Countdown: 2015: Gigs

2015 in gigs: 70 days, 165 live sets, 154 unique bands, forty venues, seven cities, four festivals (and each of those festivals in a different town/city), three countries, two continents.

Countdown: 2015

01-Dec: Best Compilations and reissues
08-Dec: Best Tracks
15-Dec: Best Albums
today: Best Gigs

Countdown: Gigs

2014: Arcade Fire
2013: Kraftwerk
2012: Laibach
2010: Neurosis
2009: Spiritualized
2008: Amanda Palmer
2007: The Young Gods
2006: Front Line Assembly
2005: Various
2004: not recorded

There were great gigs, not-so-great gigs, some I’ve already forgotten, some that will remain in the memory for ever. There were quite a few that were just “ok”, too.

Needless to say this is by no means an exhaustive list – just a short foray into the best of the shows I saw in 2015. Getting married in 2016 means that I’m likely to see less shows, but there are already a few in the diary…

Number_20Fear Factory
The Forum, Kentish Town
13-December 2015

Fear Factory at Cold Waves last year were great, but once they announced Demanufacture shows I pounced on tickets. One of the greatest industrial metal albums in full? That, and some old favourites in the encore too? Burton was in fine voice for the most part, and it was also a reminder how deep that album goes – all killer, no filler. That, and New Breed is still a hell of a cybernetic thrill live.

The Dome, Tufnell Park
09-June 2015

I saw HEALTH last on their second album tour, back in 2009 sometime before I moved back to London. They were good there, but here they were another level entirely. One of the tightest live bands I’ve ever seen, their material jumps between styles and tempos frequently, and the band don’t even blink or need to look at each other to pick up the next movement. That their new material is their best yet just made the gig even more enjoyable and impressive.

The Garage, Highbury
19-February 2015

Yeah, ok, it wasn’t quite the real Snot – lead singer Lynn Strait of course died back in 1998 – but this was a pretty good go. Back with another new vocalist – this time Carl Bensley – they toured the whole of Get Some, and it was wonderful fun. They never played the UK first time around, so this was a set making up for lost time, and from the off – they of course opened with their titular anthem, and being in the forward part of the crowd, the result was like letting off a grenade in a sealed metal box, and being inside when it happened – there was a baying crowd loving every minute of it. A crazy, crazy show that I was so, so happy to see.

Brighton Dome
16-November 2015

The first live show I’ve ever seen in Brighton, this was a wet, cold autumnal Monday night brightened up enormously by how great the band were. Lauren Mayberry is a forceful presence onstage, bouncing around and, like her bandmates, clearly loving their time in the spotlight. Their punchy electro dance comes across well live, but nothing works quite like the ecstatic drop of Clearest Blue that nearly took the roof off here.

O2 Academy Brixton
08-November 2015

I first saw Garbage on their first UK tour, at the-then Leeds Town & Country club, and it cemented my love of the band that has endured over twenty years. Yes, this was purely a nostalgia trip – first album in it’s entirety, with almost all of the stellar B-sides too – but what a trip. The band looked their happiest in years, we fans were ecstatic (once initial sound gremlins had been solved!). Good times.

Number_15Suzanne Vega
Union Chapel, Islington
18-June 2015

Another nostalgia trip of sorts was this great show at the Union Chapel, where Vega’s tour celebrating 30 years of her career touched down in London. It was notable for me feeling like one of the youngest in the room, for a start, but that was quickly put aside as I was cast into various moments of my past where her songs soundtracked parts of my life (I heard a lot of her music from my dad as a kid and teenager). She endures because she is an exceptional storyteller, who can draw you in with her soft voice and intriguing premises for songs. And the stories told between songs were just as fascinating. And yes, she played Tom’s Diner. But there were so many songs better than it that night.

Electric Ballroom, Camden
06-November 2015

I’ve wanted to see this Icelandic band for years, and I’ve missed enough chances over time – so I was so glad to finally catch this one. Although nominally still an “extreme metal” band, they’ve long since moved towards being more atmospheric, or even prog, in tone, and it suits them better. Songs stretch out into the long, cold distance, and to my English ears, the almost entirely-in-Icelandic vocals are another texture in a beautiful, elegant sound. And Fjara is still the band at the peak of their powers.

Number_13Randolph & Mortimer
Bloc Projects, Sheffield
21-February 2015

A debut, invite-only show that I was fortunate to get an invite to, and it was well worth the trip north. R&M had initially intrigued a few years ago as an anonymous, instrumental industrial project that harked back to the Ministry glory days in particular, using samples to bludgeon an anti-capitalist, left-wing message home. There has since been an EP release, the odd other song and now a few live shows, of which this was the first, in a quasi-controlled environment in front of family and friends. It worked very well indeed, too – with a clean, loud sound, the odd new song, and the spectacular visuals of Meat Cassette filling the room. Future developments – and a set at Resistanz next spring – awaited with interest.

Number_12Teeth of the Sea
London Fields Brewhouse, London Fields
12-November 2015

A near-pitch black venue under a railway arch seemed to be the perfect place to see TotS this year, seeing as their newly released album is entirely in shades of grey and black. Theirs is a controlled form of chaos, with a pulsing malevolence running through their electronically-assisted rhythms, occasionally flaring up into violent interludes, while a trumpet heralds safe passage through the stormy atmosphere. Still one of London’s best bands, live and recorded.

The Garage, Highbury

The return of Failure, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, has been truly a joyous return – with a brilliant comeback album almost as great as the classic Fantastic Planet, and also live shows that were well worth seeing too. While their short-ish support set with Refused much later in the year was great, their first UK show in something like eighteen years back in May was better – an epic set that covered all corners of their back-catalogue, with needless to say an awful lot of that album, not that anyone was complaining. Comeback of the year, for sure.

Roundhouse, Camden
21-May 2015

A fourth time in five years seeing the mighty Swans, and I’ve not got tired of it yet. Like previous shows, this was part playing material from the latest album, and part (already) working on the material that will form the next – and final – Swans album. This time Gira seems to be swinging back in the direction of the brutal power of his earlier work, with the closing song being heavier and louder than I’ve ever heard the band. Quite how they’ve kept up this intensity – and quality – while playing to bigger than ever venues is a mystery, but either way Swans remain an object lesson in avoiding becoming a nostalgia trip and instead pushing ever forward, with brilliant results.

Roundhouse, Camden
24-June 2015

Mogwai celebrated twenty years of existence with two big shows at the Roundhouse and a series of “curated” shows that resulted in some very odd lineups – Ben Frost supporting Public Enemy was one (seeing PE was one for the bucket list), while another that I missed was Genius/GZA supported by Loop and Lightning Bolt! But the big event was Mogwai, and they didn’t disappoint. A third time seeing them in eighteen months, and it was a different set again from the previous two, culminating in a titanic, ear-splitting take on My Father My King that left my ears ringing for days.

Oslo, Hackney

I barely saw any hip-hop shows this year – indeed I rarely do, although I’m quite a fan of some aspects of the wide church that is the genre – but this one topped the Public Enemy show at the Roundhouse a couple of months later. The return of dälek has not been heralded as much as it should have been – highly intelligent, experimental music and rhymes that ask deep questions and sound amazing.

Number_07Infest 2015
University of Bradford
28/29/30-August 2015

My fifteenth Infest was, as ever, a rich mix of varied industrial and electronic music that by its very nature means that I won’t like all of the bands each year. This was very much the case this year, but there were some moments of utter brilliance. were once again glorious, but this time we knew what to expect, while CHANT’s pummelling drum-led industrial fury was the highlight of the weekend by far. Also as always, Infest is a festival where what goes on other than the music is just as important, with many friends, much silliness and a sense that everyone is out to enjoy themselves rather than bitch about things – and long may that continue.

Number_06Cold Waves IV
Double Door / Metro, Chicago
24/25/26-September 2015

A second visit to Chicago for Cold Waves was a week that was over all-too-quickly – and perhaps flying home the day after the festival concluded was one guaranteed way to make us all the more tired when we got home. But the festival was once again awesome fun, and was stuffed with highlights – from a blistering Rabbit Junk set on the Thursday through to the closing Front Line Assembly show on the Saturday (the best of nine FLA shows I’ve seen). In between I discovered new bands to me (the Coil-esque weirdness of Lab Report), bands I’ve wanted to see live (High-Functioning Flesh), bands from back-home that I’ve seen loads (Pop Will Eat Itself!) and up-and-coming bands we’re going to hear much more about (Human Traffic). Will I go again? Time might be an issue in 2016, but I guess it depends on who is playing, eh?

Number_05Devin Townsend
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington
14-April 2015

I can’t say I ever expected to see Devin Townsend sell out the Royal Albert Hall. But he did, and he filled the space in some style, with an insanely over-the-top stage set, and a sound to match. Two sets – one of Ziltoid material, the other a “request” set from fans that voted in advance, it covered all of his (solo) career, notably omitting any SYL material (shame). That the latter didn’t actually matter in the end was testament to how brilliant, and funny, it was. Even Devin seemed overwhelmed at the end, and the year-break he said he was taking afterwards was clearly much-needed. But then, how do you top this? The most awesome memory from it, though? The huge number of Ziltoid puppets being waved in the air in the mosh-pit throughout the show…

Number_04Chelsea Wolfe
Islington Assembly Hall
22-November 2015

After a year of many “good” gigs, even a few “great” ones, almost all of the truly extraordinary shows I attended in 2015 came in November. This was one of them. Even by Wolfe’s standards, this was an exceptional show, mainly based around the last two albums and no less brilliant because of it. It also confirmed for me just how brilliant, how dark and intense recent album Abyss is. Wolfe’s work will never have mass appeal – it’s too dark for that, perhaps – but her star is certainly rising by the album and I suspect I’ll be seeing her in bigger venues than this next time around.

Number_03Public Service Broadcasting
O2 Academy Brixton
29-November 2015

A real celebration of a show – sold out, too – that showed just how far this band have come in a few short years, and every stop was pulled out – a choir, string section, brass section, some eye-popping visuals (including an LED-covered, Sputnik-shaped centrepiece on the stage!), fireworks, lighting like stars in the upper reaches of the stage, not to mention dancing astronauts…oh, and a set of glorious, broadly instrumental songs using the eponymous films to add humanity to the sound. If you ever thought this band to be a bit staid and boring, see them live – there is real heart and love in what they do, and it came across in spades here.

Number_02Sunn 0))) / Phurpa
Royal Festival Hall, London
18-August 2015

Possibly the most divisive gig I’ve ever put in a end of year listing, for me and my gig-going companions that night, we all agreed at the time how astounding this was (others we know who were there disagreed). We got lucky, mind, by being seated in the third row of the RFH…right in front of the speakers. Which at least gave us the full force of what they can do – and that was the whole point. Sunn 0)))’s sound simply envelops you, starting as a drone that gets so loud you end up feeling it rather than just hearing. It’s metal Jim, just not as we know it – beats are non-existent, with the sonic force instead coming from wave after wave of colossal riffs and droning electronics. Oh, and Atila Czishar’s astonishing vocal performance, howling from the pits of hell and, in the latter stages of an epic Candlegoat (that lasted longer than some band’s entire performances I’ve seen over the years), donned a coat and crown of thorns of mirror shards (like this and proceeded to exorcise every demon from his body by the simple means of his voice. Talking of voices, actually, support act Phurpa were also fascinating – tibetan throat music done very, very, VERY loudly, their deep hums resonating in your head for the full hour (see/hear them here.

Footage of the Berlin show from this tour was professionally recorded, and is absolutely worth seeing, but it simply can’t have the same visceral, physical impact that seeing Sunn 0))) has.

Number_01Mercury Rev
Oval Space, Cambridge Heath
24-November 2015
Rough Trade East, Shoreditch
06-October 2015

It would have been Sunn 0))) at the top of the list were it not for Mercury Rev’s stellar appearance in November. Before this autumn, I’d not seen ‘Rev live for seventeen years, and back in 1998, on the Deserter’s Songs tour, they were ok, but seemed to rush through some songs and the feeling was generally of a band on autopilot (despite the brilliance of the album itself). This time was different. Firstly, at Rough Trade East, it was an “acoustic set with Q&A”, which actually turned out to be the full band aside from the drummer, and a whole lot of talking from Jonathan Donaghue, revealing among many other things their fear of returning, and whether anyone would still care. The reaction there, and then even more so at Oval Space (which sold out), was absolutely of a crowd that still did. Mercury Rev rewarded their fan’s patience, too, touching on many corners of their discography, including some extraordinary (and very loud!) takes on old favourites Car Wash Hair and Frittering, the new songs making sense at last (Central Park East resonating so, so much as a song about loneliness in the heart of the big city), and of course a fair proportion of the still brilliant (and much-loved) Deserter’s Songs – the mass, joyous, singalongs to Holes and Goddess On a Hiway in particular will live long in the memory. But there is more to it than just the songs. Mercury Rev have always been a triumph over adversity – their litany of calamities over the years is a long, long list, and somehow they always seem to come back out on top. Their songs, while often frequently downbeat in theme, always have a fighting, defiant edge, as if saying that while things are bad and difficult to deal with, good times are around the corner. To paraphrase Holes: “those funny little plans, that never work quite right”. now takes a break for a few weeks. Have a great Christmas and New Year, and we’ll be back in 2016 to look at what is coming next. See you on the other side.

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