Saturday, 22 December 2018

2018 - A Year In Live Music

And so, we reach another year end and I find myself wondering why, once again, I’ve not blogged more. I would say that could be a new year’s resolution, but we’ll see. Anyway, at the end of each year, I write a blog about the best gigs I’ve been to in that year, with a list of honourable mentions to accompany. This is never an easy task, especially trying to remember if I enjoyed a gig that happened right at the beginning of the year more than one that is fresh in my mind. However, last year it wasn’t so bad because I only went to 15 gigs. Choosing the 5 that didn’t make the cut was tough, and then it was a case of deciding on an order for the top 10. This year however, all being well, I will have been to 31. I say all being well – these words are being typed as I’ve to 26 of them and have 5 more left this month (for those who couldn’t do the math). It has so far been a bit of a headache trying to narrow these down to the 10 best ones. The only blog I have written this year was one half way through the year due to the number of gigs I’ve been to this year. As such, some of the words you read in this blog may have appeared in the one from earlier this year. With that being said, lets crack on with the honourable mentions, and my word are there a few. These are in chronological order.

Marmozets – Engine Rooms, Southampton. February 2018 – My first gig of the year and one that a week beforehand, I was very excited about as they absolutely smashed it at the Wedgewood Rooms in November 17. 5 days before though, my excitement wasn’t as high to the point I considered missing it due to spraining my ankle. The gig itself was very enjoyable but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, due to the aforementioned ankle injury.

Paradise Lost – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. February 2018 – My second gig of the year and was largely recovered from my ankle injury. I went to this because I’d seen Paradise Lost at a festival before and remember thinking they were decent. I’m not sure if a chance to see them again has come up – if it has I don’t remember it – but they were in my home town on a Friday night. A better chance to see them was unlikely to occur. Anyhow, I arrived while the opening band, King Goat, were on stage. They weren’t really my cup of tea. The main support, Outshine, were good. They made me think they would be what would happen if Oomph! went goth/doom. I enjoyed their set quite a lot. Paradise Lost though were on another level - they were outstanding. I went along to hopefully see a good gig, and left having seen a great one.

Ginger Wildheart – The Joiners, Southampton. March 2018 – The weather was atrocious before this gig, but luckily that did not impact my enjoyment at all. Laura from She Makes War opened, who was good. Ginger, with the band he put together for this tour, was brilliant. Last time I saw a Ginger solo show, it was him and Jase Edwards with backing tapes. That was good, but the additional members of this tour certainly added to the gig.

Milk Teeth – The Anvil, Bournemouth. March 2018 ­- I don’t often go to gigs in Bournemouth and as such, there were a couple of venues I would see appear on tours and want to visit just to say I’d been really. These venues were The Anvil and The Old Fire Station. After seeing them be excellent in Southampton in August 2017, I knew I wanted to see Milk Teeth again. They announced this tour which included a date at The Anvil in Bournemouth – a phrase about 2 birds and 1 stone seems appropriate here. The venue is underneath a bar, and the stage is really low. Anyhow, this time round the supports were Nervus and Fangclub. I really enjoyed both bands, but if made to choose which one I preferred, I would say Nervus. Fangclub, I’m guessing, really like Nirvana. This is no bad thing of course. Milk Teeth were just excellent. This didn’t come as a surprise but was nice to see again.

Skindred – O2 Guildhall, Southampton. April 2018 – Missed Danko Jones because of booze. Caught the end of CKY which was cool. Skindred are one of those bands that are just brilliant live every time. I think this tour was the first UK leg of the Big Tings album tour and they played 3 off the album which all fit in well with their better-known songs. A good time was had by all. Skindred being excellent live might feature again later (spoiler, they do).

Code Orange – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. April 2018 – Fun fact for those that are interested (and didn’t read the previous blog) – I went to this gig just hours after doing a half marathon that hurt a lot. If you were looking for me at this gig, I was the shambles at the back of the room. Lonely Waters opened, who were decent. Employed To Serve, I saw them supporting Milk Teeth in 2017 and they were incredible. I said after that gig that I want to see them again and this was the next possible chance for that to happen and they were probably better which is hard for me to fathom. They were my band of the night and I really want to see them again (had the chance over summer but the least said about that the better). Code Orange were really good. I wasn’t sure what to expect as the first time I saw them live I was somewhat nonplussed. This time though, they really won me over. Also, Bleeding in The Blur live is just wonderful.

Britrock Must Be Destroyed – EventIM Apollo, London. May 2018 – I had to choose between this or the Portsmouth one to make this list and really, it was a cigarette paper between them as to which was the more enjoyable gig for me. Chose the London one in the end for several reasons. The first, on a personal note, I got a message from a girl I’d started seeing the week before that day saying she didn’t want to take things further. I was a bit bummed out when heading to London, and this gig cheered me up so that was nice. Second, I walked in whilst Dodgy had not long left and got to see them play Good Enough, which is the definition of a Britpop banger. Third, Terrorvision blew me away and I totally wasn’t expecting them to. Fourth, The Wildhearts were bloody great as per. Finally, I didn’t stay for much of Reef, but they played the one song I knew. Lovely.

The Wildhearts – Concorde 2, Brighton. August 2018 – No-one is more surprised than me that this didn’t make the top 10. One of my favourite bands playing one of my favourite venues. Genuinely a surprise it didn’t make it. On any other year, I’m sure this would have made it. Gig was opened by Raging Speedhorn who were good. I somehow forgot how heavy they are. Might have been better suited if they supported/co-headlined with Mutation – a Ginger Wildheart side project, but they didn’t seem too out of place. The Wildhearts played a best of set which could not be faulted, heavy on Earth Vs but you won’t catch me complaining about that. The main highlight for me was the band playing Anthem from Endless, Nameless with Danny on lead vocals. I love that song and saw it live once before (at a birthday bash I think) with a guest vocalist doing lead vocals – so it was bloody cool to see Danny doing it as he did on the album. It was an excellent night out and was very close to making the top 10. If I could be allowed one criticism, and it is such a minor one - I thought that as new material had been played at recent acoustic shows, that this may be the show that it be debuted with the full band. It didn’t happen which was a shame. That aside, no complaints.

Marmozets – O2 Forum Kentish Town, London. October 2018 – How is this not in the top 10? Insanity. Anyway, Jamie Lenman opened this show and he was excellent – made me really regret not being able to make his headline show in Portsmouth earlier in the year. I suspect that would have been good fun. Marmozets were just as excellent, if not better. Seeing them in smaller rooms, such as I had up until this point, was awesome, but it was great to see them headline the Forum and hopefully now they will continue to headline venues of this size and bigger – the songs are more than good enough to justify it!

Skindred – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. November 2018 – Two Skindred gigs this year and both of them make the honourable mentions list. Both of these gigs have been boozy affairs, but this one was quite something. I was 7 pints deep before setting foot in the venue which isn’t an ideal state of affairs. Missed the opening band and walked in during the main support who didn’t do a lot for me. Skindred however were bloody great. I’ve seen them hold a festival crowd in the palm of their hands, so to see them do it again but on such a small scale was something else. A lot of the stage patter was the same as it was at the gig earlier in the year, but this didn’t take anything away from the gig. Skindred being excellent live is almost as certain as death and taxes.

Within Temptation – O2 Academy Brixton. November 2018 – Won tickets for this gig, which was handy as I was thinking about buying tickets when that happened. The support band for the night did nothing for me, I can’t lie. This was comfortably the best I’ve seen Within Temptation live, although I think this was the only time I’ve not seen them play Ice Queen live, which was a shame as I bloody love that song. No matter though! It not being there didn’t spoil the gig by any means. I was thinking about ending this with a sarcastic comment, something to the effect of me getting my money’s worth out of this one – but actually had I bought tickets for this, I wouldn’t have felt cheated out of my money – Within Temptation were great.

Fireball Tour – O2 Empire Shepherds Bush. December 2018 – There are a few in this list that could have easily made the top 10 in other years, but alas. Missed the first two bands due to being responsible with the amount I was drinking (lies, lies and damned lies) but got in during Face to Face. Saw probably half their set and they were good. The Bronx, muddy vocals aside, were bloody brilliant but then they are really. It was pretty lively from the off, including the first song I think when a crowd surfer kicked my glasses off my face (I was impressed with myself for catching them out of the air). The best band of the night though were the headliners, Flogging Molly. Firstly, it has been a long time since I’ve been in a mosh pit for a gig, and it was a lot of fun. Secondly, my word Flogging Molly are just brilliant live.

Bury Tomorrow - O2 Forum Kentish Town, London. December 2018 – Bury Tomorrow are a band who I first saw in 2014 and although despite me having nothing but positive memories of the shows in that year, did not mention them in that year’s yearend review blog. Not sure why now, but no matter. One thing which should be mentioned though is that since then, they somewhat dropped off my radar mostly until this year when they released a belting album and announced this tour. Walked in to catch the opening band, Crystal Sky, play their last song. They sounded good. Cane Hill were up next, and I was looking forward to seeing them and they were decent, although my enjoyment of them was somewhat hampered by nearby folk having a loud chat which was distracting. 36 Crazyfists were the main support and they were bloody great – they made me regret missing their most recent Portsmouth show (I had it in my mind it was this year, but I’m now not sure when it was). Bury Tomorrow were immense. Their set was pretty short but was top draw from beginning to end. Had they played Lionheart, I may have had no choice but to shoehorn it into the top 10. As it is, alas. Fine margins this year!

It was tough to not include some of those in the top 10 gigs of the year, but by the numerical value attached to the list suggests, there are only 10 spots available and they have gone to the following gigs

The Top 10

10.          Nightwish – SSE Arena, London. December 2018

Firstly, a bit of honesty. I went to the Nightwish Wembley Arena show in 2015 with Arch Enemy which I thought was very good (no.5 in the 2015 list) but I wasn’t that fussed about going to this one. I like Nightwish, but in the time between the 2015 gig and now, they had fallen into the territory of a band who I liked but didn’t feel the need to see live again. However, I got talked into going and as it got closer, I got more excited about it. Checked out the support band, Beast in Black, a few days before and they sounded ace, which certainly helped me look forward to it more.
As it is, I ended up not seeing the support band due to a clash with Star Wars being on TV in the hotel, and that finishing whilst they were on stage (in my defence, it was episode 4 – I’m not a monster). Nightwish themselves though were superb. The set list was great and contained songs I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen them play live before. When I left the venue, I turned to the mate who convinced me to go and said basically what I said at the top of this entry – I wasn’t fussed about going, and that gig reminded me why I really like Nightwish. Pretty sure there won’t be a question mark over going next time, provided I can of course.

9.            Kreator/Dimmu Borgir – Roundhouse, London. December 2018

This is the first of 2 tour packages that appear in this list and although it is listed as a Kreator/Dimmu Borgir co-headline show - the strength of this one, and its position on the list, is largely down to the show as a whole. Bloodbath opened things up and I enjoyed their set. Didn’t know any of their songs but I wanted to see them due to a story I had heard about the singer, Nick Holmes, introducing the band as being from Stockholm, Sweden. This in itself is fairly unremarkable aside from the fact he is from Yorkshire and says that introduction with a Yorkshire accent – which sounded funny (and was so when he said it at this gig). Anecdotes aside, they had a good set. Next up was Hatebreed and they were excellent. It was almost as if they acknowledged they had a limited amount of time and just blistered through their back catalogue. Before the show, I thought they stuck out a little bit on the bill, a point which they highlighted by saying that mixed genre shows are the future. They also announced a 25th anniversary run through the UK in June. Based off of this set, I want to go to that.
Dimmu Borgir were the first of the two headliners on and they were excellent as well. I remembered earlier in the day that Dimmu had released a new album and checked out the songs they were playing live from it – all 3 of which are great. I had forgotten just how good Dimmu are live and their 70-minute set certainly was a reminder. A nod should be given to their stage show, which was pretty ace. The gig could have ended there, and it would have been great. However, Kreator were still to come. I noted that a few people near me in the seating area left which is a shame. I’ve seen Kreator a few times now and know how good they are live, but I felt the bar had been set high by Hatebreed and then raised by Dimmu Borgir – and I was wondering if Kreator could top it. They were filming their set for a DVD, so I suspected they would have a big show and…well that they did! Their show contained video screen backdrops, confetti and, what came as a big surprise to me, a lot of fire. There is something about fire at a gig which is always cool. Stage show aside though, Kreator were bloody great – as good as Dimmu & Hatebreed, if not better. Their set list was immense, and this show probably ranks as my favourite of all the Kreator sets I’ve seen.

8.            Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Roundhouse, London. May 2018

I wanted to go to the first Lost Evenings festival but unfortunately couldn’t make it. When the second installment was announced, I knew I had to go to at least one night of it. The one I ended up going to was the celebration of Love, Ire and Song where, I thought, the album would be played in full. It wasn’t advertised as such, but I assumed it would be. I was wrong, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the gig overall (something you may have guessed, being that I have put it in my top 10 of the year!). Caught the very end of Emily Barker, who I thought sounded really good. I was very excited to see The Subways live again as the previous times I did I thought they were great. This set was no exception, the only difference being that it would appear I was one of maybe a dozen in the crowd who thought so. The band were great, but the crowd from where I was just didn’t seem to care.
Onto Frank and the Sleeping Souls. If you’ve read one of these before (I’m guessing not), you may note that this band have appeared in quite a few of my end of year lists. Once again, they were just superb. It was a cool setlist because not only was it a celebration of Love, Ire and Song, there were also a few older, rarer songs played as well including a cover of a song by The Postal Service. I was surprised that nothing newer than Love, Ire and Song was played, especially as Frank had not long released a new album before this festival. It was a unique set though and I loved it.

7.            Cancer Bats – The Underworld, London. April 2018

Before lobbing superlatives at Cancer Bats, a firm nod of approval should be given to both supports, both of whom were very different to one another, Funeral Shakes being a rock n’ roll band and Death by Stereo being a hardcore punk band. Both were really good though. Gun to my head, I would say I preferred Funeral Shakes but take nothing away from Death by Stereo because they were great.
This show was Cancer Bats playing Hail Destroyer in full. The first time I saw Cancer Bats was in 2009 on what was essentially the Hail Destroyer tour which I remember was a short headline set but it blew me away. 10 years on and they were playing this album in full and it was incredible. I loved hearing the songs that don’t usually get a live airing, alongside all the classics which will regularly find their way into a Cancer Bats set list. I also liked the anecdotes throughout, including one moment where Liam was being very gracious towards the crowd, thanking everyone for their continued support. It was a really nice moment, but then the band launched into Sorceress – which is probably one of the most aggressive from the album. The band kicked off the show with 3 songs from Dead Set on Living, which is no poor way to start a Cancer Bats show. The encore of 2 new songs, Pneumonia Hawk and N.I.B (a Black Sabbath cover) capped off a breath-taking evening. Best CB show I’ve been to? Would certainly be in the top 3.

6.            Epica – O2 Forum, London. April 2018

Top to bottom, this show was excellent, probably the best Epica show I have been to. This show was almost lower in the list for one setlist omission, but I decided I couldn’t justify that as it was bloody great overall. If Essence of Silence was played (like it was at other stops on this tour), it would likely have been higher in the list (as it would have made the gig damn near perfect for me). This was the 3rd Epica headline show I’ve been to and one of the reasons it was my favourite is because it had by far the best support bill. The gig was opened by Oceans of Slumber – a band who I first heard a few years ago and remember being blown away by but didn’t really keep up with. They were great live. The main support was Myrkur, who was also really good.
Epica were immense. This show was their 999th show with the next night in their home town (I think) being their 1000th show. Aside from the previously mentioned lack of Essence of Silence, the show was faultless. What this show did for me was made me realise how good some of the songs from their latest album was. I probably would have realised it earlier, but I missed the Shepherd’s Bush headline show at the beginning of 2017 due to transport issues. Anyway, this isn’t about a missed show, it is about the one I went to. 3rd time seeing Epica at the Forum, and the 3rd time they were bloody great. I can definitely see me going to see them again.

5.            Slayer - SSE Arena, London. November 2018

SLAYER! (Doesn’t quite have the same impact when typed. No matter). This tour was part of Slayer’s farewell tour and it seemed like a good time to see them indoors for the first time. I probably would have gone to see Slayer anyway, but the touring package certainly helped sell it. The opening band were Obituary, who I saw at Wacken in 2008 and thought they were decent. I missed the first couple of songs but got in for most of their set and very much enjoyed them. Next up was Anthrax and they had about 40 minutes, in which they just filled the time with the bangers from their back catalogue and everyone had a lovely time. Do Anthrax need to play longer than 40 minutes anymore? Probably not. The main support was Lamb of God who laid waste to Wembley Arena. It was the first time I’d seen them for a while, and the last time indoors the sound was questionable (Southampton Guildhall…) but based off of this performance, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Lamb of God headlining the big room at some point.
I’ve seen Slayer a few times at festivals now. The first time, Machine Head fresh off releasing the Blackening set a bar they just could not meet which was a shame. The other two times at Sonisphere were both really good. This show was by far the best Slayer show I’d been to. The show top to bottom was just superb and as I was heading out the venue, it was without doubt in my mind this show would be in the top 10. As it happens, it just sneaked into the top 5. Farewell Slayer!

4.            Zeal and Ardor – The Haunt, Brighton. December 2018

This is a show I’ve wanted to go to since I first listened to the debut album, and immediately had to listen to it again because it was like nothing else I’d ever heard before. This year they released their second album (although I’ve heard the brains behind Zeal and Ardor refer to it as the debut album, with the first one being little more than a demo…either way) and it was bloody great. If I was doing a favourite albums of the year list, it would be in the top 3 probably (having a knife fight with Idles and Ghost). They’ve done 2 London shows before this tour that I’ve been unable to make which has been annoying and, on this tour, I couldn’t make the London show again due to being at the Fireball tour. It was either Brighton and a hotel or missing Z&A again. I found a hotel which was perhaps a 15 second walk away from the venue which was affordable and so, Brighton was a go! I almost didn’t go in to see the support band (was watching the Man in The High Castle) but I am glad I did – blanket were very good.
Zeal and Ardor were fucking great. I had no idea how they would replicate their sound live which added to my excitement of seeing it live. 4 vocalists on stage for the gang chanting which was quite something. The stage at The Haunt was quite small so to see all those people crammed onto it was pretty cool. I loved hearing the first/demo album material, but the new album music live was massive. Also, they played Row Row which I have fully fallen in love with. I will definitely see them live again if the opportunity presents itself. Amazing.

3.            Ghost – Royal Albert Hall, London. September 2018.

An evening with Ghost at the Royal Albert Hall was something I didn’t want to pass on, and although I was unable to get a floor standing ticket (instead located in my usual RAH haunt of the upper standing circle), this gig was bloody great. The stage show was done as though the gig was taking place in a cathedral which was pretty cool. I’m no Ghost expert, in fact I would say it is the new album that won me over. This gig though, not that I needed it, helped me get fully on board with Ghost. The music is great and live they are immense. When I saw them at a festival some years ago, I found them interesting. On this day, I was blown away. This gig was almost gig of the year but on reappraisal, there were 2 others I enjoyed more. That isn’t to take anything away from Ghost – if this band aren’t headlining Download at some point, then something has gone wrong. They have the songs, they have the show. They just need the chance and if this show is anything to go off, they would succeed. I’m not sure if they could take a 15-minute break in the middle of their set without losing the crowd, but who knows.

2.            Volbeat – House of Vans, London. May 2018.

Well, this was something. I had spent some serious time trying to work out if I could make one of Volbeat’s headline shows that were, relatively speaking, not that far away (if you consider that I went to Copenhagen to see them last year). I couldn’t get to Manchester or Glasgow because I couldn’t get the time off work, and Belfast was ruled out because the cost of flights and a hotel were prohibitive (I’ve learned my mistake about not booking a hotel for a Belfast gig before – add 5 years on to that and I do not want to be outside a Tesco overnight instead of in a bed). Dublin was do-able but pricey. After a bit of logic kicked in, I decided against going and felt sad about it. Then, Volbeat announced they were doing a House of Vans show. I skipped out of work early and headed to London to join the queue as early as I could, in a tunnel that smelt very much of spray paint – some of the art on the walls was pretty cool though! This gig was a first come first served type situation, so when I got there, I had a good feeling about getting in, but felt slightly nervous about the whole thing until I had the wristband on. First time at the venue and it was a very cool setting for a gig. No support, just a Volbeat headline show and my word was it good. Similar set list to the one I saw in Copenhagen but that didn’t take anything away from it for me. I’d gone from seeing this band in a sold-out stadium (which held just shy of 50k) to an underground venue with maybe 600 people in. Amazing. Volbeat are bloody incredible live and are one of those I will want to see whenever they come to the UK (or in nearby countries). I will not go into my usual rant about how they should be bigger in the UK (they bloody should be though!)

1.            Nine Inch Nails – Royal Albert Hall, London. June 2018.

I so wanted to see them at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown festival they were playing one night of. I couldn’t get tickets and that was a real shame. When this one at the Royal Albert Hall got announced, I was a bit more hopeful I would get a ticket and was successful. Black Moth Super Rainbow opened this gig, continuing the pattern of me not really liking bands that open for Nine Inch Nails (in fact, there has only been one I’ve genuinely liked). This was my first time seeing NIN since they were over here in 2014 and I had forgotten just how good they are live. Some of the new material from the 3 EPs released in the last 2 years or so are just massive live, and the cool thing for me about the setlist was that because of this new material, almost half the set was made up of songs I’d not seen them play live before. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen NIN quite a few times at this stage, and this gig could be the best NIN show I’ve been to. It is certainly in the conversation that is for sure. Part of the reason for this must be the fact it was at the Royal Albert Hall. Previously, whenever I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve been in the gallery standing area. I’ve been fine with this because usually, these are the cheapest tickets. I’ve often wondered if being lower down is worth the money. To stand on the floor for this one I think cost £20-25 more, and to answer that question – it was certainly worth it. My word was it worth it. It got me thinking of other gigs I’ve seen there, and I can now see why people would pay more to sit down there for most things (I’ve wondered since how much more I would have enjoyed Pulp and David Gilmour there, had I been downstairs). That band and that venue fit together perfectly.
Most of these words were written months ago. Looking back on it now, and having gone to quite a few gigs since, only one has really challenged it for the top spot (and that one ended up finishing 3rd, go figure). Ghost aside, this was the clear favourite for me as the best gig I’ve been to in 2018. NIN are one of those bands who I can go a long time without listening to properly, but when something like this happens, I remember why they are one of my favourite bands. Wonderful stuff.

And that is that. 2018 is over, gig wise. I’m very lucky that I was able to go to as many gigs as I’ve been to this year. I’m hopeful I’ll be at a few in 2019. Ones already booked include Cancer Bats in Portsmouth (the second round of Beers Before Bats!), my first Persistence tour which is co-headlined by Sick Of It All and Napalm Death with a strong looking undercard, Milk Teeth in Southampton, Frank Turner in Bournemouth, Behemoth with At The Gates in London, While She Sleeps in London and Metallica at Twickenham. Already looking pretty good!