Between us we went to a hell of a lot of gigs this year. Which is just as well as most of us live in London, and at the current rate of closures here there’ll soon be nowhere to watch live music aside from the O2 Arena and the open mic night at The Half Moon in Herne Hill on Tuesdays.
There is room to be optimistic though. The rabble-rousing response of gig-goers to threatened closures appears to have played a potentially positive effect on the fates of Madame Jojo’s and Fabric, and promoters are forever finding new spaces to put people on: some of the best gigs I’ve seen this year have been in churches, on boats and amidst shopping shelves and art installations.
We’re blessed to have some amazing promoters in London too. From Baba Yaga’s Hut and Bad Vibrations to Eat Your Own Ears and Soundcrash, people with a genuine passion for music are helping make it as painless as possible to play gigs, and as easy as anything to attend them. Just take a look at our gig calendar; even during a traditionally quiet period for gigs owing to the lack of touring bands in December, there’s still something to get down to virtually every night.
We may have to contend with the odd over-zealous bouncer on the door, or over-zealous property developer hoping that door will soon lead into another branch of Starbucks, but really we’re bloody blessed to live here. So, without further ado here’s some evidence why: the best gigs of 2014, courtesy of some of our regular contributors…
10. Bo Ningen : This lot might well appear on every ‘Live Show Of The Year’ list for every year they tour. Always delivering a somewhat religious experience to their cult following, the long-haired four-piece look as mystical as their glorious noise sounds.
Review: Bo Ningen @ Tramlines
9. Sleaford Mods: Getting the obligatory ‘that guy on the laptop doesn’t do anything’ bit out the way (there you go), what’s important to focus on is how Sleaford Mods proved that the underdog still has room to come on top. The most idiosyncratic, lyric-focused British band since Arctic Monkeys, they’re a sort of midlands John Cooper Clarke but with more bile, or Mark E. Smith if he’d grown up on Public Enemy instead of Can. Whatever the comparisons or the anger, Sleaford Mods seem peculiarly honest and upfront while having to mingle in with a hyper-cynical generation – this will hopefully be their legacy.
8. St Vincent: While her record was a bit too polished to fully feel the person behind it, Anne Clark’s eponymous ‘Life in 2014’ concept album really came to, er, life in the live environment. Every second of the performance might’ve been rehearsed to within an inch of its life (from the choreographed dancing to the slow slipping down the steps from the podium) but it only added to extravagance of her musical persona. And she can shred on a guitar better than pretty much every ‘Return of the Rock’ three-piece who came out this year.
7. Fat White Family: It seems weird to remember a time when we hadn’t experienced a man throwing up a bottle of red wine in the middle of a pub in Brixton while these rowdy South Londoners blasted through a drunken rendition of ‘Is It Raining In Your Mouth’. If the bravado seems a little predictable by the end of 2014 it’s only because A) they managed to play everywhere for most of the year, and B) seeing a band who could give a crowd something to go apeshit about seemed like such a novelty in January we got a bit fat with over-consumption ourselves.
6. Girl Band: By far my favourite new ‘band’ of the year. Idiosyncratic lyrics and deadpan delivery from singer Dara Kiely is backed by the bands’ meticulous noise accumulation, bass guitar played with Grolsch bottles and all. If they look like they’re not doing much, it’s because they’re so keen on making sure every inch of their wall of sound happy slaps you minute by minute. They haven’t got time for a “hello”.
5. Young Fathers: The incredibly physical performances from the Scottish three-piece became the word of mouth hit of the year. The three imposing figures, joined by the striking Law Holt, brought their gospel, electronic and hip-hop soundcrash to life with a passion few new artists muster.
4. Charles Bradley: By the times Mr Bradley had wrapped up his set at Primavera this year I was on the verge of bursting into happy tears. Maybe it was the heart-wrenching autobiographical honesty of ‘Why Is It So Hard’, sang with a conviction not far off Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’(troll warning: this is not hyperbole), or the romance of ‘Strictly Reserved For You’ – a full pelt attack on the gooey part of my conscience. It may have taken him over sixty years to finally get a break, but thank God he did.
3. Goat: Two androgynous characters twist between a fully mock-medieval-clothed psych rock band, swirling three foot logs with flags attached above their heads, while the sound of a million acid trips crash against curiously 21st century dance beats. If this sounds mad, it’s because it was. If it sounds amazing, again, it’s because it was.
2. Massive Attack: There isn’t much that needs to be said about Massive Attack’s live shows, for over a decade they’ve been delivering their hyper-political, visual-heavy shows to adoring crowds. 2014 saw them headline the Other Stage at Glastonbury, the inaugural On Blackheath, and a massive US and European tour. Their popularity isn’t disappearing anywhere fast, and while the likes of ‘Unfinished Symphathy’ still soar with uninhibited emotion, it won’t.
1.The Knife: If a twenty-person dance troupe sounds fun, then a dance troupe with drums, split across multiple levels was always going to be even more fun. Laughing in the face of everyone who thinks a ‘proper live show’ is a bloke with a guitar singing songs about trains, or a producer fiddling with a laptop, The Knife’s consistent and incessant insistence to stay true to their cause and create a show which engages fans, as well as bringing their music to life, is more than commendable. And now, apparently, we’ll never get to see it again.
Here’s to you, The Knife. You made dance music with more than a touch of politic great, and gave 2014 its colourful highlight. Are you sure you don’t ever want to shake it again?
Årabrot @ The Windmill, Brixton: Kjetil Nernes’ return to the live scene just weeks after the Årabrot main man had successfully battled back from throat cancer, and what a gig! It was phenomenal, there was no let up in the awesomeness from the off as Nernes, backed by members of Norwegian noise band MOE, ploughed straight into the brilliant ‘The Ass Has Spoken’ and played songs from their last three albums. They were fucking full-on amazing and everyone left knowing they’d seen something special.
Adam Ant @ Islington Assembly Hall: Genuinely brilliant and surprisingly heavy. Ant’s punky debut album Dirk Wears White Sox was played in its entirety from beginning to end and sounded better than most new releases. Belted out with all the charisma and passion of a true ‘pop’ star, its odd new-wave punk had everyone in the multi-age audience eating out of the palm of Ant’s hand (I didn’t even think ants had hands). Even without the big hits, ‘Prince Charming’ and ‘Stand and Deliver’, the crowd absolutely loved it. ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ was huge and to be honest nearly made me cry. So there.
Goblin @ The Electric Ballroom: The main theme from Suspiria – ‘Suspiria’ – is like being wrapped in a blanket of very itchy wool as a tickly witch whispers filthy profanities in your ear. A spine-tingling toy box tune jangles away, oblivious to your potential discomfort. Which is my idea of a good night out.
TRAAMS @ Bleach, Brighton: Fantastic indie with krautrock influences. The band were tight as the proverbial fuck and made me dance like a fool in the boiling heat. Great stuff. Great sweaty stuff.
The Amazing Snakeheads @ Electric Ballroom: Shouty Scottish rock ‘n’ roll goodness. Exactly what you would expect from the sleazy bastards. Amphetamine Ballads‘ threatening whispers translated surprisingly well to the large space of the Electric Ballroom.
Raw Power @ The Dome/Boston Arms: See full review (of about a million bands) here.
[In a maverick move, Luke also nominated Part Chimp & Henry Blacker at The Lexington, and Mclusky at The Buffalo Bar, despite the fact neither gig had actually happened yet. I can’t confirm having missed both, but am guessing his confidence was justified. The lucky bastard – Ed.]
DARKSIDE: They strutted onstage in a puff of smoke and delivered what I would argue is the most masterfully paced live show happening this year. With Nicholas Jaar teasingly delaying the central riff/leitmotif/weird electronic noise of each ten minute movement, and Dave Harrington picking his way to the apex, they left us indulged and awestruck. Emerging at 1.30am from that hazy pleasuredome, we had to ask ourselves if we’d peaked too soon. My sister, ever pragmatic, brought us back down to earth with the constructive criticism that ‘There could have been more words.’
From Emma’s review of MELT in Germany – read the full review here.
Thee Oh Sees @ Ace Hotel: We sent both Emma and Ted Ralph to this gig, but Emma bowed to Ted’s frankly fearsome enthusiasm and let him write the review, which you can read here. Sample quote: “I realise that it is nearly impossible for me to write about this gig objectively, as I spent the majority of Thee Oh Sees’ set nursing a semi and drunkenly falling into people.”
Kate Bush @ Hammersmith Apollo: Easily the live event of the year, and Eamon Murtagh’s report was easily our most-read live review of the year too. You can join thousands of others by reading it here. Sample quote: “What was it about Kate Bush that allowed this devotional trust to build in the hearts of many attendees who had plainly stopped participating in music some time ago? They weren’t day-tripping – they evidently had an unsullied attraction to this woman’s work and many wept openly at the waves of emotion rendered by her performance…”
St Vincent, Girl Band and eight assorted acts from Raw Power would probably make up my top ten, but they’ve all already been mentioned. So here’s five other 2014 favourites:
Metronomy @ Brixton Academy / Glastonbury / Alexandra Palace: I’ve had a couple of arguments recently with people who think that either Metronomy’s latest album isn’t that good, or they’re not that good live, or both. Quite frankly, these people are just fucking wrong. Not Dave Lee Travis wrong, but wrong enough that it’s probably worth reporting them just in case. Every time I saw Metronomy this year they made me grin from ear to ear, mostly because they provide the sort of thing you don’t see often enough on stages any more: Matching outfits! Synchronised dancing! Costume changes! A podium made of pink clouds! And yet they do it all with an unpretentious joy, even a slight awkwardness, which makes it feel like you’re watching a bunch of your mates having a laugh, even in cavernous venues like Ally Pally. Plus there’s the fact that, four albums in, they have a ridiculous selection of hits to stuff their set with. Three of the most fun gigs I’ve seen this year, no question.
Colin Stetson @ Dingwalls / St Johns on Bethnal Green: In our recent ‘Sax Appeal’ piece, I stated that after seeing Stetson play for the first time at Cafe Oto in 2013 I decided he was the most talented musician I’d ever seen; and that since then I’d revised that to most talented human at anything. Both of his gigs this year were incredible (with the St Johns one benefiting from a superb support slot from Shabaka Hutchings) but his Dingwalls gig shaded it thanks to an incredible audience, who cheered the end of each piece like he’d just finished a marathon. Which, considering the unbelievable stamina his circular-breathing excursions require, he kind of had.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard @ The Shacklewell Arms: Bad Vibrations have put on umpteen brilliant gigs since taking over bookings at The Shacklewell Arms, but the best featured a bunch of hairy Australians playing something akin to Canned Heat in a crystal meth lab. Alongside Girl Band and Fat White Family, these guys are one of very few genuinely exhilarating guitar bands around right now. As Zoe Cormier put it in her review, “if you manage to get a mosh pit going – complete with crowd surfers grabbing the projector cables from the ceiling, hanging off the rafters and falling head-first onto the concrete floor – from 45 seconds into the first song, then you must be doing something right.”
M.I.A. @ Glastonbury: This set was so good that not only did I forego the first half of a set by Metronomy (who you may have gathered I’m rather fond of) to watch it, but I didn’t regret doing so in the slightest afterwards. Not only the most colourful stage I saw all year – “a backdrop that makes it feel like you’ve just been fed acid then shoved onto a colourful Sri Lankan ferris wheel” was how it felt at the time – but music exuberant and explosive enough to match it. Basically it was just ridiculous amounts of fun, and in a festival environment that’s exactly what you want.
Matmos @ Cafe Oto: Like Colin Stetson, Matmos are one of those acts I will buy tickets to see at every available opportunity. Although I didn’t realise that walking in, as it was the first time I’d ever seen them. After an hour of incredible music, witty charm and the sight of shit literally being turned into gold, it definitely won’t be the last. M.C. Schmidt claimed, in an interview with Alex Allsworth before the gig, that some of the more shocking moments in their set constituted “a shitty showbiz technique. ‘Hey, look over here……… genitals!’” Whatever. Genitals are weird and fun. So are Matmos.
Read the full (and very entertaining) interview here.
And one for luck… Bill Callahan @ Royal Festival Hall. Just brilliant. You can read exactly how brilliant here, but if we go to a dozen gigs half as good in 2015 it’ll have been a good year…