Countdown: 2014: Gigs

This year: 170 bands, 57 days-worth of gigs. Five festivals, three countries, eight cities/towns. From venues holding thousands to those holding tens. Due to personal issues and, frankly, being too damned busy for much of the year, I didn’t get to write about many of them aside from the festivals, so writing this list has really taxed the powers of my memory.

Countdown: 2014

02-Dec: Best Compilations and reissues
09-Dec: Best Tracks
16-Dec: Best Albums
30-Dec: Best Gigs

Countdown: Gigs

2013: Kraftwerk
2012: Laibach
2010: Neurosis
2009: Spiritualized
2008: Amanda Palmer
2007: The Young Gods
2006: not recorded
2005: not recorded
2004: not recorded

I’ve also kept it down to a top twenty of shows, which in some cases include multiple bands in one entry (mainly for festivals). Anyway, to close off 2014, and finally start marching it out of the door, here are the top twenty gigs of 2014:

This Morn’ Omina/Seabound
Resistanz 2014, Sheffield

I was so happy when TMO got announced for Resistanz – mainly for selfish reasons, as despite listening to them for years, I’d never managed to be in the right place to see them live. I picked the right time, too – the full-on tribal assault (three drummers, one on electronics, Mika Goedrijk on vocals and incantations) was unleashed, and it was amazing. All of their best tracks, all hit astonishing highs, and proof, as if any was needed, that Mika and his band are the masters of tribal industrial – the only act that even come close are iVardensphere. Also of note over the same weekend was Seabound’s triumphant return – finally delivering their long-held recorded brilliance to the same level on stage. Aside from a couple of minor sound issues, Seabound were all but flawless, engaging the crowd like I’ve never seen and Frank Spinath brimming with confidence as frontman. They don’t play live much anymore, but here’s hoping they do again, and soon.

St. Vincent
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

It is perhaps safe to say that 2014 has been the year that St. Vincent really made it. Album of the year accolades, lots and lots of press attention generally (including some spellbinding US primetime TV appearances), and well-attended tours too – of which I saw an early incarnation of the current one in London. She certainly isn’t your average performer – at points it was near-performance art that happened to be a live rock show. Her quirky, off-kilter music switches effortlessly between deadly serious and rather more light-hearted, and at no point during the show did she lose my attention. Also, is there a better guitarist in alternative music at the moment?

Michael Gira
St John-at-Hackney, London

I saw Swans again this year, but that show – partly thanks to the people next to me who spent most of the show talking – didn’t stick in the mind like Gira’s solo show in March did. Firstly, this was a rare chance nowadays to catch him solo, but also in a confines of a large, beautiful church. None of the intensity of a Swans show was lost, either, and in some cases he made songs sound as loud as they would with a full band, while just using his voice and an acoustic guitar. Some feat when he played songs like Oxygen. Also, this was a fascinating look back at a past he’s increasingly left behind with Swans in the live environment. There were unexpected old songs, and old favourites too, not to mention the odd new(ish) one. But the moment that made it worth the money of attending alone? Hearing the heartbreak of Love Will Save You live. I might just have squeaked with joy when I recognised it.

KOKO, London

Flashback ten years or so, to the first time I saw 65DoS live. A hyperactive foursome playing spellbinding, ecstatic post-rock-glitch-electronics that dispenses with the quiet bits and simply aims for the stars, at the bottom of a four-band bill. Ten years on, quite a few albums later and an awful lot better known, the band chose to revisit their debut album in full, and play the new one too. It showed the joy of the old, and the joy of the new – and was still amazing from start to finish. Their next project is soundtracking a video game, and after the albums, the film scores, the experimentation, I find it impossible to believe they won’t pull this one off too.

Heaven, London

Despite the lengthy period away, it is clear that Godflesh haven’t changed a great deal. But then, why should they? Other bands have tried to sound like them, and/or take the sound further, but the rough, confrontational sounds of Godflesh still sound rather unique. So it was here, with a punishing set that started with the new, and bulldozed through with the old too. Needless to say, if you weren’t a Godflesh fan then, you won’t be now either, but that’s not the point. One of the more punishing live shows I saw in 2014, even more so for featuring Loop supporting, who were the single loudest band I’ve ever heard live in my life.

Yet another band I’d never seen before, seeing them in the oh-so-slightly dingy confines of Dingwalls seemed about right. True to their long-held reputation, too, this was a chaotic show, with dizzying swapping of instruments during and after songs, and a band just as happy playing their (very good) new material as they were the old. It also went some way beyond curfew, too, after an over enthusiastic stagediver managed to scupper a first attempt at A Perfect Teenhood, meaning they had to start it again. No complaints here…

A triumphant return, this – Andy back onstage after beating serious illness, the band debuting punchy new material and rolling out many old favourites too. Maybe there was a little less humour punctuating proceedings than usual, but maybe that was because they decided they wanted to cram more songs in instead (and if so, no complaints from me). Increasingly, though, this band are very much a band who happen to write funny songs, rather than being a dreaded comedy band – the distinction is important. Otherwise, things were capped off by the very much unexpected appearance of a Creaming Jesus song in the encore. Something I can’t imagine will be repeated often…

The Forum, London

Another return from illness, actually – and similarly serious – Nergal from Behemoth seemed to have channelled what he had been through into an extraordinary show that for me confirmed that Behemoth are the most important extreme metal band around at the moment. Their new album The Satanist dominated the set, of course, but that was no problem with material as good as it is, and the jaw-dropping finale of O Father O Satan O Sun was one that will stick in my mind for years, goat horn masks and all.

Manic Street Preachers
The Roundhouse, London

I actually saw the Manics twice this year – a band I’ve somehow never seen live before (doubly surprising, perhaps, with my partner’s utter love of the band) – the first time in April at Brixton was a more regular show, with a good spread of material from across their history and a few surprises. The latter included a few songs from The Holy Bible that they hadn’t apparently played live in years, so it was no great surprise to see them finally tackle *that* album in full in a tour in December. We saw them at the first of the Roundhouse shows, and the atmosphere was certainly different, too – a sense of “will it work out” from the crowd, and a sense of “we must get through this” from the band. That they did, and that it was so good, are both reasons to celebrate. The Holy Bible is one of those albums that fans have got obsessed over to an insane degree over the years, but the whole album is still a very striking one, and live it took on new dimensions. I never expected Mausoleum, for one, to become a fist-pumping anthem, while 4st 7lbs is still as chilling as it always was. But the whole album works surprisingly well live, the scorching fury and power transmitted brilliantly, even it can be a bit draining all in one hit.

BIMFest, Antwerp

Cocksure’s show at Cold Waves (of which more later) was perhaps the one weak point, the one time in the weekend where the sound balance failed the band and robbed them of their impact. So it was a massive relief to find no such problems in Antwerp, with a ripping forty-five minutes that stuck to all of their best material and barely paused for breath…until Chris Connelly donned a cowboy hat and closed things with a glorious Beers, Steers and Queers that was every bit as bad and wrong as it always was. One corner of nineties industrial that hasn’t been just looking back to the past, mind, it has just kept it’s mind in the gutter with fantastic results.

New Model Army
The Forum, London

To the amazement of many of my friends, this year’s London NMA Christmas show was my first NMA show. I think that is because I’ve had not much more than a passing interest in the band – I’ve long since known many of their older songs, but I can’t say I’ve been buying every new album as it comes out in recent times. I’m now wondering, however, how I missed this before. An epic, near three-hour show that covered all corners of their history, doing an impressive job of playing as much as was possible in the time. Also, a version of Vagabonds involving Ed Alleyne-Johnson and no less than six drummers was something else. But it wasn’t just the music – it was also the unexpected friendliness of the crowd, punters happily chatting to the next person at the bar whether they knew them or not, and a general sense of togetherness that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the likes of at a gig before. I’m fairly certain that, time allowing, I’ll be going again next time.

Mogwai/The Twilight Sad
KOKO, London

I saw Mogwai twice this year (after not seeing them live for eleven years or more), and of the two shows, this one just about shades it. The RFH show in January was good – very good, in fact – but this show had a better balance of songs for me (and played songs I’ve never heard live, either) – and was even louder. This latter point is important, I find, for Mogwai – their use of extreme dynamics in their sound means that the trade-off between quiet and REALLY FUCKING LOUD becomes even more pronounced, and this resulted in scorching takes on Christmas Steps and Like Herod in particular. Mogwai haven’t always been so consistent on record, to my ears, but live they remain an untouchable, unstoppable force. They were also ably supported by compatriots The Twilight Sad, whose use of post-rock, shoegaze and dramatic power in their songs seemed to go down very well at this show. Also worth mentioning is The Twilight Sad’s look back at their debut album, which they played in full in May in Hoxton, that was also a hugely enjoyable, if rather intense, experience.


Scala, London

Twenty years of existence of any band is something to celebrate, but increasingly dEUS seem like survivors from another age. Like chameleons, they have changed and adapted their sound with almost every album, seemingly appealing to new audiences along the way but never losing their core of fans, who, like me, have in many cases been there since the first album. The unexpected announcement of a small run of shows in December made more sense when the Selected Songs 1994-2014 compilation was announced, and unsurprisingly as a result this show was a trip into their past. Over two hours of it, in fact, that saw rarely-played gems (opening with via, for a start) rubbing shoulders with old hits. What did come out of the show to me, though, was the deep melancholy that pervades the heart of many of their songs. A rare show that had me shedding a tear or two at one song in particular, this is what bands I hold close do – create that emotional connection to the songs that maybe relate to a time of life, or event, or just simply resonate with your own life. As a result, this was an emotional rollercoaster of a show that maybe brought back a few unwanted memories, but I still loved every minute of it.

Underworld, London

Ever since this stellar show, I’ve been trying to think of any other band I’ve seen live in recent years that were this much fun. Yeah, Rammstein are hugely entertaining, for example, but they aren’t out meeting and greeting with their fans before and after the show, or getting involved with them online either, as Arnocorps do (that might be down to the fire and explosives, mind). But more than that, Arnocorps recognise that their fans are vitally important in buying into the whole concept of the look and sound of the band, and as a result, the whole room went nuts from the off, blurring the lines between band and fans with stagedivers (both ways – band and fans!), guest gang vocals, stage invasions, and all kinds of other silliness. We left the show with huge grins on our faces – the job of Arnocorps well done. Hopefully they’ll be back (Sorry).

As I noted last week, Neubauten’s latest album needs to be seen live (as the band intended) – and it is one hell of a show. One that takes in music of the First World War, poets of the time, humour, satire, and deeply serious and sad reflection on the senseless waste of life. Neubauten’s use of their own, created instruments as always also works brilliantly well, with the clanking of the war machinery present and correct. But as the commemoration it was meant to be, first and foremost, this was a thought-provoking, fascinating show that passed by all too quickly. And with Neubauten’s live appearances becoming less and less common, this was a night to cherish in many ways.

Royal Albert Hall, London

Now, I’ve seen Suede a few times over the years (going back as far as ’96), but this show was another level again. A Royal Albert Hall show, for one, to do all of Dog Man Star (complete with string section to assist). That was good enough, but then the encore took things even further, and better. A handful of B-sides from the era (including a jaw-dropping Whipsnade, only the second time they’ve ever played it), a few “hits” and fan favourites, and the tour de force – an a capella take on The Living Dead that left the otherwise noisy crowd speechless. Suede pulled out all the stops for this show, and delivered what is likely to be a show they will never better. Also, by the way, support act Eagulls were great – a raucous, Killing Joke-esque post-punk sound – although they perhaps would fare better in a much smaller venue than the cavernous confines of the RAH…

Emperor/Hatebreed/Rotting Christ/Evil Scarecrow
Bloodstock Open Air 2014, Derbyshire

Of the various festivals I attended this year, few moments from them are going to stick in the memory like seeing Emperor headlining on my birthday (after waiting not far off the best part of two decades to see them live). Emperor absolutely owned Bloodstock this year – a scorching run through their still brilliant debut album (and in doing so helped shed new light on some songs, and transform my opinions of others, in particular the closing Inno A Satana), before an encore of a couple of B-sides and then, to top it all off, an absolutely immense take on Bathory’s A Fine Day to Die. The ultimate in Black Metal bands apparently signing off on an unassailable high.

The thing is, though, some of the other bands over the weekend impressed and amazed, too. Hatebreed, for a start, turned out to be far better than I ever thought, a hurricane of hardcore, riffs, and positivity, while Rotting Christ deserved to be headlining bigger stages than their second stage slot on the Friday night, delivering a rampaging, tribal-death-metal tour de force. Evil Scarecrow stepped up to the main stage, too, surprising everyone (including themselves) by drawing the biggest crowd aside from the headliners all weekend…at 1100 on a Saturday morning. Clearly dancing like loons as space Crab(ulon)s or robots was what we needed to clear our heads…

Infest 2014, Bradford

LEGEND had been on my live wishlist for a while after their debut album dropped (two years ago now), so I was very happy to find them on the Infest bill – and they didn’t disappoint. By far and away the best band at Infest (and most other places I attended this year, for that matter), Legend played for just thirty-five minutes and blew us away. Many of us already knew how great their debut release Fearless was/is, and those that didn’t were quickly converted and snapping up the remaining stock from the stalls afterward (it took three minutes to clear it out). Their show – lit by simple white spotlights and a fair amount of dry ice, and that’s it – is one of intensity, of a rock band who happen to have taken up synths rather than guitars, and it works so brilliantly. Part of this is down to Krummi’s onstage charisma, with his delivery pulling the band to extraordinary heights with him. I can’t wait to have the chance to see this again in 2015.

Cold Waves III, Chicago

There wasn’t a lot better than Emperor this year, but there were a few things. Cold Waves as a whole, for a start. I’ve been itching to get over to Chicago to do one of these for a while now, and this year, I got my chance. So, Daisy and I headed over for a week, staying with friends over there, and had a great time in the city.

Where do I start with the festival? Cyanotic opened the weekend, and their full-band show was to my mind a better one than the Infest show – their songs kicked so much harder in this environment (and with a hometown crowd, too). SMP’s hip-hop/industrial-rock hybrid was great, too, even if my parner really didn’t agree (and additional points for the searing Christ Analogue track, too). 3 TEETH delivered, broadly, on their recorded promise, while Youth Code far surpassed it the following night – I’m struggling to recall the last time I saw an industrial show with so much furious energy.

Then there was Caustic, who delivered a well-rounded show to open Saturday. Otherwise, Acumen Nation provided the most emotional set of the weekend, with a ten-song blast covering all of their career (and some of my favourite songs) – but in some ways the weekend was owned by the headliners. Fear Factory rolled back the years and brought all the hits on Friday night (and the craziest moshpit in a while, too) – and crucially looked like they were having a ball doing so, too – while Front 242 on Saturday dug very deep and did a set mainly based around their 80s material. As a result they were nearly as good as they were in Montreal in 2011 at Kinetik – which is high praise indeed from me.

Yeah, so the trip cost us a fortune, but it was worth all of it, and I’m intending on doing it all over again in 2015…

Arcade Fire
Hyde Park, London

As an aide memoire, I wrote the following about this show the morning after, as I was still basking in the glow of such an incredible show.

“I was thinking post-gig maybe the reason I attend so many gigs is because it’s like some form of addiction – in that I’m chasing that euphoric high that you only get once in a while, when a band are just *perfect*. Still, for nights like that, I’m happy to keep feeding that addiction..”

Seriously, it was that good. Two hours of an epic show, one that made me want to dance, cry, laugh, and sing along, one that had no weak moments and concluded with one of the most heartwarming singalongs I’ve ever been involved in (to Wake Up, of course). There was no way this was going to be anything other than the best gig I saw in 2014, and so it proved.

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