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Thursday, 17 December 2015

My 20 best gigs of 2015

The other day I heard Kylie Minogue on the radio saying she "literally couldn't imagine a world without music". Emphasis on literally. Well, she apparently hasn't got a very good imagination - I can easily imagine a world devoid of music (especially hers!).

But hang on, I think I know what she must mean. She means she can't imagine life without gigs at the Old Blue Last or Power Lunches (RIP). Rip-roaring affairs at JT Soar or the Windmill. Hey, the diminutive Aussie has got a point. It's these occasions that give our barren lives a little meaning. They lift us, if only temporarily, out of the void, endowing us with a renewed sense of purpose, inner strength. Don't they?

You know I'm right! And though it's still many gig-going days away from the end of the year and I might still squeeze a couple more in, here they are, my 20 best gigs of 2015. They were all literally excellent, and I didn't see Ms Minogue at a single one ...

Shark Dentist: Windmill, London, 10 March
Decent noise-rock stuff from Shark Dentist. If memory serves, one of the band was wearing a Psychocandy t-shirt, another a Stooges t-shirt. Hey, take yer pick! Also, they introduced one of their songs by saying "It's been a while since I was in Brixton. The last time it was on fire." Gulp.

Freschard, Stanley Brinks & others: The Pod, Coventry, 2 April
Not the most scintillating gig I've ever attended, but included in this 'ere top 20 because of the ultra-mellow vibe that - as ever - Freschard and partner-in-lassitude Stanley Brinks created. This was at an arts cafe that does musical therapy and indeed F & SB (plus local guitarist Andy Whitehead) roped in a couple of others who seemed to be there for therapeutic reasons. Then again, aren't we all?

Don't Worry: Power Lunches, London, 21 May
Emo-ish noise-rock - not music I hear a great deal of usually, yet seemingly when I do I can dig it. Here and there they struck a beautiful plaintive note, and married this up to some nice lyrics: "Depressed together/We can be depressed together". Yes indeed.

The Worms: Power Lunches, London, 25 May
Good punk/garage-y sounds from The Worms, who clearly have one or two (ahem) earworm-y tunes up their non-existent Lumbricidae sleeves. They're no-nonsense bash-out-another-tune types who can get quite shouty in a pleasing, tempered-aggression sort of way. All rather enjoyable. Meanwhile this gig also included Das Boots The Chemists. Good name, decent band: ramshackle, shouty punk-pop.

Sauna Youth: Old Baths, Hackney Wick, London, 5 June
By far the biggest gig I went to in 2015. This was in a large, zero-atmosphere room (a sports hall?) and - uh-ho - there must have been 200 people there. It should have been rubbish, but instead it was ... pretty damn good. These sweat-beaded youngsters do a revved-up punk-ish groove with excellent female lead vocals. Nicely intense.

Getting sweaty with the masses: Sauna Youth

Prinzhorn Dance School: Tin Music, Coventry, 13 June
I could be wrong but I suspect PDS have been picking up some admiring press along the way - but hey, don't let that put you off. These are a seriously groovy outfit. Nagging basslines, pulsing guitar, hints of early New Order, coolly emotional vocals. Intense, compelling stuff. Excellent throughout at this gig.

No Form: Audacious Art Experiment, Sheffield, 20 June
A pretty immense rock-cacophony from No Form, whose reverb'd-to-death wall of noise sounded like several large buildings collapsing (or was it my brain caving in?). Shades of prime Birthday Party or Arc/Weld-era Neil Young, NF certainly aren't messing about. Also very enjoyable at this gig: Long Limbs, with their very infectious Bunnymen-ish 60s beat sounds.

Vertical Slump: Power Lunches, London, 26 June
Driving, synth-based, hardcore-y sounds, reminiscent of ... oh, I dunno, have a guess yourself. Controlled power, emotional charge - I suppose we're talking Flipper or that kind o' ting. I landed at this gig after a swanky architects' party in central London. It was like arriving at a different planet.

Vertical Slump at the now-defunct Power Lunches

Hideki Hashimoto, Yuichi Asai, Yumiko Yoshimoto & Toru Shimada: Flying Teapot, Tokyo, 30 July
Despite some pretty stiff competition, this was my most sparsely-attended gig of the year - myself and my gig companion plus another three audience members (if you include the barman-promoter guy). As ever, the crowds don't know nothin'. This was challenging-yet-involving improv jazz, with long contemplative sections and pleasing bursts of discordance. The band granted us deep and sincere bows as we left the venue. Can we make this the norm at all gigs from now on please?

Self Deconstruction: Pit Bar, Tokyo, 31 July
Very enjoyable grindcore shenanigans from Self Deconstruction. Lots of long Japanese hair flying all over the place and a guitarist dressed in some kind of crazed Alice In Wonderland/geisha outfit. Also pretty good at this gig: The Fangs with their pop-hardcore, especially the energetic, floor-sliding singer wearing an SNFU t-shirt ("Open your mouth and say ... SNFU").  Meanwhile, I noticed a woman in the audience who had a nice tattoo of a watch next to ... her watch. Those Japanese, eh?

Self Deconstruction smashing things up in Tokyo

Super Lungs: Old Blue Last, London, 20 September
Groovesome beat-ish sounds in a Strange Boys stylee, Super Lungs had me tapping my cowboy boot-shod foot from the off. Some of the guitar lines from a bloke with very big sideburns were particularly nice. Understated yet captivating stuff. The Sunday night audience at this free gig started out low (four, me included) only to swell to ... er, about 14. The rest of London was obviously doing something vital, like watching rugby on television or whatever.

Bellies: JT Soar, Nottingham, 2 October
Complex guitar-drums gymnastics from a duo who often seem to be playing four songs at once. Polyrhythms, super-nimble guitar lines and shrieked vocals - this was really interesting music. I most liked a couple of songs toward the end of their set where they interlaced some nagging rhythms and semi-sung vocals. Groovy.

Estonian National Opera: Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, 15 October
One of my occasional forays into opera, this was Tosca from the first row in the stalls! Yep, after years of seeing productions in supposedly great opera houses (Milan, New York, Covent Garden etc) here was one that didn't bore or bemuse me. Because, I'd venture to say, opera from 50 rows back is basically a waste of time. Here, I was able to watch the musicians in the pit and enjoy the corny goings on with Baron Scarpia, Floria Tosca et al. Oh, and some really nice arias to savour.

Black Tambourines: Old Blue Last, London, 23 October
Energetic punky beat stuff from these surfin' dudes from Cornwall. A tall bassist-singer went in for some surprising hip shimmies, and a bowl-haircut'd guitarist was prone to getting twitchy and semi-frenzied - hey now! They play pretty fast (kinda Thee Vicars-ish) and with enough intensity and variation to keep it interesting.

Shimmy shimmy shake: The Black Tambourines 

The Red Cords: Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham, 25 October
Supporting the aforementioned Black Tambourines, at this gig the lighter colour outfit won out! Yes, The Red Cords had urgent, rollicking drum rhythms, a slightly new wave crispness to their beat-inflected arrangements and an understated get-on-with-it manner. They kinda rock.

Rat The Magnificent: Windmill, 26 October
Perhaps not exactly magnificent, RTM were nevertheless a powerful entity. They went in for that grinding juggernaut-of-sound neo-rock that bands like Poino or A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen churn out. Motorik monstrousness! Maybe best sampled in smaller quantities than eight or nine consecutive songs - still, naggingly memorable stuff.

Syp: Running Horse, Nottingham, 27 November
Sludgey grind-noise from Syp who did all the usual growling and monster-riffing (distinctly "classic rock" in places) but somehow sounded more adventurous with it. I particularly liked the drumming, powerful but also inventive, with splashes and rolls where I didn't exactly expect them. Lots of other distinctive things as well: a guitarist who sat down throughout, a bassist with a massive flop of top knot-secured hair, and a vocalist with his coat on (pictured).

Syp's growler in chief feeling the cold in Nottingham

Han-earl Park, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders, Caroline Pugh: Lamp Tavern, Birmingham, 1 December
Screeching and scraping in an improv stylee, this quartet assailed the ears with a pleasing melee of noise, some of it vaguely intelligible. Caroline Pugh jabbered away in what sounded like snatches of Greek, while the guitarist Han-earl Park did impossibly intricate yet percussive stuff on his guitar fret. Mad but entertaining. It was in the backroom of a gloomy back-street boozer. When I tentatively asked the elderly landlord "Where's the jazz tonight?", he said "I wouldn't call it jazz. More like a fookin' racket." He was right!

Han-earl Park and others making a fookin' racket

Chastity: Hare And Hounds, Birmingham, 2 December
Not my usual fare - quite a "widescreen" feel to this band's thrash-pop stuff, but oddly interesting. The lanky vocalist - part-Russell Brand, part that bloke out of The Rent Boys - was the main reason. His off-stage wanderings among the dozen or so people in attendance (another of my not-exactly-packed-to-the-rafters 2015 gigs) were always fun to watch. I'm not saying I was ravished by Chastity, but ... er, they're worth another date.

Shit Present: JT Soar, Nottingham, 6 December
Enjoyable melodo-grunge from Shit Present. Mostly mid-tempo songs powered along by some pretty ferocious drumming (snare drum especially). Shades of Martha, Stagecoach, that kind of thing. The singer said the band has only written seven songs - I wasn't counting, but they must have played them all. For me the gig was also enlivened by the sight of a bloke in the audience (looking something like a young Johnny Depp) wearing a nifty combo of a Basque Beret and a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Hey!


  1. Thank you for listening!

    A “fookin’ racket”? Yeah, sounds about right.