Back to writing about the best gigs of the year for the first time in three years.
Some statistics for my gig-going in 2022. I went to 36 shows (each festival is counted by number of days – so Infest is three days, so counts for three shows), and saw 106 live sets. I saw 101 unique bands, five of them more than once, at 30 venues, and my wife saw 35 of the sets with me. These gigs were in nine cities or towns, in two countries (the UK and USA).
/2020/not awarded (COVID)
/2019/Teeth of the Sea
/2018/The Young Gods
/2017/Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
/2016/Cubanate / Cold Waves V
Two new jobs and being in-and-out of work, as well as yet more life trials this year (my father being very ill indeed for a good proportion of the year), not to mention no longer living in London, have meant that I missed a lot of gigs, but that’s life, and I’m not sure I want to go back to the vast number that I used to attend.
Here are the twenty best shows I saw in 2022.
I saw The Scarlet Hour twice this year – the first time around a shorter set at Goth City, this second set a rather longer one at the Met in Whitby. Their sound, as I mentioned in a previous review, takes in elements of both classic Goth and also more modern Darkwave, as they weave between both with songs that use Tim’s impressive baritone voice to set a clear picture. They have a new album out early in 2023, and I’m genuinely fascinated to hear how they sound there, without being shrouded in dry ice and bathed in red light…
/Electrowerkz /London N1
Despite being a casual hip-hop fan for as long as I’ve been listening to my own choices in music, I’m a rare attendee at hip-hop shows. That’s probably my own fault, as I should hunt out more, but acts like dälek will have me buying a ticket in a flash. Something of an outlier, maybe, they mix industrial effects and shoegaze-influenced density alongside MC dälek’s terse, furious delivery, making for a sound that very much is unique, and this time around at Electrowerkz it was almost overwhelming. In volume, in sound, in delivery, and frankly it was quite, quite brilliant.
/Fox & Firkin, London SE13
Gigs during the summer weren’t all great fun, such was the oppressive heat at points, but there were a few shows that were unmissable across that period. One of those was in the unexpected location of the Fox & Firkin in Lewisham, where Alex Paterson showcased the first of what was to become a series of shows marking the 30th anniversary of U.F.Orb, as well as a selection of “greatest hits”. The Orb were always more than just post-club ambient, and this show proved it, moving between lengthy spacey ambient, low-key techno and fierce sweeps of noise. The highlight, though, was the wild, celebratory reaction as that sample finally arrived to herald a wondrous, closing Little Fluffy Clouds.
/Electric Ballroom /London NW1
Suede have now released four albums since they reformed, with a definite feel that they have decided to move on and continue to develop, rather than simply retreading the past. The latest album was the raw Autofiction, which was quite the change from the lush, widescreen releases that preceded it – but live, the band confirmed they remain a formidable force. This was one of two shows at the Electric Ballroom, where they fizzed through the entire new album, followed by a second set of older songs, both recent album tracks, old favourites and the odd B-side alike. For me, Autofiction sounded vastly better live than it does on record, but the highlights came in the second set – particularly a rare airing of very early B-side To The Birds, which while it might have been fan-service of the highest order, also was an amazing treat.
/Lafayette /London N1C
It’s weird to think that I was watching Desperate Journalist playing dank North London basement venues with an audience of mostly friends less than a decade ago, and in early 2022, I was at a shiny newish venue in King’s Cross watching them with 599 others at a sold-out show. A more confident, more rounded band live, that’s for sure, with an arsenal of fantastic songs (the list of what I thought they didn’t play was probably as long as the set), Desperate Journalist are now without a doubt A Thing. It is quite marvellous watching your friends succeed, and being great at what they do.
/Ramsgate Music Hall /Ramsgate
Something I’ve rather loved about moving to a new area has been discovering interesting new gig venues, and the best so far has been Ramsgate Music Hall. A small (150 capacity) venue that is much newer than the name suggests, with reasonable bar prices and a good amount of space (and excellent sound) – and easily within driving distance for a night out. The smaller size means up-and-coming bands suit the venue well, such as with Irish band Just Mustard, who made waves with their second album Heart Under. Owing some of their sound to shoegaze, live they are ferociously loud and jagged, the twin guitarists using a barrage of pedals to unleash noise that fills all the gaps – while vocalist Katie Ball’s voice echoes through the sonic chaos and never gets buried. A bracing hour, that’s for sure, but one that was absolutely worth the trip.
/Girls Against Boys
/The Garage /London N5
I think this was the first anniversary show of quite a few that I’ve attended where I actually saw the songs performed when they were released. I first saw GVSB back in 1996, when they were touring this album, and I’ve seen them on most of their visits to the UK since, but this felt a bit different. It’s been nearly a decade since they released new material – and indeed this show was exactly nine years since they last played London – and this show was resolutely one for the old-school fans, with the entire set (and encore) being songs from the era of their three most celebrated albums (Venus Luxure No.1 Baby, Cruise Yourself and House of GVSB) and related B-sides and rarities. The relaxed band were on impressive form, too, as they rolled out that two-bass rumble once again, and even found time to play their excellent cover of She’s Lost Control. A wonderful trip into the past.
/Spa Pavilion /Whitby
The first band I’ve seen in the Spa Pavilion at Whitby in some years was a band that I was determined not to miss on their first visit to the UK. Bootblacks impressed over lockdown with their outstanding album Thin Skies – a hyper-modern take on post-punk that had a sleek, glistening production that suited the songs the band wrote so well – and I had the distinct feeling that the made made quite a few new fans at their Whitby appearance at least. Mixing up older songs as well as material from Thin Skies gave a clear picture of the band’s sonic identity, and also only made me all the keener to hear new material that is potentially coming in 2023.
What turned out to be the final Infest staged at Bradford University – the announcement of the end of that relationship came later in the year – was a strange one for many of us, as we began to work out how these festivals worked again after a couple of years of not being able to do so. It felt tentative at points, but that wasn’t the fault of the bands. The three true highlights of the weekend were also linked in some way, unexpectedly. Matt Fanale’s Caustic project made a welcome return to the festival after fifteen years (!), reminding that Caustic’s punk-meets-industrial sound is always enormous entertainment live, and one of the highlights of that set was a guest appearance by grabyourface on a new take on Not Your Body, and the Saturday set by grabyourface was just as bracing. Then there was Fanale’s other appearance of the weekend, with KLACK, that got one of the biggest audiences of the weekend for a trip into New Beat, EBM and some well-chosen covers to close things out. Who knows where we’ll be next for Infest, but this was a great way to see out the twentieth I’ve attended.
/Church of St John-at-Hackney /London E5
Since Swans reactivated in 2010, I’ve now seen them four times, and Michael Gira solo three times. These latter shows couldn’t be more different to the parent band – where furious noise, volume and repetition characterise lengthy Swans shows, his solo shows are simply Gira’s voice and an acoustic guitar. Although that said, it’s still impressive just how much volume he manages with it. This time, as these solo shows often are, there were teases of new Swans tracks (four tracks, in fifty minutes, from the upcoming 2023 release apparently entitled The Beggar), with hints that we might be going back to expansive, lengthy tracks, as well as a few old favourites. These included a formidable, raging take on New Mind – not a track I’d ever have expected to hear in this form, but like everything else here, it was quite wonderful.
/The Forum /London NW5
One of a number of shows originally intended during 2020 that finally happened in 2022, this was Neubauten at last touring their excellent 2020 album Alles In Allem. We’re long past the point of people expecting the violent noise of “old” Neubauten – aside from the odd heckle here and there from those who still want to live in the past – and with almost all of the thoughtful recent album played at this show, there’s no doubting that it was a subdued show for much of it. That’s not to say it wasn’t fascinating, as they revealed the unusual sources of sonic effects, or rolled out yet another avant-garde instrument, or Blixa provided his ever sardonic commentary between songs. Of other songs played, though, a sublime Sonnenbarke, and a rampaging close with Redukt were the best versions of those songs I’ve ever heard live (and that’s saying something).
/Teeth of the Sea
/The Lexington /London N1
Teeth of the Sea are one of those bands I’ve seen quite a bit of over the past decade, as they’ve evolved way beyond their pysch-post rock roots, to become one of London’s greatest live acts. This show was postponed from 2021 – as many were – and to some extent saw the band retreading some of their previous ground (an equal number of tracks from MASTER and WRAITH, including yet another pulverising take on Black Strategy), but also honing those tracks to probably the best they will ever get. But it also, perhaps, gave us a hint of the future (a new album is apparently due for 2023), in the form of a glowering monster of a track that felt like it was about to consume us whole. TotS have always dabbled in the darker edges of their music, but the feeling here was that they are about to take us deeper into the abyss. I’m ready for it.
/The Tiger Lillies
/Soho Theatre /London W1
Despite having listened to this Soho institution for many years, 2022 was the first time I’d had the pleasure of one of their live shows. Based on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and Brecht/Weill’s later Threepenny Opera – to an extent – this was The Tiger Lillies adding their own irreverent spin on things, resulting in songs and pieces that were darkly funny and at times shockingly violent, while also drawing more than a few parallels with present day travails, as these kind of satirical works often do. It was also amazing to watch this band at work, as they swapped instruments and worked together seamlessly like cogs in a large, grimy machine. They even slyly saved a gloomy, slow-paced Mack the Knife for the encore.
/The Forum /London NW5
A short-notice show tacked onto the end of Download weekend turned out to be one of the most satisfying metal gigs of the year. Twenty-five years or so since I first saw the band live, and Deftones continue to amaze with their breadth and depth of their sound, with songs that don’t ever get old, and are way beyond the “Nu-Metal” tag they were rather unfairly lumped in with. Both ballads and metal ragers filled the set without complaint, and as well as the new and old songs, they even dropped in a few surprises in songs I don’t think we’ve ever heard live – or not heard for a long time in this form. There’s life in the old dog yet.
/Goth City 6
/Various Venues /Leeds
Goth City was moved to the summer in Leeds this year, and Leeds rewarded us by being blisteringly hot. The live sets across the weekend were a lot of fun still, though, and the two highlights for me were the Wharf Chambers headliners on Saturday and Sunday nights. Witch of the Vale astounded yet again, silencing the entire room as no-one wanted to risk breaking the spell of their downtempo songs, while The Golden Age of Nothing returned after a few years away with a savage, nasty sound that suited their gloomy, angry songs so, so well. A small, perfectly-formed festival that I only hope happens again.
/Hellripper at Incineration Festival
/The Underworld /London NW1
Incineration Festival’s return post-COVID was an entertaining day, but was let down somewhat for the appalling sound that Emperor’s set was rather shredded by. The highlight of the entire festival, though, was to be found at the Underworld, early in the evening. James McBain’s project Hellripper has been making waves for a while, with his thrilling take on classic thrash metal, and live – expanded to a four piece – they absolutely destroyed. Nothing is taken too seriously in the songs, but the band’s astonishing technical ability is deadly serious, and the base for a hugely enjoyable forty-minute set. By the time of the hyperspeed riffage, and surprisingly catchy hooks, of Vampire’s Grave, it was obvious we were in the presence of greatness. I cannot wait for the imminent Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags.
I’ve been writing about Bristol band SCALPING for some time, but thanks to COVID and scheduling issues, this show at Fabric has been my only chance to see them live. It was worth it, too, as they launched their impressive debut album VOID with a thunderous set that built like a techno mix, as the band weaved instrumental rock, industrial rhythms and raging electronics into a seamless hour or so. Also great were support Mandy, Indiana, a Manchester-based group that have a singer that delivers vocals in her native French, while the rest of the group punch out music that owes something to gloomy Post-Punk, but as much to searing experimental noise. The new generation of artists continues to give hope for the future as they tear boundary walls down.
Mandy, Indiana 4
/The Underworld /London NW1
Headswim always felt like a bit of a well-kept secret to a small group of people, particularly in the two decades since the band split. But somehow, encouraged by a fan community on social media, the band remastered and reissued the psych-grunge masterpiece Flood, and unexpectedly reformed for one show in Camden to mark the release. The show saw the band performing like they’d never been away from the opening swirls of Gone to Pot to the last notes of final encore track Hype. A room full of band devotees meant there were a lot of people singing every word, and it was perhaps notable that the band seemed as happy to see the crowd as it was the other way. Whether it was a one-off or not, it was an absolute privilege to be there.
My first return to Chicago and Cold Waves in six years – for the tenth anniversary of Cold Waves, this year a sprawling festival across four days – was an exhausting but thrilling weekend, full of highlights. ACTORS reminded just how brilliant a live band they are, before KITE blew my mind with an emotional, captivating show that delivered on all the hype I’d heard (and more besides), while Cyanotic were heavier, harder and better than ever. Stromkern returned after years away with their punchy industrial hip-hop and political fury all intact, but the weekend perhaps was all about the final two bands, both of whom have been struggling with the health issues of key members in recent times. Nitzer Ebb were back to full strength with Douglas McCarthy fronting things, and their newer club-like delivery seemed that much sharper here (particularly the thrilling run of hits at the end), while Front 242 put in a show for the ages as they said goodbye to Chicago (this was their last US tour), delivering a barrage of hits, rare tracks and even new material that was better than any industrial show I’ve ever seen.
/Nambucca /London N7
We’ve lost too many small gig venues over the years, and Nambucca in Holloway going this year was only the latest in an unpleasant trend. Frank Turner had long since immortalised the venue in song, as it was where he started out as a solo artist, and when closure was unexpectedly announced he swiftly arranged for a gig on the final weekend (for which we managed to snag two tickets). A sweaty, crammed show that saw Frank, his guitar and a few hundred people roar through a host of old favourites, as well as a few stories about his time and the people at the venue, it culminated in Frank turning off his microphone and letting the crowd sing all of The Ballad of Me and My Friends (note-perfect, natch), and a visibly emotional Frank was unable to say much afterward. One of the greatest and most emotional shows I’ve ever attended, I won’t see the like of that again.