REVIEW: The London Suede, Manic Street Preachers burn bright at the Warfield
SAN FRANCISCO — On a suitably gloomy yet glamorous Monday evening, the Warfield lobby was buzzing with middle-aged friends catching up on recent health scares and sharing photos of the kids they’ve raised in the years since the London Suede has visited the City. The crowd was older–not yet old–and while it may have been primed for nostalgia, the ’90s U.K. legends had other plans in store.
“I’m really aware that it could finish at any day, who knows what could happen,” Suede bassist Mat Osman said in a recent interview with RIFF. “So the gigs that we do and the records that we make, they’re far more precious to me now than they were in 1999.”
Those words served as a powerful foreshadowing of the band’s triumphant return to San Francisco after nearly three decades. From the first downbeat of opener “She Still Leads Me On,” it was clear that this was a band that didn’t intend to waste a single moment of its time on stage coasting on glory days. Rather than bog proceedings down with meandering banter or forced contextualization, the London Suede stuck to the basics of being one of The Last Great Guitar Bands, moving from song to song with barely a breath in between.
Singer Brett Anderson has described the band’s live experience as a “mass hallucination” shared between Suede and its audience. Proving the point, Simon Gilbert’s thundering drum intro of the band’s debut 1992 single, “The Drowners,” lurched the show into a heady mix of shared memory while Anderson’s unstoppable energy kept the focus on the here and now. Pacing across the stage and occasionally jumping into the crowd, Anderson’s performance re-contextualized the Suede’s older material with an attitude of a band that still had unexplored frontiers and something to prove.
The set list didn’t favor any particular era or album and jumped effortlessly from newer material to early album tracks like “So Young” and “We Are The Pigs” without any setup or explanation. The effect elevated the newer songs from the band’s post-2011 reunion output and kept the audience rooted in the here and now. There was simply no time for looking back as guitarist Richard Oakes leaned into the classic guitar solo from 1992’s “Animal Nitrate” with as much swagger and enthusiasm as he applied later in the set to 2022’s “Shadow Self.” Anderson’s voice has lost absolutely nothing since the band’s commercial and cultural peak of the early-to-mid-’90s. Suede was a formidable live act back then. It’s an even better one today.
The set was heavy on crowd pleasers like “Trash” and “Metal Mickey” but there was no shortage of fan service to the loyal U.S. fans three decades removed from their last Suede gigs. Audible gasps were heard in the crowd as the opening chords of “Pantomime Horse” filled the Warfield.
Later in the show, as the band pounded out legendary b-side “Killing of a Flashboy,” a quick glance around the room revealed many 50-somethings completely losing what was left of their chill. As Suede wound things down with a victory lap run-through of “The Beautiful Ones”–complete with a sweat-soaked and deafening “la-la” crowd singalong–it felt like more of a group hug than a set closer.
Moments later, the sidewalk under the Market Street skyline was thick with actual group hugs, reconnections, and a shared appreciation that gigs like this and moments like this are as finite as they are eternal. “Precious,” as Mat Osman might say.
Earlier in the night, co-headliners Manic Street Preachers reconnected with their long-neglected U.S. fans with a career-spanning set.
Kicking off things with the one-two punch of “Motorcyle Emptiness” and “Everything Must Go,” the band seemed to be searching for its footing for the first half of its set before fully asserting itself in the last group of songs. There was a noticeable change in energy during the performance of 2007 single “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough.”
“This is no Britpop anthem!” bassist Nicky Wire declared to a reengaged audience before launching into “A Design For Life.”
For the rest of the set, Manic Street Preachers seemed more at ease, even offering a rendition of The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary,” which was a surprisingly perfect fit.
They closed the set with “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.” On the eve of the midterm elections and literally across the street from a newly half-empty Twitter HQ, the anti-fascist-inspired anthem was haunting and ominous.
Follow Skott Bennett at Twitter.com/skottbennett. Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.