Countdown: 2016: Gigs

This has been a quiet year.

Countdown: 2016

29-Nov: Best Compilations and reissues
06-Dec: Best Tracks
13-Dec: Best Albums
20-Dec: Best Gigs

Countdown: Gigs

2015: Mercury Rev
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

38 days-worth of gigs, in three countries (England, Wales, US), five towns/cities (London, Kingston-upon-Thames, Bradford, Swansea, Chicago), two festivals (Infest/Cold Waves), 29 venues, 109 live sets and 104 different bands.

A recent study suggested that going to more gigs means a happier life, too, so clearly in 2017 I’ll be going to more again. is now taking a break for a few weeks, before returning with what’s coming in 2017, more new music, and hopefully more conversation with interesting artists in our corner of the music world. Have a great New Year and more on the other side.

Kill II This
The Underworld, London NW1
28-October 2016

I didn’t expect a Kill II This return, that much was clear. I also didn’t expect them to be as good as they were. It had been, what, fifteen years since I last saw them? Wisely, they stuck to their best material, which broadly meant Deviate and Trinity material dominated, and they roared through the venue, recent festival appearances clearly having re-honed their power. Industrial-tinged metal has slowly been creeping back into the scene, and maybe, just maybe, Kill II This have timed this well.

Manic Street Preachers
Liberty Stadium, Swansea
28-May 2016

The Holy Bible shows a few years ago were amazing, the Manics dealing with the shadow of Richey Edwards by playing the album harder, faster and heavier than ever – and there were a few tears along the way. For Everything Must Go and its more positive (mainly!), populist outlook, a stadium show seemed apt, so we crossed the Severn into Wales and all the way to Swansea for this massive show in the early summer sunshine (and later storm). There were no low points, instead a partisan crowd who turned the whole show into one massive celebration of what is probably the most popular Welsh band of all, and one that wear their identity proudly. The Welsh football song for Euro 2016 even sounded great in those circumstances. Support from the Super Furries and Public Service Broadcasting were also well worth the time, too.

Arab Strap
Electric Brixton, London SW2
13-October 2016

A curious gig-pile up that week (I missed the Swans show for this) saw me return to Brixton for the twentieth anniversary show of one of the more curious bands of the nineties indie revolution. Hardly a band that celebrated life in song – unless it involved a drunken or drug-induced haze, broken relationships or unfulfilling sex – this was an unexpected joy of a gig.

Aidan Moffat in particular was in fine form both during and inbetween songs (“I’ve always wanted to be a heritage rock act”, he quipped early on), and this show for me was a reminder that Moffat has been one of Britain’s most exceptional observers of modern life in recent times. Many gloss over life that slips between the cracks – he spent his time digging the dirt out and examining it in great detail, and at points you feel guilty for the detail you here. But at other points, you are laughing or wincing along. Or both.

Massive Attack
O2 Academy Brixton, London SW2
03-Feb 2016

After twenty-four years of waiting, I actually saw Massive Attack twice in 2016 (the second was their show at Hyde Park in July, which wasn’t as good as this one). This packed, sold-out show was unfortunately full of people that wanted to talk and be dicks, rather than paying attention to the wealth of detail that the sonic and visual overload onstage was delivering. Their loss – a whole host of collaborators helped bring to life songs new and old, including songs I never thought I’d hear, I learned new things about the world around me, and rekindled my long love-affair with this most unique of collectives. Young Fathers are pretty impressive, too.

O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London W12
21-October 2016

Onto their tenth album in 2016, their touring over the year also saw them looking at their past again, culminating in this show where they did two sets – the first of which covering all of the now-ten-year-old The Great Cold Distance, before tackling a best-of set. The first half was good enough (and reminding me that it’s an album that I like more than I thought I did), but the second half was worth the ticket price alone, the band playing something off every album, and not always obvious songs, either. So it quickly became a treasure trove of rarely played songs, and finished off with a crowd baying for an encore that the band had clearly not expected or planned for. That the unplanned encore was Ghost of the Sun, long a crowd favourite, seemed apt, giving the band one last victory lap in the latest stage of a career that has perhaps been under appreciated by some.

Leæther Strip at Infest 2016, Bradford
26/27/28-August 2016

As was usual in late August, it was to Bradford we headed, for the latest instalment of Infest. Nearing it’s twentieth anniversary (that comes in 2018), it seems to have had a bit of a shot in the arm in recent years and getting both Pop Will Eat Itself and Atari Teenage Riot this year was definitely proof of that.

The real highlights on the bill, though, were to be found elsewhere. Leæther Strip finally played Infest, and blew us away with an eighty-minute, relentless best-of set that was for me the highlight of the weekend. 3TEETH proved their headliner status with a bruising set in advance of their second album (coming in February), while the sharper-edged synthpop of Me The Tiger were the breakout success of the weekend (most of us had never heard of them before this).

Frank Turner
Electric Brixton, London SW2
13-May 2016

I finally get ’round to seeing Frank Turner, and my first was his 1,889th solo show (and by the end of the year, he reached 2,000 shows). This was a fundraiser show, with Turner doing all of England Keep My Bones solo (along with some of the b-sides from it and a few other old favourites), and generally this was a great showcase for how brilliant a songwriter Turner is (and how he can make his folk/punk-rock sound so accessible and welcoming to all), with a crowd bellowing almost every word back at him. It was also the show that introduced me to the glorious chaos of Skinny Lister.

Sadly, though, it was not all great, with an unpleasantly rowdy crowd that as Frank Turner pointed out a few days later, were doing more than just sing. I’ve been promising something about this on for a while (life has got in the way), and I will follow this up in January.

Blindness / deux furieuses
The Lexington, London N1
05-June 2016

It still makes me sad to think that Blindness are done, pretty much (there is still the possibility of a return at some point), but at least they went out in style. By far the longest live set I’ve ever seen them do, they played probably the best show they ever did here, digging out some near-forgotten old songs for one more time, and even played a new song or two too, before finishing with the song where it began – the searing, pulsing shoegaze-groove of Confessions.

Support came from their friends in deux furieuses, a band whose live reputation has been talked of in hushed tones for a few years, and this show served as their album launch (which made it into my top five last week). Political, angry, female, and not taking any shit, and very, very good indeed.

Servant’s Jazz Quarters, London
03-May 2016

Ruby’s return gathered pace in 2016 with a number of live dates (that culminated in her supporting and then taking part in the Pigface 25 show in Chicago in November), and included her first London show in many, many years, and I made sure of a ticket early on.

An entirely solo show, with a lot of electronics and a guitar, Lesley Rankine played old and new songs, reinterpreting a few in surprising ways, and as a tentative step into touring again, it was a heck of a return. Here’s hoping for more shows.

KOKO, London NW1
08-Nov 2016

Thirty years into their career, Neurosis remain a singular, towering presence in metal, and live, they continue to be one of the best and most consistent acts around. This was the second night of two thirtieth anniversary shows in London, the first night supported by drone titans Earth, this second by punk legends Subhumans and Discharge. In other words, a nod to their formative influences.

What was interesting was that Neurosis played two totally different sets over the two shows. So I missed a couple of old favourites on the first night (Stones From The Sky and Locust Star in particular), but there was no issue with what they did play – delving deep into earlier material from the early nineties, along with a few newer songs, before blowing through the curfew with an astonishing (and deafeningly loud) Through Silver In Blood that left us all grinning and our ears ringing.

Gogol Bordello
KOKO, London NW1
26-July 2016

The first time I’d seen Gogol in a few years – their more recent material has gone off the boil a bit for me – and the bit that made me buy tickets immediately was the promise of all of Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike. Easily their best album, they played most of it in order, shuffling it only a little to ensure that Start Wearing Purple closed the set, for obvious reasons. The atmosphere was electric, the whole venue was bouncing, the crowd singalongs nearly took the roof off, and as is usual with Gogol, it was an exceptional show.

The support from Skinny Lister was also of note. A better show than the one with Frank Turner (already mentioned), but with similar lunacy and the same great songs – and another crowd more than familiar with their wonderfully catchy folk-punk hybrid.

The Forum, London NW5
12-April 2016

Never a band to take at face value, Laibach proved once again here that they are one of the most intelligent, thoughtful bands in existence. Nothing they do isn’t measured. My review at the time says much more, but in short, this was a band commenting on the pre-Brexit mess of the UK in the Spring through their music, playing songs about the fear of immigration, about Europe, about war, about the UK itself. Oh, that and their takes on songs from The Sound of Music, following on from their much-publicised shows in North Korea (the film of their trip has now been released too).

John Grant
Royal Albert Hall, London SW7
15-June 2016

When my partner Karen offered up a spare ticket at short notice for this show, I nearly bit her hand off to say yes, and I’m so glad I did. Something of an epic show, with John Grant’s hero Stephen Mallinder (of Cabaret Voltaire) supporting in his new band Wrangler, it pulled in guests like Cate Le Bon, Richard Hawley…oh, and Kylie Minogue. Yes, Kylie (she came on to assist with the emotional hit of Glacier in the encore).

But the guests were the icing, frankly, as Grant played songs from his entire career, and despite the sometime morose, downbeat feel of his songs, made this into a celebration of what he is and his wonderful way with a song and a word.

Teeth of the Sea
Raw Power Festival, The Dome, London NW5
27-May 2016

That night, we were there to see the London return of Test Dept., but the abiding memory of the night was of Teeth of the Sea (as the TD show was disjointed and…ok). I’ve seen ToTS a few times now, and they have a striking intensity, and here it *all* clicked. The first few tracks of the new album built the pressure relentlessly, which then burst like a dam in an absolutely astonishing take on A.C.R.O.N.Y.M., where their space/prog/post-rock-electronic-groove-machine locked into a mesemeric take on the track that I wished would never end. And this was mid-set. I’ve said before – in possibly three of the past four years I’ve done this rundown – that Teeth of the Sea are one of the best live bands in London. Right now, they are *the* best. They play at The Dome in February, and no doubt they’ll be in this list again next year, too.

Cubanate and Cold Waves V Festival
Double Door/Metro, Chicago
22/23/24-Sep 2016

The Saturday at Cold Waves this year was, as I noted at the time, the single best day at a Festival I’ve ever seen, and even amid remarkable company the day was owned by Cubanate.

Consider this – a band that hadn’t played live together in seventeen years, and with a frontman who hadn’t performed live at all in that time, absolutely blew us away, with a hurricane-force forty minutes of pummelling industrial dance music that simultaneously took us deep into our pasts as well as inspiring us anew. All killer, no filler, it covered their whole eight year recorded career, played the hits, played some unexpected tracks, and rather left us wondering how the two remaining bands on the bill could possibly follow them. Some comeback.

What made it all the more amazing was that everyone else on the bill had stepped up. KANGA converted me to her cause in thirty short minutes, Bloody Knives were very loud, Dead When I Found Her were even better than at Infest, Raymond Watts and reminded us that gospel and industrial and rock can be a thing (as well as adding a glamour that no-one else had), while The Cocks were dirty, nasty, and a fucking hoot.

That’s not to say the other days weren’t great, either, particularly the Thursday, where Stabbing Westward made their jaw-dropping return, and were ably supported by locals Ganser and old-hand En Esch.

Needless to say, a fourth visit to Chicago is on the cards for September 2017, although topping this line-up will be difficult in any future year. Easily the top live show of 2016.

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