Top 10 gigs of the year… do you agree?


Guy Manchester has been to a lot of gigs, so many he can actually make a top 10 list of the best ones… what do you think?

I was mulling earlier today on the fact that there are so many more ‘Album of the Year’ lists than ‘Gig of the Year’ lists despite the fact that there’s been a marked shift from how artists earn their crust away from album sales & towards ticket sales.

top 10 gigs of the year...do you agree?

top 10 gigs of the year...do you agree?

There are reasons for this, obviously, which I shan’t go into here but at the same time I’m minded to argue that more store should perhaps in future be ascribed to end of year ‘Gigs of the Year’

For example, one thing that a gig of the year list can do brilliantly is give some guidance as to what bands you should try to check out live next year. With the increasing need for artists/bands to be perpetually touring these days the chances are some of everyone’s favourite gigs of ‘year x’ will come to a venue near you in ‘year x + 1’.

This is, of course, my way of justifying my doing a ‘Gigs of the Year’ list. So here goes”¦

Before the list itself, a few honourable mentions. I had to miss an amazing bill of Factory Floor, Anika, Hype Williams & DJ Optimo at Arnolfini because Ut were in town on the same night. It was easily the hardest decision of the year, pitching a potential gig of the year against a band I worshipped as a youth & probably won’t get a chance to see again. I chose Ut, who were excellent (as are any band who worry a guitar with a screwdriver of course), but I still suspect the Factory Floor gig would’ve been on this list otherwise.

Woods & Kurt Vile may’ve got a spot on the list too were it not for the fact that, contrary to my expectations, the brilliant Woods (especially live) were supporting the kind of ok Kurt Vile (especially live) & not vice versa. To have some (admittedly quite talented) lad & his (not quite so talented) band headline above Woods struck me not only as perverse, but also meant I left the gig a bit deflated. What could’ve been pretty stonking ended up as damp squibsville.

Cerebral Ballzy‘s gig came close to being in here too. They were going great guns with Honor cleverly using the full length of the floor of The Thekla (& length of the mike lead) to launch an attack on the bar, hop over it & begin pulling himself a pint. He was then reprimanded by the bartender (a youngish lass, as it happened), & returned to the stage, tail between his legs, there only to fall foul of the venues stupidly early curfew of 9.30 & have the power cut having only played for 20 mins or so & with, as Honor himself said, “at least three songs to go”.

So here’s my top 10 gigs of the year, all from Bristol. This list comes from approx. 150 I attended last year. Three a week’s a nice, achievable target for anyone who likes live music to pertain too I reckon. Curiously 9 of the 10 of these came in the first half of the year. Never let it be said I have have anything other than the memory of an elephant. (I haven’t really.)

1. King Midas Sound, Oneohtrix PN, Games, Some Truths. Arnolfini, Bristol.

Taking place in one of Bristol’s best venues, the criminally underused Arnolfini, this gig sits up near the top of my best gigs of all time list, let alone just of the last year. You know sometimes you’re at a gig & it’s as though the music’s taken possession of you? That was what this gig was like. It was easily one of the most intense experiences I’ve experienced, perfectly showcasing Kevin Martin’s well honed skills of slowly ratcheting up the pressure via both his producer skills & the vocals of his co-conspirators, with eventual release coming in the form of massive earth shattering & potentially scary bass quakes. Don’t think I’ve ever felt so hypnotised by, or alone at, a gig before. Powerful stuff.

Supporting King Midas Sound was the Daniel Lopatin half of Ford & Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, who was the perfect support/foil to KMS. His set was kind of dwarfed by the scale of KMS but I was lucky enough to see OPN on his own terms later in the year in a more intimate setting (The Cube) where his more intricate soundscapes made more sense.

2. Daedalus,Tokimonsta & Teebs, Thekla, Bristol.

Another gig that fell foul of the Thekla’s curfew (Daedalus was just getting into his stride as 9.30 ticked over & he had to wrap it up) but it still knocked the spots off just about every other gig this year. Took a while for me & the crowd to get into our dancing strides (maybe 10 mins) but once both Daedalus & the audience had warmed up & got each others numbers, we all started moving as one, all anticipating the drops, pauses, loops & other tricks that the best producers have up their sleeves. Probably the best hours dancing I had all year & undoubtedly amongst the most competent exhibitions of live bass beatsmithery I’ve ever witnessed. Magnificent.

Also on the bill was probably my favourite purveyor of slinky LA ‘Brainfeeder’ style beats, the wonderful Tokimonsta & another of her label mates,Teebs. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the three acts were squeezed into a meagre 2.5 hours on account of the venue’s measly curfew rules (promise this is the last time I moan about curfew rules) this would’ve topped this list. Possibly.

3. Zun Zun Egui, Nedry, Krar Collective, Rachael Dadd. The Croft, Bristol.

Three times I’ve seen ZZE this year & each one a killer show. Having said that there was never any question of doubt as to which to include here on account of the supporting cast. The event was spread across front & back rooms of the Croft & started with Ichi (who I missed) before Rachael Dadd treated us to one of her typically spare, fragile sets, armed just with an acoustic guitar & bells on her ankles. How her sublime “Bite the Mountain” album wasn’t in any end of year lists (that I saw) I’ll never know. Following her on stage were the Krar Collective, an Ethiopian outfit who’ve been hidden away (from me anyway) in deepest darkest London for too long. One of the most irresistible bands I’ve ever seen, there was a buzz of expectation in the room before they took to the stage & they duly played up to it. Next, Nedry took to stage, understandably asking “How do we follow that?” Although not quite as good as when I saw them headlining a few months later, they didn’t let themselves down at all. Their special brand of ‘contemporary trip hop’ (the contemporary bit coming from their thoughtful use of wobbly bottom end) added a different dimension to the evening. Then, just as you thought “surely the audience must’ve danced themselves out” Zun Zun Egui took to the stage for one of their hour long sets of their idiosyncratic, genre hopping afro/jazz/rock outs. I reviewed another of ZZE’s gigs here (http://louderthanwar.com/featured/zun-zun-egui-live-review) in LTW, read that to get a better idea of what a ZZE gig’s like.

4. NME Tour – Crystal Castles, Magnetic Man, Everything Everything & The Vaccines. The O2 Academy, Bristol.

Still surprised at how much I enjoyed this evening. Not quite such a high ‘cool’ quotient as some of the other shows in this list but I’m not going to let that stop me placing them at no.4. Again it had an awesome lineup with The Vaccines (back in Bristol for the third time in about 6 mnths) and Everything Everything warming us up before a brilliant & surprisingly (for chart botherer’s) heavy Magnetic Man set totally blew me away. A pretty young crowd free of inhibitions (i.e. bladdered) decided to party their faces off & being caught up in the middle of it there was nothing I could but join in. It would’ve been a perfect headlining set & it came as a bit of a surprise to suddenly realise we had Crystal Castles to go after their set ended. There was just time between sets for some young scallywag to tell me “I hope I can enjoy myself as much as you when I’m your age” (still unsure as to whether I should’ve taken her words as a compliment or not) before Alice hobbled out on stage, one leg in plaster. Alice being Alice she wasn’t going let that stop her deliver a typically wild energetic set of electro-punk brilliance which left everyone breathless.

5. Misty In Roots. Fiddlers. Bristol

I saw two brilliant old reggae favourites live this year, the wonderful twinkly eyed octogenarians that are The Abyssinians & also, at no. 5 in this list, the band whose “Live at the Eurovision 1979” was famously john peel’s favourite album. The evening was very nearly a disaster as at one point it appeared there were only going to be three of us there, with me being the only one under 60. Thankfully though a minibus full of drunk students bowled up just before Misty took to the stage & they managed to create a perfect atmosphere (hurrah for students!) We were treated to a brilliant trip through their lengthy back catalogue, all linked with warmth, comedy and unexpected life advice from members of the band. They played for an hour or so with most of the audience skanking & smiling throughout.

6. Fucked Up. The Croft, Bristol.

The chances were stacked in favour of this featuring as one of my top gigs of the year even before I got to the venue as I was already a big fan of David Comes to Life. This was Fucked Up’s second gig of the day, not that you’d have known if you’d been there. As ever with FU we were treated to raw hardcore intensity at its best, coupled with some of the astonishingly catchy melodies Fucked Up sprinkle about their songs & which sets them apart from most of their contemporaries. It’s always great when a member of a band you’re watching jumps down from the stage & spends most of the gig on the floor with the audience, particularly when it’s ol pink eyes himself so you can play “avoid the sweaty hug from Damian” (I won, many didn’t). It was during this gig I saw the funniest sight of any show I saw this year, Damian attempting to cadge a piggyback off the ubiquitous (he’s at most bristol gigs) Big Jeff. BJ staggered two steps & was on the verge of collapse when Damian slipped off his back. The look on Jeff’s face as he struggled between not wanting to let Damian down & the imminent inevitability of his knees buckling was priceless.

7. The Joy Formidable. Thekla, Bristol.

This was unexpected. As I tweeted immediately after seeing The Joy Formidable “why the fuck has no one told me how good Joy Formidable are live before?” Must have missed this band at least twice this year because I had them down as a common or garden indie rock band. I definitely changed my opinion towards them after this show. And towards Indie Rock itself a bit tbh. I count myself amongst the number of people who harbour a grudge against indie music because of how it used to dominate John Peels festive fifty & by doing so left an unrepresentative impression of what his shows had been about. Time to shirk that grudge I feel. This gig was a classic example of one of those bands whose dedication to playing live non stop has resulted in them knowing exactly what pushes an audiences buttons. All the tricks in the book they used, possibly without even realising it. Live naturals. I can’t imagine them playing at anything other than full tilt, or ever disappointing anyone who’s paid to watch them.

8. Bristol In: Motion: Red Bull Music Academy & Futureboogie. Motion Skatepark, Bristol.

The team behind Bristol In:Motion totally excelled themselves again this year. From Oct to the end of the year they find astonishing sets of lineups to play Fri/Sat at Motion skatepark, mainly with artists from the “forward thinking, upwardly rising, future electronica” genre. “Ah yes”, you’re thinking “that genre”. I’m limiting myself to just one of their events otherwise this list would be weighted even more in the direction of electronica. The night I’m choosing was the one that opened with a brilliant deep house set by the brilliant Maya Jane Coles, followed by an awesome set from Bristol homie, the mighty Julio Bashmore, who, as ever in his home town, had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Following his set I left the main room & checked another Bristol legend, Appleblim, in an accompanying room who gave my night a real left turn with some hard, banging dubstep. Finally Henrik Schwarz drew the evening to a close with more deep house. Which leads me to the most depressing sight of any gig of last year, the moment the lights are all thrown on at 6am at Motion.

9. Staff Benda Bilili & Fatoumata Diawara. Colston Hall, Bristol.

Hot on the heels of the success of the brilliant doc about this Congolese band, most of whom are disabled polio victims, (it’s time to stop mentioning this fact every time SBB’s name mentioned isn’t it?) came a UK tour by the band. Renowned as an incendiary live band they didn’t let us down or dent that reputation at all. I was a bit concerned prior to the event as I’d been informed the gig was going to be an all seater event. Needless to say this was never going to happen. As soon as they started playing people were on their feet dancing like crazy & despite a really long energetic set no one stopped dancing till the band excited, grins glowing, exited for the last time. ‘Tres Tres Fort’ indeed, to quote the title of their last album.

Staff were supported by the sparse contemporary Malian folk of the fabulous Fatoumata Diawara (another album that should’ve been in every album of the year list was her Fatou), a gorgeous way to start any evening.

10. Battles & Gallops. Trinity Centre, Bristol.

A lot of the pre tour hoohah around Battles was about whether or not the band could still be such a wild live force as they had been before Tyondai Braxton’s departure. Especially as his departure left the band with no full time vocalist. Well, they came, they saw & they left us in no question of doubt that what remained of Battles was more than capable of being as inflammatory live now as they were before. Battles played for an hour and what makes their live show so enjoyable is the unremitting energy they put into what is their set. Surprisingly the idea of having the guest vocalists heads projected beside them on blocks at considerably larger than life size really worked. One of the sweatiest evenings of the year for sure.

Also on the bill was the excellent intelligent electronic post-rock of Gallops who kicked the evenings proceedings off excellently well & is one reason why this gig just sneaked into the top ten.

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8 comments on “Top 10 gigs of the year… do you agree?”

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  1. Mt Top 10 – completely different but just as valid I feel

    1. Subway Sect/Fallen Leaves – the Hydrant Brighton

    I had seen both these bands do cracking gigs of their own previous to this one in 2011, but put the two of my favourite bands ever together on top form, a couple of the Professionals providing thump like nothing on earth, the Piranhas as a nice bonus and the attendance of some great folks made this one unbeatable in my book both musically and socially. “Nobody’s Scared” and “Happy Times” were incredible highpoints of one of the best gigs ever.

    2. Case/Infa Riot – 100 Club, London

    You would have expected some signs of “ring rust” from Case, given they hadn’t played since 1985. And living up to an enviable reputation as a live act in their heyday would prove impossible to follow surely? Wrong. A ball of energy and excitement just itching to break free from the beginning with a frantic “Oh” to the classic “Smiling My Life Away”, absolutely electric. Infa Riot were very good but Case – wow!.

    3. Off! – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

    Seems a long time ago now but me and Ged went down the other end of the M27 for this one, Keith Morris (ex-Circle Jerks) new band were just stunning……if all hardcore punk was like this I wouldn’t have a problem with it, because these blokes build top tunes in as well as just playing fast and violent better than anyone else. And Morris himself is a terrific frontman, full of vim and in great voice.

    4. Marc Almond – The Brook Southampton

    Talking of someone in great voice, a different type of singing though. I’ve never been a huge fan of Marc Almond but I’ve always thought of him as an interesting fella and so this gig proved in spades. Great support from a band a musicians including Neal X (who used to be in Sigue Sigue Sputnik), even Almond’s minor hissy fit over a dodgy mic just added to the fun. Great Bolan cover and “Sleaze” at the end, a magical night.

    5. Silver Apples – The Coalition Brighton

    Didn’t seem promising this one from the outset. A load of “Look Around You” style electrics on a decorating table and an old codger meanders on stage. Me and Stevie looked at each other as if to say “oh no” but what and incredible sound the man made! Such an influential band they made Acid House music in 1968 and predated Suicide’s sound by a good 6 years. And still making fresh sounds that are ahead of the game in 2011.

    6. The Fugs/Geno Washington – QE2 Hall/RFH London

    Bit of a cheat putting this one together, but as they were playing in the same complex on the same night I’ll do it as one gig. Now there’s no band I would have thought it was less likely to have seen in 2011, particularly with the death of mainstay Tuli Kufenburg in 2010. But Ed Sanders and his “new” band (they’ve been playing together since 1985 as the Fugs) turned in this touching tribute to Tuli, plus managed to throw in a rocking “Frenzy” as well. Funny, knowing and beautifully sung too.

    Geno in the RFH foyer area was intent on living up to his rep of the 60s when they were the highest paid act in the UK and the highest octane performers too.

    7. Squire/Paul Bevoir – Dublin Castle London

    People slag off Mods and the Mod Revival etc but they should try going to the gigs as they’re more often than not great fun. This one billed as “Mod Mayday 2011” had good supports in the JPegs and Copper plus unheralded pop genius Paul Bevoir (ex-Jetset) and ’79 heroes Squire turning in high quality sets it was quite a night.

    8. Max Romeo/Lee Perry/Adrian Sherwood – The Dome Brighton

    With that line up, how could this gig fail? It didn’t. Max Romeo just pipped Lee Perry on the night, being a consumate entertainer and in terrific voice.

    9. Nightingales/Ted Chippington – Prince Albert Brighton

    Doing the music for Ted Chippington was one of two big honours for me in 2011 (along with supporting the Subway Sect – no-one can take that away from me hee hee!) and the Nightingales proved yet again that they’re one of the country’s best live bands. Watching them from the DJ booth I was taken that this must have been similar to seeing the great proto-punk bands of the US in the late 60s early 70s, not that many people into it but those that knew, well they just knew this music meant something big.

    10. Outdoor Miners – Bush Hall London

    Played Wire better than Wire!

  2. It’s a great list that. I certainly agree about Battles – I saw the Manchester gig (as well as performances at ATP and Primavera) and whilst personally I never really liked them that much before, I reckon they’ve been on consistently good form this year. I’m also interested in what you say about the Joy Formidable – like you I have always wondered what the fuss was about, as a load of my friends (and I mean people who actually know their music) are really into them but I’ve never seen anything there but a pretty average indie guitar band. Looking back though I have not actually seen them live since 2009 so maybe due for a reappraisal.

    I published my gigs of the year list on ManchesterMusic.co.uk and you can read them in full there along with my albums of the year – link http://www.music-dash.co.uk/news/news.asp?item=3044 – but to summarise:

    In chronological order only…

    Shellac, London Highbury Garage, 1st January

    Midday noise attack from an impressively fresh looking Steve Albini and Bob Weston and even more impressively dishevelled looking Todd Trainer. Albini is on brilliant form and there are Pop Tarts (as in the breakfast item) available at the bar. We were on the train back to Manchester by about 4pm having kicked off the year’s gig calendar before most people have even got up.

    Dean Wareham + Ringo Deathstarr, Ruby Lounge, 14th February

    Certainly as a music fan there’s wariness towards these what are often negatively described as “self-tribute” shows but this felt more like a brief testimonial than a reliance on history. The gig was also my first live encounter with Texans Ringo Deathstarr who became one of my favourite new-to-me bands of 2011.

    65daysofstatic, Glasgow Arches, 19th February

    The debut performance of their live re-score for Douglas Trumbull’s “Silent Running” at Glasgow Film Festival, from ambient moods to full-on guitar and techno assaults.

    GNOD + Womb, Withington Fuel, 25th March

    Politically-charged all female collective Womb exist somewhere in the space between early 70s German motorik, late-70s No Wave, the avant-garde end of 80s post-punk and contemporary experimentalism. Manchester / Salford’s finest space travellers GNOD keep it going with one of the best sets I’ve seen them do. There are people half way up the walls of the little upstairs room.

    Japanchester featuring Patterns / PLANK! / From The Kites Of San Quentin / Trojan Horse / Goddam Electric and Day For Airstrikes, 14th April

    Charity gig for Red Cross Japan appeal featuring the best of contemporary Manchester, reviewed for LTW at the time here http://louderthanwar.com/featured/4897

    British Sea Power, Berwick (Sussex) Village Hall, 13th+14th May (2 evening gigs plus matinee)

    There were just 180 tickets per show available for the tiny village hall, and a real community spirit amongst fans who have in many cases become good friends over the years and travelled from far and wide. Each gig featured a different set list – with a little overlap, but with plenty of outings for rarer and older songs. And on the Saturday afternoon, guitarist Martin Noble led a group of the adventurous on a cross country hike around the Sussex Downs. Not your average gigs.

    Suicide, Primavera Sound, Barcelona, 26th May

    Best performance of many great sets across a blindingly good weekend

    Now Wave At The Apollo with Caribou + Battles + Pearson Sound (and more), 4th June

    A brilliant night, reviewed here: http://louderthanwar.com/featured/now-wave-at-the-apollo-with-battles-and-caribou-live-review

    Hurts, Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Electrikhalle, 4th October

    One of the most ridiculous, ostentatiously brilliant things I’ve seen in the live music canon in ages. http://louderthanwar.com/featured/hurts-live-review

    Factory Floor, All Tomorrow’s Parties at Butlins, Minehead, 10th December

    Battles were again excellent, with Oxes, Holy Fuck, The Field, Gary Numan, Sun Ra Arkestra and Silver Apples amongst the eclectic highlights. Factory Floor however blew the lid off them all. Frenzied, brutal industrial dance music made by three unsmiling people who face in towards each other as opposed to out to the crowd doesn’t sound on paper like a thrilling live experience, I’ll be the first to admit; I guess you had to be there. http://louderthanwar.com/featured/atp-live-review-and-blog

    PS. I would have liked to find room for Silver Apples as well by the way Terry, saw him headline in Manchester (as well as a set at ATP) and the best I’ve seen him to date, but there wasn’t room.

  3. Justice Tonight gig at Manchester would be up there for me.

  4. Not going to produce a top 10 but…

    My No.1 gig of 2011 was Metronomy in The Tunnels, Aberdeen (Samll venue that was buzzing)

    No.2 Morrisey in the Ironworks, Inverness. Seeing mod in a 1000 capacity just a week before seeing him on the main stage Glasto was truly awesome.

    and finally, some more hometown boys, on the the main stage at Glasto 2011, Elbow… Guy has the massive crowd in the palm of his hand, and he had fun!

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