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Friday, 19 December 2014

My 20 best gigs of 2014

So I’m at this party - probably the first one I’ve been at in about four years - and there I am, chewing on a tasty stick of carrot, sipping my delicious half of Stella, when this chap starts hassling me for information. “What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to then?” Er, dunno, I say. Too many to sift through. He insists. Oh, there’ve been lots of good ones, I demur. No, not good enough! “Come on”, he demands, “name one!” Oh dear, I’m in trouble ...

Well I fend him off and then later take pity on my interlocutor. He’s so full of the question, won’t let it go. So I finally give him an answer, some half-thought-through guff about Herman Düne in France in 2005. It’s true it was a good gig, but it's mostly memorable because of the effort involved in actually getting to it - a forgotten passport, a broken-down car that got going again, a sudden snow storm and then trudging through the forlorn suburbs of Lille on a dark Sunday night, increasingly lost and helpless ...

No, what I should have said to my new party pal was this: these 20 gigs are the best gig I’ve ever been to. This score of concerts, already legendary amongst the cognoscenti who attended. This group of 20 gigs is the very best one I’ve ever been to. What! I can’t name 20? It doesn’t make sense and it’s got to be just one? Too late ...

Giant Burger Band: Power Lunches, London, 2 January

Unpredictable arrangements, pretty funny jokey interludes/audience announcements, songs about the Black Death: the GBB were a happy discovery, even though I’d already been half-familiarised by following them on Twitter (they’re a hell of lot better on Twitter than the usual dullards-in-bands-who-only-mention-that-they’re-playing-in-Aylesbury-on-Friday types). Saw them again later in the year, almost saw them a number of other times, and frequently see a couple of them in my local East London convenience store. Hey, we're almost best mates!

Giant Burger Band

Frank Fairfield: Leytonstone Working Men’s Club, London, 12 January
As regular readers of this blog will know (yes, both of you), I’m not entirely immune to the charms of Mr Fairfield, who purveys vintage Americana stuff with an apparently unselfconscious geekiness. He sat on stage at this venue decked out in a big 1920s-style overcoat while bashing out his banjo rhythms and violin-with-foot-stomping sounds. For Frank it’s always Oklahoma City in 1872 and we’ve got to enjoy ourselves and drink our moonshine before we all run out food and die of cholera. 

Roseanne Barrr: Windmill, London, 4 February
Good shouty lo-fi punk stuff from Roseanne Barrr, who were one of several bands of this ilk that I found myself enjoying in 2014. Amongst other attractive features, they had a kind of imperiously gay/camp quality which - for me at least - added to their lustre. Roseanne Barrr were ... well above parrrrrr!

Mars To Stay: TJ Soar, Nottingham, 5 April

Moody, slow-core material that verged on the pastoral at times. Quite demanding (no bad thing), with lots of little guitar-drum crests and swells and, as I recall, no vocals to rescue us from this ocean of abstraction. Ah, we the salt-blasted audience were doughty mariners, charting our path to the shore with only the flickering Nottingham street lights as our guide. Where was it all going? No idea.

Tom Brosseau: Tin Music And Arts, Coventry, 10 April 

Went to this primarily to see the wonderfully warbly Josephine Foster, but ended up enjoying Brosseau more on the night. Using some of those quite chatty intros that folky types seem to like, he pulled it all off without it being too corny or long-winded. Warm, affecting songs in a Loudon Wainwright III vein, he had a genuinely lovely voice which lulled and lulled. Lull-erly.

Good Throb: Power Lunches, London, 26 May

A gig that saved me from Bank Holiday tedium, Good Throb were a blast of real punk energy and had me positively grooving at one stage. I’ve been enjoying their Fuck Off album this year (“Double white denim”!) so it was particularly good to hear them do their thing live. Harsh female vocals and scratchy, deliberately-basic-sounding drums/guitar workouts (particularly nice pounding drums). Also on at this gig: Condominium, who did a rather impressive sort of stoner hardcore which grew on me the longer they played.

Good Throb

Death Pedals: Old Blue Last, London, 10 June
One of those bands I seem to have been hearing about for years now, this may have been the first time I’ve actually seen ‘em. And they ripped this joint! Pile-driving power-noise with semi-shrieked vocals and lots of energy. Songs built and surged, and the drums kept the whole thing powering through. It was rock music, but none the worse for it. 

Seize The Chair: Old Blue Last, London, 19 June 

Whoopy, driving indie-rock sounds - shades of Clinic and that kind o’ ting - from a group that had a sort of unfashionable look about them while delivering far-better-than-average stuff. Enjoyable.

Faggot: Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 26 July

Faggot were doing it for the gay, bi-, trans and intersex kids. Imagine Bronski Beat with 30 years of gender-identity politics piled on top (actually, don’t). Plinkey-plonkey keyboards, fairly basic drums, bursts of speed lyrics (often excellent) splattered all over the place. Sample lyric: “I feel sick and I feel dead”. I can identify. Also at this gig: Haggerston favourites Shopping, who I continue to like despite all that damned funkiness.


Thoth: Power Lunches, London, 19 August
Yelping vocals, slow (very slow) builds, drone-type vocal-guitar patterns - this was not your regular indie-rock gig. In fact, you could instead say Thith Wath Thoth. (Ahem). No, interesting stuff that dared to test the audience a bit. Cool.

Black Fungus: Power Lunches, London, 27 August
Hey, this was fine-by-me garage-rock shenanigans. Lots of heavy-ish drumming, rather beautiful lead-guitar motifs, and almost goth-type vocals in places. Very tight playing of that kind which starts to draw you in. Yeah, they began to grow on me like a kind of strange dark-coloured rash …

Dr Peabody/The Non-Nonconformists: Windmill, London, 2 September

A two-good-bands-for-less-than-the-price-of-one deal. Both of these worked partly because they were ... funny. Dr Peabody’s Devo pastiche (right down to the boiler suits and flowerpot hats) was non-laboured, featured good observational humour about the tedium of office work routines etc, and also had some real energy: one of the band was freaking out lying on his back among the audience at one point. The abysmally-named TN-N did a much more rocky thing, a sort of motorik Pere Ubu vibe with minimal and very repetitive lyrics featuring various types of negativity (“What if I can’t? What if I can’t? ...”). Amusingly bleak.

Woolf: Power Lunches, London, 11 September

This is lo-fi! Strident female vocals (those bloody feminists), scrappy punkoid rhythms, that hail-of-guitar sound used by ten thousand new wave bands circa 1979. This could have been dull simulacrum stuff but was exciting and unpredictable. They varied the arrangements like they just don’t care. And fun lyrics, eg: “Went to a warehouse / Went to a warehouse / Went to a warehouse / Went to a warehouse … in Croatia”. Also: a song about Dulwich! Really good.

Afterlife Kids/Lord Snow: Stuck On A Name Studios, Nottingham, 27 September

Two excellent bands at this one. The nicely-fierce Afterlife Kids, who did some pummelling grindcore which included a particularly impressive vocalist (lots of prowling about like a demented preacher), and the not-quite-so-fierce Lord Snow, leaning toward noise/math-rock and incorporating backing tape intros from things like 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Daisy, daisy …”). Pretty cool venue as well - some kind of disused industrial place. Nottingham - doin’ it for t’kids!

H.Grimace: Windmill, London, 7 October
A groovy, slightly hard-to-place band who did a vaguely Sonic Youth-y thing, cascades of guitar noise which they tempered well to reveal quite plaintive vocals and nice, driving rhythms. Or something. I saw them again a couple of months later but preferred this gig, at which, slightly mysteriously, they had an additional guitarist not present at the later performance. 

Steppin' out in style: H.Grimace

Irshad Ali Qawwali Party: Tin Music And Arts, Coventry, 9 October
Totally different to all the other gigs I went to in 2014 and definitely one of the best. More or less as you’d expect with any decent Qawwali music, their overlapping Sufi chants/incantations and harmonium/tabla drones were positively … hypnotic. It was nice to see the place full of Asian people (good age spread as well), even if their hand-clapping accompaniment occasionally got on my nerves. All I can say really is: “Aaaahhh aaahh AHHHH ahhhh aahhhhhh ooohh AAAAHHHHH ...”.

Ethical Debating Society: Power Lunches, London, 23 October

Nice shouty, scratchy art-punk stuff from EDS who, I seem to remember, have an especially good song about a “crap flat” that the song’s addressee (the audience?) supposedly lives in. They obviously know where I live ... Saw ‘em at least once more this year as well (they seem to be cropping up on a lot of bills). Good then as well.

Sebastian Melmoth: Windmill, London, 4 November
Long songs (the first one a slow-build ten minutes), a sort of gothic 60s intensity (shades of Echo And The Bunnymen, My Drug Hell etc), and … well, some rather infectious tunes. Yes, Sebastian Melmoth were a tasty combination. They played to a sparsely-populated room on a rainy, gloom-filled south London evening and their music was perfectly fitting to the occasion.

Sebastian Melmoth
Dog Chocolate: Power Lunches, London, 25 November
Zany guys! Yes, likeably goofy stuff from a band that came across as jokers but also knocked out a decent lo-fi racket. One of the two singers set the tone early on by shouting his way through the first song then immediately declaring “We’ve finished the first song! [long pause] … What’s happening? … Now Rob’s gonna sing ya a song. Go on, Rob!” And so on. Bursts of quite thrashy punkoid noise and a super-minimalist drum-kit set-up. Part skiffle-punk, part prankster thrash. Very enjoyable.

Kinky-UK: Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 5 December

This was a nice set of jokey mock-punk thrash stuff at a queercore night. Oodles of righteous queer anger alongside some pleasingly bashed-out drum rhythms. The night was slightly marred by a little gang of “sissy moshing” fans bashing into people nearby just like the macho moshers they were supposedly satirising. Weird.

So there you have it. My best ever gig. Roll ‘em all into one you suckers! What an unholy mess that would have been ...

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