Monday, December 20, 2004

SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2004

Limited – I hope understandably – to my own gig-going experiences…

10. MUSE, Glastonbury Festival, 27th June
Recent single ‘Hysteria’ and ‘New Born’ get things off to an electric start and, although ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘Apocalypse Please’ are spectacular, the set begins to flag somewhat in the middle, as the songs drift gradually away into the empty bombast and prog-opera for which they attract so much critical scorn. Thankfully, though, the three singles ‘Bliss’, ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Plug In Baby’ with which they end restore the natural balance between pomp and substance, and in the encore they attack an explosive ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ with staggering ferocity. Let them eat rock, Matt Bellamy seems to have said – and we do, with relish.

9. FRANZ FERDINAND, Birmingham Academy, 27th January
It's great to see a band who came across as loveable but eccentric sell-nothing arty geeks back in August looking so naturally at home on the Academy's stage, buoyed by the knowledge that they've got a corker of an LP just waiting to be unleashed. The opening trio of songs - 'Shopping For Blood', 'Tell Her Tonight' and the ever-marvellous chart-scorching single 'Take Me Out' - are as clear a statement of intent as you'll ever hear, that statement being, ‘We have come for your ears and your stereos’. Let's get one thing straight: they ARE the new Strokes, if only in the sense that they're the most precociously well-formed band to appear since Julian Casablancas and company came into view. Parading almost mathematically perfect songs like ‘Jacqueline' and 'Darts Of Pleasure' on stage, they're like a newborn baby freshly emerged from the womb clutching the proofs for a new law of physics.

8. PJ HARVEY, Glastonbury Festival, 25th June
Most of the choice cuts from new album Uh Huh Her – ‘The Letter’, ‘Cat On The Wall’, ‘Who The Fuck?’, ‘The Life And Death Of Mr Badmouth’ – get a welcome airing, but my personal highlights are Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea tracks ‘Big Exit’ and ‘Good Fortune’, songs I love unconditionally. The cider having taken control of my body and mind, I spend most of the set nodding and gawping at the stage – as if the songs weren’t enough to arrest the attention and quicken the pulse, she’s wearing a Spice Girls dress and pink stilettos
(Also seen at Birmingham Academy)

7. THE ICARUS LINE, Nottingham Rock City, 3rd May
I'm not quite sure what it is that appeals to me - they're obnoxious, messy, graceless and not particularly talented. It must be something to do with the primal quality of their music, and their antipathy towards, amongst other things, everything that attempts to pass itself off as "punk" - plus, of course, the fact that they rock. There's little evidence in tonight's set of their seedier and sinister stoner side (stuff like 'You Make Me Nervous' from their last LP, the ferocious Mono), but we do get the brilliant single 'Feed A Cat To Your Cobra' (#7 in SWSL's Singles of 2002, dontcha know) and plenty of highlights from their latest offering: 'Seasick', 'On The Lash' and the single 'Party The Baby Off', during which band nutjob and Buddyhead co-founder Aaron North, sporting black 'Mask Of Zorro' eye make-up, walks along the bar and sprays Coke out of the soft drinks nozzle all over his guitar.

6. THE FIERY FURNACES, Nottingham Stealth, 26th August
What happens next is anyone's guess. The four piece career and crash through song after song without pause for breath, and I stand gobsmacked at the awesome intensity of it all, foremost in my mind the thought, ‘They do this EVERY NIGHT?!!’. It starts with 'My Dog Was Lost But Now It's Found', and 'South Is Only A Home', 'Single Again', 'Don't Dance Her Down', 'Blueberry Boat', 'Bright Blue Tie' and 'Tropical Iceland' are all in there somewhere, gleaming pearls of surrealist blues thrown out before the mulleted swine, while snatches and snippets of songs apparently discarded earlier creep back into the set.

5. MOGWAI, Nottingham Rock City, 24th March
'Sine Wave' gets the encore off to an inauspicious start, Martin losing track of his drum line amidst the industrial crunch, but the rising guitar riff and gently skipping drums of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' are on hand to make immediate amends. As ever it packs a mighty wallop, but the surprise is that, as in Birmingham last October, it doesn't close the show. That honour falls to 'Ratts Of The Capital', on this occasion a sinuous, shrieking beast that is so stunningly heavy it threatens to burst your eyeballs. For a moment, after about five minutes of powerchord barrage, I'm tempted to put my hands to my ears, but then just in time I stop myself - that would be to concede defeat to the sinister forces of old age and reason... So, no 'Take Me Somewhere Nice', no 'Like Herod', no 'My Father My King' - but then to complain about the omissions would be ungrateful and detract from what we did get. What Mogwai have gained in grace and songwriting skill over the years, they patently haven't sacrificed in power or extremity. I may be edging towards my late 20s, but there's still something special in feeling physically brutalised by music.

4. SPIRITUALIZED, Nottingham Rock City, 26th January
The mammoth and majestic set ends with a pure fucking noise freakout and all-out strobe assault that’s like Mogwai and The Velvet Underground self-combusting together on stage. It’s January, my first gig of the new year, and already it’s a serious contender for top spot come the end-of-year lists. Amazing. And graceful. The bar has been set obscenely high. Ladies and gentlemen, I am currently floating in space.
(Also seen at Glastonbury Festival)

3. THE FUTUREHEADS, Birmingham Academy, 6th December
Extensive touring over the past year has whetted their live set to a keen blade, their spiky songs like daggers which jab you in the ribs in a perversely pleasurable way. There's no stylish slickness here, just an invigorating clattering punk racket overlaid with the glorious three and sometimes four part vocal harmonies. You get the feeling that you're witnessing the release of years of pent-up frustration, the cork popping from the bottle marked 'Adolescent Energy'. Fast, furious and utterly thrilling to watch.

2. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS, Wolverhampton Civic Hall, 7th November
Love. Disgust. Hope and warmth. Malice and foreboding. Songs of beauty. Stories of violence. Weightless balladry. Blazing fury. Carefree days of sunshine. Dark nights of the soul. Gossamer threads of guitar. Bar-room blues on PCP. The sublime. The ridiculous. ‘Babe, you turn me on’. ‘Routine atrocity’. ‘GET READY FOR LOVE!!!’ ‘THERE IS A WAR COMING!!!’ Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds experience … From the moment they reappear and Cave says, ‘So, what do you want to hear?’, the encore's just a little bit special. Cave sneering the reference to ‘moral sneaks in the White House’ in 'God Is In The House'; the explosions of noise in 'Red Right Hand'; the entirety of 'Deanna' (‘I ain't down here for your money / I ain't down here for your love / I ain't down here for love or money / I'M DOWN HERE FOR YOUR SOUL’); blood-soaked murderfest 'Stagger Lee' making gangsta rap look like kids' stuff. He doesn't play 'Do You Love Me?', but if he had I would have shouted 'Yes'.

1. SONIC YOUTH, London Brixton Academy, 2nd September
The star of the show has to be Thurston Moore, an art-punk legend dressed up as Bill or Ted. Even in middle age he's a goofy teenager getting to do what he's always dreamt of and loving every minute of it, tossing that unchanging mane with the same enthusiastic abandon of youth. ‘The last time we were here was about ten years ago. Those were the days, baby!’ Barely fifteen minutes into the set and he's humping his guitar on top of the enormous speaker stacks as 'Pattern Recognition', confirmed tonight as a modern classic in the same mould as 'The Empty Page', drifts away into feedback … Just take a look at the set-list. I've seen them play 'Teenage Riot' AND 'Expressway To Yr Skull' ON THE SAME NIGHT. I can die happy.

Every other band I’ve enjoyed / endured live this year:

Atlantic Dash / Basement Jaxx / Bright Eyes / British Sea Power / James Brown / Dead Meadow / The Duke Spirit / English National Opera / Funeral For A Friend / Goldie Lookin Chain (x2) / Hope Of The States / Interpol / The Killers / Kings Of Leon / Lostprophets / Maximo Park / Paul McCartney / Modey Lemon / Morrissey / My Morning Jacket / The Rapture (x2) / The Raveonettes / Red Organ Serpent Sound / Rilo Kiley / Scissor Sisters / Secret Machines / The Shins / Six By Seven / Sons & Daughters / Squarepusher / Television / The Von Bondies / The Walkmen / Wilco / Wolves! (Of Greece)

A reminder of the SWSL Top 10 Live Performances Of 2003:

1. RADIOHEAD, Glastonbury Festival
2. SIGUR ROS, Glastonbury Festival
3. LOW, Birmingham Academy
4. JANE’S ADDICTION, Nottingham Rock City
5. THE FLAMING LIPS, Glastonbury Festival
6. THE RAVEONETTES, Birmingham Academy
7. EELS, Birmingham Irish Centre
8. MOGWAI, Glastonbury Festival
9. YEAH YEAH YEAHS, Leeds Festival
10. THE DELGADOS, Birmingham Academy

No comments: