Monday, 28 March 2016

A Decade Of Gigs Part One - The Wedgewood Rooms

On this blog, I tend to write about things that interest me that I can write a lot about. My last three posts have been my bet gigs of 2015, my thoughts on Download festival at the time and about the Rugby World Cup final and my experiences at the game. One of my personal wishes is that I would find more time to write more as I do enjoy it, but life gets in the way (life meaning binge watching TV shows on Netflix). I tend to write most of the posts on this page about gigs and festivals I’ve been to or am going to. When discussing a gig with a friend recently, it occurred to me that I’ve been going to gigs by myself and with friends for a decade now (2006-2015). In that time, I’ve seen almost every band that I would want to see live (as things stand), which is pretty ace to be honest. I got thinking about the decade of gigs and it made me want to write about some of the gigs I’ve been to. What I couldn’t decide was how to do it. My original thought was to just write a long blog about a select number of the gigs in chronological order, and I actually did start that post. However, after writing about 2000 words and not even being 2 years in, I sacked that one off. I scrapped that blog but the concept stayed with me. I’ve decided to give it another go but do it in a different way. What I am going to do is post a number of blogs with a different theme. I want to write about Portsmouth gigs, gigs outside my home town, London gigs (I suspect that will be a two part blog) and best of the big shows festival headline sets that I have seen. This blog is the first one of a few that I will be writing about. This one is about gigs in Portsmouth that have all taken place in my favourite local venue – The Wedgewood Rooms. I won’t cover every gig I’ve been to there, but I will talk about quite a few of them. They will be in chronological order like I had originally intended, and I will stop at the end of 2015. This was a tough decision to make, as I’ve been to a couple of fantastic gigs this year that I would definitely be talking about, but they fall outside of the first 10 years of gigs. So, with that being said, this post is about the gigs I’ve been to at the Wedgewood Rooms between 2006-2015.

The first gig I went to in this decade actually took place in 2007. I’d been to the Wedge twice before (if memory serves) but never to see music. I’d been to see Robert Llewellyn do a one man show, and to a comedy club night. My first live music gig there was to see Turisas. Earlier in 2007, they had opened the main stage of Download and I enjoyed them there. At the time, I remember being surprised that a band who had played the main stage at Download would play a venue the size of the Wedge. My memory of this gig is a bit limited but I remember enjoying them in the more intimate surrounds of the Wedge a whole lot more than I did at Download. I also remember the atmosphere when they covered Boney M’s song Rasputin. It was the first time I had heard them do it, and it was fantastic. I’ve seen them a few times since this gig, but this would definitely be one of the best times I’ve seen them. Just over 2 weeks later, I went to see Devildriver. For a slight bit of context, before this gig I had seen them 3 times previously, twice at Download (the first time at Download being the time I was introduced to what a circle pit was by accidentally walking into it) and once at a venue in Southampton called The Nexus (I miss that venue). This tour was on their 3rd album tour, and it was the best I’ve seen them. The main thing I take away from this gig is that it was the first time I had seen a circle pit in the Wedge, and it almost engulfed the entire venue. This is not an exaggeration, it was close to both of the walls at the sides and the sound desk at the back. I’ve not seen anything like that since at the Wedge. A week later, I was back to see a band I hadn’t heard much material by, but by the end of the night I was a fan. Black Stone Cherry played a blinding set. This was the first time I saw them and I’ve gone on to see them a number of times since (they will appear again in future volumes of this subject) and to be honest, I’ve enjoyed some of those other gigs more. This one however remains very special to me as I was there to see them on their first proper headline run in the UK, and since this tour, they have just got bigger and bigger, to the point they are being discussed as a future Download headliner. It is cool to think I got to see them in a 400 capacity room in my hometown.

I’m going to jump forward now to over a year later. In November 2008, I saw Lacuna Coil. I remember when this gig was announced being shocked. They played the main stage of Download in 2006, and played the Pyramids later that year. They were the main support to Bullet For My Valentine at the time of this gig, and announced two headline shows to fit in with days off from this tour, and one of them was at the Wedge. I recall thinking I was really lucky to be going to this gig as they were too big to be playing this venue so it would be a special gig. It was a special gig, but next time they did a UK tour, they played the Wedge again (another good gig for the record). That is the only entry in this post from 2008. In March 2009, I went to see Gojira. I didn’t know a whole lot about them at the time but what I did know, I liked. This gig was ace, and the floor moved. The waves of sound coming from the amps and speakers were almost physical waves. It was quite something. Going to this gig was an experience – that is probably the best way to describe it. Another gig that I’d also describe as an experience but in an entirely different way was when Cancer Bats rolled into town in May. It was my first time seeing them and it was outstanding. The headline set can’t have been any longer than 50 minutes and it was superb. I think on reflection now, I’d probably be annoyed if I saw a band do a headline set shorter than an hour (depending on how many bands were on the bill), but this was so good it didn’t matter. I’ve seen them 10 times in total, including their most recent visit to the Wedge, which was earlier this year. This gig though started off my love affair of seeing Cancer Bats live. Random side note, I went to this gig with a mate who shook hands with someone at the merch desk. I assumed it was a mate of his and just stood back and smiled. Turns out it was Liam from Cancer Bats! I shook his hand at the end of the gig.

Speaking of love affairs, in September 2009, I saw a band for the first time who are now one of my favourite bands. I remember being prompted by a friend to listen to The Wildhearts for over a year before this gig occurred and I don’t think I did until they announced this tour. The band were touring their latest album Chutzpah! Again, I was encouraged by the same friend to give them a go, and if I liked it, to go to the gig. I gave the album a spin and thought it was excellent, so bought a ticket. They played the new album in full, and then did a second set which was a short run through some of their back catalogue. I absolutely loved the gig, and knew at that point that I would be going to see them live again. Sadly after their Christmas tour (which I couldn’t make), they then went on hiatus and this didn’t happen again until 2012. I am very pleased I got to this gig though because if I didn’t, I don’t know if I would have discovered a whole lot of other music (including Ginger’s various solo projects). Just after the gig, I saw the friend who had been suggesting I listen to them. He saw my expression when he asked me if I enjoyed it, and simply said “told you that you’d like them” – he was very right. My last 2009 Wedgewood Rooms memory is seeing CKY. I remember liking a handful of their songs but not getting the chance to see them live. The gig was really good, and they played everything I wanted them to. When thinking of this blog, I wanted to include this gig but my memories of it are sketchy (it was over 5 years ago in my defence). I spoke to a mate I was at the gig with who confirmed that it was a really good gig and another one that after leaving, we were both raving about.

 I have two gigs from 2010 I want to discuss. The first one was the first time I saw Skindred. The second one is just a note about a cancelled gig which to this day, I wish would have been rescheduled rather than cancelled. If memory serves, Skindred played the Wedge in 2006 and I knew a number of people that went to that gig. I didn’t know them at the time so gave it a miss. Everyone who I knew reported back that they were superb and I was a fool to miss it. I decided if they came back, I would go. This was that chance, and I am very glad that I didn’t miss it as they were outstanding. I’ve never seen them even be average live. If they released an album which was universally well received, I could see them moving up the festival bills into the major slots. They get good slots now, don’t get me wrong (sub-headlining the second stage this year at Download), but I reckon if they good booked to headline a festival, they would be more than suitable in terms of the live show they would bring. Interestingly enough, they announced a show in 2011 for the Pyramids, but it got downgraded to the Wedge. That was also an outstanding show. The cancelled gig was Volbeat supported by Black Spiders. I had never seen them live at this point and had only heard one or two of their albums. I rushed out to buy a ticket though because I loved those albums. I remember being so excited for this gig and how gutted I was when it got cancelled. I remember at first, it was only the first week of the tour which was cancelled, and I tried to work out the sums if I could make their still intact London show at the Electric Ballroom. Reluctantly, I worked out it wasn’t do-able. It then got cancelled as well. I’ve seen them a few times since including headlining Wacken Open Air in 2012 which was just outstanding. It confuses me as to how they can headline major rock festivals in Europe, yet here they have to bring a big name support to fill rooms that hold 1-3k people. Personally, I blame Download a little bit for this. They played in 2013 and 2014. In 2013 they clashed with Korn and in 2014, they clashed with a secret Black Stone Cherry set on the third stage that attracted a crowd of 25k people apparently. Anyway, I’m getting side tracked.

I’ve got no entries for 2011 in this blog. I did go to the Wedge in 2011 and I did go to some decent gigs. My only mention of 2011 is that I went to a gig where a band called Dendera opened, and they were ace. What happened to Taking Dawn by the way? Anyway, I will skip forward to 2012. In June 2012, I saw Halestorm at Download. I remember thinking they were really very good. I already had a ticket to see them later in the year at the Wedge. Much like the first entry, Turisas, they were significantly better at the Wedge than they were at Download (I think them having a 25min set at Download might have something to do with this). My two main memories of this gig are quite contrasting. The first is one that I’ve already mentioned, which was just how good they were live (which is quite interesting as I’ve never managed to click with most of their recorded material). The second is a negative memory sadly but has nothing to do with the venue, more to do with the crowd. At one point in the set, Lzzy Hale played a song by herself and it was a real change of pace for the gig. It was a really good song, but throughout the whole thing, there were quite a few males in the crowd wolf whistling and shouting suggestions that Lzzy should remove her top. I remember in that moment feeling really sorry for her and wondering if that gets annoying. If it did get annoying that night, she didn’t let it show. It was the first time that I can remember feeling genuinely uncomfortable at a gig. That is the only entry I have for 2012, and I only have one for 2013 as well. I went to see The Bronx when they came to town. I had heard from several people online who had been requesting they play Download just how good they were live. So without knowing much material, I grabbed a ticket for the gig and hoped it would be a good one. Good is quite the understatement as they absolutely smashed it. It was one of those gigs that seemed to be over really quick despite the fact it wasn’t. I remember raving about the gig for some time afterwards. I finally got to see them again at Sonisphere in 2014 and although they had dodgy sound for some of their set, they reminded me of just how good they were that night at the Wedge.

2011-2013 was covered with 2 entries. I didn’t visit the Wedge often in these years. I didn’t stop going to gigs though as you will find out if you read the other sections of this blog when they are posted. I made up for that in 2014. The first gig I will talk about is Mongol Horde which happened in June. Earlier that year, I had seen Frank Turner perform under his own name at the Guildhall in what has probably been the best gig I’ve seen at the Guildhall. He then announced a tour with his band, Mongol Horde and it was coming to the Wedge. I thought it would sell out instantly and was really pleased I’d been able to grab a ticket. The gig was superb. They ran through the album they released not long before the tour (in a different order) and threw in some covers from bands like Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More, Foo Fighters and Sepultura. I had a bit of a buzz (read: was very drunk) during this gig but I remember it being superb. The next gig I want to talk about was just over 2 weeks later, and is arguably the most fun I’ve ever had at a gig. Earlier in the year, the country got battered by some pretty nasty storms and the Pyramids in Portsmouth was taken out of action. The co-headline tour of Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake got moved to the Guildhall, where Reel Big Fish were the best band of the night. Later on in the year, they were booked to play Sonisphere. Around this festival set, they announced a run of small UK shows, and a gig at the Wedge was one of them. Despite having seen them earlier in the year at the Guildhall, I knew this was not one to be missed. I remember running into a friend at the gig who I didn’t know was going to be there, who was with an American friend of his. He had said he was super excited as he had never seen Reel Big Fish before and had a number of things he wanted to hear on the set list. He got to hear everything he wanted to hear aside from one song I think, which was cool. There was so much jumping and dancing at this gig – as I said, I can’t think of another gig where I’ve had as much fun. As a side note, writing about this gig encouraged me to listen to a selection of their music. A great band if you want to smile.

The Wedgewood Rooms played host to the debut UK gig for Gerard Way, formerly of My Chemical Romance, who had split up in 2013. I think his band had only played once before this show so it was almost a debut show. It was also announced I think 2 days before it took place. There was a strict no photography rule in place, so much so they encouraged people to pay for phone lockers before the gig. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like that in place at the Wedge, but then I think it’s probably fair to say that Gerard Way was the biggest act that had played the Wedge in a while. It was a good show as well. He played nearly all of his solo album with no My Chemical Romance songs being played at all, which if I recall surprised me. But no-one who attended seemed to be bothered by that. Less than a week later, I was back to see Airbourne. I’d been to their last two Portsmouth headline shows (at the Guildhall and Pyramids) and was really surprised to see them playing the Wedge (even the singer commented that this was one of the smallest shows they’d played in the UK in some time). It was really very loud. That seems like a daft thing to say about a gig because generally, they are all loud. However, this one was the first one in a while that made my ears ring. Superb gig though.

Towards the end of 2014, I went to the Wedge 3 times in the space of under 4 weeks. The first of these gigs was Bury Tomorrow. I had watched them on the main stage at Download that year and that set convinced me to buy a ticket. I was very glad I did as they were superb that night. So much so that I’ve wanted to see them again since but haven’t been able to make it happen. Annoyingly, they are being supported by Every Time I Die, another band who I saw have a good set at the Wedge, in Southampton in June. However I think I will be out of the county for that one. Damn shame that, but this show was really good. A week later, Sikth, on their reunion tour rumbled into town. I’d seen them once before and had no idea what was going on (I remember liking it though). This time I was a little bit more clued in and thought it was excellent. The only downside to it being the mate I went to the gig with was nursing a neck injury and so spent most of the gig next door in the Edge listening rather than watching. They were still great though. I do hope they will come back to Portsmouth again, although I think if they do, they might be at the Pyramids depending on the size of the tour.

The final gig of 2014 I want to talk about and the penultimate entry for this blog is Against Me! – I saw them at Download that year for the simple reason that they were on at the same time as Steel Panther which made seeing them a very attractive proposition. That set was one of my favourite sets of the weekend as they just battered through their 30 minute set (it helps that they are an ace band as well). With that in mind, when they announced they were coming to Portsmouth, buying a ticket was an essential purchase. You might notice a trend at this stage when I say I saw a band at a festival and then saw a headline show at the Wedge, but the headline show was better. I didn’t think before the gig that would be possible but it was. It also reminded me just how good their latest album is. I hope they will come back to the UK again soon. The final gig I want to talk about took place last year, and that is Less Than Jake. I mentioned earlier the co-headliner show with Reel Big Fish at the Guildhall and I don’t want to talk too much about it here as I will discuss it in the section about Portsmouth gigs on the whole, but I remember feeling exhausted after Reel Big Fish and enjoying Less Than Jake less than I thought I would. So, when they came back to Portsmouth, I was very happy to go see them again, but also to see them play the Wedge as their previous visits to Portsmouth had been to the Pyramids. The gig was fantastic. I enjoyed them so much more than I did when I saw them at the Guildhall. I remember turning to the mate I was at the gig with as they went off for the encore and saying “there is one thing that will make this gig even better for me” – it was a short encore break, and they came back out and played the song I was referring to. The Rest Of My Life is probably my favourite Less Than Jake song, and them playing it actually caused me to well up with tears of joy, which was a surprising reaction I won’t lie. It was already an excellent gig, but that really made it for me.

And that is my summation of my decade of going to gigs at the Wedgewood Rooms. I’ve seen some excellent gigs there. There was no way I could include everything I’ve seen there, and if I went into any more detail, I’d have probably been writing this blog for days. This post is the first of a number to come with me talking about my decade of gigs. Like I said up front, The Wedgewood Rooms is my favourite venue in Portsmouth and I felt it deserved its own blog rather than cutting this list down to fit it in with an overall Portsmouth gigs list. I’ve been there for two gigs this year which will easily make the second decade blog list about the Wedge (if such a thing exists in 10 years’ time). The second part of this blog will be coming soon. 

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