Some statistics for my gig-going in 2019. I went to 53 shows (each festival is counted by number of days – so Infest is three days, so counts for three shows), and saw 150 live sets. I saw 140 unique bands, eight of them more than once, at 37 venues, and my wife saw 46 of the sets with me (rather less than last year!). These gigs were in six cities or towns, in two countries (the UK and Belgium).
/2018/The Young Gods
/2017/Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
/2016/Cubanate / Cold Waves V
/2007/The Young Gods
/2006/Front Line Assembly
A new job and various life trials this year (including a family bereavement) have taken out a lot of time that I might have otherwise used to go to gigs, which particularly meant that I missed most of the gig pile-up in November. But no worries, I can’t do everything. That said, though, there were many notable shows this year, and this post is about those.
Here are the twenty-five best shows I saw in 2019.
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Following a hiatus, Katatonia returned with another look back at their past, this time to their now-ten-year-old album Night Is The New Day, in the ever-pleasant confines of Islington Assembly Halls (seriously, folks, more venues should be as good as this). This was a Katatonia album I perhaps didn’t listen to as much as some of the others, but I was pleasantly surprised at the show to realise how I much I enjoyed of it – and also much of my attention was drawn, as ever, to vocalist Jonas Renkse, as he seems to put everything into his vocals, with a burning intensity to his delivery unmatched by pretty much anyone else I’ve ever seen. I could take or leave the Judas Priest cover they played at the end, but after their soaring career so far, I think they’ve earned an indulgence or two.
/The Black Heart/NW1
This group did some dumb things later in the year (t-shirts riffing on suicide at Cold Waves seemed a really questionable thing to do), but there was no denying that the show they did earlier in the year was one I won’t forget in a hurry. This duo do blistering, industrial-powered punk, basically, and live they turn off the lights aside a strobe or two, pump the room full of smoke, and then go hell for leather for half-an-hour. It’s relentless, punishing stuff, and in the enclosed black box that is the Black Heart, it seemed like the perfect place for the band to do such a show. It is hard to explain just how intense a show that you can’t see – especially when you know the vocalist is moving around the room – is when it is that loud, and if they are aiming to unsettle their audience (as I’m sure they are), this was job fucking done.
A grimy cellar venue dimly lit by a handful of red bulbs in the wall seemed the ideal place to be nearly flattened by Spit Mask’s vicious live attack. Not a subtle band in the slightest, the oh-so-grubby sound in the venue actually enhanced the impact (for once), as their savage beats and howled vocals bounced off the walls and vocalist Bryan Jackson continually encroached over what might normally be seen as the boundary between band and audience (there wasn’t a stage as such). This is a band of confrontation, of power dynamics and sex, and it succeeds, unusually, both on record and live.
Trail of Dead never really struck me as the kind of band that are particularly disposed to looking backwards, so I have to confess I was a little surprised to find them doing an “anniversary” tour – even if it was for their career highlight Madonna, and without a doubt the album that really put them on the map (I first heard their debut, which sounded so alien and different at the time that it left me entranced and speechless when I first heard it). In true ToD style, too, this show was something of a (metaphorical!) riot. A raucous, chaotic show, tearing through these now twenty-year-old songs like they were being played for the first time, and were also a reminder that this band have ploughed a furrow for so long that leaves them a uniquely different band, one not easy to pigeonhole, and ever fascinating. Indeed their tenth album is out in the New Year, and I’m intrigued to see where their future takes them.
My second trip to Nottingham in the last couple of years to go to watch Six By Seven at The Maze (a venue that I understand sadly closed later in 2019), and while the first time was to see the original line-up scorch through The Closer You Get and various fan favourites, this was a newer line-up taking on the first album that got many of us excited in the first place. OK, there was no saxophone, but there was the volume and power that The Things We Make deserved, that was for sure. More than any other 6×7 album, The Things We Make thrives on dynamics, with eruptions of noise very much the payoffs for extended builds, and even with the volume this was maintained brilliantly. It remains an album out of time, somewhat – it was seething at the world when the UK was still basking in the positivity of a new, young government in 1998, and still reflects our dissatisfaction with the outside world now. There’s a reason I still love it.
/Royal Albert Hall/SW7
In all my years of listening to music, and going to gigs – and particularly when living in London – I’d never been to a Prom. I rectified that in an unexpected way this summer with a late-night (2145 start!) show that saw Public Service Broadcasting playing a new arrangement of their best album The Race for Space, complete with choir and orchestra (and also with the relevant – and still brilliant – B-side Korolev), that felt like the most complete version of it we’ll ever see. The enormous scale of the show, with the visuals and additional musicians, around the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings, felt like a celebration as well as a commemoration, and also it remains an emotional album. We landed on the moon fifty years ago, just a handful of people repeated the feat, and we’ve still not got much further since in terms of getting humans away from the earth.
/O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire/W12
As ever, Laibach live is a fascinating experience – and no two shows have ever been alike. This one was entirely based around their take on The Sound of Music, with a showing of their excellent documentary Liberation Day followed by a run through of their entire repertoire of the former film songs. As with the album, it is still an unsettling experience hearing Laibach transform many of the songs, and as is their way, uncovering new ways of looking at songs. A hugely enjoyable show, as it happens, and it also gave us a peek at songs coming from Iron Sky: The Coming Race (which have yet to be released aside from in the film), too. I’m not even going to try and guess where Laibach take us next.
The last time I saw Monster Magnet, it wasn’t a great show – meandering songs, a general feel that the band weren’t exactly into it either, and I vaguely recall that I left early. No such problem this time at what was a raucous, immensely fun show. The band – and particularly Dave Wyndorf – seemed revitalised, ripping into old favourites and new songs alike, bantering with the crowd and delivering everything we could possibly have hoped for. Even better were the full set of old favourites that I didn’t get last time, including a ripping Powertrip and – gloriously – Negasonic Teenage Warhead that made this near-middle-aged metalhead very happy indeed. There’s a full Powertrip show in the new year. Am I considering that? Fuck yeah.
I’d seen The Twilight Sad quite a few times in the early part of this decade, but had not done so for a few years – but the quality of the new album was enough to get me back. Seeing them at the Ballroom was probably the biggest show I’d seen them play, too – most previous shows were in much smaller venues some years ago – and their ascent has done them no harm at all. This was a show of striking intensity, still, with the various electronic elements in their sound simply enhancing the power of what was already there. Sure, the show was mainly new songs, but a few old favourites were still there (including a fucking brilliant, sing-a-long And She Would Darken the Memory to close). The most difficult moment, though, came with the nod to the late Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit (a longtime friend of vocalist James Graham), in the form of a cover of Keep Yourself Warm that was as brilliant as it was heartrenching.
I first heard Kathryn Joseph’s otherworldly music in her great support to labelmates Mogwai last year at Meltdown, but this show – my first in the cavernous, intriguing space of EartH – was very different. For a start it was just Joseph at a keyboard (although with some percussion controlled by her feet too), but also it felt like a much more relaxed singer, willing to tell lengthy anecdotes between songs and a self-deprecating nature that was rather endearing. Her songs, though, remain so strikingly strange, her voice taking songs in unexpected directions, with a stark beauty to them beneath by way of the piano accompaniment. One woman with a piano isn’t exactly a new concept, but Joseph sounds so, so different that everything she does feels fresh and new, and that includes her live shows.
It isn’t often where I get the chance to see a band live for the first time that I’ve waited over thirty years to see, but this happened in September with Red Box. Never the most prolific of bands – they’ve released just four albums since 1986 – but they’ve kept a recognisable style, even if these days they are perhaps a little more mellowed than they were. This show was a launch show for their fourth album, in a venue best known for punk shows, and somehow they managed to squeeze a seven-piece band onstage, and most importantly sounded fantastic. The two sets covered songs old and new, with a fair amount of stories and friendly banter from Simon Toulson-Clarke, and I’m not going to lie, hearing Lean on Me (Ah-Li-Ayo) live after thirty-three years was one of the most thrilling, joyous five minutes of my 2019.
I’ve written quite a bit about this band over the past year – and particularly last week when they took the #1 spot on my albums of the year list – but it was only when I saw them live that I realised just how much of a big thing that they’d become. This show sold out within a month, then upgraded to the substantially bigger Heaven, and sold out that with weeks to spare too (and the Scala show later in the year sold out some way in advance, too). Despite being in the depths of winter, it was a crowded, sweaty show as a result, but that was exactly the right environment for a band that seem to thrive on the physicality of their music, as the whole room danced and swayed to the exceptional, emotion-drenched industrial-electro that this duo produce. It wasn’t about specific moments, either, but it was the whole show that I remember, for the feeling and the energy.
I remember being captivated by the first Eels album Beautiful Freak back in my first year at Uni (late 1996!), and despite my love of the band – and my wife’s too, although on a different path – neither of us had ever seen Mark Everett’s band live until this excellent show. Almost a bluesy rock band nowadays (at least live), they dug into new songs, reworked old songs, a fistful of covers and a more entertaining, brighter, happier show than I’d ever possibly expected from an artist who has often dug into the deeper, darker corners. Also a great find was the support act Robert Ellis, the self-titled “Texas Piano Man” who delivered a great set of alt-country that swore like a trooper and had no truck with being like everyone else. Probably the best support show of the year, for sure.
/O2 Academy Islington
They topped this list last year, and were certainly an impressive show this year, too. The Young Gods remain an untouchable force live, and while this show was more tilted toward the (excellent) new album Data Mirage Tangram, their first in nearly a decade, there was no let up in interest or thrills. The dreamy electronics of the new album are frequently punctuated by thrashing heaviness, and live this was only exacerbated, with Tear Up The Red Sky and the astonishing All My Skin Standing in particular hitting very hard indeed. After some years touring most of the first couple of albums, too, they were broadly omitted which wasn’t totally a bad thing – particularly when they revealed Kissing The Sun in it’s proper, unchanged version, which was gloriously mad and intense. I’ve followed this band for a quarter of a century or more, now, and they never cease to amaze.
The twenty-first edition of Infest, and despite the unusually hot temperatures that made it something of a trial to get through at points, there were a number of outstanding live bands. Light Asylum tore into their Friday night headliner set with a soulful, industrial electro set that felt like a groundbreaking moment, while Witch of the Vale amazed just about everyone with their glorious, downtempo electro-folk sounds that are genuinely like no-one else. Then, Nitzer Ebb changed up some old songs, but broadly delivered exactly the Sunday night headline set I’d wanted – a sweaty, energetic EBM set that I couldn’t tear myself away from for a minute. Other highlights including the raging, Vancouver industrial of OHMelectronic (who made a lot of friends over the weekend), and finally, the industrial-prog of ded.pixel that was a well-received, intriguing Sunday opener. 2020 is my twentieth Infest, and I’m looking forward to marking it in some way.
I’d only seen Ministry once before this – and it was terrible, back on the C U L8TOUR about twelve years ago. That, of course, didn’t turn out to be a farewell, as Al Jourgensen decided to continue, and after another relatively good new album recently – and the word that they were doing WaxTrax! material again in some quantity, I was tempted back. And boy, did I make the right decision – the whole band were in fearsome form, tearing through a set of the new material, and then nearly an hour of the promised old stuff, and it was amazing in every single way. Another chance to see 3TEETH wasn’t to be sniffed at, either, and their continual evolution and growth was rammed home here by a slick, snarling show heavy on the new album tracks (and I had no problem with that at all), the only letdown being some of the macho bullshit in the crowd.
/O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire/W12
By a quirk of scheduling, there were two exceptional gigs by long-standing, returning bands within a couple of days in June. I’ll come to the other in a bit, but one of the pair was the return to London of the English-French experimental band Stereolab, amid a new surge of interest in this most intriguing band. A full re-issue series came across the year, and appropriately the show here saw the band digging into pretty much every corner of their career (although notably without new songs). What I didn’t know – having never quite “got” the band in my youth, and thus having never seen them until now – was how forceful a live band they are. There was always something a little languid about Lætitia Sadier’s vocal delivery, sure, but the combined power of the rhythm section, synths and guitars behind her turbocharged everything, and they also seemed to be genuinely enjoying being back. Everything about this was fabulous.
/O2 Forum Kentish Town/NW5
Neurosis don’t tour often, but when they do it is pretty much always a must-see, and so it proved this time around. Certain things remain sacrosanct – the band play a set with no encores, they don’t speak to the audience (barely even acknowledging them, indeed). and Noah Landis holds the whole thing together with electronic interludes between songs so that there is never any silence. Even with a set mostly based around the last three albums, this was still a vintage Neurosis show, as their rolling, lengthy songs provide a floor-rumbling volume and power, but it was the closing pair of songs that really took the breath away. First there was the rarely played (until this past year) End of the Harvest from Times of Grace, which swelled like a gathering storm, until it exploded into a staggering. furious coda that stopped dead in the darkness, replaced by the tolling bells of Stones from the Sky, probably my favourite Neurosis song. That twenty minutes was astounding, and worth the ticket alone.
/O2 Academy Brixton/SW9
The passage of time has been kinder to the whole Riot Grrrl movement than the sneering press were at the time, with the issues that they were raising now at the forefront of a great many minds nearly three decades on – although it has to be wondered why it took so long. So the return of Bikini Kill was a necessary and exciting moment in 2019, and after failing to get tickets for one of the New York shows (hey, they were cheap, as were flights, when we looked!), we ended up at Brixton. It was, to put it mildly, a chaotic, noisy show, exactly as I’d hoped with some fabulous stories told by the band between songs, and a good two hours of blasting through what felt like the majority of their recorded work. One of the most anticipated shows of the year, and damned right it was great.
The only “pop” show I’ve seen in some years, to be honest, but one that was well worth the time and money. Janelle Monáe’s work has long been intriguing, and her Dirty Computer album in 2018 was one of my favourites of that year, as it took in R&B, hip-hop, afrofuturism and the distinct feel of Prince-esque funk – not to mention an unusually strong inclusive feel to sex, gender and relationships. The brilliant videos and style, too, suggested that we might be in for quite the show, and even we weren’t prepared for the craziness of the show. Multiple costume changes, a slick troupe of dancers, unexpected guests…this was a phenomenal, fun show. The only mystery to me is how Monae isn’t yet a major star, although her acting career may solve that quicker than her music at current rates.
The main takeaway I took from this headline BIMFest show was “how in fuck have I not seen The Cassandra Complex live before?”. A powerful, entertaining show (with eye-popping visuals behind them, too), that was a useful history lesson in where the band came from, and where their sound went. In short, that’s pretty much a route through post-punk, gothic rock and industrial rock – and often with elements of all three – and could be seen as the missing link between them, as the band that found the way to move forward. Their songs, also, as singer Rodney Orpheus reminded us, have some deep political and social comment contained within, but also standalone as enjoyable songs, too – and Rodney’s energetic delivery sealed the deal. Particular songs were really welcome to hear (a raging Moscow, Idaho was a highlight), but the night was capped off by the highly unexpected take (apparently they’ve not played it in ages) on Suicide’s epic Frankie Teardrop, a song that has lost none of it’s power, or meaning, in over forty years. I’m hoping for another London show sooner rather than later.
Reunion shows after some time away can be fickle things. Can a band that only flickered brightly for a comparatively short time really do it again, ten years on? Here, the Mirimar Disaster delivered everything we’d hoped for in a blistering show that also reminded just how impressive a scene for metal (and related elements) Sheffield had during the late 2000s. I was a peripheral part of that scene, running a night called Stormblast for a few years, but here it was squarely a celebration of the bands and the people that underpinned that scene. It was thus something of a reunion, as I caught up with a ton of people I’d not seen in an age, and saw a few bands I’d not seen in a long time. But before the headliners, I finally got to see the skyscraping post-rock of Gilmore Trail, who rocked a whole lot harder than I thought they might, and provided a fascinating set, and then The Mirimar Disaster returned to their old material and blasted through everything I’d hoped for. Nothing quite worked out in the end for a band that had so much promise, but this one-off reunion felt like a thrilling full stop.
There’s a couple of bands in this year’s gig roundup that genuinely mean the world to me, and dEUS are one of those bands. I’ve been listening to them since worst case scenario came out – twenty five years ago – I was about fifteen or so when I first heard Suds and Soda, and was intrigued by this curious, restless Belgian band who had clearly been influenced by music I’d not really paid attention to before. Over the years, they’ve changed, evolved, got older and wiser, but still retained that restless spirit that has meant no two albums of theirs are really the same at all. So there was absolutely no doubt when this tour was announced that I was going – some other friends who have a similar view to me on the band chose to not come, as The Ideal Crash wasn’t an album they particularly liked, and if it was going to be the whole thing… I kinda think they rather missed out. Sure, it was the whole of that album, but it felt like it had a new lease of life, with a handful of new arrangements, dancers onstage too (!), and a realisation that this album was better than even I’d ever given it credit for – not to mention that the devastating Sister Dew makes me cry every single time. I did shy away from the documentary filming, though – which actually wanted fans to talk about their own relationship with the band, and maybe just about themselves. I can’t wait to see it, and I now wish I’d got involved too.
/Royal Albert Hall/SW7
One of a handful of bands that I saw for the first time this year, after years of waiting, this glorious show felt like a victory lap for a band that perhaps didn’t quite get the recognition that their thoughtful songs deserved in the first place. A loud, friendly crowd roared on a band who genuinely didn’t seem to have expected the reaction that they got. From the first, delicate notes of Firesuite, to the thunderous, euphoric climax of There Goes The Fear, this was exactly the show I needed and had kinda hoped for, a show that took in the more downbeat songs along with the chest-beating anthems. Their first album Lost Souls has been one of those albums that has got me through an awful lot over the years, and to hear all of the songs from it that I adore (especially a staggering Rise, and then the expected encore with The Cedar Room, a song I associate more with than I’d like to admit) had me shedding tears of joy by the end. They are a band that mean so, so much to me, and this was a gig I had to do alone, as I’ve never quite been able to articulate to anyone else how important they are. So this was two hours of me, watching one of my favourite bands. It might have put me through the emotional wringer, but it was cathartic, and perfect.
WRAITH is an exceptional album (as proved here by it’s position the other week on /Countdown/2019/albums, but even the brilliance of the album didn’t quite prepare me for the pulverising force that the now-three-piece band have become. Never mind the teeth, this band are now the whole fucking monster coming to consume you whole live, and their main weapons are volume, bass and trumpet. At points their sound is overwhelming now, as they create whirling vortexes of sound that suddenly open up to allow a mournful trumpet to sound a warning before the floor drops away and you are knocked off your feet by the bass (this happened more than once, but most astoundingly on an extraordinary Responder), while Gladiators Ready becomes a stupefying, dazzling dancefloor titan live, the only disappointment being when it ends. Easily the best gig I saw in 2019, and not for the first time I can confirm – Teeth of the Sea are the best live band in London.
That concludes the /amodelofcontrol.com coverage of 2019. Thanks to anyone who has read the posts, contributed, provided promos, and made the music I love. See you in 2020.