This year’s statistics – I saw 51 days-worth of gigs, and 156 live sets. It featured 140 different bands, and I saw sixteen twice – and all that lot were in two countries (England and Belgium) and four different cities (London, Bradford, Leeds and Sint-Niklaas).
2017: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
2016: Cubanate / Cold Waves V
2015: Mercury Rev
2014: Arcade Fire
2008: Amanda Palmer
2007: The Young Gods
2006: Front Line Assembly
2004: not recorded
It has been a strange year gig-wise, though. Not everything was great, frankly, and as we’ve noted for a while, there has been a continuation of the ever-increasing expense of gig-going, not to mention a continuing problem of poor behaviour at gigs, the top of which continues to be the amount of talking that goes on in the background of the shows that we attend.
But less of the negative. Here are the twenty best shows I saw in 2018.
amodelofcontrol.com on Facebook
Alter Red’s latest album just missed inclusion in my top albums of 2018, but the album launch gig for it is certainly worth mentioning here. In a small venue in Dalston, the band’s souped-up industrial rock rattled the walls and sounded great with a full five-piece band (and it was the last time with that line-up, too, as I recall), as they ran through the whole album in order. A world away from their earlier, more theatrical material, this sleeker sound suits them much better, as far as I’m concerned, and this performance was the best of theirs I’ve seen in the past decade.
3TEETH enter 2019 with their third album on the way, signed to a big metal label and with a whole host of new metalhead fans in the bag. Which points to greater things for this band I’ve been following since the early days, and this show was evidence of their huge leaps forward. Now a five-piece live, their live sound has been transformed into a slavering beast that is constantly snapping at your senses and inciting all kinds of craziness in the pit. Which is, frankly, exactly as it should be, and finally does this excellent band justice (prior to this, they’ve never quite matched the sharpness of their recorded material). I can’t imagine that they’ll be playing venues as small as this in the future, either – bring on the third album.
O2 Academy Islington, N1
Not the only example of a nominally support band blowing the headliners off the stage, but this was an unexpected one. For one reason or another, the headlining Front Line Assembly show that night was the weakest that I’ve seen them, beset by sound issues and a late-running night that cut their set short. Die Krupps beforehand, though, were blazing with energy and fury and absolutely blasted through their set, as usual mixing up a few newer songs (including an entertainingly blunt take on Trump in new song Fuck You) with old favourites. And what old favourites – about five seconds into the set, once the riffs of The Dawning of Doom kicked in, the whole crowd was bouncing and bellowing along, and the feelgood nature kept on through the whole night. It is worth bearing in mind that 2019 marks thirty-nine years since they first formed.
O2 Academy Islington, N1
It had been a long time since I last saw Clawfinger – 2001, in fact, when they supported Rammstein at Brixton – so I was a little worried about how this show would go. I need not have worried, as it happened – a riotous run through the entirety of their much-loved debut Deaf Dumb Blind, one B-side from the era (“B-sides remain B-sides for a reason“, quipped vocalist Zak Tell as he introduced it), then a collection of other hits that closed off, as usual, with a mass singalong to Do What I Say. Entirely a show of nostalgia, sure, but when bands remain this great live after twenty-five years, they’ve earned the right to do so.
Zeal & Ardor
Electric Ballroom, NW1
A concept born from frankly racist suggestions on 4Chan, the turning that back into an exceptional band that melds deep-south spiritual music with black metal – and making it work – is absolutely something to be applauded. Live, though, it is something else. Watching an entire crowd – and one that was mixed-race, mixed-sex to boot – chanting and stamping along to the likes of Gravedigger’s Chant and Devil Is Me was an awesome feeling, and made me feel that there is better that can be achieved with maligned styles of music – and this is one of them. Will it change entrenched attitudes? Sadly not, I suspect, but wouldn’t it be great if it did?
The Roundhouse, NW1
One of the early-year “In the Round” shows at the Roundhouse, this was Nadine Shah staking her claim as one of the most intelligent and forceful songwriters around at the moment. Covering all parts of her career to date – and with a number of extended monologues talking about the genesis and thinking behind some of her songs – it was rightly dominated by the seething anger across her latest album Holiday Destination, which tore into the isolationist nature of Brexit, and indeed the hypocrisy of some of it, too, and the songs live were even angrier than on record. We need more like her, that’s for sure.
Oval Space, E2
I’ve seen Russian Circles a few times now, but at no point before have they had quite this power and heft in their sound. This lengthy, measured set was one of brutal emotional power, something that is pretty difficult to get right when you are an instrumental band. I feel that the post-metal tag that Russian Circles are often lumbered with rather sells them short – at points they are a pulverisingly heavy metal band, at others they are a delicate, post-rock band, but at all times they are absolutely fascinating to watch and listen to, and are also seriously accomplished musicians, too.
Rough Trade East, E1
Likely the last time I’ll get the chance to see this band in such a small venue, that’s for sure. In fact this was my first time seeing IDLES, too, and I picked a doozy of a time to do it. A few hundred people with me, a mainly request-based set, and a riotous-but-friendly atmosphere that only seemed to spur on a band who I think realised that they were on the cusp of greater success (later that week their second album went to #5 in the UK album charts). They are rough-and-ready live, but that’s the point – their lyrics acknowledge their own personal flaws, and their drive to improve themselves and the world around them – and their ability to be inclusive and accepting means that live it is a hugely enjoyable show.
The Horse and Groom, SE1
Philip Jeays doesn’t play live a lot any more, and more’s the pity, going on this show. As usual with his semi-annual Christmas shows, this was almost entirely by request – a raffle ticket system means that each ticket holder has a chance of picking a song, and as luck would have it my number got drawn early on (I picked This Is The Age of the Naked Emperors, by the way). Obviously this method means each of his shows are quite different, and this one had a fair number of his darker, sadder ballads, perhaps – including an awesomely heartbroken new song called November – before picking up with a number of his “standards” by the end. Jeays remains an exceptional performer, and really does deserve to be heard by a much wider audience. So consider this your recommendation to go and hunt out his extensive back-catalogue now.
Teeth of the Sea
Corsica Studios, SE17
Teeth of the Sea have been near the top of this list a few times in recent years, and this year is no exception as they prepare to release their new album Wraith. Now reduced to a three-piece, they have remarkably found ways to be even louder and even more punishing an experience live, by increased use of electronics. This show was a sweltering one, too, in the cramped arches of Corsica Studios, at the height of the summer heatwave, but I wouldn’t have left this set for the world. They played a number of the new songs, including the threatening Hiraeth that has levels of bass that might be outlawed in some countries under weapons treaties, and reworked older songs in a torrent of noise. Outright refusing to stay still, Teeth of the Sea are always worth seeing live because of this, as you never quite know what to expect. The only thing I will warn? Bring earplugs. Where they are going, you’re gonna need them.
Review: Memory of a Festival: 031
I made my first visit to Goth City in Leeds in October (I was unable to make Whitby the following weekend), and had a great time at a smaller festival that was exceptionally well organised (and in a great venue, too). A number of bands made an impression, too – including the opening band on the first night, The Golden Age of Nothing. I’ve written about them at length before on this site, but not had the chance to see them live until now. A rawer, harsher sound live, too, which was no bad thing, and the set included a few new songs from their upcoming new album that clearly promises great things. Look out for more about the band on amodelofcontrol.com in the new year.
The following night was rather dominated by the return of two bands. The Way of All Flesh – a longtime Sheffield goth band – returned with a new singer after the best part of a decade away, and their propulsive, high-tempo sound was impressively intact and aside from a few nerves, the new singer fitted in well. Dare we hope for new material? Finally, Rome Burns closed off the night with something of a revelation for me, in that I was never sure I liked them in the past. Clearly I was wrong, as they were excellent here, the intelligent song-writing and intriguing subject matters – not to mention a band clearly loving doing what they do – making for a fascinating set, and an impressive close to a great weekend.
LOCKS launched their debut album Skeletal Blues with an excellent show at a local venue that has become one of our “go to” places to see local live music – a reasonable size, good sound system and generally the gigs are free, too. This particular show was one of LOCKS’ strongest yet, too, the obvious confidence from the feedback to the new album certainly helping, and it was also a neat reminder of how great a live band they are. It was also notable for the support that came from Lonely Tourist, in this instance Paul Tierney solo. His witty stories-as-songs are both entertaining and have a bitter political undertow, and more than once wrong-footed us as songs pivoted in unexpected directions. A great night, this.
The only show of the “main” shows at Meltdown that I saw this year (I also caught one of the Sunday afternoon shows outside), this was unusual in being as notable for the support act as it was for the headliner. Sure, Mogwai were as great as ever – the sixth time I’ve seen them across the past two decades or so – and aside from it being unusually quiet (relatively!) by their standards, this was another excellent show. But the support Kathryn Joseph was mesmerising. She was on a piano, while another performer was on a jumble of synths and percussion, and the songs she played coiled up and around your senses, sometimes featherlight, others with hammer-smashing force. One of the few artists this year where I’ve been compelled to go and search out all their material immediately after a show.
It was great to be back at BIMFest after a couple of editions missed, and the new venue in Sint-Niklaas (next time I’m staying in Sint-Niklaas, rather than going back to Antwerp, I can tell you) is an impressive one. The best of the weekend performances both came on the Friday night. I’ve wanted to see Shannon Funchess’ Light Asylum forever, and here she didn’t disappoint – her forceful presence and astonishing voice really elevating the electronic songs to really make them sound unique.
Then there was Clock DVA – who unlike previous shows I’ve seen from them in the past decade, were including much more of their older material (mainly from Man-Amplified and Buried Dreams), and appropriately it was harder, heavier and louder. The sheer malevolence of the sound, though, seemed to put off a few – the crowd rather drifted away later on – but more fool them, as this was the more experimental, curious end of industrial history putting in an exceptional performance.
Review: Memory of a Festival: 030
The twentieth Infest pulled out all the stops – including expanding to a fourth day for this one time only – and then pulled a serious rabbit out of the hat in having Peter Hook and the Light headline the first night. A set mostly based around Joy Divison songs (with a handful of New Order favourites to close out, including a frankly fucking joyous Temptation) turned out to be exactly the right call, as the packed crowd went nowhere and seemed – like my wife and I – to be enjoying every single minute.
Two of the opening bands on different days turned out to be highlights, too. The anarchic, industrial punk-and-performance poetry of Flesh Eating Foundation was fun and angry in equal measures, with an unpredictability to their performance that added an unexpected edge, that’s for sure, while Sunday openers Promenade Cinema provided a triumphant, sleek performance with cracking songs and even dealt with a short burst of a fire alarm without breaking sweat. It was, by the way, this show that started me considering the album of the year award that they got from this site only a few weeks ago. In addition to those, ACTORS proved just how great a post-punk band they are (and how many fantastic songs they have), while Cubanate finally made it to Infest and delivered exactly the pummelling industrial show we’d been hoping for.
The Roundhouse, NW1
I got the Frank Turner bug fairly late on, comparatively, and it took me even longer to finally see him live. But I’ve now caught up a bit, and this was the best one yet. A packed show with a few thousand others all singing along to every word, and that wonderful feeling of community that his music and shows brings made this an enormously enjoyable show – even if I was there in the crowd on my own.
Talking to other Turner fans, too, you find that there are different songs that mean so much to different people – for me a number of mine were played here, starting with an opening roar through Eulogy, before a crushing emotional hit for me of Wessex Boy and Peggy Sang The Blues back-to-back later on. He’s lived a very different life to me, but somehow writes songs that I see through my own prism of experience, which can make elements of his shows difficult to deal with. But, music is a salve to the emotions, right? This was catharsis in the best possible way.
The Garage, N5
The band I’ve seen more than any other returned for a short run of UK gigs at the end of the year, to mark two decades since their landmark album www.pitchshifter.com, an album that proved this band were capable of reaching a wider audience. Judging on this sold-out show (and the positive reports from the rest of the tour too), the band were as happy to be back as the raucous crowd were, with the opening Microwaved almost entirely bellowed back by the crowd. Sure, JS Clayden had managed to injure himself earlier in the week, but he was no less muted for that and even got a few guests (Mikey from Sikth and Colin from Hundred Reasons) to help on a couple of tracks. This was more than a little bit of a triumphant return, that I suspect is unlikely to be repeated, and was ably assisted by an excellent set from their long-time touring buddies in earthtone9.
Review: Memory of a Festival: 029
Yes, I know Nick Cave’s O2 show last year was the top show of 2017 on this site, and you know what? This wasn’t far off as brilliant. A shorter set as befitted headlining a day-long festival, there were fewer of the Skeleton Tree songs and a few different oldies (Do You Love Me and Loverman were particular highlights), but all of it was put in the shade by the unexpected appearance of Kylie Minogue to join Nick and the band in performing Where The Wild Roses Grow, a song my wife and I (it was our first dance song at our wedding) never, ever thought we’d hear live. Elsewhere on the day, too. St Vincent provided a dayglo orange, electro-rock tour de force across an hour or so that helped to finally get my head around MASSEDUCTION, and had that Nick Cave set not happened, I’d still be raving solely about St Vincent from this day.
The Dresden Dolls
The Dome, NW5
We picked up tickets for the first of the two – and long-awaited – shows at the Troxy months before, and took a chance on pouncing on this short-notice show too. After all, it had been over twelve years since we last saw The Dresden Dolls on these shows, and who knows if we’ll have another chance? Thanks to the awful crowd at the Troxy – drunk idiots, people talking that even ignored Amanda Palmer’s requests to shut the fuck up – The Dome “secret” show was vastly better. Nearly three hours of show, a whole host of unexpected songs, old favourites and covers I’d never heard before (includng an astonishing version of Brel’s Amsterdam), this was a reminder of why I loved the band in the first place.
The Young Gods have long been an incredible live band, but after five or so years since I last saw them – and with a new album finally due in the New Year – it was refreshing to have their reputation reinforced. Part of the Black Celebration bill (itself an event returning after a good many years), they were head and shoulders above the rest of the bands on the day that felt rather subdued in comparison to the Swiss trio. They bookended the set with a handful of quasi-prog industrial tracks, including the elegant new single Figure Sans Nom, but it was the forty-five minutes in the middle that brought the day alive. Most of TV Sky (including a staggering return of The Night Dance to the set after many years), a smattering of other eighties and nineties classics, and the general sense that even after thirty years, The Young Gods still have a vitality and energy unsurpassed. Judging on the awestruck comments around me afterward, they also made a whole host of new fans that day, too. Easily the finest live show I saw all year.