A friends’s posting of this link over the weekend provided me inspiration for the subject of this week’s Tuesday Ten.
As the compulsory purchase order process enters it’s final stages (the venue and pretty much most of the block around it is going to facilitate the upgrade of Tottenham Court Road station with the coming of Crossrail), it’s time perhaps to look back at a venue I spent an awful lot of time in back in the late 90s while at University in London (and a handful of times since). The Astoria, while grubby, a bit grotty and pretty expensive, has always been one of my favourite gig venues by miles. While another old cinema venue, it was always just the right size, offered great views of the stage from just about anywhere in there and generally had a fantastic sound, too. So in something of a retrospective, here are ten bands/gigs that I remember seeing at the Astoria or the smaller LA2 downstairs. Feel free to add other gigs worth mentioning that you’ve seen at the Astoria over the years…
This was the first gig I saw when I moved to London, and the first gig I ever reviewed – for ROAR, the King’s College London student newspaper – starting what has now been over 12 years of me writing about music. As I recall, it was a pretty awesome gig, too. Downset are kinda forgotten now, but were in the mid-90s one of the leading lights of a rap-metal scene from the west coast of the USA that was, lest we forget, actually interesting (and had something to say) prior to the gonzoid likes of Limp Bizkit and Crazy Town took over the world.
NME Awards show, January 1997
After a few fallow years, The Orb returned in early 1997 with a new album Orblivion that was their best for some time. The live show they brought to the Astoria that year was really bloody odd. The “band” hidden, in the main, by lots of white canvas, their bizarre, spaced-out electronics confused the fuck out of everybody, particularly when they appeared to deliberately avoided playing the old “crowd-pleasers”…
Talking of annoying/confusing, this gig (the same week as the Orb one) was just as strange. Or that might just have been our state of mind, having been drinking and, er, smoking all day. Mogwai opened that night, and for thirty minutes nearly took everybody’s heads off. Only four songs, of which the last fifteen to twenty minutes were the storm of static and searing noise that is Stereodee, and our ears were still ringing after two more bands when Pavement finally took to the stage. In something of a “difficult” mood, they choose to showcase obscure album tracks and B-sides, pointedly avoiding the “hits”. Frankly, they weren’t very good, but I did get to see them in a much better light at Reading in 1999, at least.
Spring 1997, LA2
I had only heard the still-even-now-marvellous Underground [Youtube link] before this gig, and was invited along by a friend who had a spare ticket. They turned out to be brilliant, too – Ben Folds was a hell of a showman, not to mention an incredibly talented musician, and the tunes were pretty damned good too. His over-the-top rock pisstake with Satan Is My Master (with Folds in a bad wig and outfit, miming on a toy guitar ontop of the piano) was very nearly worth the entry alone. Somehow, I’ve never seen him live again since…
The following year, the Deftones had exploded into the metal mainstream with their second album Around The Fur, a far more focused and accessible album than their debut Adrenaline. This gig was mental – I nearly got ripped to pieces in the moshpit when they began with Engine #9 and Seven Words back-to-back. One of the most savage gigs I’ve ever seen (they barely stopped for breath across the whole set), and the Deftones were never this good again.
sometime in 1998
This was a Saturday lunchtime gig for reasons that I can’t remember, and I snagged a free ticket that was being given away somewhere so that I could attend. Despite a reasonably sparse crowd (the gig was at 1300 on a Saturday!), the band played a full set including a seemingly everlasting version of The Man Don’t Give A Fuck. The most surprising thing for me was how different the band were live – less of the laid back attitude, and more of a confrontational electronic base to the music.
Seen at least once in both the Astoria and LA2 in 1998/1999
I’ve seen Pitchshifter more times than any other band – fourteen times at last count – and they have never failed to be anything less than a great live band. I saw them three times, I think at the Astoria venues around this time, supported by Radiator on one occasion…and a couple of other bands who will be mentioned in a moment.
Two awesomely good live bands who I only ever saw supporting others. Will Haven were like a wall of noise live, a brutal, unrelenting juggernaut that left gig-goers gasping for air afterwards (and often sent many running to the bar for a break), while One Minute Silence were always great to watch, even if they seemed to be the metal-support-band-of-choice for a good many years.
Where and I first saw VNV, and said those famous last words of “It’ll never catch on“. Leechwoman I had not seen prior to this, either, and their very, very loud industrial-noise-metal hybrid certainly left a mark (not least in my hearing), but it was Cubanate that took the honours that night. Their last album Interference added bruising drum’n’bass to their already heavy guitar-laced industrial, and it appears that this was one of the last times that they ever played live.
June 2001 – The infamous gig that never happened
The last gig to mention never actually happened – the gig that we were all in the queue for around Soho Square (it was sold out a couple of months in advance), the big gig of the year…and it was pulled at around 2000 that night. Amid all the confusion after the gig, some facts did emerge, and it seemed that Westminster Council weren’t very happy about the heavy use of pyros. Our group ended up hooking up with my old friend Tanya and her friends for drinks in a nearby pub, before heading back north on the last train. The gig was rescheduled for the following December, at Brixton Academy, and was one of the best gigs of my life (easily in the top five).