The problem with my gig-going in 2010 wasn’t that I went to too few, or too many – although for various reasons I did miss a number of gigs I really wanted to see – but that trying to narrow the best of the year down to ten was probably as difficult as it has ever been. So a couple of gigs that I perhaps would otherwise have included didn’t make the cut.
So here goes:
In the week following this gig, it was clear that it really split opinion. Partly, I can understand why – compared to the extraordinary shows by this band in the past (particularly in 2004 at this very venue), this felt a little…subdued. But that’s not to say this wasn’t brilliant, in my eyes. There was a lot of material from the past ten years, rather than older material, but as noted only this week, they’ve hit an incredible creative peak in this last decade, and hearing some perhaps lesser-heard material from these albums was an unexpected bonus.
Following something of a trend, Damnation Festival this year was once again rather smaller-scale than last year (and the year before that). Sadder still, there simply weren’t that many artists that had me going “wow” either on the bill or post-shows, certainly not anyone I hadn’t already heard of. There was one band I was definitely there for, though, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. That was the return of Earthtone9, a band who back in their original incarnation were a difficult band to love, no matter how great they were (and they were) – their standoffish and deliberately spiky exterior seemed to make a point of distancing themselves from their fans. So imagine the surprise when their return to the stage (after a couple of festival shows in the summer) at Damnation saw them all smiles, and seemingly a little taken aback at the crowd’s ecstatic reaction. Proof that it sometimes takes a little bit of time to appreciate a band fully, and everyone really does now in this case, it seems. Comebacks don’t always work like this, of course, but not all bands are like Earthtone9.
While Front Line Assembly (the headliners) later that evening were great, in all honesty the honours were taken by the two support acts. First it was the new – the grimy, uncompromising industrial of Concrete Lung. Their EP made quite an impression on me, and live it was even more fearsome. The forthcoming new album (of which my promo copy arrived this week, thanks guys) looks to be taking things even darker, heavier and grimier. The old was the return of Je$us Loves Amerika, a much-missed Glasgow-based industrial band, who vanished from the scene some years ago, and judging on this appearance are absolutely chomping at the bit to make a splash on their return. The familiar material was as great as ever, and the new stuff absolutely slays. A new album please, folks, and make it soon, right?
We saw two “ninja” gigs by Amanda Palmer in 2010, a happy accident of living in north London, and being in the right place at the right time. The second was simply a gathering of fans with Amanda outside the Roundhouse at teatime, just her, her ukelele, and the voices of the throng. While that was great fun, it was the closer-to-real-gig a couple of months before that was better. A Sunday afternoon show, with the intriguing support in particular of Bitter Ruin (another band I really ought to check out sometime), Palmer was once again just with her ukelele and the assistance of Jason Webley, and what could have been a stale Sunday afternoon show with a sleepy crowd was anything but. There were covers, old songs, new songs, oh, and Elephants. My shocking memory at times has failed me again, too – somehow I managed to miss a song by Palmer’s side-project Evelyn Evelyn from my tracks of the year roundup the other week, despite it having been resolutely stuck in my head for months. So here is the marvellous Elephant Elephant in video form.
Comeback of the year, no question, and their live show this year proved exactly why. A band with a hunger, a desire to prove themselves with every single song, and no corner of their backcatalogue was ignored (with the exception of their weakest album Saturday Night Wrist), so just about pleasing everyone in the crowd. Even if, somehow, half the crowd didn’t know their first album material…*sigh*.
Faceless, broadly-instrumental dancefloor industrial/noise doesn’t often lend itself to live shows. Or so we thought, prior to Saturday afternoon at Infest, where the two guys in Memmaker did a pretty good job of blowing that theory out of the window and somewhere towards Leeds. A set stacked with present and future dancefloor anthems, a few new tracks with the addition of brutal levels of bass, a guest slot from Jamie of ESA, and frankly little else that weekend came close.
There was one band that did, though, and that was Rotersand. Afforded extra time with their set due to Parralox’s problems (they played early the next day instead), they took advantage and rolled out the hits with a smile on their face – and their clear enjoyment of what they were doing rubbed off on the crowd, who went nuts for every moment. Plainly and simply, there is not a band in the industrial dance scene that come close to how amazing and how life-affirming this band are live, every single time. But more than anything this time around.
A band with nothing to prove, returning to knock us sideways once again with another staggering live show. The new, mellower, more electronic album was heavily featured, but made so much more sense in the live arena and at points rocked very hard indeed – but were overshadowed by some unexpected, joyous highlights from the past few albums (this was another gig where the band avoided much of their older, more classic material). In particular a marvellous Supersonic, and a blistering, joyous Everythere, which probably goes down as the single greatest live track I saw/heard in all of 2010.
I’d waited a long, long time for the return of a band that I never thought would actually happen, and I was even more surprised when live shows in the UK were announced. It’s not many bands that I’d actually move my Whitby plans for, either (I ended up having about four hours sleep after this gig to be able to be up to head north in time the next morning). But this was certainly worth it. This was old, old Swans and very new Swans, with nothing in between, but the absence of Jarboe in the new lineup made this understandable. Not that anyone was particularly complaining, apart from the reasonable number that escaped the extreme volume of the show (people were leaving during the – thirty minute! – opener) – as what was played was brilliant. Of everything played, though, two songs stood out in particular – the searing intensity of oldie I Crawled, and the brutal, heavy-metal-in-slow-motion of new track Jim. Swans, much to everyone’s surprise, are in rude health even after all these years.
I said in my Swans review that I wouldn’t see a better gig in 2010. Five weeks later, I was conclusively proven wrong. It was a last-minute decision to see Neurosis, too, having seen an ad for the gig (while at the Swans gig, oddly enough) and then having forgotten to pick up a ticket until the Friday before. Even within the first ten minutes of the near-two-hour set, I knew I’d made the right decision. They were utterly spellbinding, a monstrously heavy sound coupled perfectly with the intense and bleak visuals that dominated the screen. Yeah, there were highlights (and two new songs, as it turned out), but the whole set held together so well that it’s the entire thing that I want to relive – not just odd moments.