Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Best Gigs: 2011

If you have read this blog over the time that I have been writing it, you will know I do occasionally talk about live music. IT is has been a strange year for gigs in that by October (excluding festivals), I had only been to 5 gigs (and of those 5, 2 of them were Foo Fighters!) Between October and now, I’ve been to 11 gigs. What this blog will do is choose the best of them. This list excludes festival sets as they had a list of their own earlier in the year. Just a reminder of that list (excluding the only gig from the list) the top 5 were:

1) Avantasia – Wacken 2011
2) Muse – Reading 2011
3) Metallica – Sonisphere 2011
4) System Of A Down – Download 2011
5) Slipknot – Sonisphere 2011

How did Pulp not make that top 5? Damn I saw some good music in the summer. Anyway, you can read the whole summer list right by clicking the word that is underlined at the end of this sentence. The following is a list of gigs that are honourable mentions in date order of gigs that did not make the cut with a blurb from how I reviewed them, assuming that I did.

Foo Fighters (NME Big Gig) – Wembley Arena 25/02/2011 – “Wow! They are an immense live band. Everything about this gig was almost perfect. Dave Grohl is definitely one of the best front men I’ve ever seen live and Foo Fighters are now one of the best bands I’ve seen live.” – I should stress this is only here because the other time I saw Foo Fighters maybe in the top 5. Maybe.
Skindred – Wedgewood Rooms 27/04/2011 – “The room exploded as Skindred took to the stage. Seeing the way Benji Webbe can hold a crowd of any size in his hands is phenomenal. During a song towards the end of the set, the band paused with Benji just stood at the front. Without gesture, the crowd went nuts, chanting Skindred until the song kicked back in. I was left in no doubt though that Skindred are an amazing live band, regardless of setting (be it main stage at Sonisphere or in the 400 capacity Wedgewood Rooms). They are a band that, if you like their music, you need to see them live.”
Ginger Wildheart (Acoustic) – Talking Heads 07/05/2011 – “I really did not know what to expect from this Ginger gig. All I knew was it would be a mix of Wildhearts, solo material and some surprises. The opening song was Geordie in Wonderland which was superb. In a world without The Wildhearts on the touring circuit, it is good to see Ginger still touring and performing gigs as good as this one was.”
Evile – Talking Heads 13/10/2011 – “The gig was superb. Evile were on top form and the new album sounds really good live. They said on stage they were very proud of it and from what I heard, they have every right to be. I hope as they do more shows and more headline tours, they play longer sets. They played 11 songs in Southampton and I’m sure they could have played more. Other than that, and them not playing Armoured Assault (again!), I have no complaints.” – As a side note, they would have been in the top 5 if they played Armoured Assault!
Fozzy – Talking Heads 03/11/2011 – “From the off, Fozzy were superb and this remained the case until the last note of Enemy at the end of the gig. It truly was a superb setlist from Fozzy. A superb performance from the band which was met with a superb crowd. At the end of every song, there were loud and prolonged Fozzy chants. Chris Jericho early on in the gig asked if we could come in the trailer with them and come to every gig. Considering how good this gig was, I’d be in favour of that.”
Alter Bridge – M.E.N Arena 24/11/2011 – “Opening with Slip To The Void, they proceeded to play a very strong set list. The band seemed to be genuinely blown away by the response they were getting from the was a cracking gig. Alter Bridge will headline and sell out arenas in their own right soon I think, and they certainly have the ability to perform on the big arena stage.” – When making decisions about the gigs which make the top 5, I try to focus on the headline band. Including Black Stone Cherry would have made this gig scrape in at no.5. As it wasn’t a package tour I can’t include them and thus this gig does not make the top 5.

I would have included Rise Against in that list but for some reason, I didn’t review them. This might have been because I left early in order to get the train home. Anyway, they didn’t make the top 5 but definitely deserve an honourable mention. Honourable mentions get previous words placed next to them. Top 5 bands get new words written as sort of an end of year reflection on why they were the best. Counting down then, Number 5...

5 - An Evening With Dimmu Borgir – Manchester Academy 3 – 25/11/2011

I really didn’t know what to expect from this gig. Not only was it the first black metal headline show I was going to, it was also the first visit I was making to Manchester Academy 3. I’d heard from people that had been there that the room was tiny. It was also interesting as it was just going to be Dimmu Borgir, no support band. I knew Dimmu were a powerhouse live, having seen them twice before at festivals but neither of those two sets came even close to being as good as this gig was. They were splitting the gig into two sets; the first honouring a classic album and the second being a best of. The album that was voted by the fans was “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant”. In my review, I wrote that I hoped “Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia” would win the vote. It has since been drawn to my attention that it wasn’t an option in the vote. Both sets were immense. I had forgotten how good of an album “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” really is. I sometimes find myself getting bored when a band play an album in its entirety (the first time I saw Iron Maiden truth be told) but this did not happen this time. Shagrath declared the evening was a celebration to the 14 year old album, and it was a spectacular one. The second set was immense as it had all the best of the new material with the very best of their back catalogue chosen as well (I guess that’s why they call it a best of huh?) They didn’t play Sympozium but I am coming to the realisation that it’s one of those rare ones a fan would be lucky to hear live. Maybe one day I will be one of the lucky ones. Anyway, their set concluded on The Serpentine Offering and Progenies of the Great Apocalypse which was a stunning way to close a superb gig. The best way to sum up why this gig was so good is that on the way back to the hotel, regardless of the conversation; the gig would be discussed using words like “wow”, “so good”, “immense” and many other superlatives. The question which pops up occasionally in my mind is how can Dimmu Borgir top that on an open-air stage at Wacken? With a full orchestra, they stand a good chance but it will be very tough.

4 – Manic Street Preachers – O2 Arena – 17/12/2011

Manic Street Preachers were just amazing on this wet night in London. Looking back on it, I am still so impressed that not only did they manage to play all 38 of their singles, but not once did the gig become boring. With this being a gig where they played all their singles, it was the perfect one for me to be at as they played everything of theirs I wanted to hear. The stage show was fairly understated in that it had some Christmassy stuff on stage. The video screen behind the band though was very impressive. It played video throughout the entire gig, either showing the band as they played or showing retro clips of music videos or previous performances. The atmosphere out in the crowd was something special. Aside from one person in front of me who looked bored and fell in and out of sleep, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Almost every song was met with a large cheer and there was a lot of bouncing, dancing, singing etc. The good vibe from the crowd was matched by the band. The onstage chemistry between them all is superb, but at times James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire appear to be a comedy double act. Hey, they’d be successful if that’s what they chose to do with their 2 years away from being the Manics. Performance wise they were outstanding. I was told they were a good live act and that is the case. I’m always impressed when a band is able to get an entire venue singing along to a song, even more so when the venue is as big as the O2 Arena is. The final song of the night was “A Design For Life” and that is exactly what happened. It wasn’t unexpected as that song is their biggest song, but it was still immense to be part of that 18k sing along. Manics were fantastic; the crowd was superb and the fact they played all 38 singles in one night is why this gig is in the top 5. They said “see you in 2 years” and I imagine they will see me then.

3 – Ginger Wildheart – Relentless Garage – 18/12/2011

I saw Ginger the week before this gig in Southampton and I thought it was awesome. I only originally went to this gig because I was in London and it seemed foolish to miss another good Ginger gig. Not only was this a good Ginger gig, it was immense. Before the shows I was going to see, I had misgivings about the set list I was seeing posted online as there were songs I wasn’t overly familiar with in favour of songs that I love. After Southampton I listened more and more to these songs and they became favourites. Going into the London gig, I was a lot more familiar with the songs that would be played and loved most of them. I still have my favourite Wildhearts songs but there is no crime in having lots of favourites...right? Anyway, everything about the London gig was better than Southampton if I’m perfectly honest. Other than the sound quality, the most noticeable difference was the crowd. That could be because it was bigger to be fair, I’ll never be sure. In all fairness, it could just have been “this is the last night of the tour, let’s go out with a bang” which made it better. One thing which certainly helped to make it better was the encore. The main set had already been incredible. Ginger came out on his own to join in with “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me” and invited CJ on stage with him. In a previous review (which I quoted above), I said without The Wildhearts on the touring circuit, seeing Ginger perform awesome gigs makes up for it. So to see a member two members of the last Wildhearts line-up on stage together was a special moment for me. In Southampton, we got Vernix in the encore. Due to this song being on Chutzpah Jnr, and me not being able to find that album anywhere, I wasn’t able to familiarise myself with that one. It didn’t matter as Ginger/CJ et al didn’t play it. In its place they did play TV Tan and My Baby Is A Headfuck. Headfuck is without doubt one of my favourite Wildhearts songs so on top of a set list containing lots of songs I now love, one of my all time favourites was played, with another Wildheart on stage! For fear of repeating my original review, I’ll call this bit quits but this was the last gig Ginger is doing until probably the birthday bash next year (unless plans change) and what a gig to go out on.

2 – Volbeat – HMV Forum – 29/10/2011

They were the second best band for me on the Sunday of Sonisphere 2011. The headline show got announced and even though it wouldn’t be at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, it was happening and that was the main thing. I know I said earlier that I wasn’t taking support into account for a gig making the top 5, but Black Spiders were such a good choice to support Volbeat. This gig was already in the top 5 regardless of the support, but Black Spiders certainly helped nudge it towards the head of the pile. If Black Spiders nudged it towards the top, Volbeat grabbed it and threw it towards the top by being such a fantastic live band. It was so much better than Sonisphere which before the gig I would have said would be damn near impossible. The set list was almost perfect with it being another one of those situations where I didn’t want anything to be cut, but rather they just add more stuff. One thing which was really cool was that we got Barney Greenway from Napalm Death guest on Evelyn. It was cool because it was the first time the song had been performed live with Barney, who did it in studio with Volbeat. Other vocalists had sung it with Volbeat, but we got the guy who did it originally. Honestly I think the set list for London was the best set list of the tour which really helped make this a superb gig. Much like Dimmu Borgir, they are playing Wacken next year in a major slot. It could well be that both bands appear again in best bands of the summer 2012 list, if such a list exists. Wacken is Volbeat’s only 2012 show in Europe, which means it could top this London gig. Whether it will or not is yet to be seen, but it will certainly be a tough task. This would have been the best gig of the year, if it hadn’t been for one band that before this year started, I hadn’t seen once. Now I’ve seen them twice.

1 – Foo Fighters – MK National Bowl – 03/07/2011

How was this the best gig of the year? It had everything and more. You can’t truly believe anyone when they say how good a band is live until you see them yourself. In Feb, I saw Foo Fighters and was blown away by how good they are live. They rocketed close to the top of my list of best live bands that day (FYI, I never intend to list my favourite live bands in order as it changes all the time). This gig was always going to be different to the Wembley gig though. Wembley Arena holds 13000 people whereas MK National Bowl holds 65000. I didn’t think this would be possible but Foos just upped their game and were incredible all over again. It isn’t just the fact that they are a tight live act which makes them so good; it’s the fact they can change songs live and it become even better, or even more impressive (the extended outro to Stacked Actors comes to mind). So, the band was stunning. That coupled with an awesome stage show made for one excellent gig. Moving screens on the stage showing different things to suit different songs, sometimes just flashing lights. A run way that ran through the middle of the crowd so Dave Grohl could move about The run way led up to the sound/light desk where there was another little stage so that Dave could play to the people further back. They also played for nearly 2.5 hours, which is commitment to putting on a great gig. The set list was just unbelievably good. A personal highlight for me was the Seasick Steve cover, performed with Seasick Steve and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. To see an original member of Led Zeppelin on stage really was the cherry on the cake for me. All of this added together completely outweighs all the negative stuff which occurred that day (the early start, the nightmare getting out etc) to the point where it’s a footnote which often gets ignored when people ask “how were the Foo Fighters in Milton Keynes?” In most years, they would be the best live band I’d have seen live. Unfortunately, it is not the case for 2011 but they certainly were the best headline gig of 2011. The fireworks at the end of the gig proved to be symbolic, as my best gig of 2011 came to an end.

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