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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

My 20 best gigs of 2016

If you thought the dead hand of Christmas was bad, wait until you get a load of this - Niluccio's infamous 20 best gigs of the year list (earlier incarnations can be found here, here, here, here, here and even here).

Yes! The Niluccio top 20 is full of those ear-splittingly loud gigs with lots of drunk pushy people who think nothing of treading on your feet and knocking your drink all over you. Or, in some cases, gigs where there's ... er, really no crowd to speak of at all, just a rather empty space across which you're faced with the tricky problem of not making too much eye contact with the musicians.

Nevertheless, you have to suffer for art. So read on ...

Fickle Twin/No Form: Studio With No Name, Nottingham, 5 February
Turn the dial to 11. Enjoyable wall-of-noise squealing 'n' moaning' from No Form whose best moments came when they went into dark chug-drone mode. The guitarist was particularly animated, engaged in some kind of fight-to-the-death battle with his instrument. Meanwhile, Fickle Twin's bass-heavy noise also sounded good. I especially liked the growly singer's ironically amused air and the bassist's broody boarding-school-aristo-on-drugs demeanour. More musings on this gig here.

No Form, no focus

Fruit Bomb: Old Blue Last, London, 19 February
A slightly odd outfit, with an energetic puddin'-bowl-haircut'd guitarist-singer who seemed to be wearing baggy-Manc clothing of a kind I haven't seen since my 87-90 Moss Side days. Switching from Black Tambourines-like beat stuff, to psych-garage, with Spectorish melodo-garage sounds in between, they were ... well, varied. Meanwhile the bass drum was decorated with some kind of defaced Pope Francis print. As I say, slightly odd.

Radical Boy: Sebright Arms, London, 25 February
They've got a fuzzbox and they're gonna use it. Fuzzed-up grunge from a very watchable two-piece. A skinny young bloke throwing himself about a bit on guitar, and a not-so-skinny young bloke on drums providing some rather groovy rhythms. From afar (ie at the bar) I didn't much like the vocals; closer up they were fine. Keening and emotional. Not dissimilar to early Let's Wrestle. Cool.

Radical Boy

Birdskulls: Victoria, London, 21 March
More grunge-y stuff from Birdskulls, who hoarse-voice rocked like it was 1993. There were some nice tempo and chord changes, and the singer wasn't afraid to switch to soft-and-melodic on occasion. All pretty enjoyable. During proceedings a little knot of blokes in the audience fired off various would-be witticisms, the best of which was "You’re too ambiguous!" A compliment, I'd say.

Dignan Porch: Victoria, London, 31 March
Understated but quietly winning stuff from Dignan Porch, whose reverbed-d vocals and chiming-guitars-and-keyboards built to some impressive mini-crescendos. Pretty varied too. At one stage I was hearing Big Star somewhere in the mix, later it was classic C86 indie. All in all, groovy.

Sean Henry: Silent Barn, New York, 10 April
A loud-solo-guitar-and-vocals thing from Sean Henry in front of a whopping audience of 15 (counting me). Some nice lyrics ("I hit my head/When I woke up everyone was dead") and singing that ranged from big-lunged-but-tuneful stuff to Lou Reed-like whimsy pop. He ended with a 45-second song about going to a funeral home "In a coffin shiny and black/And never coming back." It's where we're all headed.

The Hairs: Shea Stadium SK, New York, 12 April
In a warehouse-type place in some godforsaken industrial zone in Brooklyn, this was super-tuneful punk-pop featuring a drole singer with a Pete Shelley-esque camp air. Mostly mid-paced songs, it was almost conventional guitar-based pop-ery, but somehow considerably better than that sounds.

The Hairs, doling out drole 

Bad Breeding: Old Blue Last, London, 4 May
Punk reboot #2,843! With a Crass-like bilious disgust at the state of things, Bad Breeding er, mean it man. Shouty, gesticulating vocals across a deliberately lobotomised punk thrash. We got snippets of German radio broadcasts (or something) between bursts of noise, and all the while a sign on stage read "Their Kind Of Freedom". The singer/ranter-in-chief also specialised in malevolent middle-distance stares, which added to the drama. Fun stuff.

Bad Breeding: their kind of freedom

Cold Boys: Victoria, London, 12 May
Groovy sounds from a band that were distinctly poppy but never bland. Hints of The Pastels or some such, these chilled males were at times daringly slow and/or downbeat for a band playing live (reminiscent of Kelman, I thought). Probably doomed to be overlooked, but ... er, not by me.

Shark Dentist: Windmill, London, 31 May
I'd either already seen these about five times or this was my first time (damned if I can remember). An enjoyably grunge-y rock band with the usual Dinosaur Jnr-esque strained melodies all present and correct. The addition of some electronic bleeps 'n' stuff from the guitarist's effects pedals was a nice touch, while I also liked some of their slower songs, especially one that featured an excellent grinding riff reminiscent of The Fall.

Nachthexen/Pale Kids/Dirty Girl: Audacious Art Experiment, Sheffield, 24 June
Super-intimate lyrics ("Not sure I want you to put it in ... it's my first time"), vacant-eyed defiance from a singer working an early Sinead O'Connor look, and a mix of shouty punk and harmonies - Dirty Girl were cool. Meanwhile, Pale Kids also hit the spot - infectious walls of Undertones-y melodo-punk for the post-millennial generation. I particularly liked the lyric "I'm crossing you off my prayer list". Finally, Nachthexen's Good Throb-like abrasiveness also er, scratched my itch.

Pale Kids in their Sheffield safe space

Kim Check, Kim Eun & drummer: Mu, Seoul, 23 July
Pretty intense vocal-less improv jazz-blues stuff, inflected with Afro sounds in places and played in two longish chunks with an intermission. Excellent throughout and played to an audience of exactly nine people. Impressively (though typical for hyper-efficient Seoul), Mr Kim introduced the music in both Korean and English, the latter apparently just for the benefit of me and my gig companion.

Hexis: Unicorn, London, 5 August
This gig will forever be seared into my memory because of the insanely over-powerful white lights with which Hexis assaulted the audience. We'd get a full-on barrage of grindcore power chords, furious drumming and snarled vocals, and then ... BLAM! 500-watt silver-white lights. I spent most of the gig looking at my shoes (shoegaze!). Other people around me were soaking it all in, wide-eyed and happy. Not sure how. Maybe they're all blind now ...

BiT: Windmill, London, 20 September 
Pleasantly grinding sludge stuff from a band wearing Halloween fright masks and dresses. I enjoyed the grunge-y vocals, more effective here than with plenty of other bands in this genre. I think BiT's way of varying the overall sonic intensity also payed off. And some pretty er, enthusiastic off-on lighting from the resident sound man also added to the overall effect.

Nightmare on BiT street

Isabelle: Pop In, Paris, 6 October
Featuring a low-key opening par excellence (the performance was already underway by several minutes before I actually cottoned on to it), Isabelle turned out to be one person (a man) operating a laptop and various effects units behind a semi-transparent curtain onto which a loop of images and a Super 8-style film was projected. The music: decaying chords, vocal fragments, hesitant beats occasionally marshalled into something almost propulsive. Enigmatic.

Bearfoot Beware: Old Blue Last, London, 23 October
Enjoyable math-noise band from Leeds, who featured a very energetic bass player (hopping from one foot to another) and a drummer who - a rare sight in this genre - felt able to do "jazzy" things like playing the rim of his snare and even use brushes at one point.

Ravioli Me Away/Chips For The Poor: Two Queens, Leicester, 5 November
A multimedia extravaganza! Well, if bands playing in front of a large video screen showing interesting loops (young couple and buggy in a park; oddball B&W close-ups of farmyard animals) counts as such. Plus: some theatre-type stuff with Chips For The Poor ranter-cum-singer doubling as a pompous Proms-style compere. The music? Both bands churned out a tunnel of drone-like sounds, the first bass-and-keyboard, the second bass-and-guitar. I especially enjoyed CFTP's VU-like rhythm guitar. Excellent stuff.

Chickens and Chips in Leicester

Schande: Sound Savers, London, 9 December
Sonic Youth-stylee in places, surging guitar/bass/drums songs from an understated band in an extremely small venue - probably one of the very smallest I've ever been in (and I’ve been in some pretty tiny ones). I could't quite pin down the guitar style: it was sometimes quite rhythmic and clangy, at others fast, scratchy and involving long fret scrapes. Kinda good. The cool (as in unemotional) vocals worked nicely as well.

Mush: Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 15 December
Intricate yet sometimes pretty furious guitar playing reminding me a little of Television from a band featuring two rather big-haired types who could have come from the Strokes. The main singer also had a nice line in snotty yelps and burbled semi-spoken stuff. Their generally long songs were good enough that they never really felt long. All in all, I was Mush taken with them. Ahem.

Mush examining their guitars

Goat Girl/Revenue: Windmill, London, 19 December
Spindly guitar chords and some grinding Fall-style bass lines, the four goat girls churned out some very pleasing jerky rhythms topped by often interesting singing. I heard them soundchecking for an eternity (longer than they actually played), and seems to me the vocals sometimes savoured of old English folk songs. Meanwhile, Revenue were also good, with a singer who seems to have borrowed his bandy-legged stage moves from the No Form singer (or is it the other way round?), while doing some shouty stuff over a neo-hardcore racket. Watchable.

Revenue's skinhead moonstomp

That's it. So what's my absolute favourite gig from 2016? It’s that one I dreamt I was at the other night. In fact, it turns out I was in the band but didn't actually know how to play the songs or what to sing. I could feel panic creeping up on me. Oh no, what can I do? We’re about to start. Aggggghhhh. And then I woke up ...

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