Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 - A Year In Live Music

Before I start this blog about the gigs and festivals I've been to in 2015, I wanted to write a quick something about the recent passing of Lemmy Kilmister. I saw this news break and it really saddened me. I never met Lemmy, nor would I call myself a massive Motorhead fan, but his passing really made me sad. Not long after I saw the news, I remembered back to the words I wrote about Motorhead in my last blog. They weren't overly positive and ended with a somewhat unfortunate sentence, considering.

"Motorhead deserve the slot because they are Motorhead, but seeing them last year in Hyde Park supporting Black Sabbath was a little bit painful and I suspect that this will be no different...The new music they release is consistently good but live? Sadly not so much anymore. Also, there have been quite a number of cancellations recently, so I hope whoever is booked to be 4th from top is ready to step up, just in case. I hope it doesn't happen obviously, but it is an eventuality you have to be prepared for."

When I wrote those words, it was referring to Lemmy being ill. At no point was I thinking he might die. It just didn't enter my head. The sad thing though is that I was right, in the worst possible way. This is one of those situations where I definitely do not like being right. When I look back at the times I saw Motorhead live, I will likely most fondly remember seeing them at Southampton Guildhall as my favourite time seeing them. That gig was outstanding. RIP Lemmy, the world is a worse place now that you have passed.

(Source: BBC)

Nearly two weeks ago, I attended the last gig I will attend in 2015. Not long afterwards, I got to thinking about the end of year blog I write about live music and my favourite gigs and festival sets of the year. In all honesty, the bulk of that discussion was trying to remember what bands I had actually seen this year and where I had seen them rather than what gigs I enjoyed the most. I was convinced I had been to Islington Academy for a gig this year, which I haven’t and also couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been to Brixton Academy in over 2 years (again, I haven’t). Anyway, after that hurdle was overcome, I started to think on the two lists I tend to draw up and what would be on them. A list of the best festival sets this year would be a much easier list to draw up (I thought) as I was only at one full weekend festival (Download). I went to both days of Victorious Festival but don’t count that as a full weekend festival as I walked home afterwards. I was also at a bit of Camden Rocks Festival and the Radio 2 Festival in a Day in Hyde Park. Whereas in previous years, I’d have plenty of choice to make up a top 10 for festival sets, this year it was harder because I didn’t write reviews about Camden Rocks, Victorious or the Radio 2 day, so I had no scores to look back on. I know, my own fault. To make life easier for me, I have opted this year for a top 5 of festival sets, with a lot of honourable mentions, as the top 5 was definitive. So with that being said, this is the list.

Honourable Mentions:

Camden Rocks – Anti-Nowhere League; The Dirty Youth – I was feeling sad when I arrived at Camden Rocks Festival because I’d just come from watching Bath lose in the Premiership Rugby Final. I only managed to catch 3 bands because after The Dirty Youth finished, anywhere with a remotely big band playing had a queue out the door and, having lost a list of stage times, instead of seeing a random band, I decided to leave. However, both these bands here had outstanding sets. The Dirty Youth in particular really picked me up as my mood had slumped a bit before they came on stage. As a side note, as I was leaving the venue of the first band I saw (more on them later), I bumped into someone who asked me for the final result. I mentioned how Saracens had beat Bath and the guy, a Bristol fan, was happy. I reminded him that whilst Bath had indeed lost the Premiership final, Bristol had just lost the Championship playoff final again, and were competing in the second tier of English rugby. Perhaps not the most mature thing to do, but it briefly cheered me up at the time.

Download – Judas Priest; Slipknot; Testament; Evil Scarecrow; KISS – Bands who played Download make up 80% of my top sets list. However, there were other sets that I really enjoyed. Judas Priest were excellent. They inspired me to see them again live later in the year. Slipknot were also excellent – I would say they were better at Wembley Arena – but they still had a great headline set. Testament were ace, they had a short set but came on stage and smashed through their songs. It was a very quick 30 minutes that is for sure. Evil Scarecrow were perhaps the surprise package of the weekend. I went to watch Crabulon to be honest, but the whole set was really very good. I loved KISS as much as I did because it was my first time seeing them. Paul Stanley’s voice struggled a bit with certain songs (especially with Detroit Rock City at the beginning) but that didn’t ruin the set for me (like it did with Motley Crue). KISS were really enjoyable and the show was excellent.

Victorious – Texas; Hayseed Dixie; Primal Scream; The Subways; We Are Scientists – Victorious overall wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be. I think it is because it rained and I knew I could walk home if I got fed up of the weather. I didn’t until I was done with the bands each day, but still. The five bands mentioned above were all really good. Texas were the best band of the weekend for me, closely followed by Hayseed Dixie. I’d quite happily see them both again.

BBC Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park – The Corrs; Bryan Adams – There wasn’t a bad act on this day really. I was disappointed in Rod Stewart’s set as I only really know the songs you hear on the radio regularly (Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, Sailing, Maggie May etc) and he didn’t play any of them. I guess it was to try and sell tickets to a greatest hits tour? Who knows? Anyway, enough with the negativity. It was a good day out in London and The Corrs and Bryan Adams were the best acts of the day for me. Neither set made the top 5 of festival sets for this year, but they were both really very good.

Top 5:

5. Eureka Machines – Camden Rocks Festival – I’m sure there are several instances on this page of me saying the following words, but I fucking love Eureka Machines. This was supposed to be a 30 minute set but they ended up playing for close to 45 minutes as they started early. This was the second time I’d heard them play music from their Brain Waves album live which made it even better. They played in a small bar/restaurant called The Cuban if memory serves, and the place was packed for them. Superb set from a superb band.

4. Faith No More – Download Festival – Headliners in 2009, but on this day they sub-headlined to another band in this list. They were great at BST in 2014, but they had sound problems. They sounded spot on for this set and it was clear to see that Faith No More are more than just a nostalgia act these days. The new material sounded as good as the old stuff, and the old stuff got a fantastic reaction each time. For me, this was the best I’ve seen Faith No More (although I was feeling rough when I saw them at Hammersmith, which didn’t help matters). Off the back of this set, I’d love to see them again, indoors preferably.

3. A Day To Remember – Download Festival – ADTR were one of the main draws of Download 2015 for me. I had gone to see them in Portsmouth in 2014 and the gig was cut short due to some prick jumping off the balcony. That gig would likely have been one of my top 5 for last year but due to events, it wasn’t. They had an outstanding set at Download – my enjoyment of which was helped by the fact they played pretty much everything I wanted to hear them play. Towards the end of their set, there was a rather loud chant of “10 more songs”. A future headliner for Download? Quite possible.

2. Clutch – Download Festival – Last time I saw Clutch was at Download 2011. I had missed a UK tour between then and this set as the closest date to me was on a Thursday, and I decided against going. They had an absolutely belting set on the main stage. They played some new material from an album that at that point, had not been released. It was from an album called Psychic Warfare which is a really good album. I am sad to report that I didn’t pull my finger out quick enough and their London date on their 2015 tour sold out. So after I abandoned plans to go, and made alternative plans that day, the gig got moved due to a venue closure to a bigger room and more tickets went on sale. So on the 12th December, not only did I not see Clutch, but I watched The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Really, I made the wrong call! Hopefully they will be back again soon.

1. Muse – Download Festival – I was toying with the idea of a day ticket to see KISS as they were the only headliner I hadn’t seen live. However, when more of the bill was announced and the main stage run of Rise Against, ADTR, Faith No More and Muse was revealed, I knew I would be going for the weekend. That whole run was just brilliant and set the bar exceedingly high for Muse to reach if they wanted to be the best band of the day as far as I was concerned. They did so with ease. From the second they came on until the very end of their set, they had me and thousands of others wrapped around their little fingers. It was one of the best festival headline sets I’ve ever witnessed (that could be a fun blog to write for another day). As the set rumbled on, it seemed as though the only negative I would have to take away from it would be the fact they didn’t play Plug In Baby. During their encores on this tour, they were playing Uprising, Starlight and Knights in Cydonia and it hadn’t been played in the main set. After Uprising, Matt Bellamy teased playing Plug In Baby before launching into it, which received a massive cheer from the crowd (myself included). Sure, we didn’t get Starlight which is also an excellent song, but I would have preferred to hear Plug In Baby on this day and that is what we got. My final words from my Download review of their set still seem appropriate for this part of the blog. “I could sit here and gush more about how good Muse were…and it is a little bit tempting. But I will leave it there. Muse fucking rocked!” Roll on April when they play arenas in this country, in the round. That will be something else.

I don’t really have a whole lot to say here about the gigs I have been to this year. It occurred to me that this year is the first in a few that I’ve not seen a massive act at an intimate gig. I have tried for a few years now to rein in spending on gig tickets and to a degree, I managed that this year. I still went to London over 10 times for live music this year though so could still do better. I would say my biggest regrets on the not going to gig front from this year are Volbeat in Denmark, Skindred in Southampton, Amaranthe in Islington, Deathcrusher Fest Tour in London and David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall. All of those gigs would have made choosing a top 10 a right prick to be honest! One of those has been rectified as Gilmour announced more RAH dates and I am going to one of them which could well be the gig of 2016 (spoiler alert). As I have a healthy list of gigs to choose from, this list will be much like previous end of year ones. There will be a top 10 and also an honourable mentions list done in chronological order. I feel as though the honourable mentions list could have been longer but I could also be here until 2016* if it was.

*slight hyperbole there but never mind.

Honourable Mentions:

Royal Blood – Pyramids, Portsmouth. January 2015 – Originally supposed to take place at the end of 2014 but due to illness, it was postponed until January, which then led to the strange situation where they played two gigs in Portsmouth, really close together (the Pyramids in January and the Guildhall in March). This gig had Turbowolf in support who were excellent. Royal Blood were better than Turbowolf on this night, and sounded amazingly tight. I read some reviews which called them boring but I didn’t think that at all. An honourable mention for two reasons. First, it was a pretty short gig. They were on stage for about an hour I think. Second, I forgot to include them in my initial long list.

Queen w/Adam Lambert – The O2, London. January 2015 – This was a tough call to put this in honourable mentions as the gig was very good. However, it was between this and the gig that is in 10th spot, and I honestly preferred the other gig (obviously, hence why it is there). Adam Lambert did a fantastic job as the vocalist for Queen, and it was great to hear a lot of songs performed live that I never thought I would get to hear played live (at least by some of the original musicians anyway).

Fozzy – The 1865, Southampton. March 2015 – My first experience of this venue this year was pretty bad actually (not the gig, but the wait to get in) so I over corrected this time and arrived nice and early before doors to find there was barely a queue to get in. Opening were a local (to me) act called Dendera. I like them and this was my first time hearing music from their second album which was great (still need to buy that). There was also another band called Malrun on the bill, who to be honest I can’t remember if I enjoyed them or not. Sorry guys! The main support was a band called The Dirty Youth. This was my first time seeing them (could have seen them before this in Southampton if memory serves but put it off as I knew they were supporting here) and I was completely won over by the end of the set. In all honesty, the main reason this gig is on this list is because of The Dirty Youth. I enjoyed Fozzy and thought they had a great set – my favourite time seeing them live as a matter of fact. On reflection though, the main talking point for me is The Dirty Youth. I have since seen them a couple more times and they were also ace (one mentioned above in the festival recap). I’d like to see them do a full headline set now.

While She Sleeps/Cancer Bats – The Forum, London. April 2015 – The first of 3 jaunts to London in 3 days is the reason this gig only makes the honourable mentions list as I left slightly early to beat the crowd. Both headliners were fantastic though. I now want to see a While She Sleeps headline tour. There is more on Cancer Bats later.

Goldfinger – The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. May 2015 – This gig was just a lot of fun. The support bill were all really enjoyable and Goldfinger just smashed it. Had to leave slightly early to avoid a long wait (or walk) to get home but they played Superman just before I had to leave, which was ace of them.

Eureka Machines – Boston Music Room, London. November 2015 – I absolutely love Eureka Machines. This gig was just brilliant. There were a number of technical troubles but that didn’t really detract from the gig for me. I love going to see them live and they are one of those bands that now as soon as they announce dates, I try to see if I can make it. Thankfully I was able to see them twice this year which was ace.

Judas Priest – Guildhall, Portsmouth. November 2015 – Another tough call as to whether this would make the top 10 but it just missed out. This was a great gig that I never expected to be at. When they finished their set at Download, Rob Halford said “Will you come see us on tour?” to the crowd, and I turned to a mate and said “yeah…if they play Portsmouth!” and we laughed at the very idea of Judas Priest playing Portsmouth. Roll on a few months and that is exactly what happened. It was a really good gig. Judas Priest are still excellent live and this was another example of that. This will likely be the last headline show of theirs I’ll go to for a long while though unless they release another belter of an album as it is pricey going to see them live.

Top 10:

10. Hey! Hello! – Camden Underworld, London. June 2015 – This one was almost an honourable mention in place of Queen. However this beat it out for two reasons. First, I was in the gods for Queen and sat down. Second, this gig was just a ton of fun. Ginger opened the night with a solo acoustic set which was mostly made up of songs from GASS, which I was more than fine with. The second band on were a young band that had Ginger’s eldest son in. I remember enjoying their set as well. The main support were Role Models who are always pretty good live. Hey! Hello! were the best band of the night though and even though the set was brief (a warm up for their upcoming Download set), it was excellent. The night ended with a No Doubt cover that was superb. Hey! Hello! may well be Ginger’s new main project in the coming years, and it was pretty cool to be at their first (?) headline show.

9. Slipknot – Wembley Arena, London. January 2015 – When originally discussing this list, I figured this would be nearer the top of this list. When I sat down and really gave it some thought, I realised that while it deserved its place in the top 10, but not higher than it is. I got in and missed most of Korn’s set (it turns out most of the crowd had the same idea as me and missed King 810). However, I did get to see Korn perform a Beastie Boys cover with Slipknot – that was cool. Slipknot’s set was ace and we got the setlist that I wanted (I think they were doing 3 on rotation). This was only my second time seeing Slipknot indoors and I much preferred it to the first time, even though I loved that gig as well.

8. Less Than Jake – Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth. July 2015 – This gig was just great from the moment Random Hand started to the minute Less Than Jake finished (if you excuse the band changeover time). I saw Less Than Jake the year before and while I enjoyed them, I think I was so happy to have already seen Reel Big Fish, I was a bit burned out. This time was all about Less Than Jake and it was fantastic. Also, this is one of a few gigs this year where a song has played that I’ve actually welled up at. They played The Rest Of My Life, the song that got me back into Less Than Jake and a song I absolutely love. It was a complete involuntary reaction as well but yeah, that happened. Great gig,

7. Cancer Bats – 100 Club, London. August 2015 – First visit to the 100 Club and first time seeing Cancer Bats headline a show since their tour where they did 6 gigs in one day in London (I excuse the co-headline tour because they may have played the same length set as While She Sleeps, they didn’t headline that night). There were two bands that played before the main support and I don’t remember their names, but I remember them being good. Krokodil were the main support and they smashed it. However, Cancer Bats put it back together and smashed it again. It was such a good set from them and completely justified the jaunt to London to see them again. Thankfully, they are in my home town next year, and I expect to see them in and around the end of year post again this time next year. Also, the 100 Club is a cool little venue. I just can’t imagine Metallica playing in a room that small – that must have been carnage.

6. Epica – The Forum, London. November 2015 – I waited until the week before deciding I wanted to go to this gig, and I’m so glad I went. Last year, this band were on the honourable mentions list which was probably fair enough for last year. This gig overall was better. Epica were just as good if not better than last year. The support bill was just fantastic with Eluveitie and Scar Symmetry opening the night (Eluveitie’s set showing me that Epica seem to always bring a band that does a very long support set before they come on, just like last year with Dragonforce). This was a belting gig and completely justified my ticket buying. I could see them becoming a band that I go and see every time they do a headline tour in this country (providing I can make any dates of course). I say that mostly because I just saw them post US tour dates on Facebook and thought “I’d see them if I was in the US”. I won’t be, so I can’t, sadly for me.

5. Nightwish – Wembley Arena, London. December 2015 – The most recent gig I’ve been to. Fresh in the mind and one that will live on for some time I think. Before this night, I was 1 for 2 in terms of good Nightwish gigs in London. The Astoria was a good night, their end of tour show at Brixton was not so good. This show banished the memories of Brixton for me. The band were on superb form (just as good as when I saw them for the first time with Floor Jansen at Wacken 2013). The stage show was one of the best I’ve seen in an arena and overall what this gig proved is that if they were announced to headline Download, I think they could do it and put on an amazing show. Amorphis were a really good opener and I’m glad I finally saw them. Arch Enemy made me want them to do a headline tour of the UK. If they do, expect to see that gig on this list next year. They were fantastic. All in all, a great night.

4. AC/DC – Wembley Stadium, London. July 2015 – Until I sat down and gave it thought, this was my number one gig of the year. The reason for this is simply because it was AC/DC and they were excellent. The show was simply brilliant and continued my run of good gigs there (Metallica, Roger Waters and now AC/DC). Vintage Trouble were the support and they did a good job opening the gig. I enjoyed them. Very different to AC/DC mind. There really is little more that needs to be said. I’d heard they phoned in their Download 2010 headline set. I’ll never know if that is true as I wasn’t there. On this night however, they were on it, and it was a superb gig.

3. The Wildhearts – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London. September 2015 – P.H.U.Q in full. Enough said. Oh, and also the set after they played P.H.U.Q was fantastic as well (including the song Anthem, which I have wanted to hear live from the moment I first heard it). Hey! Hello! opened the night and that was a great set. A scaled down version of the headline show I saw earlier in the year but still good. The main support was Baby Chaos, a band I’d never seen before but heard nothing but good things about, and I liked their set. The Wildhearts though were just something else. I might be biased as they are one of my favourite bands, but I would like to see them tour every year. Ideally next year will contain a Fishing For Luckies anniversary tour. If so, I think there is a chance I might end up on a plane to see them more than once again (or at the very least, a coach). The night closed (or so I thought) with 29x The Pain, but just before we left the area of the Empire, we could hear they finished with The Duck Song, which was just ace (and had me talking about getting a tattoo inspired by that song for quite a few days afterwards).

2. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Guildhall, Southampton. November 2015 – Last year, I saw Frank Turner in Portsmouth and it was the best gig I went to all year. This year, I saw Frank Turner twice in Southampton and they were two of the best gigs I went to this year. It was a tough call to say that the first Soton gig was not my best of the year, as it was just amazing. The setlist was incredible, and the new material woven in with the older songs just sound like they’ve been a part of the back catalogue for many years. Both nights a different part of the set made me well up (again, involuntarily). The first night it was hearing Mittens live. The second night it was Song for Josh (actually that was a bit more than welling up if I’m being honest). I’ve seen Frank Turner both solo and with the Sleeping Souls and every time has been outstanding. These two gigs really could have been gig of the year had it not been for the night that I have picked.

1. System of a Down – Wembley Arena, London. April 2015 – This was my second time seeing System of a Down. I loved their headline set at Download despite almost every review I’ve seen in the years after saying it was lacklustre. This gig however was far from lacklustre. I could spend time writing every superlative I know about this gig and it still wouldn’t seem appropriate. I’ll just write one for now, it was phenomenal. They played for over 2 hours, playing a 35 song set. As far as dream System of a Down setlists go, this one was as close as I’m sure I’ll ever get to see. But to see them again, and see them just be amazing, was the best moment of 2015 for me in terms of live music. If they release new music and tour, I’m sure I will try to go – but I’m not sure they would be capable of topping this gig for me. I never got to see them play at the Astoria in London (I’ve been told these gigs were something special), but this for me was something very special. Also, Holy Mountains is a fantastic set opener. I had goose bumps from the second it started.

And that is 2015 in live music for me. Next year so far is not looking very full but I’m sure there will be additions made to it. There has already been one gig casualty with The Ghost Inside having to cancel their tour due to a tour bus crash they were in. I was sad to see that the gig was cancelled but the band’s health is more important than a tour and I hope they will come back stronger and better than ever. With regards to gigs that are booked, the potential stand outs for me at this early stage are Avantasia, Muse (in the round) and David Gilmour in London as well as Cancer Bats and Crossfaith in Portsmouth and Bowling for Soup and Hey! Hello! in Southampton. 2015 has been a good one, roll on 2016!

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