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.
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”Â¦
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 (https://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.