Thursday, 14 April 2016

A Decade Of Gigs Part Four - London (pt 1)

London! Oh I do love me some of that London. This is part four of the series of blogs I am writing about the last ten years of gigs and festivals that I have been to between 2006 and 2015. This one is a two-parter in itself as it covers gigs that I’ve been to in London. This first part covers 2006-2011 and the second part, appropriately, will cover 2012-2015. I’ve been to London a lot for gigs, so the relatively recent terrorist attack in Paris affected me quite badly when I heard about the awful events that took place at an Eagles of Death Metal gig at the Bataclan. It affected me badly because of the fact I go to London semi-regularly for gigs and that sort of event is just something you cannot imagine occurring. Two days after the attacks in Paris, I was in London for a gig. I would be lying if I said that attack on the Bataclan was not weighing heavily on my mind that night – but if you change the way you live your life as a result of terrorist actions, then they have achieved their aims. Anyway, I’m not here to talk in depth about terrorism, I’m here to write about some of the gigs I’ve been to in London over the last 10 years. As I said before, this blog will cover the first 6 years of the decade in question. The third gig I went to was in London, and that is the starting point for this reflection.

I’ve heard so many good stories about gigs at the Astoria. It was an iconic venue. I am saddened to write about it in the past tense as it has been torn down to make way for Crossrail. My first visit there was in November 2006 to see Stone Sour. When arriving in London, I actually didn’t know where the Astoria was. Nowadays, if I am going to a venue and am not 100% sure where it is, I will be on Google Maps figuring out its exact location (this doesn’t always work out as I will discuss later). However in 2006, I didn’t do this. Google Maps was still a relatively new thing at this point – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! Anyway, Stone Sour were supported by Bullets and Octane that night. I remember their set because someone tested the stage lights for the club night that would follow this gig while they were on stage. The band were playing away, while behind them in bright lights, the letters G.A.Y were illuminated. It was quite a humorous moment. I had seen Stone Sour for the first time at Download 2006, where I thought they were great and really looked forward to seeing them again. In this environment, they were so much better. I learned one important lesson on this night – don’t stand against a wall with a metal mesh on it at a packed gig. I got squashed against it, which meant it was quite a painful experience watching Stone Sour that night, and I was at the back! The next month, I visited another classic venue which is no longer open – Earls Court - to see Iron Maiden. Not long before this gig, they released their then new album, A Matter of Life and Death. They took the unprecedented (for them at least) step of playing this album in full. I like the album but I will admit to being slightly disappointed they did this. When they had played the album in full, they concluded the set with a few classic Iron Maiden songs – this was when I got my first introduction to how amazing it is when they play Fear of the Dark. The atmosphere whenever they play this song live is something which needs to be experienced to fully understand what I am saying I’d say.

I went to 3 gigs in London in 7 days in March of 2007. Two of those gigs were Nine Inch Nails gigs at Brixton Academy, and the other was Stone Sour, who were back at the Astoria. Brixton Academy is another legendary venue in London. I don’t wish for this blog to sound like a massive advert, but there is a fantastic book written by the guy who bought the venue when it was basically a derelict building and how it became the iconic venue we know today. I originally had planned to go to only one of the NIN gigs in their 4 night residency at Brixton, but I loved the first one so much I went online to see if there were any tickets left for the other gigs and found there were seating tickets left for the Sunday. Both gigs were outstanding. Choosing which one of the two is my favourite is a call I don’t think I can make – I’d say the second night I went to had the better setlist (Starfuckers Inc!) but they were both as good as each other. I’d love for Nine Inch Nails to do multiple nights at Brixton again (although I don’t think my wallet would like it much!)

I didn’t go to London for a gig after Stone Sour at Brixton until later that year when Dream Theater came to town in October and played Wembley. This was their first time playing an arena in the UK (I believe). At their previous shows, they had done 3-4 hour sets. This one wasn’t as long, but still was over 2 hours. I loved their set at Download 2007 and this one was just as good. I’ve seen them twice at Wembley and both shows have been great. I’d say the first one in 2007 was better as the setlist was pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear. The second one was memorable in that it had a drum solo with 4 drummers on the same kit – that was quite something. November had another two London shows in quick succession, with Serj Tankian being on a Thursday and the Black Crusade tour being a few days later on the Sunday. As I’ve said in an earlier blog, I really regretted missing System of a Down when they were in the UK in 2005 and wanted to rectify that. Serj Tankian released a solo album and played a one off solo headline show at the Astoria (if memory serves, he was in the UK supporting Foo Fighters on their arena tour). I had assumed he would drop in the odd SOAD song into the set, but this was not the case. That did not detract from the gig though as his first solo album was brilliant, and I think he played the whole thing that night (if not all, then most). There was also an ace Dead Kennedy’s cover. That Sunday, I was back in London for the Black Crusade tour, which was a five band tour co-headlined by Trivium and Machine Head. I missed the opening band in favour of being in the pub (I know, I’m awful). Arch Enemy had a great set. I enjoyed Dragonforce (although that could be because the two previous times I had seen them at Download, they had some significant sound problems). I was indifferent to Trivium’s set for the most part which was probably the first time I had experienced that at a gig for a band I went to go and see (as opposed to not caring too much about a support band). Machine Head absolutely smashed it. I’d seen them have blinding sets at Download and supporting Metallica that year, but this was better. All in, I’d say this was a great gig.

Just above, I mentioned about not caring for a support band. When Megadeth bought Gigantour to Brixton, I had two very different reactions to their support bands. Evile opened the gig and they were superb. There weren’t masses of people in for them, which is a shame. However this meant I was able to get right down the front, which was cool. I then retreated as far as I possibly could when Job For A Cowboy came on – not my cup of tea at all. Megadeth were superb that night. They more than made up for Job For A Cowboy (and that was a big task because they truly were terrible). The next month, March 2008, I went back to the Astoria for what would be my last visit to that venue (moment of silence). I had been turned on to Nightwish by a friend at this time in life and they played a 3 night residency at the Astoria – all 3 dates I seem to recall sold out fairly quickly. This was the first time Nightwish were visiting the UK with their new vocalist I believe. I didn’t know what to expect as I hadn’t seen them with either singer, but this gig was really cool. They made it feel really intimate, despite the fact it was a full house. This was the first of three times I have seen Nightwish in London. The second one won’t be getting much of a mention in this blog (in fact, this is it) because I left feeling they had put on a pretty mediocre gig, despite having their full stage show. Spoiler alert – I’m going to talk about the third one in the next installment of the London gigs blog. The final London gig I went to in 2008 (if memory serves) was Slipknot at Hammersmith Apollo. This was my first visit to another very iconic London venue (famously known as Hammersmith Odeon back in the day). I was surprised to see Slipknot playing the Apollo because all their other dates were arena dates (then again, they did 3 nights at Hammersmith, which I think is more tickets sold than Wembley Arena). The support bill for this gig for me was crazy, with Children of Bodom and Machine Head supporting. Both of these bands had great sets but finally getting to see Slipknot was something else entirely. I don’t think Slipknot will ever do another multiple night residency at Hammersmith or Brixton again, so I’m very happy I got to see them in a venue this size. Sadly, this was the one and only time I got to see them with their classic line up. They headlined Download in 2009 for the first time and that was their last UK show with the original 9 members but sadly in 2010, the bassist Paul Gray died.

The first London show that I went to in 2009 that I want to talk about happened at Wembley Arena and for me was a fantastic line up of bands. This was not an opinion shared by the country as a whole as one or two of the venues on this tour got downgraded I believe (and tickets were reduced for some gigs, which I remember annoying me). Regardless of that, this was my first time seeing Judas Priest and they bought Megadeth and Testament with them. I was disappointed with Testament’s set – not because they were bad or anything but the sound was. I saw them two nights earlier on an off date in Oxford in a tiny venue and it was far better. I went in to this gig raving about how good Testament were live and they suffered. Megadeth were really good that night. Judas Priest were also really good. I was pleased that they only played a handful of songs from their then latest album Nostradamus but one of the songs they played from it has become one of my favourite Judas Priest songs – Prophecy. All in, I was very happy.

The next month, I went to the O2 Arena for the first and second time to see Metallica. These two gigs were the first and only times I’ve seen them in an arena (I hope when they finally release their new album, they do an arena tour for it). For the first one, I had a standing ticket. I didn’t know what to expect from this gig as it was the first gig I’d been to that had an in-the-round stage. I was able to get right down by one of the barriers on the stage and had 3 of the 4 Metallica members playing right in front of me (probably fair enough that Lars didn’t). The gig was outstanding and continued my longstanding tradition with Metallica gigs that they always play something I’ve never heard them play live before (only once in 11 times has this not happened). I left this gig before the encore because I had no idea how long it would take me to get back to Waterloo. I found out the next day they played Phantom Lord in their encore, which made me feel sad as I love that song and have still not seen them play it live. The second gig was another early finish but not as early. I had planned to leave after the first encore song, which was Overkill, a Motorhead cover. Just as I was about to leave, they started playing Hit The Lights, which got me to stay in my seat (well in the general area of my seat) for a little bit longer. The journey home after the gig was a nightmare, but that is a story for another day. I could write many more words about Metallica, but for those of you that read the last instalment of this blog, you might be a bit fed up of me gushing about how much I love seeing Metallica live, so I will leave it there. One final note, which is not about how good they are live, but about my personal annoyance that I didn’t get a ticket to the Nottingham show on that tour. My brother and his brother-in-law went. That night, Metallica played No Leaf Clover and their cover of Breadfan – I’d have loved to seen that (not least because Breadfan is another song I’ve not seen them play live). As a somewhat entertaining side note – as I am typing this blog, I am listening to a big playlist which pretty much covers most of the music I like. As I finished typing this paragraph, Breadfan came on. It is as if my iPod is mocking me.

For the final London show from 2009 I want to talk about, I went back to the O2 arena to see Nine Inch Nails. Now, I learned from my mistake from the previous night about not going in for the opening band on this tour (Mew were not good…at all). I recall advising friends who had seating tickets not to go in for them but they insisted on doing so. I sat outside and enjoyed the fact it was a nice evening by the river. Not long after Mew had started, I got a message from one of the friends who had gone in to see them simply asking “why?” with a lot of extra letters added to that word. Janes Addiction were the main support. I enjoyed them in at the O2 but thought they were better at the Manchester show. Anyway, if you read an earlier paragraph in this blog, you will know my opinion of seeing Nine Inch Nails live (recap – awesome). The crowd were all caught off guard as the band came out and started playing without the house lights going down to indicate they were coming on stage. I won’t re-tread too much old ground by talking about how much I love them live. However, the reason why I have included this gig on this list, as well as the earlier ones because this one was very memorable. Towards the end of the show, the band bought out Gary Numan as they were covering one of his songs, Metal, on this tour. I’d never seen Gary Numan before so this was really cool. After they finished Metal, they launched into probably Gary Numan’s most well-known song, Cars. That was definitely unexpected but a great moment. I think this is gig is probably my favourite of the times I have seen Nine Inch Nails live.

The next entry (and the only one from 2010) is one that I still discuss with friends to this day. However, this is not because the band put on a special gig that night (for the record, they were excellent), but because of the state I was in when I arrived at the gig. I won’t tell the whole story here but I had a lot to drink the night before because it looked likely my then favourite sports team were going to be liquidated. When I woke up, I saw the news story that actually this wasn’t going to happen. I still had a hangover that would slay a woolly mammoth. Going to most gigs when in this state probably wouldn’t have been the smartest move. Going to the Hammersmith Apollo to watch My Chemical Romance in that state was an extremely bad idea. There was one point, before the band came on, where I realised the bulk of the crowd were teenage girls. I turned to my mate and said something like “I hope they don’t do anything like test the house lights because that might finish me off” – sure enough, they tested the house lights and everyone screamed. The lights came back on and I think the only word I could muster was the word “fucker”. Like I said, My Chemical Romance were really good that night. They were just coming back after a break following The Black Parade, which made them a massive band. So, to see them in the Apollo was quite something (much like Slipknot as I mentioned earlier). In some regards, I felt the same thing about the next gig I am going to talk about. I tended to ignore things like the NME because they tended to cover a lot of music that I just wasn’t interested in. However, when they announced their NME Big Gig of 2011 at Wembley Arena would be headlined by Foo Fighters, they caught my attention. I don’t remember if I already had a ticket to see them in Milton Keynes at that point (I’m guessing I did) but I remember being surprised they were playing in an arena. After their stadium tour in 2009, I didn’t expect to see them play arenas again. At the time, Foo Fighters had the reputation of being one of the best live bands on the circuit and this show did nothing but enhance that reputation as far as I’m concerned – their set was excellent.

In October of 2011, I managed to see a band I was supposed to see at the Wedgewood Rooms in 2010, but they cancelled their tour due to injury. The tour basically got rebooked for bigger rooms, and I was able to get to London to see Volbeat supported by Black Spiders (that gig at the Wedge would have been incredible). Anyway, I’ve never seen a poor live show from Black Spiders. I’m not sure if this was the first time of seeing them live or not, but they were really good that night. Volbeat though were something else entirely. In my end of year blog about favourite gigs and festival sets, I ranked it second and not first only because of Foo Fighters at the MK bowl. I would say I remember the Volbeat gig more fondly of the two though. I had seen Volbeat open the main stage at Sonisphere that year (the least said about the state I was in that day, the better) and they were fantastic. They were just as good if not better at this gig. One cool moment which I have seen them replicate a couple of times since was they bought out Barney from Napalm Death to play Evelyn with him on vocals. Generally, this tends to be the case for indoor gigs, but when they headlined Wacken in 2012, they were on another level that night. Seriously, how are this band not bigger in the UK? Absolutely crazy.

My final two entries for 2011 and for this blog happened the last weekend before Christmas. Until this point in time, I had not seen the Manic Street Preachers and I did want to. I missed them at Rock AM Ring and wasn’t at Reading for them in 2008 (at which, a friend of mine chose to see The Killers instead of them – a decision I will never understand). Manic Street Preachers are not an arena size band across the whole of the UK (they are playing a small stadium in Wales this summer) so when they announced a one off show at the O2 Arena, I was surprised. When I realised that this show was going to be a 3+ hour set show with them playing every single they have released in conjunction with the release of their singles album, I had to go. It meant selling a ticket to another gig I had planned to go to that night but it didn’t matter. This gig, for a casual Manics fan as I would consider myself to be, was perfect. There is little more I can say about it to do it justice. My original plans for that evening were to go and see Ginger Wildheart as it was his birthday bash that night at the Islington Academy. In the build up to this gig, he announced another Ginger Wildheart band gig which would take place at the Garage in Highbury (another famous London venue ticked off the list). As I was missing out on the birthday bash (for good reasons mind), I opted to go to this show, despite the fact I had already been to the Southampton show on this tour. In my (admittedly at this time, limited) experience, Ginger didn’t put on bad shows and this was no exception. I was keen on going to these shows in the absence of Wildhearts gigs, and during the gig at one point, I was stood near long time Wildhearts guitarist CJ. When he disappeared, a mate I was at the gig with wondered if he would make an appearance on stage and sure enough he did. Cue fanboy squealing. Anyway, with CJ on stage, the gig concluded with a very brief Wildhearts set which included TV Tan, My Baby Is a Headfuck, I Wanna Go Where The People Go and 29x The Pain. It was a fantastic conclusion to what had been a great weekend of live music for me.

And with that, 2011 ends and so does this blog. It is funny that whenever I have set out to write one of these, I don’t intend for them to be so long. But when I get started, I start thinking of little bits to add here and there and before I know it, it is massive. This being so long is why I have split the section about London gigs into two blogs. I might take a break from the London gigs and head back home to assorted Portsmouth gigs for the next post. I haven’t decided what order I will do them in at the moment.

The other parts in this series of blogs are available on this page and can be found by continuing to scroll downwards, by the links on the right hand side of the page or by clicking these really helpful links:
Part One – The Wedgewood Rooms
Part Two – Stadium and Outdoor Shows
Part Three – Festival Sets

Until next time!

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