Not Just the Ticket — a prologue to entry #66: my Chinese lunch with Suede

Even though this is not really a story of a Suede show, or rather just a Suede show. But in getting ready to type up what will be the next entry I realized a little more that this was a story of its own, so why not a separate post about it? After all, it was partially my choice — or my fault, depending.

So, Suede. The story for me goes back to early 1992 when I was picking up the latest issue of Melody Maker at UCLA and noticed a still-infamous cover, or at least still-infamous among those who noticed or cared at the time. ‘Best New Band in Britain’? Well, they photographed well, or so I thought. Turns out that there had already been a variety of reviews and even a small profile courtesy of Simon Price in earlier issues, and that the band had already been kicking around for some time before that — years later, when the whole story about Brett, Justine Frischmann and Damon Albarn came out in greater detail, a lot of things made a LOT more sense.

I heard snatches of their songs here and there over the next few months — I remember really wanting to snag a copy of “The Drowners” when I was over in the UK in August 1992 but either it was sold out or just impossible to find at that point, and “Metal Mickey” had yet to be released, so probably the first song of theirs I actually owned was the cover of “Brass in Pocket” on the Ruby Trax compilation released by the NME just around the time I arrived at UCI. I do remember snagging a copy of it at Peer Records when it was still open across from UCI and amid all the fairly random assortment of remakes “Brass in Pocket” did stand out, both gentle and melodramatic at the same time.

Eventually I did start snagging the singles and got a better sense of what the potential hysteria was all about, and pretty rapidly became an all out fan. The constant coverage in Melody Maker certainly didn’t hurt, so every week I seemed to know at least something was up. TV appearances, radio sessions, none of it could either be seen or heard given where I was and given what technology allowed, it was all down to print and recordings, so who knew what it was all really like live. As per usual I did have a few folks I could talk with at KUCI and on campus who knew about them but that was about it — everything else was down to waiting and hoping they would tour.

Which they did — inevitably, they were a UK band with press attention and then a major label deal as well, of course they were going to tour, nothing about that was any different from a lot of shows I’d seen previously. However, this time would be a bit different because of what I’ll be talking about in full in my next entry, KROQ’s own attempt at a Lollapalooza crossed with their Acoustic Christmas pseudo-festival shows. The Weenie Roast has been running strong since then and from the vantage point of history, knowing what station and show turned into over time, the idea of Suede being on the bill both makes sense (hey, loud guitar rock by guys and all) and absolutely NO sense at all.

But of course nobody knew that in 1993, the interregnum year of alternative aesthetics — and more on it all next time. Suede were due to play a separate small show up in Hollywood — not to mention a earlier Tonight Show appearance that still leaves me going ‘wait, did that happen?’ — but the big thing was going to be the Weenie Roast appearance. And as it happened, I had a hell of an in to something associated with that.

My friend Jen V., UCI show booker extraordinaire, had as mentioned previously in the series also been doing college intern/promo work at Sony. One day, she called me up and asked for my advice on something — a small event was being planned for the band, a typical enough journalism meet-and-greet thing that’s part of the whole rounds that groups have to go through, especially newish groups from the UK on a label looking for a return on investment. It was aimed at the college media level so that helped in terms of me being able to be part of it, but the question was a larger one.

Namely, where to hold it? The idea of the lunch would be that it was going to be on the day of the Weenie Roast itself, so from there the band would then head off to freshen up and then go over to Irvine Meadows for the show with the rest of the hordes. Now, Jen knows and loves good food, as do I — when we last met up with some friends earlier this year it was at a pretty great French Provencal place in New York — but take us back seventeen years and it’s a classic case of unsureness about options and no simple way to make a good decision without good word of mouth and some experience under one’s belt.

However, there was a Chinese place across from UCI I’d been meaning to at least try and explore, called, but of course, Chinatown. Now in retrospect I recognize it for what it is, a combination of tourist trap and fake authenticness, but hey, they’re gone now and I’ve seen even worse places in the interim. So partially because I could just walk over there and partially because it would an excuse to see what it was like on someone else’s dime — and also because it was in the same city as where the show was going to be, no small consideration as noted above — Chinatown it was.

I don’t have much memory of the buildup to the lunch aside from the fact that my friend Eric R. was also part of the crew that ended up there, but came the day and I walked over there for lunch. We ended up in a biggish room that could hold something like fifteen people — I really don’t remember who arrived first or when, but I think most of us were there before the band were, and then there they were with their PA folks or whoever else was minding the store, Brett, Bernard, Mat and Simon. Kinda cool.

Now, part of me geeked out over all this — hard. (I was 22 and I make no apologies.) I had brought single and album sleeves for signing, which they did, but I also brought that Melody Maker issue that had helped kick start it all. I think Mat was the one who circled the headline and went ‘Who?’ on it but I’ll have to check the cover tonight. I gather I broke protocol by circulating that before the meal was over but hell, I was impatient. And somewhat gauche.

But setting all that aside (and noting I was with some fellow Suede geeks here as well, folks from various local radio stations and publications on the college level), it was an interesting observation of a band doing the promo rounds, and sensing dynamics. Suede sat near but not next to me, on the other side of a larger table. Brett I remember looking at the menu a bit with a very, very considered air. He looked…not totally unapproachable but definitely knowing that yes, he was the star, or at least a star. We chatted for a short bit after the meal was over and I remember him adding a drawing of his cat Fluffington to the promo photo of him sitting in his flat, so that’s a nice touch.

Bernard was definitely the most withdrawn. Given his eventual departure and the emotional extremes he was dealing with that year, who could blame him — he was the only band member accompanied by, I presume, his girlfriend, and the two of them spent most of their time in deep conversation. I sensed he wanted to be left alone and almost certainly wished to not be there at all, probably not even in America at all. Sitting next to Brett probably didn’t help, really.

In contrast Mat and Simon were incredibly gregarious, not loud and strident but very chatty and friendly, taking it all very easy. I still think they were a really sharp rhythm section all around and given Simon’s own years-long career drumming in bands until suddenly hitting the jackpot, he probably couldn’t believe he’d gotten that far. I talked a bit with them both but Eric R. sat nearer to them, right next to Mat I think. As he told me later, Eric asked Mat about the Weenie Roast — Mat’s memorable response: “Well, it’s one of the first shows we’ve ever played in America, it’s the first show we’ve ever done in broad daylight and it’s supposed to be the biggest crowd we’ve played for yet. I’d be a little more nervous if I wasn’t stoned right now.” Hero.

The meal was nothing to write home about but we were fed, and after saying our goodbyes I found myself with Jen V. and the Sony promo crew taking the band over to their hotel near John Wayne Airport, so that was kinda fun if a bit brief; we exchanged polite farewells and that was that. Off to the show itself, which I’ll talk about next time.

One additional note, though — since then I’ve had a chance to talk various band members over the moons, an interview with Mat here, a brief chat with Simon at a later Suede show there and so forth. Each time I introduced myself by saying, “You won’t remember me at all but I met you guys at this promo lunch right before you did the Weenie Roast back in 1993” and without fail they’d each go “Oh yeah, I remember that! The Chinese place!” So maybe I made the right call in the end.

(At a certain point I could also have mentioned me running a little mailing list called wild-ones but that’s a whole other story…)