During 2011 I saw an awful lot of live sets. At a rough count, around about 125 (including supports and festivals) – and I saw a few bands more than once, in particular Front 242, who I saw four times in four different countries. Like the albums list, a few that might have made it in a normal year ended up being missed off this list. It was a good year for live gigs, and I only saw a few duds. So my quality filter is definitely improving…
2011 was something of a year of seeing electronic legends live, and this one was an unexpected bonus – a band I would never have expected to see at Infest. And they were great, too – seriously loud, heavy rhythms and updated versions of songs that date way back into the eighties but still sound very fresh. Probably my favourite of all of Dirk Ivens’ projects, and it was an utter privilege to be able to see this at Infest.
Ok, so not quite the original band, more of a reshuffle with Graham Crabb at least, I must confess that this was a far better gig than, “on paper”, it had any right to be. The new stuff made so much more sense live, Mary Byker makes for a great second frontman, and a wisely picked selection of old stuff meant that generally no-one was really caring that there were a few glaring omissions. Still, they still have it, and we still want to hear it. Bring on the Spring and more shows.
Showmen in rock are in something of a short supply these days, so it was perhaps no great surprise that Rob Zombie’s first UK dates in years were snapped up very quickly indeed. And it was some show we were delivered, too. There were twenty-foot robots, monsters on stage, some awesome visuals, and fire. Lots of fire. And, of course, an awful lot of industrial-metal anthems, covering pretty much his entire career which meant that White Zombie wasn’t forgotten. This would have been higher in the list, though, had I not known that the entire tour other than this date had Supercharger Heaven in the encore – we were treated to an anticlimax of newer songs instead, that after a Dragula that had Rob Zombie nearly touching the ceiling (literally, thanks to a very high platform!), really felt like ten minutes wasted.
So, the geeks did inherit the earth after all? Well, not quite, but you could be forgiven for thinking so with the reaction afforded the reunion of Pulp for the summer. Being totally honest about their intentions, too, seemed to be a point in their favour as well – no sudden appearance of new material, as Jarvis and the band were well aware that most of the people there wanted to hear the old favourites. These got delivered in spades, and as might also have been expected, songs from Different Class dominated the set. Despite their huge success with that album, it always felt when they finally split a couple of albums later that they had never quite got the respect they deserved. With this stellar show (and similar reports from the rest of the dates) they can certainly begin to consider that wrong righted.
I didn’t really see too many metal shows this year – and I’m not sure whether that was because I simply missed all the good ones, or whether I wasn’t all that bothered about them over the year. But I wasn’t going to miss this one for the world – the live return of most of the original line-up (well, in particular the return of Grady Avenell on vocals). A longer than usual show was promised, and this got split into two parts – the first half seeing them play the whole of Voir Dire in order, which was something of a brave move and was actually very impressive indeed, and then the second half seeing them roll out a set covering most of their backcatalogue. They were always a fearsome live band, but the time away seems just to have encouraged them to be that bit harder, that bit heavier, and that bit better. This was a fantastic way to spend a Friday evening.
Despite a brutal hangover from over-indulgence the night before, I eventually came ’round enough to be able to enjoy much of the day at Wireless – which we managed to pick the right bands for much of the day. In fact, there could perhaps have been one or two more bands that made this list, but for now I’ve stuck with two. The Hives are one of those bands I’d always appreciated, their habit of writing killer singles certainly has helped, as has their wry, knowing update on rock’n’roll. And, as it turns out, they are enormous fun live, too. Constantly engaging with the crowd, unleashing rock anthem after rock anthem, and with an attention to detail that shames most other bands (guitar techs as black-clad ninjas!), it is hard to think of a better band to wake up a festival crowd on a warm summer day.
OK, so my second favourite Belgian band, and indeed one of three Belgian bands I saw at least twice this year. The Highbury Garage show that dEUS did on a hot and sticky late spring night was a bit of a mess, really – too warm, a slightly rusty live band, and new songs that they hadn’t quite got to grips with live yet. So it was a relief to get a proper dEUS show in the autumn, one where they were able to ignore all of their much-loved debut album (yes, not even playing Suds and Soda), play all of their new album, and still be fantastic. Ok, so the fact that they played one of my favourite songs (the heartrendingly bleak Sister Dew) might have helped swing it, but still…
One of more than a few shows this year where I was transported to the past – in some respects a past as a teenager I’d rather not relive, but the 90s was such fertile territory to be a fan of alternative music that there seems to be a never-ending stream of bands returning or gaining a new lease of life as a new generation of fans discover them. The latter seems to have happened with Senser, as this was a well-attended gig that was by no means full of thirty-somethings like myself. Certainly, though, the past dominated the set, with loads of stuff I’d waited years to hear, some old hip-hop covers (one of which was a searing version of Mama Said Knock You Out that frankly was better than the original), and even some unreleased stuff that was also fantasic. Rap-metal is certainly not dead, on this showing.
An up-and-coming London band who released one ofmy favourite songs of 2010, and judging on how good this gig was, there are a few more potential favourite songs just awaiting release. A band who straddle the divide between the electro-rock-pop of Garbage and the shoe-gazy end of Curve, their shyness on stage is actually rather endearing, and really quite suits the music. I predict great things for these guys in 2012.>
From their earlier releases, this Scottish band never quite sounded like any of their other peers. Taking elements of shoegaze, post-rock and indie-rock, and turning it into a deep, dark heartfelt musing on life with a musical backing as heavy at points. And live, they are probably ten times more intense, the band lost in the music as they perform. And covering material from albums past and yet to come, there was clear evidence of progression, and that there appears to be even better to come. I’ll be back seeing these guys in February, I suspect.
Just pipping the last ever Severed Heads shows at BIMFest for me was this blistering forty-five minutes from Italian EBM veterans Pankow. No fat, no waste, just sex-and-sweat drenched EBM for the distance, and I’ve had some of the songs in my head since. Why oh why did it take me ’til now to finally listen to this band….
Another of the electronic legends I saw this year, in fact the very last show I saw in 2011. And a striking end to the year, too – an intense audio and visual assault that simply proved just how outside of supposed trends in industrial that Clock DVA were working for much of their career. There were short nods to their more “convential” industrial material in the form of Sound Mirror and The Hacker, but broadly this was very experimental stuff, and it sounded amazing.
By some considerable distance one of the most extreme live shows I’ve ever witnessed – Whitehouse are probably the only artist I can recall coming close to this – this early evening show was a bit of a monster to start Day Three of Kinetik. Forty minutes of a seriously intense audio and visual assault, a time length that was probably pushing the limits of most of the crowd – and I’m sure Shane would have it no other way. But despite the extremity, this was an enjoyable show, covering past material and a fair bit of new stuff, too, that makes it plainly clear that no ambient-esque change of direction is coming anytime soon. Easily one of the reasons I went to Kinetik in the first place, I’m looking forward to seeing them scare the living crap out of a UK crowd in April, when they make their debut at Resistanz. This should be fun.
A rare band in the industrial scene, really – one that makes totally sure that they have moved beyond one-man and his laptop, and instead provides a show both enthralling and with more than a little sense of danger. So: not only are they guys onstage metaphorically twisting jagged beats and effects from samplers, keyboards and laptops, there are also other people onstage actually twisting jagged beats from various found (mainly metal-based) items. Oh, and angle-grinding all of it within an inch of its life. The sight of one bloke onstage playing the riff to Raining Blood on a double-necked guitar, while someone else angle-grinds it (and the sparks fly into the crowd), and the rest of the people onstage hammer out the intro beats, is one of those live-show moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
It would appear that I picked the right show for my first KJ show (a number of friends could scarcely believe I’d never seen them, either) – it is due to be released on DVD in the new year. And too right, too – it was an awesome show, covering their entire history and probably most of their albums, too, but with a pretty heavy emphasis on the really old stuff. No complaints from me there, as that just meant I got to hear some seriously punishing material, particularly an absolutely killer Bloodsport. This certainly won’t be the last time I see them live.
So, I’ve seen Modulate quite a few times over the years. In fact, I was at one of their very first shows, some years back on a cold winters night in Manchester, and the change in sound, attitude and confidence between then and now is extraordinary. Back then it was eyes-on-the-electronics, this time it was the now-four-man live band unleashing a whole arsenal of killer tracks – to a pretty-much full venue of over two thousand people. Make no mistake, this was the show of this day, and one of the talking points of the whole festival – and the way the crowd went utterly batshit to the new songs suggests that their steady rise up the ranks of the industrial scene is by no means over yet. Now, about that new EP…
Actually covering two shows, really, this – and as usual Amanda Palmer put on one hell of a show. And make no mistake, this was one of those all out shows (as opposed to gigs) where all kinds of crazy shit happened, there were awesome support acts, costume changes, ninja horn sections, guest slots from the likes of Tim Minchin (!) and Tom Robinson (!), seeing Neil Gaiman join in on one marvellous song, new and old AFP songs, various old Dresden Dolls songs (including me *finally* seeing Girl Anachronism live at the fifth attempt), and a general sense that just about anything was about to happen. The following Monday’s show at the British Library was rather more intimate, chatty, but no less fun. Especially swearing along to Map of Tasmania!
My first introduction to this Northern Ireland-based “post-metal” band was catching the end of a hotly tipped Damnation Festival set a couple of years ago, and that short viewing left me wanting more. The first album was an instant joy, the second album a little slower in revealing its charms, but this London show, just after the second album dropped in the spring, was a great lesson in how post-metal/post-rock can be anything but staid, serious and boring. Instead there were crowd sing-alongs – with instrumental songs! – some jaw-dropping musicianship, and a sense that the band want to take on the world, with their fans at their side. I’m still kicking myself now that I left before the second encore, in the mistaken belief that it was all over.
I ended up seeing Front 242 four times this year, in four different countries. And of the four times, this was the first and best. From the moment the first note of Happiness rang out across the venue, you could feel the palpable buzz around as its driving build-up electrified the crowd, and throughout the show the band took us with them to quite ridiculous heights. This was one of those perfect shows, the best industrial performance I’ve ever seen and will ever see, and yet somehow it got pipped to the number one spot this year. If you were at this show, you might now understand just how brilliant the number one in this list was.
Ok, so Front 242 probably put on the best industrial show I will ever see, but something about the MIAB set at Infest three months later seemed to transcend almost anything else this year, and in fact for most of the past sixteen years or so of my gig-going. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was, but I suspect that the emotional connection that the band’s songs create certainly helped – their delicate and intricate arrangements are transformed onstage into anthems apparently from another universe. In fact, a space-bound analogy may help explain just how far from other bands they are. No other band anywhere comes close to the invention, the individuality of MIAB, and this continues onstage. How many other bands have even dared such a radical reinvention for live work as this, without losing the core brilliance and frankly making them even more amazing? My only concern after this is that I’m never going to see a show as incredible as this in my lifetime. Which is a depressing thought. At least I will retain the memories of this for a long time yet.