Sunday, 29 December 2019

A Decade In Live Music - Favourite Gigs

I signed off my 2019 -A Year In Live Music blog saying I would likely knock something together as a best of the decade type affair. That is what I have done with these posts (there is another one nearby this one for best gigs). How I am going to do this is go over all the lists I’ve knocked together and try and drag out the best ones for two lists – favourite festival sets of the decade, and favourite gigs of the decade. I’ve decided to split the two lists into two posts (end of the decade isn’t the sort of thing that comes around every 5 years y’know!) Without further ado – the list!


To determine this list, I’ve gone back through all the old end of year lists I’ve made of gigs and make a long list of all the ones that I would consider for a best of the decade list. I narrowed it down (!) to 40+ possible gigs and have extracted 15 from there to make the top 15. Because, as with the festival sets list, there were so many that could have made the top 15 of the decade, it felt wrong not to include the ones that made the long list as honourable mentions. As such, here they are (broken down into the years they took place).
Honourable Mentions:

2010 – My Chemical Romance (Hammersmith, London), Stone Sour (Dingwalls, London), Rammstein (Manchester).
2011 – Foo Fighters (National Bowl, Milton Keynes), Manic Street Preachers (The O2, London).
2012 – Pulp (Royal Albert Hall, London), Rammstein (The O2, London), The Wildhearts (The Forum, London).
2013 – Eric Clapton (Royal Albert Hall, London), Eureka Machines (The Borderline, London), Muse (Emirates Stadium, London), The Wildhearts (ABC, Glasgow)
2014 – Foo Fighters (Islington Assembly Hall, London).
2015 – Nightwish (Wembley Arena, London), AC/DC (Wembley Stadium, London), Frank Turner (Guildhall, Southampton).
2016 – Billy Joel (Wembley Stadium, London), Clutch (Roundhouse, London), Weezer (Brixton Academy, London)
2017 – Milk Teeth (Joiners, Southampton), Marmozets (Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth), Weezer (Wembley Arena, London), Metallica (Genting Arena, Birmingham).
2018 – Epica (The Forum, London), Ghost (Royal Albert Hall, London), Slayer (Wembley Arena, London), Volbeat (House of Vans, London)
2019 – Cancer Bats (Boileroom, Guildford), Ghost (Wembley Arena, London), Royal Republic (Engine Rooms, Southampton).

15. Zeal & Ardor – The Haunt, Brighton. December 2018

Original Words:
This is a show I’ve wanted to go to since I first listened to the debut album, and immediately had to listen to it again because it was like nothing else I’d ever heard before. This year they released their second album (although I’ve heard the brains behind Zeal and Ardor refer to it as the debut album, with the first one being little more than a demo…either way) and it was bloody great. If I was doing a favourite albums of the year list, it would be in the top 3 probably (having a knife fight with Idles and Ghost). They’ve done 2 London shows before this tour that I’ve been unable to make which has been annoying and, on this tour, I couldn’t make the London show again due to being at the Fireball tour. It was either Brighton and a hotel or missing Z&A again. I found a hotel which was perhaps a 15 second walk away from the venue which was affordable and so, Brighton was a go! I almost didn’t go in to see the support band (was watching the Man in The High Castle) but I am glad I did – blanket were very good.
Zeal and Ardor were fucking great. I had no idea how they would replicate their sound live which added to my excitement of seeing it live. 4 vocalists on stage for the gang chanting which was quite something. The stage at The Haunt was quite small so to see all those people crammed onto it was pretty cool. I loved hearing the first/demo album material, but the new album music live was massive. Also, they played Row Row which I have fully fallen in love with. I will definitely see them live again if the opportunity presents itself. Amazing.

New Words: The chance to see them live sadly has not presented itself to me this year (the band played at least one festival this year in the UK, but one I wasn’t at). I still very much want to see them live again. Not sure if new music is coming, I hope so!

14. Cancer Bats – The Underworld. London. April 2018

Original Words:
Before lobbing superlatives at Cancer Bats, a firm nod of approval should be given to both supports, both of whom were very different to one another, Funeral Shakes being a rock n’ roll band and Death by Stereo being a hardcore punk band. Both were really good though. Gun to my head, I would say I preferred Funeral Shakes but take nothing away from Death by Stereo because they were great.
This show was Cancer Bats playing Hail Destroyer in full. The first time I saw Cancer Bats was in 2009 on what was essentially the Hail Destroyer tour which I remember was a short headline set but it blew me away. 10 years on and they were playing this album in full and it was incredible. I loved hearing the songs that don’t usually get a live airing, alongside all the classics which will regularly find their way into a Cancer Bats set list. I also liked the anecdotes throughout, including one moment where Liam was being very gracious towards the crowd, thanking everyone for their continued support. It was a really nice moment, but then the band launched into Sorceress – which is probably one of the most aggressive from the album. The band kicked off the show with 3 songs from Dead Set on Living, which is no poor way to start a Cancer Bats show. The encore of 2 new songs, Pneumonia Hawk and N.I.B (a Black Sabbath cover) capped off a breath-taking evening. Best CB show I’ve been to? Would certainly be in the top 3.

New Words: Nothing much more to add to this really. The inclusion of this gig was run close by the show I saw this year at the Boileroom in Guildford, but the reason this one won, quite simply, was the set list. Hail Destroyer in full? Just wonderful.

13. Pearl Jam – National Bowl, Milton Keynes. July 2014

Original Words: I fell to sleep during the main support act, which probably says all I need to say about them. Pearl Jam though were magnificent. They were on stage for nearly 3 hours. I had given thought to trying to get near the front but decided instead to sit on the hill instead and watch from a distance. I’m glad I did that as it was an ace experience. The only downside to this gig was of my own doing which was choosing the worst time to go to the toilet. As I entered the urinals, I could hear Pearl Jam start playing Even Flow. Poor call on my part, but then the whole thing was just immense so it was alright in the end.

12. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Guildhall, Portsmouth. February 2014

Original Words: Before talking about how good Frank Turner was, I want to just give a quick tip of the cap in the direction of Flogging Molly, who were the main support for the evening. Had they headlined, I’d have left more than happy and that gig probably would have made this list (perhaps not number 1 but still). They were outstanding and set the bar really quite high. I guess the thing about having supports that set the bar quite high is that it means you really have to do something to be better, and Frank Turner managed it with ease. Picking a setlist covering all of his albums, while still leaning heavily on his latest release Tape Deck Heart, he pretty much played the perfect setlist as far as I’m concerned. For some of these entries, I’ve picked highlights but really, this was all just superb. So good in fact I was actually a little bit gutted when I couldn’t make the September tour which took in towns he doesn’t normally play

New Words: Similar to the Cancer Bats entry, I knew a Frank Turner gig would make this list, but which one? All of the headline shows I’ve been to have been excellent. In the end, this decision was taken for a number of reasons, including it being the first headline show of Frank’s that I went to, the set list being bloody good (I mean, they all usually are) and Flogging Molly in support, who I would probably suggest are the best support band I’ve seen this decade. Maybe that’ll be another list? Probably not though.

11. Avantasia – The Forum, London. March 2016

Original Words:
I’d seen Avantasia twice before this night, both times headlining Wacken festivals and both times they were my band of the festival. I did not anticipate they would play a UK headline show and this view was reinforced when Team Rock Radio were plugging Bloodstock Open Air in 2013 and mentioned just about every band playing apart from Avantasia – who were sub-headlining the Saturday night. One of the publications that fall under the banner of Team Rock, Metal Hammer, when reviewing the festival wrote something like apart from the 500 diehards there, no-one could care less – can’t imagine why that could be. Anyway, fan boy annoyance aside (not least as I couldn’t make that show), when a headline show was announced, I snapped up a ticket immediately.

It was “an evening with” set up in that there was no support band. Doors opened at 7, Avantasia came on at 8. The new material from Ghostlights worked so well live as did all my old favourites that I had seen previously at Wacken. Tobias Sammet was only not on stage for 3 of the 24 songs of the night (sadly, two of them are my favourites but no matter) which is pretty damn impressive. It was everything I hoped it would be and then some. Looking back at the set list from that night now, I’m really struggling to not say “all of it!” were I to be asked about the highlight – and that to me is the sign of a great gig. I’ve spoken about this gig without once giving mention to Michael Kiske. My favourite Avantasia songs that have more than one singer usually feature him, and he was so good during this gig. That isn’t to say the other singers and musicians weren’t great, because they all were. I think the thing which made it gig of the year for me was seeing this music that I absolutely love in such an intimate setting, given the context of the previous times I had seen them. They were always great at Wacken, but this was just something else. I remember watching their first live DVD, and there was a clip of them playing a venue in Argentina the size of The Forum. I remember wishing they would do something similar in London, and speculating just how incredible it would be (and then being annoyed because it would never happen). It did, and it was (and then some).

New Words: Nothing more to add really. This show was immense.

10. Metallica – The O2 Arena, London. October 2017

Original Words: Picking between two Metallica gigs in one year is like picking your favourite child (I guess, being childless I’m not quite sure if that is true). I felt it would be cheating to have them tied for the same place (which in prep for this, I noted I did in a previous year for Frank Turner gigs – but there were a lot more to pick from in 2015 – probably). Anyhow, Kvelertak are a band that need crystal clear sound live for people to hear just how good they are. Alas, this was not to be on this night (or at the Birmingham gig, so I’m guessing they made the best of what they could have). Metallica though, I mean, damn. I really like most of their latest album, and the stuff they played from it was just great – especially Moth Into Flame. The older material was, as ever, stunning. One of the best bits of this gig for me was going with a mate who had never seen Metallica before. When the band had just finished One, he looked at me and said, “that was awesome!” to which I replied “well, it is about to get better” with a shit-eating grin on my face. Just as he asked how, the band kicked into Master of Puppets. That, that’s how!

New Words: I actually ranked the Birmingham gig in the 2017 gig of the year above this one, and on reflection I would swap them round. This was my favourite Metallica gig (excluding festival headline slots) of the decade I think simply because of what I refer to in the original words – being at the gig with someone who had never seen Metallica and wanted to for years. Just every now and then exchanging looks which didn’t require the words, but were saying “this is fucking good!” Full disclosure, I almost had the

9. Rage Against The Machine – Finsbury Park, London. June 2010

Original Words: The effort that went into this gig was quite something. It all started from the race for Christmas No1 in 2009; would it be X-Factor or RATM? Well, as we all know it was RATM that won the day in the end. They announced during the campaign that should they win, they would hold a victory party in London which included them playing a gig. Now, I’d have been up for this anyway because I love RATM, but it was also free. Now not only did this spark my interest but also seemingly most of the damn country! Getting tickets was a thankless two hour epic but we got there in the end. The actual gig was awesome in that there were loads of people outside asking if they can “buy tickets” for this gig that’s a) free; and b) has tickets that have individual photos of the ticket holder on.

Anyway! We arrived in time to see Gogol Bordello. They were pretty damn good actually – a very fun band. If memory serves, I remember thinking their set got a bit long after a while. They were good but it was a touch repetitive by the end. Annoyingly, I can’t accurately confirm what I thought at the time because apparently I didn’t review the gig, oh well. RATM were superb though which made everything good. The pre-show cartoon introduction from Simon Cowell was hilarious. Testify is such a good song for them to open with. The set was quite different to the one I saw in Germany as well so that was quite cool. I now love White Riot by The Clash because of this gig. Before the last song (Killing in the Name – like I really needed to type that), they played a clip of McElderrys song which got heavily booed. The song purchasing statistics came up which showed that not only did RATM win, they won by a wide margin. With the words “YOU MADE HISTORY!” on the big screens, Killing in the Name started. Excellent

New Words: Not a lot to add really. I saw a fake poster which very much suggested a RATM tour in 2020. It was a fake but apparently RATM are going to be back. Would that mean a UK show/shows? I hope so. I think it would be great if they did another open air gig similar to Finsbury Park. A new album would also be nice (although in the spirit of honesty, I didn’t listen to any of Prophets of Rage). 

8. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – The Ricoh Arena, Coventry. June 2016

Original Words: Going to this gig ticked a box for me, in that I’d wanted to see Springsteen live for quite a while but never got round to doing so. I have spoken to a number of people about his live shows and every review was glowing. My parents, who had seen him once before this gig, said they didn’t know exactly what was going on (he played Darkness on the Edge of Town in full), but they could tell it was something special. This gig just happened to fall on my Mum’s birthday, so I went to visit them and we all went to see Springsteen together. In the US, he had been touring the album The River. I was a bit disappointed when that didn’t happen in Europe but not so disappointed that it took anything away from the gig.

No support band for this one, but one wasn’t needed. Springsteen and his band played for about 3 hours I think, maybe slightly longer. All of the reports I had heard set my bar pretty high for this gig – that bar was surpassed and then some. The whole gig from start to finish was just great – even when songs were being played that I didn’t know, I didn’t feel bored, waiting for one I wanted to see/knew. One thing which impressed me is just how well prepared the band were for the fan requests. They played three fan requests – and one of them was a song rarely played live. Now, they might have ballsed it up for all I know about the song in question – but based on the crowd reaction to it, it didn’t seem that way. They played a few cover songs throughout the course of the evening, the highlight being Because The Night, a Patti Smith song. The overall gig highlight for me was when they played several in quick succession that I loved – Born In The USA, Born To Run and Dancing In The Dark – outstanding stuff. I went to this gig, as said above, to tick a box but I would 100% go and see them again.

New Words: There hasn’t been a UK tour since this one. Would definitely go again if I could.

7. David Gilmour – Royal Albert Hall, London. September 2016

Original Words: I wrote a full review. Click here for that

New Words: I ended that blog by saying I’m not going to say which gig out of David Gilmour or Roger Waters I preferred. By the virtue of this list existing, and both gigs being on it (spoiler alert), I guess I have gone back on what I said originally. Sorry 2016 Mike!

6. Guns N’ Roses – London Stadium, London. June 2017

Original Words: I wrote a full review. Click here for that

New Words: Turns out GnR did come back the next year to headline Download. They are also back next summer. As things stand, I won’t be at that gig. I was at this one though, and it was bloody ace.

5. Rammstein – Stadium MK, Milton Keynes. July 2019

Original Words: This show had everything. Rammstein are an immense live band without the show, and I am sure that if they just turned up, played their songs and left, then everyone in attendance would have a lovely time. However, the show they bring with them just takes it to another level. This tour was the biggest they’ve ever done, and the show (as a result) was the biggest show they’ve ever done. It was incredible the amount they pulled off. I was worried when I saw how much of their new album they were playing live (it is an excellent album, another one in the conversation of my favourite of the year), but I needn’t have worried as the songs just fit in perfectly. It wasn’t until some days after the gig that I remembered they didn’t play Feuer Frei! – and I love that song! It is possible that next year’s list is already wrapped up as well, because Rammstein are bringing this tour back to Europe again in 2020, and I’ll be at the Coventry date, this time in the golden circle. I’ve no idea how different the show will be this time, but I am looking forward to finding out!

New Words: I mean, I wrote these words just the other week. The only additional information I have to offer you is that, for the 2020 tour, the piano duo are supporting again, which I guess means the show will be quite similar to the one this year.

4. Volbeat – Telia Parken, Copenhagen. August 2017

Original Words: I wrote about this gig as part of a blog I wrote about my Copenhagen break. You can read that here. Additionally: “However, some 4 months after this gig has taken place and the reason it is number one is because it was everything I hoped it would be, and then some. The support package of Amorphis and Flogging Molly were brilliant – Flogging Molly especially. It was great to see a filling stadium be won over by how good they are. Volbeat though were on another level. It was just awesome to see a Volbeat show of this magnitude. The setlist was excellent and personally, would have just wanted more to be added rather than anything to be cut. There aren’t many headline bands that would get me to step on a plane to go and see them, but Volbeat are now one of them. I would 100% go back to mainland Europe to see a Volbeat show of this magnitude again.”

New Words: Since this gig, I’ve seen Volbeat twice, both in London. One gig was in the 600 capacity House of Vans and the other at Brixton Academy (a 5000-cap venue, which they sold out). Thinking back on it all now, it is still very strange that these two shows barely make up 10% of the crowd at the Telia Parken that day. Since that gig, I have the show on Blu Ray and it is a bit good.

3. Nine Inch Nails – Royal Albert Hall, London. June 2018

Original Words: I so wanted to see them at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown festival they were playing one night of. I couldn’t get tickets and that was a real shame. When this one at the Royal Albert Hall got announced, I was a bit more hopeful I would get a ticket and was successful. Black Moth Super Rainbow opened this gig, continuing the pattern of me not really liking bands that open for Nine Inch Nails (in fact, there has only been one I’ve genuinely liked). This was my first time seeing NIN since they were over here in 2014 and I had forgotten just how good they are live. Some of the new material from the 3 EPs released in the last 2 years or so are just massive live, and the cool thing for me about the setlist was that because of this new material, almost half the set was made up of songs I’d not seen them play live before. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen NIN quite a few times at this stage, and this gig could be the best NIN show I’ve been to. It is certainly in the conversation that is for sure. Part of the reason for this must be the fact it was at the Royal Albert Hall. Previously, whenever I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall, I’ve been in the gallery standing area. I’ve been fine with this because usually, these are the cheapest tickets. I’ve often wondered if being lower down is worth the money. To stand on the floor for this one I think cost £20-25 more, and to answer that question – it was certainly worth it. My word was it worth it. It got me thinking of other gigs I’ve seen there, and I can now see why people would pay more to sit down there for most things (I’ve wondered since how much more I would have enjoyed Pulp and David Gilmour there, had I been downstairs). That band and that venue fit together perfectly.

2. Roger Waters – Wembley Stadium, London. September 2013

Original Words: 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.

New Words: Sorry again 2016 Mike for ranking this against the Gilmour RAH gig. Two very different gigs, but this had The Wall in Wembley Stadium – which was just incredible.

1. System of a Down – Wembley Arena, London. April 2015

Original Words: 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.

New Words: System of a Down played at Download 2017, and are playing again at Download 2020. I didn’t go in 2017 and am not going in 2020. Seeing SOAD at this gig for me was as close to perfect as I am going to get – and I am happy with this being the last time I see the live. Unless of course, there is a new album and tour that comes with it.

And that, as they say, is that. It has been a pretty damn fine decade of gigs. As can be seen by the amount that made the honourable mentions list, as well as the top 15, I was lucky enough to be able to go to some pretty damn awesome shows. Looking into the calendar for 2020, I currently have a few fun ones lined up including The Bellrays, InMe, Slipknot, The Interrupters, Sabaton, Frank Turner, Employed To Serve, Evanescence/Within Temptation, Faith No More, Green Day/Fall Out Boy/Weezer and Nightwish. I am sure there will be more added to that list, but the next decade is getting off to a good start in terms of gig attendance. 

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