a musician breaching new boundaries and creating some incredibly beautiful music so really, who gives a jack if the albums don’t sell? His tours were intimate, almost sacred performances that allowed the adoring audiences to feel like part of the furniture. Six shows from various cities and tours eventually made their way out and his Berlin show of 2010 was a concert that I was lucky enough to attend. One of 5 shows on that particular tour actually and each and every one of them had their own touch and charm.
I started off in London at the Shepherds Bush Empire amid a throng of adoring fans. London crowds sometimes give of an arrogant smell at the best of times. Thankfully, this was not one of those nights. I’d taken my partner from Liverpool, Ali along for the weekend and show as it would be her first time listening to Brett’s sublime vocals. Her earliest memory and more so, her most recent memory of Brett came from the mid 90’s when Suede were riding high off the back of Coming Up, an album that would, for a while, be the beginning of what many thought was the end. Thankfully it wasn’t. What was the beginning of the end was my relationship with Ali.
A week later, I would be in Berlin for the memorable gig at Lido, a sizable venue that was most enthusiastic. The crowd and singer worked well together during the show and I remember the USB stick that contained the complete show not being available as promised due to technical problems. I’d have to buy a copy online at a later date. Oh well, first world problems ey? It was fantastic to finally see a gig in Berlin after travelling there many times previously. It’s still, to this day, one of my favorite cities from travels around the world.
Brett was quite the chatty fellow during the show which made for a receptive audience who gave as good as they were given. You could tell that Brett was made up for the show. He played a total of 18 songs on the night, the same amount as London with a few slight tweaks in the running order.
Two days later, I was in Milan, my least pleasurable city in all of Europe. Essentially, if you have lots of money and enjoy shopping for clothes, you are set. Otherwise, there isn’t a great deal to write home about. The one bonus was that Brett’s gig at The Tunnel Bar was pretty much just that. A bar. And a small one at that. From memory, it would have only held a couple of hundred people. It was a low set stage which made for difficult viewing and also remained a very humid venue for the duration of the gig. Perhaps due to my disdain for Milan, the show just didn’t reach the highs of the previous two gigs. Who knows. Either way, of the 5 gigs I attended, the Milan show sat firmly at the bottom of an otherwise impressive pile. The set list on this evening was identical to Berlin.
Fast forward a further two days and I found myself meeting up in Paris with Ali. With the gig being on a Friday evening, it left us with what I thought would be a romantic weekend in Paris and it all started well enough at the show with another enthusiastic audience set in an appreciative mood. The only downside was that Scarecrows and Lilacs was omitted from the set list (bastard) reducing the total numbers played to 17. The Parisian crowd didn’t step back when coming forward with their appreciation of Brett either. Each song performed was met with applause and whistles of pleasure. This was a great boost to Brett’s ego and boy did he let it show as he belted out each song with great gusto. He’s the kind of artist that feeds off a good ego stroking and tonight he got it by the spade load. I kind of feel that the French always look up to the English in some strange way.
The weekend with Ali was jam packed with art galleries, museums and plenty of fighting. At one point, we were approached by a shady gypsy lady trying to tell us we dropped a ring. Of course it wasn’t our ring but he decided to humor the battered old lady and threw her a few loose coins. Next thing we know, she was asking for 50 Euro’s as a “gift”. We politely told her where to go and in return, she cast a spell on us. You gotta laugh right? Coincidentally, we spent the remainder of the weekend fighting and again two weeks later on a weekend in Dublin. By the start of March we were no more and I was on my way back to Australia. The superstitious side of me would like to think that the crazy gypsy lady had a hand in our demise however, I think Ali and I were just too different on too many levels to work. It was a fun 9 months that had come to an abrupt end whilst playing a support role to my jaunt around the traps watching Brett Anderson gigs.
Between all that, I had one final gig to attend in Manchester on February 8th. The running order remained the same as Paris for the few hundred hearty souls who turned up at the Manchester University and, as was the case with prior gigs, the crowd jumped into the palm of Brett’s hand and he put on one hell of a show. The guy truly is a showman on many fronts. You can put him front of any band or any crowd and he will, on almost every occasion, make sure everyone has a good time. Being shows that included strictly solo material only, it was refreshing to not be peppered with Suede songs. Of course, Suede were on the brink of returning yet for now, I was like a pig in mud enjoying Brett’s solo offerings in smallish venues for the best part and lapping up an already quality back catalogue of solo offerings. I do hope Brett one day returns to the solo circuit when he’s done with Suede’s modern renaissance. For now, we can continue to enjoy what Suede has to offer.
My only regret about these shows is that I didn’t see more of them. I could have and probably should have caught more gigs along the way but it’s always easy to say these things in hindsight. On the flip side, I did manage to take in five extraordinary Brett Anderson concerts which is still nothing to be scoffed at. What’s more, he played numbers from all three (at the time) solo albums so how can anyone not enjoy a concert embracing beautiful numbers in the shape of Back To You, Love Is Dead, Chinese Whispers, Julian’s Eyes, A Different Place and To The Winter to name but a few?
Long may live the musical output of Brett Anderson!