Saturday, 21 December 2013

Best of 2013

I do find myself talking about music on this blog a lot and this post will be more of the same. In fact so will the next post. Anyway, 2013 has been another excellent year of live music for me and this blog is a look back at the year and a chance to say what was the best of what I have seen this year. As with previous blogs that have covered this topic, I will split the best of lists into two – gigs and festival sets. Going through the gigs I’ve been to this year and saying what to leave off the list is a tough ask, as most of them I have left thinking it was a great gig. However one thing I know when I look at the tickets for this year is that I went to two gigs early on in 2013 which I’d have thought would have been strong contenders for gigs of the year but aren’t even honourable mentions. One got cut drastically short due to transport related concerns and another one was somewhat ruined due to an over-indulgence on my part when it came to ale. The gig was on the same day as England v Wales in the Six Nations and at the end of the match, 7 pints down I was distraught, and had another one to console myself. After that, I was a bit drunk and ended up falling to sleep at the gig – classy as ever!

I’m going to start with the festival sets list with either the words I wrote earlier this year or some new ones. Usually at this stage, I would do a top 10 of festival sets; however I am genuinely stuck on how to cut the list down from 15. So, it is a top 15! To clear things up, while Nine Inch Nails played both Reading and Belsonic festivals, I only count their Reading set as a bonafide festival set. I consider their headline set at Belsonic to be a gig more than a festival slot.

15 – Annihilator – Wacken 2013 – “Up next on the Black stage was Annihilator who delivered an hour of flawless thrash metal. Their set was just immense and their new material sounds superb.

14 – Anthrax – Wacken 2013 – “Anthrax had the unenviable task of entertaining a soaked through Wacken crowd but they absolutely killed it. It was 75 minutes of the very best of Anthrax and was probably the best I’ve seen them play (or at least level with when I saw them support Motorhead). The set was packed with newer songs, classic hits and cover versions including a superb version of T.N.T by AC/DC. Closing out on their cover of Trust’s Antisocial, they proved why they deserved one of the longer slots of the day.

13 – Cancer Bats – Download 2013 – “Following Sacred Mother Tongue was going to be a hard job for any band, but one that Cancer Bats were more than up to. They missed out on playing main stage the year before due to weather issues so this was a big moment and they truly delivered. They are just superb live and I really do hope they will tour the UK again soon.”

12 – Deep Purple – Wacken 2013 – “It turns out that Deep Purple recorded their set for a live album, which is pretty cool. I was a tad disappointed that for this tour, they weren’t playing Highway Star. They recorded an album from this set though and in it, was Highway Star as the opener. I was delighted with that! It was great to hear some of their classics live. The new album sounds pretty decent as well.”

11 – Queens of the Stone Age – Download 2013 – “QOTSA were excellent! Aside from 1 song, they played all of my favourite songs of theirs (which again certainly helps increase the enjoyment level) and opening the set with Feel Good Hit of the Summer was an excellent call. It was nice to watch QOTSA and not be half asleep while doing so (ala Rock Am Ring 08).

10 – Volbeat – Download 2013 – “I was front and centre for possibly my favourite band on the line up, Volbeat. There were two problems with their set for me. It was only 40 minutes, and we got no material off the new album. None of those things though really took away from how good Volbeat were on this day (though I know due to watching them headline Wacken last year that they would have been better with a longer set). They were just superb.” On reflection of their setlist, they did in fact play two songs from their new album. My poor memory failed me there big time. Volbeat were ace though!

9 – Nine Inch Nails – Reading 2013 – I really enjoyed NIN at Reading. I would have ranked them 10/10 had I written a review about the day I spent at Reading, but I didn’t. I do recall writing ratings down but not actually following through with a review. That might be because I was in the rock tent for all but 2 bands and didn’t watch the main stage headliner. Anyway, NIN were great although there appeared to be some issues pre-show which meant they couldn’t have their full production on stage. This meant that Trent Reznor went into the gig pissed off and I think you could tell. The set list was a shortened version of the one they played at the Belsonic festival (their first UK date) which was fine by me although for a festival I would have liked to have heard some of the “hits”. The set list decisions didn’t take anything away from the show for me – that was merely an observation. The set ended with Wish and Trent left the stage without seemingly so much as a goodbye. I guess at that stage it was a “do the job and get the hell out” mentality – especially if he had in fact been screwed over by the promoters. I am very happy I got to see NIN twice on their summer tour and am looking forward to Tension 2014.

8 – Sabaton – Wacken 2013 – “One of the highlights of the day (for me anyway) was up next. Sabaton were announced to a huge cheer in 2012 and they did not disappoint. They were just outstanding. At one point, the lead singer changed vests with someone in the crowd. I wondered if it was the same bloke I saw earlier wearing a similar vest. Sabaton seemed genuinely blown away by how many people had come to watch them and the reaction they were getting. I can’t imagine what it must have been like on stage but from in the crowd, I can say it was loud. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them be in an even better slot next time they play.”

7 – Black Stone Cherry – Download 2013 – “BSC live are immense and with this set, they proved it again. They played pretty much all my favourite songs of theirs which certainly helped matters. They also played a new song which also sounded great. It gives me high hopes for the new album. The sing along to The Things My Father Said gave me goose bumps and was a truly beautiful moment. The band were very grateful to be given this opportunity, and said that there is nowhere else in the world that they would get the crowd the size they had standing in the rain listening to them (at this stage, we were getting battered with rain). BSC closed with Lonely Train and 30 Seconds of Death Metal, proving that they truly deserved the slot of second stage headliners. Hopefully with this new album on its way, they continue to get bigger and bigger.” I’m seeing them again in February at the KOKO in London. A venue that holds 1,400 people is considered an intimate gig for them now. I love that a band I saw in 2007 play the Wedgewood Rooms are now playing rooms 3 times that size as intimate venues. Not sure if I’ll make their arena tour later in the year but I’d like to. Fingers crossed!

6 – Stone Sour – Download 2013 – “Stone Sour are just immense live. This set has convinced me to give the two HOGAB albums another listen. A fantastic mix of old and newer material really made for a great set. Bother and Through Glass created a superb atmosphere. Not content with partaking in two immense sets over the weekend, Corey Taylor finds time to make a young girls day by wishing her happy birthday (she was on the front row with a badge that said “it’s my birthday” and obviously he saw it). She then appeared on the big screen, in floods of tears and looked as though she was yelling thank you. That was a really cool moment but the whole set was ace.”

5 – Alice Cooper – Wacken 2013 – “First up was Alice Cooper who did the same set he toured in arenas in the UK in 2012. This is such a good show and he is just an excellent performer. I’m not sure how it is possible for him to have topped what I saw him do in Bournemouth, but he did. The band is a tight live unit which really helps. I was thinking at the time that this could be one of the best things I’ve seen ever (that is a long list).” One of the best things I’ve seen ever, yet 5th in the list of best festival sets? Crikey! In my mind, I just couldn’t say Alice Cooper was better than the bands ahead of him in the list.  

4 – Rammstein – Download 2013 – “Rammstein were just incredible. I maintain that they are better indoors as they can do more crazy stuff with the show (as the Made In Germany 2012 tour proved), but that does not mean the festivals shows are poor. They are still immense. Stage shows are important but Rammstein’s stage show is backed up by the fact they are also a quality live act. The set list for this show was a rehash of the Made In Germany set list with a couple of changes. One of the significant changes for me was the addition of Benzin into the set, as that is a superb song. I liked the piano version of Mein Herz Brennt but I would have preferred the full band version. Other than that, I literally have nothing to criticise. This show at Download just goes to show why the organisers have been trying to get them to headline since 2005/6. Rammstein finished up on the song Pussy and we left the festival site for the last time.

3 – Rammstein – Wacken 2013 – “The headliner of the Night To Remember was Rammstein and they have always been outstanding when I’ve seen them live. This was no exception. If anything, this show was possibly better than others due to the sing-along’s just making the atmosphere even more special. When seeing them in England, you have people singing to what they can, and some people guessing at the rest (myself included at times). In Germany, it is completely different (given that they are a German band that sings, unsurprisingly, in German). The show was identical to Download aside from two things. They teased playing the song Rammstein, which was cool. They also had a special guest during Sonne – someone called Heino. I have no idea who he was, and he seemed to get a reasonable reaction from the crowd. The people stood in front of me, who had enjoyed the whole set, were very unhappy with him being there. They turned their backs to the stage and held up middle fingers. When Till Lindermann asked the crowd to give it up for him, one of these people yelled “fuck you!” very loudly several times. I’m guessing he’s done something wrong but I’m not sure what. After a bit of research, it appears he is a very famous pop star in Germany, but could well have far right wing sympathies. Awkward! Rammstein were the last band of the day and they kicked off the festival in a solid way.” The show, aside from the special guest for Sonne, was exactly the same as the one at Download. The main difference was the atmosphere in the crowd. Seeing a massive band that sings in German play in Germany was always going to be special, but I didn’t realise just how different of an experience it was going to be until I was in that German crowd watching Rammstein. 

2 – Iron Maiden – Download 2013 – They “kicked off their set with a Spitfire flying over main stage and around the arena. That moment in itself was probably the one I will continue to talk about. Maiden themselves were absolutely superb. There appeared to be a microphone issue for Bruce Dickinson early on but that was resolved quickly. Maiden were outstanding and the set list looked good on paper, but live it was something else – immense. Everything from the band performance, to the set list, to the stage show was damn near perfection. On top of all of that, there were numerous appearances by Eddie, the band mascot in various guises. At the end of their set, Maiden announced a Maiden England date at the O2 Arena in London on 3rd August. I’m very sad to say I will not be there because I’ll be at Wacken. Alas. If you weren’t at Download though, you should go to this show as a priority (you know, assuming you like Iron Maiden that is!) Maiden signed off the second day at Download in truly spectacular fashion.” 

1 – Nightwish – Wacken 2013 – “I will say this now, I truly hope Floor Jansen remains with Nightwish – she is an excellent front woman and did a fantastic job on all of the Nightwish material. The set list contained songs I’d not seen them play live before which really helped me enjoy the set even more. They also used a lot of pyro, which I just love. Their Wacken set could easily be the best I’ve ever seen them. In a nutshell, everything came together for Nightwish to have a stunning set – they chose the right one to film for a DVD – which is a must buy when it comes out. I walked around the arena blown away by how good it was - an excellent way to end Wacken 2013.” – I am yet to buy the DVD but it is now out. It is high on my priority list to buy. Also, in good news, Floor Jansen has taken over the vocalist role permanently. This is good news! Hopefully they will tour again soon as this show was immense and I’d like to see them again on the back of it. 

So given that I went to 2 weekend festivals and a day at another one, I saw a lot of good sets over those days. There were bands I wanted to add into this list but I thought a top 15 is bad enough; any more would have just been silly! I did consider an honourable mentions list as well but decided against it. Moving on to the gigs on 2013, I’ve just gone through everything I saw in 2013 and had a lot of good memories come back to me. I’m going to start as ever with the honourable mentions list.

·         Saxon – Mo’ Club, Southampton. May 2013 – Saxon toured the UK in May and this was the smallest gig on the tour because it was a special show put on by the people who run Wacken. Saxon playing their album ‘Denim & Leather’ in full was really cool - even if they sort of botched the order by playing a song from the album in the main set and then substituted it when playing the album with something else – I want to say Heavy Metal Thunder but I’ll be damned if I can remember
·         Rush – O2 Arena, London. May 2013 – This really was a great gig. Rush are a superb live band. Not only are Rush great, they had an orchestra with them (well, 4 people if memory serves). Had to leave before the last 3 songs because a transport related concern. This happened to me a lot this year.
·         The Wildhearts – O2 Academy, Bournemouth. June 2013 – A superb gig relegated to the honourable mentions list due to having to leave early. A great set list and The Wildhearts were just so good.
·         The Wildhearts – The Forum, London. June 2013 – Erm...see above! Seriously, closing the Northern Line on a Saturday? Fucking jerks TFL! The only extra thing I can say about this gig is that a DVD is apparently coming out next year of this set. That will be a must purchase!
·         Frank Turner – The Joiners, Southampton. June 2013 – I won tickets for this gig. The chance to see Frank Turner in a tiny pub was something I couldn’t turn down. The gig was superb but again plagued by the need to leave early. I had a great time at this gig though (and even got a free drink as part of winning the competition).
·         Hayseed Dixie – The Brook, Southampton. November 2013 – This gig was just a lot of fun! Hayseed played their AC/DC covers album in full followed by a set of originals/other covers. They are excellent at what they do and their between song banter is also very funny. Closing the night out on Comfortably Numb was ace as well.

Those were a good selection of gigs but I think the ones that made the top 10 were just that little bit better. These gigs come with fresh words being written about them. Mostly because this year I have been slack about writing gig reviews so I have no old words to reuse. Alas. Anyway, in reverse order:

10 - The 5th Annual Ginger Wildheart Birthday Bash – KOKO, London. December 2013.

This was the first proper birthday bash that I had been to and I thought it was a lot of fun! Loads of special guests, lots of things happened and all in all, a lot of great music. Highlights for me include seeing Hey! Hello! perform live as a full band for the first time; seeing the Ginger Wildheart band play songs I’ve not seen live before including SG5’s Brain Sugar and Do The Channel Bop); Frank Turner appearing as a guest for a couple of songs and the tribute to The Damned. Of course, The Wildhearts being on stage for a few songs at the end was just ace. This would easily have been in my top 5 this year but I left early as I had a headache. Boo and hiss to missing the final song of I Wanna Go Where The People Go with what looked like all musicians on stage but Frank Turner doing lead vocals. Boo and hiss I say!

9 - Eric Clapton – Royal Albert Hall, London. May 2013.

Eric Clapton was on his 50th anniversary tour this year, and I am really happy to have got to a date on this tour. Not least because the gig was at the Royal Albert Hall and I’ve been told by a number of people that his gigs at the Albert Hall were great. This one was no exception to that rule, with songs selected from all parts of his career. One of the personal highlights for me was seeing him play Tears In Heaven – I think hearing that from the Unplugged album was the song that got me into him as an artist. I’d seen Clapton once before at Hyde Park and he didn’t play that song, so it was great to see him play it. I’d say the only thing missing from the setlist was Crossroads, but aside from that it was near perfect.

8 - Green Day – Emirates Stadium, London. June 2013.

In 2012 I went to go see Green Day in an intimate gig in London at Shepherds Bush and just after the gig, it was announced they were playing Emirates Stadium. On the back of how good they were at Shepherds Bush, I booked a ticket. I predicted this time last year (I think) that they would be ace at the Emirates and I wasn’t wrong. They mixed up the set a bit and it was a lot of fun. Sadly, they didn’t play Dookie in full like they did at some of their other UK shows in 2013, nor did they play Good Riddance, but aside from that it was a great gig. I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to see them again, but I’m glad I went to this gig.

7 - Eureka Machines – Borderline, London. May 2013.

Before 2013, I’d not seen Eureka Machines once. Now as we approach the end of 2013, I’ve seen them 5 times. They were the main support for The Wildhearts in April and in June, and in April/May, they went out on a headline run of the UK. I can’t remember if I already had a ticket for their headline show when the support slots were announced. After seeing them twice in April, I knew this headline show was going to be something special. Supported by two great bands in the form of The Loyalties and The Deadwardians, Eureka Machines played a slightly extended version of the set they played supporting The Wildhearts. The gig though was just so much fun with a great atmosphere throughout. Opening with Champion The Underdog and Pop Star and closing out on Zero Hero for me are perfect choices. They’ve just announced another London show for March and I’ve already booked my VIP ticket. An acoustic gig as well as the main headline slot. Look out best gigs of 2014 list, there might well be another Eureka Machines entry.  

6 - Volbeat – O2 Academy Brixton, London. October 2013

Volbeat are an excellent live band. I’ve seen them a number of times now and not once have they disappointed me. This was their biggest London show to date and they delivered. I was concerned if this would be the case when waiting to get in as it was announced that the balcony was closed. Now, this could be for the technical reasons they announced, or it could be because ticket sales were lower than they had hoped (which to me is amazing seeing as on the continent, they are filling arenas – stupid UK). Anyway, the set was mostly filled with material off their last 3 albums (including the new one) which I was fine with as it was these albums which got me so much into the band. All in all, it was a superb gig as most if not all Volbeat gigs are.

5 - Nine Inch Nails – Custom House Square, Belfast. August 2013

When the Wave Goodbye tour in 2009 concluded, I really didn’t think I was going to see NIN again. I know bands and artists say they are going away for good and then come back, but it genuinely seemed as though Trent Reznor meant it when he said that NIN were done as a touring act. When it was announced that this wasn’t the case, I really wanted to see them as they are my second favourite band (second to Metallica). They announced a Belfast date and I’ve always wanted to visit Belfast – so this was all a win win really. The downside to the trip was not having a hotel booked. On reflection, I regret that. Not least because Belfast City Airport closes overnight! But that has nothing to do with the gig – NIN were great. They had their full stage show with them for this gig which was really cool to see. The set was a mix of old and new which was good to see, especially as the new material they played was the best stuff from Hesitation Marks. I would say the only thing which annoyed me about this gig was the crowd. Good lord were the people I was near annoying. If it wasn’t the constant visiting of the bar, it was talking. I wanted to turn round and say “hey, NIN are playing, that means your mouth hole needs to be shut”. Also, I am firmly of the belief if you are going to a gig and plan to get shitfaced throughout, you should stay to the back. Not force your way down the front before remembering you were thirsty. NIN were that good that it outweighed the crowd being annoying though. 

4 - Muse – Emirates Stadium, London. May 2013.

I went to the Aviva Premiership Final before this gig which meant I missed the support bands. I don’t think I could have planned that better if I had tried. Bastille and Dizzee Rascal if memory serves me well – not my cup of tea at all. Walking into the Emirates, I was instantly blown away by the stage. Usually for a stadium show, you have a smaller version of a festival stage at one end of the pitch. This was much different and completely customised for Muse, a stage which included a walk way and a smaller stage in the middle of the pitch. As for the band themselves – Muse are just a stunning live act. On the first listen of their two latest albums, I was largely unconvinced yet seeing them live sells those songs to me. Were they better than when I saw them headline Reading in 2011 playing Origin of Symmetry in full? That is a tough call but it was very close if not better. I feel as though I could continue repeating myself saying how good they were so I’ll leave it there.

3 - Carcass – Underworld, London. March 2013.

The first time I saw Carcass was in 2008 (I know, very late to the grind party). They were playing the Black stage at Wacken 2008 and I watched their set and afterwards thought they were just immense. Since then, I had hoped I would see them live again. After the odd appearance in the UK (Damnation 08 and Bloodstock 09) I started to give up hope of a UK tour. Then, as if by random chance, I saw they were playing 3 tiny shows in London at the Underworld and the only way to get tickets was in person at the box office. Now, given I don’t live in London, this was quite the challenge. After much debate as to how I would get a ticket from the box office, they sold out. I resolved to buy one off ebay for significantly more than the £5 face value (£5!). My justification for this was Carcass are doing headline shows in London and in a small club no less. The gig kicked off with a band called Asomvel doing an hour set. I was confused as to why they had an hour but not long after they started playing, I was alright with it. Carcass started not long after them and smashed through a 75min-90min (time has dulled my memory) set. Playing a best of set to warm up the new line up, it was almost as if Carcass had never stopped. I would say the new line up is as good as the old, but I sadly have no idea what Carcass were like live back in the day. Anyway, on top of a blisteringly good set, there was a special guest appearance by Ken Owen which always fills a room with joy when he appears. I remember the hero’s welcome he got at Wacken and this was much the same. After this set, I want to see Carcass again! Although I did turn down the chance to see them in London in November with Amon Amarth. I’m not smart!

2 - The Wildhearts - O2 ABC, Glasgow/Academy, Manchester. April 2013.

Right, before anyone says anything, I am well aware of the fact that this is cheating! 2 gigs in one position on a top 10 list, a travesty! Well, perhaps not that serious. After seeing The Wildhearts play Gingers Birthday Bash in 2012, I remember saying if they only ever do one gig a year on the 17th December, I’d be fine with that. Just after the Bash, they announced a 4 date tour of the UK where they would celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Vs by playing the album in full. Given that is my favourite Wildhearts album, I almost fell out of my chair. The 4 dates were up north and a pain in the balls to get to, but the timing of the dates couldn’t be more perfect as it was during a time I was off work anyway. I worked out the costs and was able to head from the south coast up to Scotland for the first gig and down to Manchester the next day for the second gig. I love it when a plan comes together. An honourable mention should be made to the supports, Eureka Machines and Baby Godzilla. Eureka Machines were excellent in their role as main support. Baby Godzilla were interesting to say the very least! I think only the bassist didn’t enter the crowd at some point.

As expected, the gigs were just fantastic. The run through of Earth Vs both nights was just superb. For both nights, the crowd were very loud in singing the album back to the band. Both of these crowds (and the two from the Wildhearts gigs that are in honourable mentions) were just great! It had a party like atmosphere throughout the whole thing. It has to be said, they were so good that when the Wildhearts announced their 2014 tour (with Ginger side project Hey! Hello! in support) I tried my best to price up going back to Manchester and Glasgow. Sadly short of a lottery win I will be unable to do that this time around). The gigs were split into two sets, the first being Earth Vs and the second being fan voted. How this worked is two guitar techs would hold up white boards with song titles on and which ever received the loudest cheers, the band would play. As it was the 20th anniversary of Earth Vs (the original release), Caffeine Bomb was not played as it wasn’t on the 1993 release (it was on the reissue in 94 I believe). It was however both nights the first song of the second set which got it off to a great start both times. The Glasgow second set was mostly a set of hits (or more well known songs), which was fine by me. Manchester was a bit more adventurous in that the options meant songs I’d not seen lie before would be played, but some of the selections were just ace. However, as fun as it was to see The Duck Song live, picking that over Hate The World Day was an error Manchester! Glasgow closed out with I Wanna Go Where The People Go and Manchester finished with 29x The Pain and what a way to end both gigs. I had a grin throughout both gigs which stayed with me long afterwards. It was well worth the jaunt.

In summary, it wasn’t possible to choose one Wildhearts gig to be number 2 out of these two, so I put both there. Both were special in their own ways while being stupidly good. I can’t wait to do it all over again in April in Cambridge and London. I guess based on the size of the tour a second leg in June is unlikely, but a man can dream!

1 - Roger Waters – Wembley Stadium, London. September 2013.

Given that The Wildhearts are in my top 3 favourite bands, it would take something special for them not to be my favourite gig of the year. Something special is certainly one way to put this gig! I booked this ticket I think in November 2012 and as the day was getting closer, I was getting more and more excited. I was going to see a member of Pink Floyd live and not only that, I was going to see him perform one of the classic Pink Floyd albums in full – The Wall. I’d heard from several people about how superb the arena tour of The Wall was and I couldn’t wait to see it. I’d heard from different people a rumour that the stage would run along the touchline of Wembley rather than one of the ends like a standard stadium show. That was not to be but the stage was bigger than your usual stadium show. I remember standing on the pitch in anticipation, excited but hoping I hadn’t got my hopes too high and would be disappointed. During the first song ‘In The Flesh?’ there were fireworks, explosions and a rigged plane flew over the top of the crowd and on to the stage. It was at this point I knew I would not be disappointed. I could now go into intricate details about the gig and what happened but I’m not writing a review here. I also wouldn’t do the show justice. In fact, there is very little I could say to do this show justice. At the time I could say little more than “wow” and on reflection, I think that probably the best word for it. Aside from hearing my favourite songs from that album, I just loved all the visual effects used in the show. The band Roger Waters assembled for the gig (I’m guessing his regular band) were just excellent. The personal highlights for me song wise were ‘Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two)’, ‘Mother’, ‘Young Lust’, ‘Hey You’, ‘Comfortably Numb’, ‘Run Like Hell’ and ‘The Trial’.  The whole gig was immense and made the decision of what was my favourite gig in 2013 an easy one to make.

There we are - my favourite gigs and festival sets of 2013. I always enjoy writing this blog even if coming up with the list is a pain in the arse. It enables me to look back on the year that is about to close and consider the things I have loved and revisit some great memories. For 2014 I already have some gigs booked that I am really looking forward to (including a February that is a bit mental). In these gigs that are booked, there is already several potential shows that could be my favourite gig. I’m looking forward to finding out what wins in the end. 

No comments: