HONG KONG PHEWEE! SUEDE rock the Far East
5 April 1997
Submitted by: Jane Marshall
Hong Kong Hitec Arena
JOHNNY ROTTEN's historic sneers boom across a sea of beaming Oriental faces. Suede's Pistols-only intro tape is more than a mood setter, it's an audacious benchmark. The message is simple: prepare to be savaged, ravaged, amazed. Accept nothing less.
You might think that a colony rushing headlong towards Chinese takeover would have more important concerns than visiting British rock bands, but Suede's arrival has been hailed almost like a Messianic visitation. Throw in the startling fact that this is the first all standing Hong Kong rock show ever, and we have a bona fide piece of history unfolding before us. That's history as is hysteria.
An icy orchestral arrangement of 'She' introduces the band, impeccably cool black-clad insect gods from a distant land. By the time Brett whoops the song's opening war-cry, a swaggeringly-confident seven minutes in, Suede already know they're playing one of their two or three best gigs ever. One minute
later, they're drenched in endless spurts of water from this frenzied crowd. Brett returns fire, drop-kicking whole bottles into the 2000 strong serum. The energy is explosive, the momentum unstoppable. When Richard tips open the shimmering glam racket of 'Trash', a volcanic chorus of Chinese teeny- poppers drowns him out. Pandemonium.
Tellingly, songs bearing the mark of That Other Guitarist are increasingly rare fixtures in the New Suede regime. When they occur, they almost seem like deliberate counterpoints to the buoyant and focused young lions of 1997. Thus the skin-flaying sleazoid punkola of 'Animal Nitrate' crashes without a pause into the pristine, clear-eyed piano rolls of 'By The Sea', now swollen into a magnificent sky-filling sunset of a
Broadway ballad. If we view Suede as the missing link between The Fall and Mariah Carey, to take two of Brett's favourite reference points, then such dramatic collisions showcase both facets magnificently, abrasive stomp-metal freakoids one minute, cloud-walking romantics the next.
And nothing illustrates Anderson's astute grasp of his public's heartstrings better than the teasingly extended final coda to 'By The Sea'. The singer crouches at the stage edge, arms provocatively folded, bombarded by floods of water and expectant screams. "I'm trying to finish my song," he eventually chirps with Lydon-esque camp- cockney haughtiness. The crowd explodes anew.
Indeed, there is plenty of humour to offset Suede's operatic doom these days. They haven't, mercifully, auctioned their dark souls to the apologetic get-out cause of irony.
They've simply added an extra dimension to their performance, notably Neil's hilariously-deadpan face-pulling and drama-queen posturing. He even abandons his keyboard at one point to snatch NME's camera and snap the shows for posterity.
None of which detracts from his scowling synth-lord demeanour on a majestically bleak "Europe Is Our Playground', nor his roaming singalong contributions to a predictably ballistic "The Beautiful Ones'. When Suede set about reducing a crowd to weeping jellies of joy, they are deadly serious. So - the best Suede gig ever? Pretty damn close. With such heroically-charged emotions at play both on and offstage, it seems churlish to note that the delicate beauty of 'The Wild Ones' loses something by being so roughly manhandled, or to rue the absence of old friends like 'The Drowners' and 'Sleeping Pills'.
But such reservations turn to litter in the wind when Brett announces his special one-off end-of-tour encore: Pistols' classic 'No Feelings', stacked up and cracked up, bawled and mauled, taken by force and violently shafted by perhaps the most important British band since Johnny Rotten retired first time around. You heard. This isn't cabaret, this is a statement of self-belief even Oasis would struggle to match: brazen, brilliant, and ragged as f***.
Suede virtually swim offstage in triumph.
At this point, China admits defeat and drops its claim on Hong Kong, Brett Anderson is promptly elected Governor General, Richard Oakes Minister of Rock and Neil Codling official figurehead for a new religion. Never mind the bollocks - this was history in the making.