Sunday, 15 December 2019

2019 - A Year in Live Music

It is that time of year again where I sum up the best gigs I’ve been to in the last year. I started the last one by wondering why I hadn’t blogged more in 2018. I thought I would have blogged more than I did in 2019, but this will be blog 8, whereas last year I made a paltry 3 posts. I often think I would like to do it more, but it is often requiring a subject and time. I cannot promise I will blog more in 2020, but I will try.

Anyway, for the first time since 2016, this blog starts off with a ranked list of the best festival sets I saw this year. In 2016, I only went to Victorious Festival and that meant slim pickings to make a list from (not that I didn’t see some good bands that year). This time round, I have two 1-day festivals and a weekend festival to work with. I went to Slam Dunk South, a day at All Points East and Download for the weekend. The way I derive this list is go back to my reviews, grab the bands that scored the highest scores (out of 10) and throw them all into one big list, and then work out the top 10 from there. Usually, the bands rated 10 go first and so on. This time around, a band who got a 9 snuck in…mainly because I have no idea why I gave them a 9 and not a 10 but oh well! Same as the top 10 for gigs, I have a small list of honourable mentions which I will go through now.

Cancer Bats – Slam Dunk South (original score 8/10) – I saw Cancer Bats 4 times in 2019 (you may read about a couple of them later in the blog if you are still here by then). This sadly was the worst of the 4 and it had nothing to do the band themselves (who as you can see from the original score, I still thought were great). There was a group stood near me who took the first half of their set as a chance to have a school reunion. I could (and probably should) have moved but the crowd was tightly packed where I was. Live and learn, I guess. Cancer Bats were great, the school reunion was annoying.

Black Futures – All Points East (original score 9/10) – My introduction to Black Futures was this 20-minute set and I was blown away. The show, the music – everything. I thought they were excellent.

Architects – All Points East (original score 8/10) – One of the main selling points of the festival for me. When they started, I thought “oh no, they have shit sound”. Unlike with Cancer Bats at Slam Dunk though, I did move – that move was an excellent decision as the sound was much better where I moved to. It was my first-time seeing Architects and I thought they were bloody great. I’ve heard others say since they’ve been much better, but I’ve got nothing to compare against. If they can get better though, crikey!

Skindred – Download (original score 9/10) – It is said in life there are only two certainties – death and taxes (Benjamin Franklin makes a rare appearance in a blog of mine). I am sure you could add a third one which is Skindred being dependable live…at their worst. They are such a good live band. It was shitting it down when they came on stage, and the whole time they were on stage, and they were still great. Lesser bands would have not coped with the British summer time weather – Skindred didn’t let it affect their show at all.

Reel Big Fish – Download (original score 9/10) – I’ve seen Reel Big Fish several times now. I very much enjoyed this set, but I’ve definitely enjoyed other Reel Big Fish shows more (thinking their Wedgewood Rooms show in 2014 as a standout). They were excellent still. The fact I was sheltered from the rain certainly helped matters as well.

Carcass – Download (original score 9/10) – The only reason this wasn’t a 10 is because it was too short. A 40-minute set to headline the 4th stage is bullshit. Anyway, I thought this was excellent. It gave me something to watch instead of Die Antwoord, who weren’t my cup of tea at all. The tent was packed, and it was really good fun. Glad I made the decision to get there early so I could be inside the tent for it.

Black Futures – Download (original score 9/10) – On the strength of the All Points East set, I knew I had to see them again. There was either a change to the stage times, or they were late on – I was beginning to wonder if they weren’t going to come on and almost walked off (which was a shame as I had a spot on the barrier). Just as I was about to go, they started and smashed through the set (which was a whole 5 minutes longer than All Points East). Being slightly more familiar with them this time around, I really loved this set.

Lamb of God – Download (original score 9/10) – I loved seeing Lamb of God again. The fact they played almost the exact same show supporting Slayer at the tail-end of 2018 was a bit of a shame, but it is a bloody good show.

Additionally, I’d like to give a shout out to NXT UK at Download – I watched 2 of the 5 shows they put on, and it was good fun. Anyway, with that, we move onto the top 10 of festival sets:

10. Conjurer – Download (original score 9/10) – Here’s the thing, fuck you Download for clashing Conjurer with Clutch AND Delain! I chose Conjurer as what I had heard from them before the festival, I liked and wanted to see it live. I assumed I would see both the others on their respective headline tours (as it stands, nope). Conjurer were intense – that is probably the best word I have to describe their all-too-short set. I think it needed to take place in one of the tented stages – I’m not sure if it would have been as good open air – but I am more than happy to be proven wrong. They more than made up for me missing the first half of Clutch – and I really want to see them again. 

9. Bring Me The Horizon – All Points East (original score 9/10) – For absolutely ages, I had dismissed Bring Me because of their earlier work as a band that aren’t for me. I did a revisiting blog (June 2016! I almost typed recently…) where I discovered their then latest two albums were excellent. The bill supporting Bring Me helped get me there, but I wanted to see them as well. I couldn’t stay for their whole set because of travel reasons but the set I saw was superb. I very much enjoyed it and was (and am) glad I bought a ticket (although with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had waited and won one of the many free ones that were available it seems). 

8. Royal Republic – Download (original score 9/10) – I went to see Royal Republic because a few of my friends had said how good they were, and there was no better option. They had a 30 minute set and they blew me away. That 30 minutes turned me from someone who was just there based on a recommendation into a fan of the band. Hang around, you might read more about them in a bit. 

7. Employed To Serve – All Points East (original score 10/10) – Employed To Serve smashed it. Not sure what else to write here really. I wish they were on stage for longer!

6. The Bronx – Slam Dunk South (original score 10/10) – I am not sure it is possible for The Bronx to put on a bad show. This set added weight to that theory as they were outrageously good.

5. IDLES – All Points East (original score 9/10) – The 9 that should have been a 10. I guess it wasn’t due to set list choices, but I still loved their set. They were my band of the day. 

4. Slipknot – Download (original score 10/10) – Slipknot headlined Download for 4th time in 11 festivals, which to me is too often. Or, it would be if they weren’t so bloody good live. Their set was outstanding. I wrote in my festival review that it would be in with a shout of being one of my favourite times seeing them live, and that still rings true. Also, as an update from the festival review blog, Slipknot 2020 isn’t at Alexandra Palace! I’m so happy about this, even if I will be seeing the gig from the gods of The O2. 

3. The Interrupters – Slam Dunk (original score 10/10) – Long a band on my “want to see” list without me ever properly listening to them, because someone (I forget who) once said they sound like a modern Rancid. That was enough to sell me, and I think this was my first real chance to see them live. I walked over to the big open-air stage they were playing, and I was a bit annoyed due to how long the bar queue I’d just been in was. Any annoyance I felt just melted when they started. The Interrupters were just so much fun. The music immediately struck a chord with me and the end of their set came far too soon. 

2. The Interrupters – Download (original score 10/10) – If you had told me a year ago that I would be going to a festival where Whitesnake were playing, but I wouldn’t watch them because a relatively new punk band were on another stage, I would have probably asked how you knew that. But also, I would have thought you were lying. However, as it was, Whitesnake clashed with The Interrupters, and given how good they were at Slam Dunk, there was no chance I’d be missing them. Somehow, they were even better at Download. I would be surprised if you are not reading about them some more on this blog this time next year, as they have a headline show in London that I am very much looking forward to. 

1. Tool – Download (original score 10/10) – When you wait so long for something, and then it happens, and it is as good as you hoped it would be. That is why Tool top the list of my favourite festival sets. If you put a gun to my head and told me to pick a favourite bit of this set, it would be them dropping Vicarious, which hadn’t appeared on festival set lists to that point. Overall, this set was immense. I hope it is not a long wait before they are back here.

And that concludes the list of my favourite festival sets. I find it remarkable still that, were it not for Tool, numbers 1 and 2 would have been The Interrupters. They were that good, and I cannot explain how much I am looking forward to that headline show in February. Now that the top 10 festival sets have been covered, it is time to move onto the gigs and, as with all previous years (I think), a small (!) number of honourable mentions – basically written a top 20 this year without ranking the bottom 10!

Cancer Bats – Portsmouth – Last time Cancer Bats came to my hometown, I wrote I’d love to be able to wax lyrical about this gig. However, “beers before Bats” occurred (as well as beers during Bats) and as a result, there are chunks of the gig I simply don’t remember.” This is not the reason this gig is here this time round, I wanted to shout it out because it was bloody great.

Persistence Tour – London – After many years threatening doing a Persistence tour show, I finally did one. It was a good gig and it seems odd not giving it a top 10 birth given how many good sets there were that day, but by the end of it, I was so tired and in a fair amount of discomfort…and I had a seating ticket! I would not have lasted as long as I did with a standing ticket (or would have missed a few the earlier acts in order to see headliners). The standout highlights of the day were Napalm Death and Walls of Jericho. Doff of the cap of course to the headliners Sick Of It All as well as Municipal Waste. Shout out to Siberian Meat Grinder, for having a good set but also for having (by far) the most gnarly band name on the bill. Metal AF!

Black Peaks – Portsmouth – I went to this after hearing a lot of love for their two albums, but not really checking them out until nearer the gig. Those two albums are great, and by extension so was this gig, Black Peaks knocked it out the park. A lovely time was had by all, I suspect.

Avantasia – London – I find it almost incomprehensible that Avantasia didn’t make the top 10. 3 years prior, they topped the pile. I think the main reasons why this one is an honourable mention this time round is that I wasn’t (and am still not) wild about Moonglow (I like it, don’t get me wrong) and they played almost all of it. Additionally, some of the personnel that couldn’t make the gig – Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville not being there was a real shame. I still really enjoyed this one. Might have made top 10 if Tobi still sang Twisted Mind…just saying! (It probably wouldn’t, still – just really want that again)

Eureka Machines – Wolverhampton – This was my first-time seeing Eureka Machines in 4 years, so I was very much looking forward to this one, and they didn’t let me down at all. I had a lovely time.

The Wildhearts – London – They have featured in these lists almost every year. They are one of my favourite bands who I will always try to see live when they tour. Towers of London opened, and they were good. Massive Wagons were their usual excellent selves and The Wildhearts were just a lot of fun. The new songs (new songs!) fit in the set perfectly alongside some classics. This was great.

Cancer Bats – Southampton – This was on the same intimate run as another gig which you’ll read about later. I preferred the Guildford show to this one, but this was still bloody ace.
The Wildhearts – Southampton – This gig was different from the one I saw earlier in the year, and it was certainly on par with the earlier one. The thing I liked about this gig is that there were songs played that don’t usually get a live airing and some of the more well-known songs weren’t played. I love this band, and if they had chosen to play a best of + new album set again, I would have been fine with it. The fact they didn’t is a testament to them, I think. Also, they played Anthem with Danny singing and that almost got it top 10. Almost.

Okilly Dokily – Nuneaton – This gig was weird, but in the very best way. For a start, I wasn’t sure where the venue was, despite being stood in the downstairs bar of it at one point. After that, the support band, Red Rum came on. Now, I know I have been in a gig venue when they played before, and I knew (sort of) what sort of music they played, but I had absolutely no memory of them or their music when they came on stage. Turns out I really can’t remember much of the Alestorm gig they supported at a few years ago. Rum and beer rounds are bad news, kids! Especially when you are drunk before entering the venue. Anyway! Red Rum were good. Okilly Dokily were more than just a lot of fun (I am sure it is not a reach to suggest that a Ned Flanders themed metal [or Nedal] band would be fun). But they were also really good on top of that. I am glad I made the effort to go see them. I left having had a good time, and I guess that is the main thing really!

Skinny Lister – Portsmouth – A very quick summary of this gig was that it was a lot of fun! Skinny Lister’s particular brand of music is very catchy and easy to dance/sing along to. I recall liking them when they supported Frank Turner before, and I liked them again on this night. Very pleased that I grabbed a ticket for this one.

Bury Tomorrow – Portsmouth – To be honest, I am surprised this isn’t top 10. The most recent of all the gigs listed here (as it happened two nights ago from when I write this). Blood Youth opened and I went from not being fussed about seeing them before the gig to being glad I caught their set, as they were very good. Employed To Serve were the main support – you may have picked up the fact earlier I somewhat like this band (and there will be more on them later). Bury Tomorrow were excellent. Black Flame is a damn fine album and they played it in full, so that’s cool. Unrelated to this gig, but I wish they’d play Lionheart again, as that song rips.

And there we are, the 10 that all could have made the top 10. But here we are, the gigs that all did.

10. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Bournemouth International Centre, Bournemouth – February

Before getting onto the headline act, a shout out must be given to Jimmy Eat World who were definitely one of the best support acts I’ve seen this year. Frank and his band were once again on top form. The set contained some songs I’ve not heard live in a while which is always a bonus. Basically, this was a really good gig.

9. Volbeat – O2 Academy Brixton, London – September

As far as tour packages go, this was probably the best one of the year. Danko Jones, a band I’ve wanted to see for a few years now. Baroness, similar story and of course, Volbeat who are one of my favourite bands. I’m not a massive fan of their latest album, and the set was mostly from it. The gig made me appreciate the album more for sure, but I would have preferred more songs I already liked I guess.

8. Behemoth – O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, February

I wrote words about this gig earlier in the year. Amusingly (for me), the final line of that blog reads Behemoth were outstanding. I wouldn’t be shocked to be hyperlinking this blog come December when I write my end of year list. “ – Well, as I predicted I would – click here for that review. Would it have been higher if they played more from The Satanist, and played a bit longer? Yeah, probably. Also, At The Gates were superb supporting Behemoth.

7. Metallica – Twickenham Stadium, London. June

Probably my favourite band are 7th?! When I was drawing up this list, it surprised me I couldn’t put them higher, but it would have been dishonest to do so. Missed Bokassa because this was a midweek stadium gig and I couldn’t get there any earlier than I did. Missed the very start of Ghost due to my queuing for a shirt but saw most of their set and they were good. They were hampered a bit by the sound. Metallica were on excellent form. There were times I thought the sound was a bit ropey for them (at least where I was sat – I can’t speak for everyone naturally). The main memories I have from this gig are mostly good, but there are a couple of negatives (the main being finally getting to hear Frantic from St Anger…but it being a bit of a mess) which is one of the reasons it couldn’t be higher than 7th. The other is that I enjoyed the 6 gigs ahead of it more (probably doesn’t come as a surprise that, given the context of this list).

6. Employed To Serve – The Garage, London. May

A quick word on the supports, Loathe opened this gig and I went in not having a clue about them. They were superb. Their set ended with me wanting more, so mission accomplished. I enjoyed Devil Sold His Soul, but not as much as Loathe. Employed To Serve I’d only seen before this in support slots and they had blown me away. This night they played for a bit longer than I’d seen previously and they were incredible. Their new album (which is a corker, by the way) had come out that day I believe, and the set contained 5 songs from it (they were all ace). It contained the best of their previous album, The Warmth of a Dying Sun, for the rest of the set. I love that album, which made me love this set.

5. Frank Turner – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. September

This was a charity gig for Nordoff Robbins (as part of the Get Loud gig series, there were a number on the same night across the country). I feel we in Portsmouth had the best gig in getting a Frank Turner solo show at the Wedgewood Rooms. I am slightly biased perhaps because I was there. The show covered every aspect of Frank’s solo career to date, including songs from this year’s No Mans Land album. I feel like it is a daft thing to write, saying that a solo show is different to a full band show (because of course it is…) but the shows have a different vibe to them, and it is one I like (I would say I like the vibes equally). Frank is doing a solo tour next March – I’ve got a ticket for the Brighton gig in a venue I’ve wanted to visit for a while so who knows, I’ll probably be writing similar words again next year.

4. Cancer Bats – The Boileroom, Guildford. August

The third of four times I saw Cancer Bats in 2019 was my favourite, and it was one of my favourite gigs of the year. A Cancer Bats show to me is always good, which means it starts off on a positive footing – I know I’m going to have a good time, it is just a case of how good of a time. Turns out, this time round, a lot of fun. The venue, The Boileroom, is tiny, which where I was stood (centre of the stage towards the “back”) was mosh pit territory. Not been in a mosh pit for a long time before this gig – it was a nice reminder that they can be fun. This show was ace.

3. Ghost – The SSE Arena Wembley, London. November

If there is any justice in this world, Ghost will be headlining Download (and other UK festivals) sooner rather than later. If this was an audition for the role of festival headliner, then Ghost surely would have got the job. The show is really quite impressive, and it has been said that it can be better now Ghost are an established arena act. This show was as good as Royal Albert Hall last year, if not better. My only complaint is that the duelling guitars stuff went on too long (much like the Ghoul introductions from RAH did). That is such a small complaint in the grand scheme of things though. Ghost finished 3rd last year, and they finish 3rd this year – that is because they are just excellent live.

2 Royal Republic – Engine Rooms, Southampton. October

I mentioned earlier how Royal Republic’s 30-minute set turned me from an interested bystander into a fan. At Download, they were plugging this tour. It was a no-brainer to go to it. Going was an excellent decision. This was, without question, the most fun gig I’ve been to this year. The band played almost all their latest album, Club Majesty, which is in with a shout of being my favourite album released this year, which I am sure helped make this one of my favourite gigs of the year. There were no negatives to report from this gig (itself, the hangover the next day was certainly a negative!) I think the Download set, but certainly this gig, has made Royal Republic a band I want to see live again, and probably again after that.

1. Rammstein – Stadium MK, Milton Keynes. July

This show had everything. Rammstein are an immense live band without the show, and I am sure that if they just turned up, played their songs and left, then everyone in attendance would have a lovely time. However, the show they bring with them just takes it to another level. This tour was the biggest they’ve ever done, and the show (as a result) was the biggest show they’ve ever done. It was incredible the amount they pulled off. I was worried when I saw how much of their new album they were playing live (it is an excellent album, another one in the conversation of my favourite of the year), but I needn’t have worried as the songs just fit in perfectly. It wasn’t until some days after the gig that I remembered they didn’t play Feuer Frei! – and I love that song! It is possible that next years list is already wrapped up as well, because Rammstein are bringing this tour back to Europe again in 2020, and I’ll be at the Coventry date, this time in the golden circle. I’ve no idea how different the show will be this time, but I am looking forward to finding out!

And that in a nutshell (!) wraps up my 2019 in live music. I am debating writing some decade blogs of best gigs, festival sets etc. Not sure how much of it will be fresh material or copy/paste stuff, but I’m sure I’ll do something. I am posting this before Christmas so to all, have a great Christmas/festive period (delete as appropriate) and, above everything else, just be excellent to each other.

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