2011: 25 gig salute
If my calculations are correct, I made it to 139 gigs/festivals/in-stores/bandstand busks in 2011 (a great many being free entry thank goodness), comprising 379 ‘sets’. Of those, here are the best 25, with a few bubbling under ‘momentary highlights’ and gig-like experiences of note.
A condition set upon myself for this list was that no band would appear twice, otherwise there are a few entrants who may well have done.
1=: King Creosote & Jon Hopkins. Union Chapel (May)
A sold out Union Chapel, candles flickering and, come the end, a standing ovation all round. Turns out collaboration between a modern folk troubadour and an electronica everyman works beautifully live. Key track: Bats In The Attic.
1=: Nisennenmondai. Kentish Town Forum (November).
Pretty much the same set I saw them do a year ago in support of the Ex at Tufnell Park Dome and again it was a 50 minute support slot, albeit to a far larger crowd, with four ‘pieces’ taking up the entire stint. Theirs is a powerful music, but without need for racking up the distortion or applying any extraneous vocalisation (their set being entirely instrumental). Nisennenmondai’s strength comes from danceable car-chase hypnotics, drama and energy building in the cyclical compositions as they jut out but roll fluidly.
3: The Magic Band. Nottingham Rescue Rooms (December)
I followed this tour about a bit, and I would nominate the whole ‘gig experience’ of doing so but my damned rules determine a single show to be chosen. So I will choose Nottingham for the extra treat of a version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning played by way of tribute to Wolf’s guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Also seen at London Scala, Dublin Button Factory and Leeds Irish Centre.
“Thankfully, French is an excellent blues singer in his own right, taking his cue from Van Vliet in much the same way as Van Vliet did from Howlin’ Wolf. Whilst he hasn’t got quite the same range, the growl is as hearty as you need to capture the essence of what watching Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band live must have been all about.” [FULL REVIEW]
4: Gaggle. Rough Trade East (April).
Like the old school Top 40 this, something coming in low and climbing as it begins to bed in. Gaggle performing their rework/remix of the 1969 feminist cantata ‘The Brilliant & The Dark’ was at #17 in my 2010 top gigs list, but that was in front of a ‘home’ crowd at the Women’s Library. Here, dropped like a cluster bomb into the midst of a packed Rough Trade East on Record Store Day, the themes of the piece were even more arresting and thrilling. Also seen at: Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room.
5: Kap Bambino. Krems Messangelände (May)
“So, after a weekend that has often been about the art of music, we are brought to a flurrying dervish of a climax by a band for whom the body response is of equal validity to the effect upon the mind.” [FULL REVIEW].
6: PJ Harvey. Mile End Troxy (February).
The album Let England Shake was a remarkable piece of work and was rightly showcased in its entirety (albeit not in order) and interspersed with material from across her canon. On Battleship Hill was the standout moment, as its intro broke away to Peej’s piercing Kate Bush-esque falsetto, and hairs jumped to attention upon many a nape. Also seen at: Alexandra Palace
7: The Fall. KOKO (June).
Three great Fall gigs in a row for me, and all when the set is chock heavy with material from the brilliant Your Future Our Clutter LP. The Fall will never be a band that treads water or looks backwards at old glories, but part of me wouldn’t be disappointed if they toured this record in perpetuity, especially on this form. Key track: Cowboy George. Also seen at: IndigO2.
8: Paul Simon. Roundhouse (July)
Beginning strongly with Crazy Love Vol. II, this was a two hour tour through Simon songs old and new. A quarter of that time was the two encores finishing with a riotous You Can Call Me Al but containing a brilliantly arresting solo rendition of The Sound Of Silence and a voluptuous Boy In The Bubble.
9: Factory Floor. Alexandra Palace (July)
Sixth time I’ve seen them and while a hard sound as relentless and unflinching as theirs might lose its impact on multiple viewings, if anything the opposite is true. The perfect late-night-at-a-festival (on after the headliners) group. Also seen at: Krems Messangelände, CitiPost Building and Highbury Garage.
10: Low. Barbican Hall (June)
After an awry start where Alan Sparhawk’s voice goes all over the place during Nothing But Heart, they pull it back swiftly with the first of three goosebump moments as Nightingale follows. Especially Me and (That’s How You Sing) Amazing Grace are the other standout flesh prickling moments in a gorgeous nigh-on two-hour set. Also seen at: Brighton Old Market.
11: Blanck Mass. Shacklewell Arms (December)
Perhaps one man with a laptop and a table of buttons and dials should not make for the most gripping live spectacle, even with bespoke visuals projected to grab the attention. Yet gripped we were, by a brutal, bone-rattling sensory experience.
12: James Yuill. City Arts & Music Project (May).
Electro pop so perky you could hang yer coat on it and an ideal way to get the dancin’ feet moving at the end of a Stag & Dagger night where they’d been wearied by walking between venues in Shoreditch, Hoxton and Spitalfields. Key track: On Your Own
13: Charles Hayward. Catch (August)
““My maaaaad-ness” he begins, the glint in his gaze increasingly vivid, before moving smoothly into a groove that feet can respond to. A kindly, mildly eccentric presence, he later rises from his stool to pause one song for a good thirty seconds just so that he might peer out at us incredulously.” [FULL REVIEW].
14: Portishead. Alexandra Palace (July)
In the London bus approach to gigs, ticket holders for ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror weekender were treated to rare giggers Portishead curating, and topping the bill, on both the Saturday and Sunday. As the sets were identical, I’ll have to pick the Saturday as my choice as the impact of Silence as a set opener was all the more powerful for it being their reintroduction to the UK stage. Commanding and captivating.
15: The Antlers. Heaven (May)
Would the appearance of a set of new songs dilute the power of the tunes from their astonishing ‘Hospice’ record? Not a bit of it! Also seen at: Borderline.
16: Carla Bozulich. Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche (May)
“Entitled ‘Eyes & Ears 5: Under The Skin’ it would continue a series of site specific performances that Carla has put together, and use the resonant monastic space to its full potential, rather than having the stage as the sole focal point. In that respect it worked wonderfully, the audience on being allowed to enter wandering between players arranged around the room, with films projecting across the space onto side walls, and also so that flickering images cascaded down the central pillars, encasing us as though in a cage of static electricity.” [FULL REVIEW]. Also seen at: Dalston Café Oto (as ‘Evangelista’).
17: Omar Souleyman. XOYO (December)
I find it nigh on impossible to not have a good time at an Omar Souleyman show. Those who have seen him will know what I mean when I say “Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah…YALLA!” The joie de vivre that sweeps the room is highly infectious and impacts directly on the hips and feet. Key track: Leh Jani
18: Micachu & The Shapes with Brotha May. Plastic People (March).
It’s one thing collaborating with the London Sinfonietta to create an hour long suite entitled Chopped And Screwed, but alt.pop hero Mica Levi’s aspirations aren’t all towards ‘high’ culture as to accompany the release of the recording of this orchestral collaboration was a grime mix-tape version. This show in basement club Plastic People was to launch that recording and featured Mica, Raisa and Marc on lap-tops and synths in the DJ booth rather than their usual stage set up, and with grime MC Brotha May doing his thing from the step behind them. Idiosyncratic enough to begin with, this was them indulging their esoteric passions with some aplomb.
19: The Books. Klangraum Krems Minoritenkirche (May)
“Cult-like propaganda videos, golf tutorials, the dark thoughts of unknown children captured on found Talkboy tapes featured among the collaged ‘samples’ that play out in synchronicity on a screen behind The Books. These found visuals and sounds are the kind of foundations upon which our three players build their jazz-trained whimsy beyond-New-Age expanse towards a 21st century folk music celebrating the technology as well as the spirit of the age.” [FULL REVIEW]. Key track: Cold Freezin’ Night. Also seen at: Alexandra Palace.
20: Laura Hocking & The Long Goodbye. Union Chapel (July)
Modern folk-pop groups led by singer songwriters can feel a bit ten a penny at times. However when they hit the right emotional note they can make an entire audiences jaw drop, and it certainly felt like this was happening when Laura Hocking followed her announcement that the next song as being about her autistic brother’s simultaneous responses of eagerness and fear to Firework Night, and wanting to capture that in song, with the astonishingly good Strongmen & Acrobats which, although I’m not intimately involved with the Hocking family, felt absolutely perfect.
21: The Ex + Getatchew Mekuria. Rich Mix (December)
The Ex are a fine, lively post-punk outfit in their own setting, however collaborations with brass sections seems to give them a mesmerising extra dimension. They ended up in my 2010 end of year ‘best gigs’ list with their set with Brass Unbound and this year’s entry again finds them in collaboration, this time a set with septuagenarian, Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria and his colleagues.
22: Ghostpoet. 93 Feet East (May)
Another highlight of a year of wise choices made whilst staggering around Shoreditch and Spitalfields for Stag & Dagger. Ghostpoet’s winning demeanour and electrifying sounds which defy simple categorisation was a winning combo for attracting the attention of a wanderlustful crowd. Key track: Us Against Whatever Baby. Also seen at: Thames Festival and Scala.
23: The Lampshades. Arnold Circus Bandstand (December)
One of the most unexpectedly beguiling sets I’ve seen in the semi-regular (and free) Sunday afternoon ‘Bandstand Busking’ series.
24: North Sea Radio Orchestra. St Giles-in-the-Fields (July).
Delicate, caressing and sweeping chamber orchestra in an ideally ornate setting. With material from the I A Moon amongst older pieces, an additional element of motorik krautrock (Berliner Luft) was added to their sumptuous ensemble sound. Highlight: Kingstanding. Also seen at: St Olave’s Church.
25: Mugstar. Rough Trade East (April).
Instrumental hardcore psych delivered with the emphasis less on whirlwind swirl as a tidal wave crashing forward. Also seen at: The Lexington.
honorary ‘gig’ of the year
Not a live performance, but Chris Watson’s sound-art installation at Donaufestival (Krems Kunsthalle, May) of sounds found on an expedition to Antarctica was also a further sonic highlight of the year. Invited to lie down on cushions, his collection of recordings such as pressure ridges, glacial caving, melt water and deep ocean current via quadraphonic sound attacked and doused as water and ice collided, capturing the ebb and flow as a force of seismic change rather than something gentle and calming.
Radio session of the year
Deerhunter’s session for Marc Riley on 6Music was simply incredible and I had not, previously, been that taken with them (and that’s with having seen them live before as well). Re-investigation required.
other song ‘highlights’ from the year’s gigging
Aiden Moffat & Bill Wells, The Copper Top (Cargo)
Architecture In Helsinki, I’ve Been Thinking About You (XOYO)
Beach House, Zebra (Alexandra Palace)
Bearsuit, Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop (Old Blue Last)
Blurt, Enemy Ears (Deptford Bird’s Nest)
Bug Prentice, Get What You Pays For (Rich Mix)
Cocknbull Kid, Cocknbull Kid (City Arts & Music Project)
Destroyer, Savage Night At The Opera (Heaven)
Dom Coyote, song using verbatim text from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (Union Chapel)
Dutch Uncles, The Ink (Rough Trade East)
Electrelane, Smalltown Boy (Scala)
Elbow, Lippy Kids (The O2)
Fuck Buttons, Surf Solar (Kentish Town Forum)
Grace Jones, Slave To The Rhythm (Hyde Park)
The Hidden Cameras, In The NA (Barbican Hall)
The Irrepressibles, Nuclear Strike (donaufestival)
John Maus, Keep Pushing On (Rough Trade East)
Julianna Barwick, White Flag (Rough Trade East)
Ladytron, Discotraxx (donaufestival)
Liars, Scissor (Alexandra Palace)
Lydia Lunch, Atomic Bongos (donaufestival)
Marissa Nadler, Fifty Five Falls (Rough Trade West)
Matt & Kim, Yeah Yeah (Highbury Garage)
Max Tundra, Which Song (Kingston Fighting Cocks)
Phoenix Foundation, Bitte Bitte (Rough Trade East)
Planningtorock, Doorway (Rough Trade East)
Pulp, Sunrise (Hyde Park)
Still Corners, Cuckoo (Rough Trade East)
tUnE-yArDs – Do You Want To Live (Scala)
Underground Railroad, Russian Doll (Rough Trade East)
Wanda Jackson, Funnel Of Love (Scala)
The Wedding Present. Quick, Before It Melts (Dingwalls)
Wire, Bad Worn Thing (Rough Trade East)
Zea, Armpit Elastica (Café OTO)
All Our Yesterdays – The Top 5’s
1: tUnE-yArDs @ Shoreditch Cargo.
2: Low @ Primavera Sound
3: The Fall @ Primavera Sound
4: Edwyn Collins @ Bowlie II (ATP)
5: The Hidden Cameras @ Shoreditch St Leonards Church
1: Amiina @ Shoreditch St Leonards Church
2: Transglobal Underground @ Shoreditch Rich Mix
3: Future Islands @ University of London Union
4: Veronica Falls @ Spitalfields Rough Trade East
5: Pet Shop Boys @ Greenwich O2
1: Tilting & Drifting: The Songs Of Scott Walker @ Barbican Theatre
2: Danananananakroyd @ Islington Lexington
3: The B-52’s @ Camden Roundhouse
4: Killing Joke @ Kentish Town Forum
5: Billy Childish & The Musicians Of The British Empire @ Dalston Barden’s Boudoir
1: Carla Bozulich @ Spitalfields The Spitz
2: The Fall @ Hammersmith Palais
3: Rarely Seen Above Ground @ Whitechapel Art Gallery
4: Tim Ten Yen @ Brixton Windmill
5: Yndi Halda @ London Blow Up Metro
1: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
2: Shitdisco @ Liverpool Barfly
3: Only Son @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
4: Stuffy/The Fuses @ Herne Hill Half Moon
5: Gogol Bordello @ Manchester Academy 2
1: The Magic Band @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
2: Architecture In Helsinki @ Liverpool Barfly
3: Schwervon @ Liverpool Zanzibar
4: Cranebuilders @ Liverpool Carling Academy 2
5: Thee More Shallows @ Liverpool Hev’n & Hell
1: Charlie Parr @ Leeds Packhorse
2: Soweto Gospel Choir @ Edinburgh St Georges West
3: The Magic Band @ Highbury Garage
4: Nina Nastasia with Huun-Huur-Tu @ Leeds City Varieties
5: Kid Carpet @ Liverpool Barfly
1: Low @ Islington Union Chapel
2: Jeffrey Lewis @ Leeds Royal Park Cellars
3: Olympic Lifts @ Southampton Joiners
4: The Kills @ Southampton Joiners
5: Melt Banana @ Liverpool Magnet
1: The White Stripes @ Leeds Festival
2: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
3: The Polyphonic Spree @ Leeds Festival
4: Motel @ Portsmouth Horseshoe
5: Nina Nastasia @ Spitalfields The Spitz
1: Cardiacs @ London Astoria
2: Lonnie Donegan @ Guilford Festival
3: The Monsoon Bassoon @ Highbury Garage
4: Muse @ Portsmouth Guildhall
5: Ed Harcourt @ Guildford Festival