Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Summer 2021 saw a tentative and slow return to live gigs after some eighteen months of deprivation. Some artists were apprehensive, openly admitting feeling out of practice and daunted being in front of audiences after so long locked down.  Others slipped right back into it all, like they’d never been away. But in nearly all cases, both audience and artists alike exploded their pent up energy into shows where the feeling of togetherness was all-encompassing and emotional.

In no particular order, here are our contributors’ best-loved shows of 2021…

John Robb – Bauhaus at Alexandra Palace, London

Bauhaus’s masterful reconstruction of their dark dub energy and dislocated glamogoth was a stunning reminder of their groundbreaking and highly influential genius and a great night of English art rock at its mind blowing best.

Bauhaus

Read our reviews here and here

Iain Key – SHADE | The France | ROLLA | Rich Kid Problems at Kanteena, Lancaster

For me would be have to the gig I went to at Kanteena in Lancaster in July (SHADE, The France, ROLLA and Rich Kid Problems) just because it was the first gig for me, and for all of the bands, in 18 months and I realised how much I’d missed live music. I’ve seen better performances from a couple of the bands since, but it was just the fact you could feel the bass hitting you as you watched rather than just streaming someone performing online…

shade

Read the review here

Trev Eales and Melanie Smith – Soft Cell at Manchester Apollo

Trev: I considered a few. Based on musicianship I’d have chosen Sam Lee and his band in Morecambe. For energy, passion, audience interaction and great atmosphere it would have to be Suede at Victoria Warehouse. But I’ve chosen the Soft Cell reunion show at Manchester Apollo. I went with no great expectations and, although familiar with the Non Stop Erotic Cabaret album, I was motivated more by curiosity than anything else. So what made it special? Marc Almond’s vocals were excellent throughout. He was ably backed by Dave Ball on keyboards and Gary Barnacle’s virtuosity on sax took the performance to another level. What really elevated this above a typical gig though, was the use of visuals. They weren’t extravagant; mostly just banks of screens, but their constantly changing content drew us into the lyrics, bringing to life the storytelling in the songs in a way that I’d never fully appreciated before. To quote my review, “The show was a real triumph, an almost perfect combination of vocal prowess, musical dexterity and visual choreography.” While Sam Lee’s performance was more cerebral, and Suede’s one for the heart, Soft Cell delivered for both hearts and minds.

Melanie: My favourite gig of the year has to be Soft Cell in Manchester. I didn’t write the review, but I stayed for the whole show after photographing them. Soft Cell were the soundtrack to my wild and experimental twenties. I had danced to many of their classics, back in the day, usually wearing heavily backcombed hair, flamboyant homemade costumes and exotic make-up. Yet never got to see them live until now. I wasn’t disappointed, it was a sound and visual treat.

Soft Cell @ O2 Apollo Manchester 12/11/21

Read the review here

Wayne Carey – Concert for John at O2 Ritz, Manchester

The Concert For John was my gig of the year for personal reasons.

“John Hall and his partner Mark must have been pinching themselves when they saw the finale to this special night of bands and DJ’s that pulled themselves together to make an evening of quality music filled with love, unity and respect for a human being that has poured his life and soul into the music community. The beauty of the whole event is that John loves each and everyone in the lineup, big or small and that’s what matters most. I get myself prepared for an all dayer of mass proportions and surprises as I discover some shit hot talent nestled in amongst the cream of new and old music…

…His service to the Manchester music scene has been exemplary and we will all hold him in our hearts forever and remember this special occasion that touched almost 1,500 people in a venue I know John loves.”

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Read the review here

Nils van der Landen – Elbow at Hammersmith Apollo, London

A few gigs stand out. Sea Girls and their young audience at Brixton Academy were a reminder of the joy and excitement you feel for live music when you first start seeing your favourite band live. Kasabian, at the same venue a few weeks later, had the biggest, loudest crowd I’ve ever experienced there, every last fan cheering on Serge Pizzorno as he rightfully took centre stage, heralding a bright new era for the band. But best of the year must be Elbow at Hammersmith Apollo. Getting to the venue was a nightmare (and a reminder of the vagaries of tube travel after months of working from home). My seat wasn’t the best (somewhere more than halfway up the balcony).

And, with much of the audience still in masks, I was feeling slightly apprehensive about being in a room with 5000 strangers. Maybe that initial apprehension played into my response to the gig, but hearing (and just about seeing) those beloved songs performed in an intimate venue for a band that headline arenas and festivals and feeling the shared love between audience and performers moved me to tears.

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021Read the review here

Nigel Carr – The Blinders at Albert Hall, Manchester

The best gig of the year for me was The Blinders at The Albert Hall in Manchester. It’s so rare that a band have coalesced so completely on stage. The addition of Euoghan on guitar, Johnny on keyboards, and ex-Satyr Play Thomas Castrey on drums has filled out the sound completely, and frontman Tom has become the bona fide rock star he was always destined to be.

Best gigs of 2021 - The Blinders at The Albert hall Manchester

Read the review here

Ged Babey – Blue Orchids | Mellotronics | Altermoderns at The Thunderbolt, Bristol

If we talking ‘gigs of the year’ then I imagine that for quite a few of us it will be the first one after lockdown, working-from-home, self-isolation and so on – after the so-called Government decreed post-pandemic ‘freedom’. And mine was an epic triple-bill of a gig at one of the best venues I’d ever been to. Blue Orchids, Micko & the Mellotronics and AlterModerns at the Thunderbolt in Bristol on 6th August 2021 will live in my memory forever. It was not only about music, it was about community and the people who make up the bands, the promoters, venue staff, fans and supposed ‘rival’ musicians. Without the platform that Louderthanwar gives me, I wouldn’t have met them all and had the night of my life. Follow the link, check out the bands and keep following this here website to discover your new favourite band.

The three great tours of 2021 where the bands demolished venues (metaphorically!) all over the UK were ones by Bob Vylan, The Nightingales and the mighty Courettes. I even forgive the Courettes for the fact that myself and another LTW writer caught Covid at one of their gigs!

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Read the review here

Keith Goldhanger – DEADLETTER at Swn Festival

Cardiff’s annual Sŵn Festival managed yet again to make our heads explode on day three just as we began thinking that we’d already had enough excitement for one Sunday afternoon. The gig of the year for me followed straight after Lice when we went back to Fuel to see DEADLETTER who had a couple of tunes that were listened to earlier in the day whilst sitting in our tents (OK then, hotel rooms) that were enough to convince us that no one else performing around Cardiff about five in the afternoon could tempt us anywhere else. They were sarky, snazzy, funny (‘Fit for Work’), busy – at least three singing most of the time – and had a saxophone, tambourine and an array of wooden blocks to get us dancing. We approached the gig believing there was no way any band could top the previous two shows we’d seen that hour and were wrong. Afternoons like this are why we wander around towns providing events such as this over the course of two or three days. Deadletters’ performance was fabulous and reminded us of to how we felt when we first used to go and see The Gang of Four, New Model Army, The Mob or even Bauhaus at mid-week gigs during the first half of the early 1980s. One of us will be sneaking into see these again for a second time in the new year.

It almost comes as an afterthought to mention Scottish band Chap Teeth who followed Deadletter in the same venue once we’d had a sit down to catch our breath. A band that have tunes that we feel on first listen are more of a match to the tunes we’ve heard from bands such as Shame or even Fat White Family. They cut the mustard for sure (as the over 70s’ would say), were thoroughly entertaining and probably provided the second best gig of the year. By now we were too dizzy to consider what was going on and to formulate lists that might be required a couple of months later.

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Read the review here

Paul Grace – Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs at the Electric Ballroom, London

After umpteen tour postponements caused by Covid, Pigsx7 finally hit the UK roads this winter and, my god, it was worth the wait. The Newcastle doom heavy-weights delivered an apocalyptic set of the gnarliest riffs, gut-churning bass, voodoo drums and demonic vox, while singer Matt Baty’s martial arts-inspired gravity-defying moves were a spectacle all of their own. A fitting soundtrack to current times; who’d have thought the end of the world would sound so good?!

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021Read the review here

Naomi Dryden-Smith – Richard Ashcroft at The Palladium, London

In the short space of time since things crept back to “normal” for a minute or two, I was lucky enough to see quite a few quality shows, and choosing the best is really tough.  Yungblud was a dazzling ball of energy with some great songs, Bauhaus immensely powerful and only let down by the questionable sound quality of Ally Pally, and Patti Smith at the Royal Albert Hall was mesmerising and obviously legendary, but I wasn’t able to stay for the whole concert. Richard Ashcroft at The Palladium was the show that made the hairs stand up on my neck for pretty much the entirety, the sound was stunning and I felt I was watching someone at the height of his power, fully appreciating his understated influence on so many artists. Bittersweet Symphony was spectacular. A very emotional show and possibly up there with the best I’ve been to.

Richard Ashcroft

Read the review here

Gareth Allen – Sylvaine at Damnation Festival

The return of Damnation, the UK’s best loved indoor metal festival, gave witness to an extraordinary performance by Sylvaine, featuring the very gifted multi-instrumentalist Katherine Shepard. The set travelled through post-metal and blast beats, to a concluding and very moving unaccompanied folk vocal, that everyone present will remember for years to come.

“Katherine comes back to the front of the stage, and sings, unaccompanied, a quite beautiful piece of Norwegian folk music. You could hear a pin drop.”.

Sylvaine

Read the review here

Audrey Golden – Dave Grohl at NYC

This was my first live gig after the pandemic started, and I can’t imagine a better way to return to hearing live music than to be in a room with Dave Grohl drumming live to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. I was (and still am, honestly) the biggest fan of Nirvana, and Nirvana was one of the first bands of my generation that I really loved. As the late ’90s came, I might have obsessed over the Foo Fighters’ Everlong (and the amazing music video Michel Gondry directed for it) more than anyone else I knew. Dave Grohl also played an acoustic version of Everlong at this event in NYC, and my heart swelled.

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Read the review here

Elfyn Griffiths – Patti Smith at The Forum, Bath

I have only been to a handful of gigs since the end of lockdown this year, but Patti Smith and her band at The Forum in Bath would stand as one of the gigs of any year. It was a cathartic experience that performer and audience seemed to share alike, a release of emotions amid these strange times and a huge sense of sharing one of the icons of rock, the high priestess of punk, performing at the peak of her powers even in her mid-70s. A superb night.

Patti Smith

Read the review here

Ian Corbridge – Suede at O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester

Seeing Suede perform on the Coming Up tour back in 1996 was one of those life affirming moments where I knew I was seeing a band at their peak. Not only was the set packed with anthemic and uplifting songs from the new album which found a way to touch the very core of my being, but rarely had I ever seen a frontman such as Brett Anderson who could draw an entire crowd in and hold us all in the palm of his hands. Fast forward 25 years to this nostalgic celebration of the Coming Up album at the Victoria Warehouse and I was left in no doubt that the songs have all stood the test of time and that outstanding showmanship and level of performance is still there, honed to an even greater level than ever before. At times it felt like we were all up on stage with the band as Brett managed to transcend the pit in front of the stage. It was brash, it was glamorous, it was relentless and it was packed with soaring melodies, but above it all this was a night of unbridled energy and uplifting joy that will stay with me for a long time to come.

SUEDE - Trev Eales

Read the review here

Martin Mathews – The Human League Dare40 at AO Arena, Manchester

What an amazing show celebrating one of the greatest albums ever made. I’ve seen some great shows again this year but this was on another level, I loved it from start to finish.

So my top 3 gigs of 2021 would have to be: The Human League, Paloma Faith and Rufus Wainwright

The Human League - AO Arena, Manchester 10/12/21

On a personal note thank you to everyone at LTW for continuing to support me and allowing me to (sort of) fulfil my childhood dreams of working for Smash Hits!

Read the review here

Jon Kean – Clean Cut Kid at Mr Wolf’s, Bristol

“This song’s also about me auld fella,” said Mike Halls of Clean Cut Kid in between the tracks Woman and Numb, before describing how he’d said that a few nights previously and someone genuinely assumed he was singing about his knob (rather than his father). “Yes – I did name my penis ‘Woman’ and then wrote a song about it,” he added. Within that brief episode from the show at Mr Wolf’s in sweltering, sub-tropical Bristol on a Thursday night, you have two essential pillars of Clean Cut Kid; a shit-tonne of sentiment and a sharp sense of humour.

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Read the review here

Irina Shtreis – Stereolab at End Of The Road Festival

An opener to the long chain of music acts at End Of The Road, the set by Stereolab felt like the major performance of the three-day festival. The connection to the audience as well as interaction between the band’s members were intense and enough to make you experience it as a spiritual practice. There was a beyond-the-conscious feel and natural spontaneity. The sudden 15-minute go at Super-Electric was cathartic. No more words needed. It’s all between lines, notes, tones. Tone Burst.

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

Read the review here

Andy Brown – Benefits at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds

With 16 or so months without any live music at all every gig has felt extra special. I’ve had the pleasure of attending incredible shows by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Laura Marling and Hands Off Gretel to name but a few. However, Benefits playing the Brudenell Social Club was arguably the most revelatory. I didn’t know quite what to expect, and the heaving wall of noise and lyrical discontent from Teeside’s angriest band was undoubtedly one of the most hair-raising and inspiring live experiences I’ve had. Go see them when they hit the road next year!

Benefits 2021

Read the review here 

As 2021 draws to a close we are seeing Covid taking an increasing grip, and live music is under threat once again, with many show already being cancelled.  We are looking towards 2022 anxiously but hopeful that music will return to normal as soon as possible.  In the meantime, please do support the artists we all love via We Make Events and #wemakevents on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

See you in 2022!

Gig of the Year – LTW’s favourite shows of 2021

~

All photos by our Louder Than War photographers, except for Stereolab © Richard Gray

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Festivals/Films Editor, mentor to new LTW team members, music photographer and reviewer. London-based House Photographer for O2 Academy Music Group. For commissions/prints contact naomidrydensmith@gmail.com

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