2014 has been a pretty incredible year for gigs. I’ve seen some bands for the first time, some I thought I’d never see, plus the occasional visitation from the past. So I thought, for my benefit as much as anything else it was worth summarising and reflecting…don’t worry this isn’t the prelude to mid-life crisis or breakdown or anything, it’s just a list. People seem to like lists.
1st Feb 2014
Wave Pictures ~ Deaf Institute, Manchester
I am a very much a latecomer to the Wave Pictures party, but having been introduced to them for the first time last year, they have become one of my favourite bands. The intimate environment of The Deaf Institute was the perfect place to see them for the first time. Effortlessly they charmed and beguiled, smiling through a set of old and new material finishing on a mass singalong to Like Smoke. I was mesmerised by the guitar playing of David Tattersall; how he coaxes such a beautiful noise from nothing more than a cheap guitar/amp and an expression of wry amusement, is beyond me. The first gig of 2014 was going to take some beating.
14th Feb 2014
Ezra Furman & The Boyfriends ~ York Duchess
Valentine’s Day… I am struck by the notion of a romantic day in York, followed by dinner and a gig from an artist neither of us has seen before. What could possibly go wrong. Well the weather for one. After a day of rain-lashed wanderings followed by dinner in the only place we could get into (a bar festooned with Shed 7 memorabilia) we wandered into the damp smelling basement of The Duchess, tired and bedraggled.
Then things started to improve immeasurably. The support band The SoSo Glos where punky, fun and sincere. But the main event was something else. Ezra Furman, a bundle of wired yet vulnerable eccentricity, born to entertain had us spellbound from the start. It was a struggle to convince @RealEarthMother that she couldn’t adopt him. The Boyfriends are a tight backing band, full of personality, adding colour and shade to Ezra’s songs of desperation, depression and attempted suicide. I admit that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a fun night out, yet oddly it is. Such is the sense of fun and showmanship with which the whole thing is delivered you cannot help but walk away smiling.
1st March 2014
The National ~ 6Music Festival, Victoria Warehouses, Manchester
Against all odds we managed to get tickets. As festivals go it was an odd one; the venues didn’t seem to work that well. The second stage was too small and difficult to see and the main stage seemed too big. We caught a couple of other acts; Likke Li, Kieron Leonard, Wild Beasts, but I was only really interested in The National. Somehow we managed to snake our way through the crowd and get ourselves s good spot near the front.
This was my fourth time seeing them so I knew what to expect; they do know how to put on a good show. On a foliage covered stage they did exactly what it is they do best; delver a set of intense, opaque and emotionally poignant songs set to rich and complex musical arrangements. Matt was in a particularly intense mood it seemed, stalking the stage, smashing mics, kicking bottles of wine, forgetting lyrics and inevitably crashing into the crowd and climbing gantries. The final Vanderlyle encore was a mass singalong of adoring fans. A great night…. Just s long cold walk back to town due to nonfunctional trams to contend with, but these are the things we do for the bands we love.
8th April 2014
Lloyd Cole ~ Parr Hall, Warrington
Almost forgot this one. An intimate acoustic set, with support also from Lloyd Cole; it was clearly a tight budget. It never ceases to blow my mind to find artists I saw on Top of the Pops are now driving the length and breadth of the country, armed with just a guitar, to play arts centres and village halls. But, I’m happy they do. As you would expect, the classic Rattlesnakes songs (Perfect Skin, Are You Ready to be Heartbroken) drew the most applause, and there is nothing wrong with that. Lloyd was pleasant company for an hour or two, armed with just a guitar, some stories and some songs. Sometimes it’s nice just to be entertained. The only thing that was hard to bear is his uncanny likeness to Jimmy Carr.
12th April 2014
British Sea Power ~ Sheffield Leadmill
How I had managed to go through life without giving BSP so much as a second glance is beyond me. I’m sure the odd track must have entered my consciousness from the radio, but they are honestly not a band I had ever been driven to listen to. So this was very much a voyage into the unknown. It was clear this was a band with an obsessive fan base – the bloke who’d driven up from Norwich and attached himself to us on arrival being a case in point.
But it was a fun night full of songs unfamiliar to me, delivered with passion and commitment to a clearly adoring crowd. Anthems that don’t belong in stadiums would be my best description; rousing, uplifting, occasionally sad. The night was made for me by the two giant dancing bears crowd surfing above my head for the encore. Splendid.
18th April 2014
King Khan & The Shrines ~ Brudenel Social Club, Leeds
Some gigs can be deeply moving experiences, which take you on a journey, make you think about your life, drag up deep buried feelings, leave you feeling battered and bruised, but somehow better for it. This was not one of those gigs. For those not familiar with the King’s work… Well try to picture a tall, paunchy Indian man, with a Jason King moustache, naked except for a pair of gold pants, a crown and a cloak, playing dirty but catchy 60s garage rock. Can you imagine that? Because that is exactly what you get. Certainly one of the most out and out fun gigs I have ever been too, the kind that want to make you laugh and dance at the same time. A super tight rock ‘n’ roll band, with horn section, they ripped the roof off the Brudenel. The band spending as much time in the crowd as on the stage, you had to keep on your toes as we were nearly decapitated when the keyboard player decided to join in the fun…jumping into the crowd with his organ over his head. Pound for pound the most fun you will see on stage all year.
1st May 2014
Shearwater ~ The Deaf Institute, Manchester
Another band about whom I knew absolutely nothing before seeing them live. To be fair apart from a single song on a mix-CD I’d heard nothing by them. Perched up above the stage on the tiny balcony of The Deaf Institute seemed absolutely perfect tonight. Jonathan Meiburg is warm and engaging, full of stories between the songs. The songs are predominantly covers, drawn from their Fellow Travellers album of songs by artists they have toured with, interspersed with a few originals. The arrangements are complex and compliment Jonathan’s rich tenor voice. Wonderful backing vocals and keyboards from transposed Manchester local Jesca Hoop as well. Finishing on Clinic’s Tomorrow was a big highlight, leaving us feeling happy like we had just been given a massive hug.
13th May 2014
Teleman ~ Deaf institute, Manchester
Steam Train Girl had been spinning round my head for the best part of a year since stumbling upon it while browsing Spotify, so I was looking forward to this a lot. Led by former Pete & the Pirates/Tap Tap man, Thomas Sanders Teleman are a particularly English confection. Songs seem to float into the ether like clouds of steam, delicate and slight. But there is so much going on, bubbling just below the surface, 23 Floors Up demonstrating there is more muscle here than you might think. The set is declared over when they eventually run out of songs and it seemed wrong to request anything from his Pirate days. All in all an enjoyable well composed set and certainly a band to be a watched.
17th & 18th May 2014
Neutral Milk Hotel ~ Albert Hall, Manchester
So this was a turn up for the books. I have written about this elsewhere on my blog, but it bears repeating, I genuinely never imagined I would ever see this band live and then I see them three times in a year. Go figure. And what a venue to see them in…a beautiful old Wesleyan chapel, long abandoned, hidden away above a dodgy night club, undiscovered for decades.
So we saw them twice. First night we watched from upstairs on the balcony and it was wonderful to hear those songs as they were meant to be heard for the first time. It was emotional. The only off putting aspect was the Gestapo like stewarding staff, stomping round in a threatening manner enforcing Jeff’s no photo policy with zealous glee. So for night two we headed downstairs and got as close to the front as we could, preferring to watch Scott and Julian rather than Jeff, who when not singing can seem a bit cold and distant. Once again it was a wonderful immersive experience, those twisted, tragic songs worming their way into my subconscious exactly as they did they first time I heard Aeroplane. Sublime.
28th May 2014
War on Drugs ~ Manchester Academy
WoD seem to be topping all of the EoY polls this year and there is no doubt it has been a breakthrough year for them. I admit I remain unconvinced. I certainly don’t actively dislike them, they are perfectly fine radio fare, they just don’t push my buttons for some reason. So I wasn’t exactly dragged to this, I always like to keep an open mind. To be fair they put on a good rock n roll show, a smidgen of Springsteen here, a sprinkle of Crazy Horse there. Adam Granduciel is clearly a fine guitarist, and one partial to a wig out…although in the spirit of democracy he did let the 2nd guitarist take a solo, just the one mind. It was entertaining enough, but did little to change my opinion.
14th May 2014
British Seapower performing From the Sea to the Land Beyond
Not a gig as such, but I felt worthy of inclusion due to BSP’s involvement. Performed as part of Sheffield DocFest this documentary about the Sea and its relationship with the British people, with a live soundtrack by BSP was something quite special and moving. This was an almost silent film made up of old archive footage detailing the lives of the sea, sea life, sailors, fisherman, lifeboatmen, factory workers and all other manner of connected working life. BSP with their backs to the crowd, but facing the screen, providing a soundtrack which was sad, rousing and elegiac in the very best ways. Simply wonderful…. If they opportunity ever comes up to see this live then please do so.
17th July 2014
Afghan Whigs ~ Manchester Cathedral
It’s always nice when a sinner comes to church. Gregg Dulli has lost none of his muscular alpha male charisma, and time seems to have done little to mellow him. The Afghan Whigs’ return was about as good as anyone could have hoped for. Bold and magnificent in every way.
22nd July 2014
The Chills ~ Brudenel Social Club, Leeds
It must be over 20 years since I last saw The Chills. I was visiting a friend at college in Portsmouth, following a painful dumping. To cheer me up he got me drunk and we bunked in to watch The Chills. As far as I can make out I was pretty much the only person I knew who liked them; but I would play Kaleidoscope World to death for anyone willing to listen. In a weird way I think they encapsulate everything I love about music; catchy 60s garage band inspired tunes, coupled with a deeply resonant emotional lyrics. Plus they came from New Zealand, which may as well have been the moon.
Martin Phillips is certainly not the youthful presence I remember, a little road hardened to look at these days. But once he starts speaking the old naïveté is still there. Even by Brudenell standards they are a shambolic bunch; bits of non-functioning equipment, set lists out of sequence, long stumbling pauses between songs. Slick is not a word which troubles them greatly, and that is the essence of their charm. I watch the whole thing wide eyed and I love this. Pink Frost is still one of the saddest songs ever written and it is a struggle to choke back the tears. I doubt whether this will be featuring on many folks gig of the year lists, but for and hour or so tonight I was a very happy boy.
16th August 2014
Neutral Milk Hotel ~ The Forum, London
So it all seemed too good to be true; and it was. ATP present Jabberwocky…. All of your favourite bands under one roof in docklands, with NMH headlining. Tickets purchased – check. Hotel booked & paid for – check. Train tickets booked and paid for – check. Then with less than a week to go, ATP cancel. They’ve not sold enough tickets and they’ve spent all of the cash they have brought in from ticket sales, so refunds are tricky. What’s more, they show no remorse, just a long whiny list of excuses as to why it was everybody else’s fault except theirs. Utter bollocks and bullshit to a word. Those useless fucks will never get another penny of mine. Wankers.
Anyway, NMH picked up an alternate gig at The Forum supported by The Ex. They were both excellent.
End of the Road Festival ~ Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
I’ve blogged about this so, I shall stick to the highlights.
5. Watching Unknown Mortal Orchestra stood inches away from Sean Lennon
4. The Flaming Lips soundcheck
3. John Grant, icy, majestic, emotional
2. Ezra Furman in a red mini dress dashing through the crowd to sing from the old Victorian stage
1. Gene Clarke No Other Band… Possibly the last ever performance, and one which I will never forget. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand up at the memory.
22nd September 2014
Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends ~ Band on the Wall, Manchester
Ezra Furman has certainly been the find of the year for me. Great songs, super tight band, committed and full of wired, unpredictable twists and turns. We first saw them back in Feb and it’s clear from tonight’s performance that a year on the road has taken its toll. They are still mesmerising to watch but they seem ragged, tired and a bit tetchy tonight. Ezra in particular looks strung out and on the verge of exhaustion – I do hope someone is keeping an eye out for his well being. Despite looking a little frayed round the edges, the songs suit this and they deliver another knock out performance.
26th September 2014
Liverpool Psychefest, Camp & Furnace, Liverpool
Another year on and back to PsychFest. To be fair this is less about the music and more about having a weekend away in Liverpool, enjoying the city, catching up with friends and catching the odd band. Musically speaking it’s a bit of an odd one. There seems to be a hard line definition of what counts as Psyche (loud, droney, slow) and little room for light and shade. So I shall just list my highlights, as there were a few bands where we bailed after one or two songs….
1. Big gins in the Mad Hatter Brewery…. okay this has nothing to do with music. It was however a welcome oasis at times; somewhere to sit back on a comfy sofa (in what is basically a garage) with a refreshing drink and watch the world pass by.
2. Les Big Byrd: Loud, aggressive garage rock for sure, but also a lot of fun. A singer with the best side burns since Mungo Jerry and a band festooned with lights, they brought a blast of madness and energy to proceedings.
3. Mazes: Once again with an early slot on the Saturday, I was worried they would end up with two blokes and a whippet watching, but a reasonable crowd made the effort. They were tight and sharp and sounding much more slick and road savvy since EOTR. Bouncy, bright and full of fizz they never fail to make me smile….can’t help wondering if Jack’s other outfit Ultimate Painting might have been better suited to this festival though.
4. Grumbling Fur: Another band that don’t really fit the PsychFest identikit, and were a welcome breath of fresh air. The words ‘we are now going to play some improvised music’ would normally send me running for the hills, but actually there was nothing to fear. Alexander Tucker sat at a table making strange electronic noises from a variety of weird and wonderful devices, while Dan O’Sullivan plays fuzz base, frequently Hendrix style with the guitar behind his head. Think an experimental Depeche Mode, but in a good way. Marvellous.
5. Islet: I know nothing about them other than they are Welsh, funky and had a habit of running through the crowd. They are top fun. Go see.
10th October 2014
Grant Lee Phillips & Howe Gelb – Deaf Institute, Manchester
I think we ordered tickets for this back in March… one of those gigs where you just think, ‘well that sounds interesting’. I knew of Grant from his late 80s/90s Grant Lee Buffalo guise as well as his earlier involvement in 80s Psyche revivalists Shiva Burlesque. Howe I know from Giant Sand, a band who have been round since the ark and I’m ashamed to say I’ve never listened to. This was one of those gigs you go to with zero expectations and ends up being an absolute delight. Grant was warm and funny and open to requests, while Howe spent as much time (if not more) regaling the crowd with weird anecdotes than he did singing. A night of warmth, humour and beautiful songs delivered by a couple of old battle hardened troubadours; it left us with a warm glow that lasted for days.
1st November 2014
The Wave Pictures ~ First Chop Brew Arm, Salford
Step 1… find the venue. As we wandered around some waste ground under the railway arches we spotted a dim light and a few equally confused wanderers peering out into the darkness. Up some rickety stairs through a tiny bar, then down a tight corridor to what can only be described a tin shed with a makeshift stage. Welcome to the First Chop Brew Arm… this looks like the perfect venue for The Wave Pictures. Support is from a boy(guitar) / girl (drums) duo called Schwervon! They are excellent fun, snappy Jonathon Richman-esque tunes interspersed with beat poetry and interpretive dance. I recommend them highly.
The Wave Pictures are ostensibly there to play Artistic Vice, a cover of a Daniel Johnston album they have recorded and is only on sale at gigs. They were DJ’s backing band a few years ago and David Tattersall shared a few stories from that tour, the most amusing being that DJ kept calling him Roger Taylor (from Queen). In reality it is a mixed set with plenty of Wave Pictures originals, old and new, thrown into a mix. This will be the third time I have seen them this year, and I think this is the best I have ever heard them. David’s solos more intense and thrilling than ever, and as a band they really suit this ramshackle venue. Towards the end Franick puts down the bass to accompany David on a few songs on the mandolin (Frandolin). I love this band so much… why aren’t they as big as U2?
6th December 2014
Metronomy & Teleman – Albert Hall, Manchester
The final gig of 2014 was very much a last minute decision. To be honest I never used to get Metronomy. They were one of those bands which I filed away under the ‘not really for me’ category. But the Love Letters album this year has really got under my skin. It’s echoes of old Phil Spector girl groups coupled with end of the pier organ and complex, human lyrical concerns just grabbed me a big way. Also their performance at Glastonbury this year (watched on TV) was a real highlight. Tonight they are supported by Teleman and boy have they beefed up their sound since I saw them back in May. Thomas’ voice is still light as a feather, but the songs overlaid with layers of electronic noise sound fierce and raw in this big room. A summer of festival sets has taught them a trick or two.
Some bands are just about the music. Four hairy blokes in plaid shirts…what more do you need? Well Metronomy are a band who understand how to put on a show; it may be unfashionable amongst the hipsters, but I like a band who try to entertain. Every detail was perfect. The white boxed in keyboards with a built in light show, the slick white suits, the choreographed (sort of) dance moves; all designed to make you smile…and move your feet. A set drawn heavily from the last two albums is delivered with verve, humour and proper showmanship and the crowd love every second of it. The only slightly wobbly moment came when Joe Mount described the lovely old Albert Hall as ‘shabby chic’. They even manage to throw in a cover of Here Comes the Sun; a wonderfully perverse choice for a chilly December evening. They ended on the punky thrash of of You Could Easily Have Me and totally go for it, with amps turned up to 11…a perfect end to the set. The final gig of 2014 was a bit special, I hope 2015 has as many surprises up its’ sleeve.