I’m sure I’ve at least mentioned these in passing before, but I can’t find it (the perils of using titles to posts that don’t actually tell me all that much when searching for things!), so it’s perhaps overdue that I make this into a Tuesday Ten, especially with such an interesting response on Facebook and Twitter t’other day.
So, this week’s is about live gigs. Specifically, the best live gigs I’ve seen. I long since lost count of how many bands I’ve seen live – at the end of 1999, shortly before I left London, at a point where I was still keeping all my gig tickets, I worked out that I had seen between 600 and 700 bands live by then, but having not kept count since I have really no idea where I am now, except for the comment that it is a lot more than that.
So here are ten live gigs that have remained in my memory, that cover pretty much all of the time that I have been going to see live bands – about fourteen years, in total. I’ve put them in chronological order.
Heineken Festival, Roundhay Park, Leeds, July 1995
This was all about the entrance, and the expectation. 1995 was the year that this band exploded into the alternative music scene, with Little Baby Swastikkka played extensively on the Evening Session on Radio One, and so at this (free) summer festival in Leeds there was a hell of a lot of expectation for this band’s appearance. We got into the tent early, and it was at least ten-deep outside the tent by the time they came onstage. I’ll never forget the opening, too, with Skin almost whispering the opening line to Little Baby Swastikkka, a big roar from the crowd, and then all hell broke loose when the chorus kicked in. The short – it was only an afternoon slot – gig was one of the highlights of the entire weekend. They were never quite the same again, though, as their material got more radio-friendly over time, less confrontational, and their live shows started going the same way.
This was a small gig, on a weeknight, while I was still in sixth form. The first occasion of six that I saw GVSB, and the only chance I ever got to see Brainiac live. Brainiac were mental – flailing, moog-infused post-punk that had the tunes, the swagger and a real case of “WTF?” for much of the set. Lead singer Tim Taylor died in a car crash the following year, just as they were completing their major label debut. I still own all three albums and the two available EPs on CD, and if you ever get the chance, hunt them down. One of the only bits of footage that I’ve ever found is of a performance of Sexual Frustration [Youtube link].
Headliners Girls Against Boys were equally brilliant. Already four albums into their career at that point, around the release of the monstrous House of GVSB, live they were already a grinding, well-oiled machine that sounded bloody fantastic, and in a smaller venue like the Duchess it just made it even better. Ironically GVSB also went onto a major label deal after this, with Geffen, that turned out to be a disaster for just about everyone involved (even if the album in question – Freak*on*ica – isn’t anywhere near as bad as many say it is). Nowadays they only play occasional live dates, with no prospect of another album to come (it is now over six years since last release You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See), and there isn’t a lot of footage of these guys live, either. So here is some footage from the Touch & Go 25th Anniversary [Youtube link] along with an interview, and Brainiac are touchingly mentioned in the intro to second track Kill the Sexplayer (the first track is Rockets are Red).
While I attended a lot of gigs while at University in London between 1996 and 1999, for some reason not a lot of them stick in my mind as being awesome gigs – many were good, but none reached the level that I wanted for this list. Attending the sun-drenched Reading Festival in August 1999 was different, though. There were loads of great performances – and a fair number of shit ones, too – but these two bands followed each other in one of the smaller tents on the Saturday afternoon, and were both something else. Rico was half-an-hour of searing, intense rock with electronic flourishes, with his commanding stage presence and sheer rage making it an essential watch – particularly at the end of the set – a member of security was making signals that time was up, and insisting Rico cut things short – he totally ignored them, and got his band to race into one last track, and his fury at this was just channelled into the song, making Attack Me even more feral than usual.
Liberty 37 were similarly intense – their sprawling songs and intelligently worded lyrics had already hooked me before the gig, and live the songs were even better. It’s a real shame that the band fell foul of yet more record label issues, and the second album pretty much sank without trace, and the band have long since ceased to exist.
Brixton Academy, London, December 2001
After the infamous cancelled gig at the London Astoria the previous summer (when the local council rescinded their approval for the gig at the last minute, when everyone was already queueing outside – the queue went right around the block), it was rescheduled for the larger Brixton Academy six months later, still with the same support (Clawfinger). Frankly, this was probably the best live show I have ever seen. Not only great songs, but a sense of theatre and entertainment that trumps just about any other band. Obviously their show is nowadays well known, full of stupendous pyrotechnics and stagecraft, but the good thing is that over time the band have continually tweaked their shows and added new things, so that the same old tricks are seen each time. Still, this first time was still the best (I’ve even been to Prague to see them live), and I’ll never forget the opening of the encore, where vocalist Till Lindemann set himself (well, his chainmail coat) on fire as the first line of Rammstein was sung…
Kentish Town Forum, London, July 2004
The comeback in 2004 of this band was hugely anticipated, and when the chance to see them live came up many of us leapt at the chance – even if it was on a Monday night in London, and getting back was a trial (I seem to recall I slept in the environs of Victoria Coach Station that night awaiting my coach home first thing in the morning). But then, that sense of adventure that surrounds this gig has only served to make the memories of it even more vivid. Like the Rammstein gig, this was a “show”. With god knows how many stage props and costumes, some clever delayed video-trickery onstage, oh, and the songs. Pretty much a “greatest hits” set that had absolutely no filler, and a reminder of just how brilliant, influential and most of all original that ‘Puppy were.
Leadmill, Sheffield, March 2006
A much newer band, now, probably the youngest band in this list, in fact. I’ve never seen a bad gig from 65DoS (I’ve seen them five or six times now, I think), but this show at the Leadmill, the first I saw with full visual accompaniment behind them, was the best of them. An awesome show of musical ability, of how tight the band are, and how staggering their tunes are, this was peerless. Originally lumped in as “post-rock”, I’d say they are far more than that. Taking in influences from post-rock, metal, techno, industrial, IDM and god knows what else, and using no vocals live the band often leave the crowd speechless too. Top moment of this was the unbelievable version of Hole, using for the first time well-edited footage of the nuclear nightmare of Threads.
Infest, Bradford, August 2006
I’m not sure I need to say too much about this – other than that I had waited years for this, and it delivered everything I ever wanted from the band. The album around the time provided a hell of a return to form, and this gig had us all grinning like loons afterwards.
Roadhouse, Manchester, December 2007
Another band I’d waited a long while to see, and their lengthy (near-two hour) set in a tiny venue was a fantastic experience, playing material from all across their career, and all with the simple set-up of vocals, drums and a sampler, as they always have. They may be getting old now, but their music is timeless, peerless and a feast for the ears.
Corporation, Sheffield, February 2008
The number of gigs I attend has dropped in recent years, partly perhaps due to location, partly due to a lack of bands that I really want to see – oh, and the cost. But there are still some bands I will go out of my way to ensure that I see them, and this gig was one of them. It fell on a Tuesday night, as I recall, so clashing with tcf, but a night off for this was no problem, particularly as the gig had already been rescheduled twice. An hour of a hardcore/math-metal blitzkreig, that from the photo pit – i.e. right in front of the stage – was bloody terrifying to watch as I had no idea of what was going to happen next. And how the band manage to keep playing so tightly in amidst the chaos I will never know. I noted at the time in my review that this was the best metal gig I have ever seen, and I’d love to see a band try and better this. Perhaps the only way it could, would have been if the original line-up for this – Meshuggah and DEP – had toured together…
Infest, Bradford, August 2008
One last one – in fact probably the last of the big industrial names that I hadn’t seen live. Again, perhaps this gig sticks in my memory due to the circumstances as much as the gig (I was DJing there straight afterwards, I had met Patrick Codenys earlier in the day for an interview, it was one of the best Infest festivals I’d been to…), but the gig itself was a lesson in how to do EBM live – and very, very loudly. Obviously most of the classic stuff was rolled out, but even the newer stuff sounded incredible.