My 20 best gigs of 2017

My legions of readers know what to expect. Little nuggets of musical wisdom wrapped up in oh-so-interesting mini-reviews from your trusted correspondent. (Past episodes of the riveting Niluccio on noise end-of-year gig review are also available here, here, here, here, here, here and ... er, here).

But, you may wonder, what's the rush? Why am I bothering you with my idiotic list when there's still nearly three weeks to go before the end of the year? Good question. But the fact is, I've written the bloody thing now and I can't be bothered to wait around. So apologies to all those great musicians playing between now and 1/1/18. It's desperately unfair, but you're not in ...

Pale Kids: JT Soar, Nottingham, 30 January
Infectious stuff from Pale Kids, who are currently a band I try to catch whenever possible.  Winsome vocals, nice guitar lines and pleasantly juddering percussion. Also, good lyrics, eg: "Will I die quick? / Will I like it?" (Well, there's only one way to find out ...). Other gigs of theirs I dragged my tired carcass along to during 2017 included a matinée where gaggles of six-year-olds ran riot, and another at which their drummer sported a Taylor Swift t-shirt done as a Crass logo. Does Ms Swift owe us a living? Course she does, course she does ...

Pale Kids: doing it for t' kids, some aged six

Witching Waves: Sound Savers, London, 19 February
One of two Witching Waves gigs that cast a slight spell on me this year. I described them to a former work colleague who I bumped into at this gig as "thuggish", which isn't true at all! Instead, WW just have a (pleasing) sort of faux-punk belligerence to their vocal delivery. The guitarist-vocalist likes to stride about as he bashes on his guitar, while the drummer-vocalist provides some super-taut rhythms. I particularly liked a song called (I think) Disintegration.

Rattle/Neurotic Fiction: JT Soar, Nottingham, 12 March
Another good JT Soar gig! Rattle were a hyper-intense two-drum combo working up some tense rhythms that built and built, while also er, unbuilding and unbuilding. It was, as they say, exhausting to watch, but also fairly exhilarating. Neurotic Fiction were another story: a short set of controlled shoutiness, intricate lead guitar (echoes of Felt), and a cover of the Diodes' Tired Of Waking Up Tired. All very enjoyable.

Moon Balloon: Old Blue Last, London, 27 March
An interesting band. Quite measured, a fair few tempo changes, chiming guitars, hints of funk. There were times when they sounded like the Talking Heads or Pete & The Pirates from about 2005. They probably get described as "chamber pop" by some critics, but they're much better than that sounds. Lunar-tastic.

Death Pedals: Shacklewell Arms, London, 1 April 
About the second or third time I'd seen these. As befitting loud (as in LOUD) noise rockers, they charged into most of their songs with real intensity, while also incorporating nice bass/drum builds layered with shards of guitar to vary the feel. Despite it being a rather jinxed gig - including a dead vocal mic and a bass amp that seemed to have a special "malfunction" setting - the Pedals pushed on uncomplainingly. What troopers!

Schande/Giant Burger Band: Flashback Records, London, 7 April
Urgent-ish punk-pop stuff from Schande, as described in my best gigs of 2016 blog (yeah, two-times winners!). On this occasion there was a bit where they reminded me of the Feelies. GBB, playing their last-ever gig, did their shouty, frantic quirk-pop thing (shades of Spizz believe it or not) interspersed with their trademark awkward between-song announcements. Meanwhile, spotted in the crowd: a baby with oversized headphones. The audiences at gigs really are getting younger ...

Black Mekon: Shacklewell Arms, London, 22 April
A veritable blues explosion! Genuinely incendiary rock 'n' roll, with echoes of the Cramps, the Birthday Party and a hundred other blues exploders. Not only were this three-piece wearing carnival-style opera masks, they strutted about in that bandy-leg-quivering way that Elvis popularised. Yes, it was that sort of gig. The singer also used a mouth organ on a few tracks for extra bluesman credibility. Excellent throughout, especially the way it avoided showbiz and kept it determinedly serious.

A night at the opera with Black Mekon

Anna McLellan: Silent Barn, New York, 7 May
Compelling and beautiful stuff from the cracked-voice McLellan. Slow-paced, keyboard-led, fractured pop songs in the vein of people like Told Slant or maybe Two Steps On The Water. Bass and drum accompaniment lending it some weight and drive. Kind of emo for fans of the piano. Meanwhile, I can hear the detractors saying "But she can't even sing!" To which I say: "But you can't even recognise good music when you hear it, you idiot!"

Anna McLellan

Ski Saigon: Paper Dress Vintage, London, 5 June
It's Ski Monday, with Ski Saigon! Indie-rock types who dared to be slow-to-mid-tempo. They threw in some bright guitar motifs and stuck to a muted vocal palette reminiscent of early-80s Robert Smith. That said, there were groovy rhythms at work, with some nagging drums-guitar riffs. Whoosh!

The Rebel: Windmill, London, 7, 14, 21 and 28 June
So good I saw him four times in a month: yeah, The Rebel, a legend in his mum's front sitting room. Surreal rants, programmed beats, discordant keyboard noise, nagging country-blues guitar, all-round miserablist drone: what more could you want? If you don't like Mr Wallers' foghorn delivery and barbed misanthropy that's probably because er, "you find the avant-garde / A bit too hard". More on The Rebel here. Also good at these gigs: No Friendz (as below), Flame Proof Moth and Saul Adamczewski.

No Friendz: Windmill, London, 7 June
A very entertaining little blast from No Friendz, with their singer doing a kind of glam-punk routine and the band bashing out songs about seeing Shonen Knife ("it was out of sight") and er, about not having any friends. I particularly liked a sour country-ish song about marital discord ("It's run its course / I wanna divorce") which produced one of the best on-stage quips of my gigging year: "Put your hands in the air if you want a divorce". I put up both hands.

He's got absolutely no friends

The Wharves: Shacklewell Arms, London, 11 August

Third time lucky! Having had them cancel on me at two earlier attempts (it's all about me ...), I finally managed to get to see the elusive Wharves. Was it worth it? Yep. This seemingly fairly conventional trio (drums/guitar/bass) had some really beautiful harmonics (more or less of Stereolab quality) that took this gig into sonic realms unexplored by most indie-rock. Some nice guitar lines as well. The Wharves: worth mooring your boat to.

Sugar Rush: Flashback Records, London, 17 August
Almost certainly the most middle-class gig I went to in 2017, this queer-pop bash had a cutesy, politely-spoken audience, some confessional sexual identity announcements from the drummer, a decent amount of lo-fi-ish guitar/bass/drums sounds, and an all-round emo feel. Let's just say: it wasn't black metal. My favourite part was when the guitarist did a bit of impassioned high-pitched off-mic singing - beautiful and moving like early Herman Düne often were.

Hamer/Sleep Terminal: The Audacious Art Experiment, Sheffield, 15 September
Hammer blows from Hamer! A high-intensity punkoid blast from a three-piece fronted by someone looking like a slightly-off-his-head rock dude who'd accidentally found himself in a punk band. Kinda great. Meanwhile, Sleep Terminal were trying to see how much reverb they could add before becoming totally lost in music. The singer-guitarist, shouting into a low-tech mic and slashing away at his guitar, fought a valiant and sometimes frenzied battle with the sonic murk before eventually conceding defeat. And so to bed, children ...

Sleep Terminal awake from the dead

Nervous Conditions: Windmill, London, 18 October

Yes, they do indeed like to induce exactly these feelings - er, nervous conditions - in the audiences. Mostly by subjecting them to one-and-a-half hours of double-drums percussion, sax squeals, guitar-keyboard drones and agitated caterwauling. It went on for far, far too long, but - undeniably - Nervous Conditions brought us some moments of nerve-racking intensity.

Night Shades: Shacklewell Arms, London, 27 October
Twangy, surfy stuff from a crew fetchingly decked out in zombie-ghoul face-paint. More cartoon horror than full-on Cramps/Birthday Party depravity, but pretty entertaining nonetheless. And some slow instrumentals provided a nice counterpoint. In particular, I liked the way the drummer bashed away even when the hood of his monk's cowl was completely obscuring his face (drummer-monk just visible in the photo background). Monk-tastic.

Night Shades: a more ghoulish shade of pale

Spang Sisters: Old Blue Last, London, 30 October
Going faster miles an hour! Yeah, the Spang Sisters had stolen Jonathan Richman's Corvette and we're cruising along the interstate. The interstate, that is, between early-70s Modern Lovers drone-rock and present-day rebuilds. Actually, I only caught two songs at this gig but one was a very strung-out version of Pablo Picasso which was worth the *price of admission alone. (*OK, the gig was free, but er ... I'm in love with the modern world ...).

No-one ever called the Spang Sisters assholes 

Chupa Cabra: Windmill, London, 20 November
Entertaining garage sounds that zoomed in and out eras (1977, 1991, 2015, you couldn't keep up!), while sometimes coming across a bit like The Jam during their amphetamine-crunching punk period. (Actually, that was probably just the singer's passing resemblance to Paul Weller). No, difficult to pin down. They had quite a bit of psyched-up blues-rock stuff, but it was all laced with some kind of raw-voiced punk attitude. Excellent.

Gilly Greiner/John Brocklesby: Centrala, Birmingham, 26 November
Two rather affecting singer-guitar merchants. Gilly Greiner, who had a disturbingly bashed-up-looking face, sang (and semi-toasted) through three songs, including a particularly nice one about cowboys. A rich, warm voice and a pleasingly low-key manner ("That's enough of that rubbish"). John Brocklesby was a cool, 50-something dude, who played his quota of Van Morrison-like songs with composed seriousness.

Gilly Greiner

Cold Boys: Flashback Records, London, 8 December

A freezing cold night in Bethnal Green, chilled indie-rock sounds in a record shop basement. Cold Boys had a relaxed vibe, opening their set with ... a slow instrumental. But there was a sinewy toughness to their sound in places as well. Good guitar lines, nagging drums, restrained vocals. (I also had them in my top 20 last year. There. Consistency). They were giving out copies of a 7" single at this gig, the only outfit to do such a thing at any of the 50-odd music bashes I went to in 2017. I'll admit it, reader. I nabbed one.

And that's it, dear friends. Another year of gigs gone by, another year closer to the grave. Cheerio ...


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