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Saturday, 21 December 2013

My 20 best gigs of 2013

Blimey. The amount of pressure I've had from wannabe-bands and their agents trying get their crappy little acts into this list! You wouldn't believe me if I told you. (And you'd be right not to). No, it's not true. This is actually the top 20 that even the most desperate PR drone has ignored.

But hey, who cares? These were the gigs that did the business for me in 2013. And if you weren't at these you were almost certainly doing something far more boring (going to a My Bloody Valentine gig at the Roundhouse or something). So yeah, check out some of these bands in 2014 if you can. But, unfortunately for you, I think you'll find that these specific gigs were the high point of each respective band's live performances, their "legendary" gig that they'll never again equal and that only one or two especially wised-up people actually attended. So eat your envious bile-filled heart out. Because, unlike you, I was there ...

The Yawns - Old Blue Last, Shoreditch, London, 21 January
Infectious rock rhythms in a Go-Betweens stylee, and likeable whooping and yelping vocals - this was a winning gig from a definitely-better-than-average indie-rock combo. In the end it was the singer that held my attention. Apparently grinning at the unexplained comedy of it all and mumbling incomprehensible stuff to the audience, he was a sort of genial Scottish Mark E Smith (or something). The Yawns were not boring.

Voodoo Binmen - Catch, Shoreditch, London, 25 January
On at a mixed bill in a venue which doesn't quite seem to know what to put on, these were a rocked-up rockabilly-type duo with good tattoos and a no-nonsense style. What seemed to set them apart a little was their songs being about vulnerability (or something like that) and the singer's non-macho, slightly bruised delivery.
Voodoo Binmen

Dark Hansen - Hafermarkt, Flensburg, 15 February
Fierce stuff, man!  Yeah, we’re talking grindcore, and we had to be careful because the pugnacious singer was a right old tough nut. The kind of street fighter who thinks nothing of elbowing his way past a couple of people in the audience (me and my girlfriend) to get on to the stage. Anyway, I forgave him because he and his mates made a righteous racket that was laugh-along excessive and mind-bogglingly loud. Great! (There's 54 super-distorted seconds of it here). Meanwhile, the gig also featured another decent metal-edged noise-rock band with a singer who liked to shout “Round 98. Und fight” after each song.

He Is Ledger - Hafermarkt, Flensburg, 16 February
The second in this pair of grindcore-y gigs. And both get into my top 20. Amazing, eh? (At one of these nights - it might have been the first of the two - one bloke had “Abolish capitalism. Smash the state. For a free humanity. For anarchism” (in English) on the back of his jacket. Quite affecting I thought). Anyway, this was a second consecutive night with a singer/growler who liked to do that crouched-down, two-hands-around-the-mic thing, in this case belting out a highly melodramatic version of the genre. Kind of Bette Midler does grindcore. Lots of hair-shaking too, which is always a bonus. Oh, and one of these nights also included a DJ who played a German-language version of Sham 69’s If The Kids Are United. Beat that.

Hookworms - Red Gallery, Shoreditch, London, 21 February
Fairly intense electro-noise sounds involving some hammered-out keyboards and a bloke on vocals who made the performance memorable with his demented enthusiasm. I've since become vaguely aware that Hookworms are some kind of "cool" band that people like to name-drop but, hey, don't let that put you off.

Martha - Missing, Birmingham, 23 February
Hooky and melodic, but with enough fizziness to keep it interesting, this likeable bunch knocked out very decent, almost epic indie-rock stuff (check out my top-of-the-range camera phone video here). To my taste the night verged on the overly-twee - vegan cakes, a rather dull DJ playing Motown - but the band were good. The gig was upstairs in a gay bar which was evidently gearing up for riotous goings on. Steamy!

Skinny Girl Diet - Windmill, Brixton, London 14 March
Another good gig from this excellent riot grrl-type band who have, in addition to some nice tunes and a no-nonsense attitude, a bassist (I think it was) who has one of the most ear-piercing screams I've ever heard. Nice! There's something about them that reminds me of X-Ray Spex. Which is no bad thing.

Skinny Girl Diet 

Ice. Sea. Dead. People - Old Blue Last, Shoreditch, London, 1 April & 10 July
A joint vote for the two (or was it three times, not sure) that I saw this band (accidentally) during 2013. It's taken a while but I've started to warm to their loud/louder-still noise-rock sounds. On the one hand I'm still slightly wrong-footed by a singer who I think tries a bit too hard with his cheeky chappie smart Alec-isms, but I’m also more or less won over by the bands’ tricksy power-guitar stuff.

We Are the Physics - Windmill, London, 16 May
Speedy, Devo-esque rock from a band who obviously know what they're about - maybe a bit too much - but nevertheless belt out an entertaining brand of cranked up nerd-sounds. I think they'd actually be better if they dropped their studied goofiness and stagey stop-start stuff, but I did enjoy songs like "Subject versus Object". Are we not men? No, We Are the Physics.

We Are The Physics

Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band - Windmill, Brixton, London, 24 May
I must be well into double figures with Jeffrey Lewis gigs and, well, they're not really doing it for me these days. Especially the ones with Stampfel whose zaniness I find more irritating than funny. However, though the good-times folk-punkery of this (overlong) gig left me pretty much unmoved, Lewis' spoken word Pussy Riot poem moment was a different matter (as written about at the time). In my view this is the sort of stuff Lewis should be doing. Less playing up to his image; more experimenting with new things.

S&M - Windmill, Brixton, London, 26 June
Playing in almost total darkness, S&M seemed to be doing something a bit different to the doom-y bands that I've seen in the past. They go in for very slow, sepulchral chords and make you wait as they build a gloomy, epic atmosphere. Quite gothic in tone, I thought. Nicely not uplifting.

Necro Deathmort - Windmill, Brixton, London, 8 July
Could this band have a thing about death, do you think? As far as I could make out, these do a Suicide-type washes-of-heavily-treated-electro-noise thing that works well in relatively small doses. For my money they played too long (like a lot of bands) and the impact began to wear off. Undeniably powerful though.

Mickey Gloss / Halo Halo - Power Lunches, Haggerston, London, 18 July
Hard to pin down, one minute MG were doing speed-punk, the next some kind of Fall-esque grind, the next a faux-country ballad. Bleedin' jokers - who do they think they are!? In a description of them soon after the gig I resorted to a weak point about how my blurry photo of the band's singer was a "visualisation of their blurring of styles". Well, that'll have to do now as well. Meanwhile, I should mention Halo Halo, who also played at this gig. Nice Afro-infused rhythms and elegant singing. Interesting.

Mickey Gloss

Shopping - Power Lunches, Haggerston, London, 8 August
Funkeh! A rip-roaring, blast of a gig from a jerky punk-funk trio who seemed to be having as good a time as their audience. Here one or two people had clearly attended the gig specifically to dance (whoah). Since this gig I've been trying to catch them again, but no luck. Hey, it's a diary scheduling problem.

Love Buzzard - Power Lunches, Haggerston, London, 22 August
An intense drums-and-guitar duo who blast out highly revved-up punk blues. I was quite a way back in this small (but narrow) venue, but even from where I was standing I could see them beginning to melt through sheer rock 'n' roll fire! Not sure if they always play this way, but it would be good if they do.

Love Buzzard in meltdown

Avida Dollars - Tye Dye, Sheffield, 31 August
Strangely, I liked and disliked this gig in almost equal measure. The music was fine: pounding drums, plaintive grunge-like vocals, good riffs, a rockin' somewhat epic feel. The problem was the little knot of crowd-surf kids in the audience who thought it was fun to throw a few of their mates up in the air regardless of who else was in the vicinity. I've said before that I'm not down with this dunderheaded we're-having-our-fun-and-we-don't-care-about-anyone-else stuff. Dumb.

Charlie Megira & The Bet She'an Valley Hillbillies - Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 1 September
As my gig companion said at the time, this was like something out of a David Lynch film. Three groovy-looking customers who did twangy country somewhere in Hank Williams/Carter Family territory. But the twist was a lovely underpinning of bongos that gave it all a slightly unhinged feel, as well as the crackpot anti-humour of Charlie Megira. His between-songs "jokes" made Spike Milligan seem like Michael McIntyre.

Music for birds: Charlie Megira

Reso Kiknadze Trio - Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, London 2 October
Is it a bird, is it a plane? This wasn't a gig, it was a film screening with live musical accompaniment, and very nice it was too. Kote Mikaberidze's 1929 Soviet Georgian film My Grandmother has got to be seen to be believed (a delirious mix of Buster Keaton and Zazie Dans Le M├ętro as conceived by Kafka), and the Reso Kiknadze Trio applied some nice splashes of sound to proceedings - electronic squarks, rumbles, whistles and the like. Insane and fantastic.

Still from Mikaberidze's My Grandmother

Diaphram Failure - Stag's Head, Haggerston, London, 31 October
This gig was preceded by an in-car conversation with my long-suffering gig companion about PiL and Keith Levene (as you do). And, lo and behold, DF worked a not-entirely-un-PiL-like drone rock sound with a generous helping of their own pretty funny tomfoolery on top. I particularly liked the way the ranty singer shouted “What ya doing with my fucking shopping?” about 35 times in succession during one rather brilliant bit of the gig. There was lots of rackety percussion from shakers and whatever came to hand, and a real sense of a band that didn’t mind taking a few risks. And, as I've just realised, they were also in my best gigs of 2011 list - so there you go, consistent.

My Therapist Says Hot Damn - Taylor Johns, Coventry, 2 November
The highlight of a feminist punk night, MTSHD are a funny riot grrl-type band who don't seem to take themselves too seriously yet played some genuinely good stuff at this gig, including a very entertaining song with mock-grindcore growling from one of the women in the band. A few days after the gig I was admonished on Twitter from one of the group for making assumptions about the gender identity of one of the band members. But hey, I’m a no-offence-intended/no-grudges-held kinda guy and I’ve still put the band into my top gigs of the year list. Generous of me, eh?

And that's it. Twenty gigs you wished you'd been at but almost certainly weren't. Unless you crept into the back of my car when I wasn't looking. Next time, I want petrol money ...

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