2009: 21 gig salute
Shows/live tracks/gig ‘moments’ of the year
1: Amiina soundtrack Lotte Reiniger’s Cinderella Shoreditch St. Leonard’s Church
2: Transglobal Underground. Bethnal Green Rich Mix
3: Future Islands University of London Union & Brighton Freebutt
4: Veronica Falls, ‘Beachy Head’ Rough Trade East & Mile End Victoria
5: Pet Shop Boys, ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ Greenwich O2
6: Fleet Foxes silence the Roundhouse Camden Roundhouse
7: Sons Of Noel and Adrian, ‘The Wreck Is Not A Boat’ Clerkenwell Northampton Square Bandstand
8: Jon Hopkins, ‘Light Through The Veins’ London Queen Elizabeth Hall
9: Therapy?, ‘Teethgrinder/Innocent X’ Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
10: Stuffy/The Fuses, ‘The River’ Brixton Windmill
11: Micachu & The Shapes, ‘Vulture’ Rough Trade East
12: Casiokids, ‘Verdens Störste Land’ Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen
13: 9Bach Rough Trade East
14: White Town, ‘Your Woman’ Brixton Jamm
15: Jimmy of the Bobby McGees’s future as a children’s entertainer Hackney Victoria Park
16: About blow Gang Gang Dance off-stage Camden Dingwalls
17: Blurt, ‘Cut It’; Dalston Barden’s Boudoir
18: Micachu & The Shapes & The Invisible, ‘Temporary Secretary’ King’s Cross Scala
19: Lisa Knapp & Leafcutter John London Canal Museum
20: Dan Deacon’s parlour games University of London Union
21: Ear Pwr, ‘Future Eyes/I Like Waterslide’ Brighton Freebutt
The list above represents the highest points of a gigging year that saw me at 120 shows, far far more than usual due to gigging becoming a bit of an obsessive habit again, partly through the marvellous SongKick site keeping me up to date with what’s on, and partly helped by the number of free gigs available within a couple of miles of my Bethnal Green garret. In fact roughly half of those shows came gratis without even the need to blag.
Rough Trade East’s instores, Pure Groove’s intimate bar and the Bandstand Busking events provided a great way to check out new bands without touching the wallet and two that made an instant impression at these were 9Bach and Sons Of Noel and Adrian, both alternative folk acts, the former performing entirely in the Welsh language but so captivating musically as to barely register as ‘foreign’.
White Town and the Pet Shop Boys appearance in the list is, of course, largely motivated by nostalgia (which is pretty addictive, despite being the stick between the spokes of invention). Hearing Your Woman and What Have I Done To Deserve This? played live was a treat largely due to the relative rarity, Jyoti Mishra not venturing out onto stages very often, and the Pets hamstrung in the duet stakes by Dusty Springfield’s death in 1999. Rather than replace her on stage though, her pixelated image was projected dramatically onto the back wall; a brilliant tribute without being cloyingly maudlin.
Going to see Therapy? at my old second home The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth was certainly partly motivated by a wish to relive my teens and early-20s, but 2009 was the year I had rediscovered their 1991 track Innocent X as though it were brand new. The distorted phone line drug comedown confession, the lashing guitar and Fyfe Ewing’s athletic rave-beat drumming sounded as fresh in 2009 as it did almost two decades earlier. This, performed in tandem with another early classic Teethgrinder set a rocket up a, to that point, meandering show and the band kicked on athletically from there.
The Pet Shop Boys was the end to my gigging year, an end that was a reminder of my beginnings (the Pets being my first ‘favourite band’ back in the 80’s) while, by contrast, my first gig brought about an ending; Stuffy/The Fuses bidding a last farewell at Brixton Windmill. The final line of their track The River, “peace at last and it’s all over” took on an added poignancy in the circumstances.
However it’s not been all sad goodbyes and veterans returning to the radar. My usual policy is to try and see loads of different bands rather than the same over and over but there have been a few this year that have made me eager to quickly return to the fold. Firstly Micachu & The Shapes did a turn at Rough Trade East to launch their album and were intriguing leading to captivating, that particular switch flicking when they played the brilliant Vulture.
Then there was Baltimore’s Future Islands, first seen with Dan Deacon in June and then in Brighton three months later (a seaside trip undertaken because I couldn’t make their London show). Part of their attraction as a live act is frontman Sam Herring who owns the stage like a silverback gorilla rising to temper and also reverses the trend of UK singers sounding American when they sing, managing to sound like both Billy Idol and Terry Thomas with his combination of gravely howls and clipped inflections.
Late in the year, Veronica Falls played at Rough Trade to support their appearance on the ‘Indiepop 09’ compilation. The song they contributed, Beachy Head, was an arch and shadowy take on the genre that managed to evoke both The Chills and Phil Spector and has been fired out of my speakers almost every day since.
Other tracks which, after hearing live this year, have gone into the almost too-regular rotation are Blurt’s pushy jazz-melt Cut It, Casio Kids Verdens Störste Land (which absolutely owned a room unfamiliar with them during the Stag & Dagger multi-venue fest in May), Jon Hopkins Light Through The Veins (proving lap-top sets can be gripping) and Ear Pwr’s insistent electro-flail Future Eyes.
At other gigs, there have been moments you cannot just go home and download. Like Micachu & The Shapes and The Invisible encoring at the end of the last gig on their joint tour to perform Paul McCartney’s long forgotten electro abomination Temporary Secretary and also Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold performing Karen Cruel at the Roundhouse un-amplified and silencing 3,000 chattering voices in the process.
For fun times, you’d be hard pressed to top a Dan Deacon show which is roughly 60% tunes to 40% larks, such as choosing one member of the audience to stand alone, in a hastily formed round, and lead the dance moves, or creating a huge ever elongating human tunnel which the audience was required to run through and continue at the far end until such time as the tunnel stretched out of the doors, down the stairs, out into the road and the Friday night rain.
In terms of inappropriate surroundings, watching The Bobby McGees playing to an audience of largely 5-7 year olds as part of a low-key family festival at Victoria Park takes the prize. Mind you they had taken time to alter some of their more troubling lyrics but singer Jimmy (who lets not forget looks like Rasputin dressed simultaneously as Canio in Pagliacci, the groom at a tramp wedding and a dandyish sailor) forgot to apply this to his stage patter. At one point he started discussing the death of grandparents and introduced one song thus, “This song’s called Asshole, but they said we can’t call it Asshole today so it’s called Bumhead.” Which, when you consider the song in question is listed on their album sleeve as Goodbye Blue Monday, was probably unnecessary detailing.
Some shows have been about the whole rather than an aspect of their parts. Lisa Knapp and Leafcutter John’s collaborative ‘waterways’-based hour at the London Canal Museum before the set off on the Grand Union towards Birmingham was enchanting whilst About (a collaboration between Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, pioneering percussionist Charles Hayward, Spring Heel Jack and Pat Thomas) blew Gang Gang Dance off the stage at the Camden Dingwalls.
The two at the top are there because they were simply mind-blowing, but in very different ways. Transglobal Underground were almost my gig of the year simply for the spirit they engendered in the room and, crucially, my legs. Your correspondent found himself gleefully submitting to wild dancing abandon. However it was pipped at virtually the last.
It was the week before Christmas. Snow was falling outside. Inside St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, tea-lights glimmered along every wall as mulled-wine and mince pies were sold to an audience keeping on their overcoats and gloves. Finnish trio Amiina had come amongst all this to reprise their performance of live soundtracks to Lotte Reiniger’s cut-out animations of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty from the Jersey Branchage festival . Both were wonderful but as the film faded out on the former and the band finished their final overture to a black screen, the emotiveness of the bowed musical saw cut through the cold. A magical moment.
So, not a bad old year all told.
Pics: 9Bach at Rough Trade East; Future Islands at Brighton Freebutt; The Bobby McGee’s at Victoria Park.