Monday, 6 April 2020

2020 - A Year In Live Music (so far...)

At the beginning of this year, I thought it might be fun to change how I cobble together my end of year blog (in which I rank my favourite gigs of that year) and try and keep a live league table of sorts, that would be updated each time I went to a gig. Best laid plans and all, I forgot to do this after about 3 gigs and abandoned the idea. I wrote the 3 gigs in three days blog as going to three gigs in three days is not something I do often and thought it would be fun. Since then, I’ve been to three gigs in total, taking me to 9 for the year. After the 9th, I had a think about a potential league table again, but decided it was not a good idea and binned the idea once and for all. Deciding on the end of year list would be future Mike’s problem (one which he will likely curse past Mike for, but I digress).  

Since then however, the world has somewhat changed. The Coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed life in almost all countries around the world (at least, that is the impression I get from looking at the news). This, at first, didn’t impact me so much. It was a talking point at work around early March, but I don’t recall there being any (public) chat about it being cancelled/postponed. Since then, social distancing measures have been introduced which have temporarily closed several businesses including pubs, theatres, arenas and everything in between. The first time the pandemic impacted me in any way came when I was going to get a late ticket for The Subways show in Portsmouth and was considering one for Ash and/or Stiff Little Fingers (all three were at the Pyramids). However, all three got postponed (I’ve just checked, and all three have been rearranged for September).

The first gig I had a ticket for, which got postponed was the Evanescence/Within Temptation co-headline tour. This has just been rearranged for September. The second one to go was Dinosaur Pile-Up, which has been rearranged for a date in August which clashes with something major at work. I don’t know if I’ll be back in the office by then (as I am one of those who is working from home) - so I cancelled my ticket for that one as a precaution more than anything. The main thing which for me which sucks has been the cancellation of my holiday to Belgium. I am keeping a close eye on Faith No More, Rammstein and the Hella Mega Tour as well (Green Day, Fall Out Boy and Weezer) as I don’t see any of them going ahead in June. When Glastonbury was cancelled, I realised truly how much of an impact this would have on live music. Download and Isle of Wight festivals have since been cancelled (yesterday as I type this, Isle of Wight closed its borders to non-essential visitors, more significantly).

I fully accept that gigs and holidays being cancelled in the grand scheme of things is not the end of the world when this disease is killing a lot of people. This isn’t intended to be a “isn’t life unfair” blog where I say my experience is worse than everyone else’s, because it definitely isn’t. I still have my health (most importantly) and I still have my job. Members of my family have had to self-isolate which isn’t great - but that is the worst of it for me personally so far. In the grand scheme of things, I could be a lot worse off.

I don’t know what will happen next in terms of social distancing. The deputy chief medical officer (apologies if I have that title wrong) very sensibly said on TV yesterday (as of writing) that these restrictions would be lifted in stages and, when it happens - it would be done slowly. Because of this, I think gigs scheduled for June/July will be cancelled/postponed. I wouldn’t be shocked if this is extended to August/September as well. I am not expecting, for example, to be seeing Evanescence/Within Temptation in September. The same with the three Portsmouth shows that got postponed in March – rearranged to September but I would not be shocked if they get postponed again. It would of course be lovely to be wrong, but so much of what is currently going on is unknown at the moment.

Anyway, the point of starting this blog was to talk about my end of year list. I honestly don’t know at this stage in the game when I will next be at a gig, if indeed I will be at one again this year, so I thought I would post a Top 9. Honourable mentions go to live gig streams I’ve watched (Frank Turner has been the proper MVP of these). As it happens, most of this blog was written yesterday while a Chris Catalyst stream is on YouTube which I was watching in between typing words. I am counting the ones I watch live in my overall gigs list, but not counting the ones I watch after the event (seems fair). I’m not including any of the streams, live or on catch-up in the end of year list though (because frankly, Code Orange would run away with everything). Without further adieu, the top 9:

9. The Bellrays - Edge of the Wedge, Portsmouth. January 2020.

This was a gig I went to on a bit of a whim really. I heard two songs and was like “sold!” as those two songs were immense. When I bought the ticket, the gig was set to be at the Wedgewood Rooms. I would say I was sad to see it get downgraded, but I didn’t know it had been until I got to the venue and saw the main venue’s door was closed. The main support, Los Pepes, were good. The Bellrays were really good. Anyhow, there are some really fine margins in the placements of these gigs - and this one is 9th because I don’t like a packed Edge of the Wedge (and because there was a higher up from my work there, which meant drinking away my uncomfortableness wasn’t an option sadly).

8. InMe - The Joiners, Southampton. January 2020.

InMe were really good. Haggard Cat, who were the main support, were also really good. I got drunk before/during this gig in a snooker/pool hall (which was quieter than most of the local bars, although it didn’t take long to work out why) and honestly, thinking back on it now, there are chunks of it I can’t remember (which isn’t ideal). Not a lot else to add really - the bits I remember are all good (aside from being a drunken/awkward mess buying a shirt from the front man of Haggard Cat towards the end of InMe’s set - why couldn’t I have forgotten that bit?!)

7. The Interrupters - O2 Forum, London. February 2020.

If you had asked me when writing my end of year blog last year which gig I had booked that I expected to be number one, I would have mentioned this one as being within a shout. The reason it is not is twofold. Firstly, the supports were not my thing at all. I know that shouldn’t spoil a gig, and it didn’t, but 2 months on and that is still the first thing I think of when I think of the gig. The second reason, like the InMe gig is that I was very drunk by the time The Interrupters came on stage, and there are chunks of that gig that I don’t remember. What a state, honestly. From what I recall, The Interrupters were predictably great.

6. Loathe - The Joiners, Southampton. February 2020.

This is where this list gets tough. I went back and forth on this and, in another thin margins decision, decided this gig was 6th. The main reason had nothing to do with the gig either, but it hampered my enjoyment of it. In short, on my way to the gig, I was walking down Above Bar Street in Soton when I heard some loud voices, and saw a young girl running for her life. In pursuit, was a guy shouting after her - and a group of people were following him. They all poured into a Burger King there and that was the last I saw of it. There was a venom in his voice which made me worry about what had happened for the rest of the night - it frankly was horrible. I couldn’t fully switch off and enjoy the gig. The gig itself was great, God Complex were abrasive in a good way, Phoxjaw were ace again and Loathe were just quality. Their new album is immense. Aye, this was a great gig, just a shame I couldn’t fully enjoy it in the moment. To conclude the story, as I walked back to get my train home, the BK was closed and there was no indication it had been a crime scene so...who knows? I looked for any mention of it in local news and found nothing.

5. Frank Turner (solo) - The Dome, Brighton. March 2020.

As it stands, my penultimate gig of 2020. I have wanted to visit the venue ever since getting my second tattoo, and the tattooist telling me how good it was for a gig he was at. He wasn’t wrong, the Dome is a cracking venue. Jess Guise and Micah Schnabel both had really good sets. Frank Turner’s set was just as good as the one I saw last year at the Wedge, if not better. Not relevant to this gig itself, but Frank Turner has done a number of live streams to raise money for his crew/band, as well as independent music venues and charities, and I think that is something that really ought to be commended. I've watched 4 of them now, and they have all been excellent. 

4. The Menzingers - Engine Rooms, Southampton. February 2020.

This came so close to being ranked above Slipknot. I had an equally as lovely time, with the right amount of booze and didn’t have to leave early, which was nice. Mannequin Pussy opened and they were good (a real mixed bag in terms of styles but I enjoyed them). Spanish Love Songs were great, having one of those support sets that made me wonder if the main band could top it. The MenzIngers, the main band, did top it. They were excellent as well. All my memories of this night are positive, which is all you can ask for really.

3. Slipknot - The O2, London. January 2020.

I am surprised this is as low as it is, but there we are. Truthfully, the only reason it is so low is because the trains were a little bit knackered. So, to avoid a very long train home, I had to leave early. Anyone who has done this knows this means setting a cut off point for leaving. I did this but kept checking my watch throughout the gig. The reason it is as high as it is though is because Slipknot are so fucking good live and the new material live is just massive. Also, seeing Slipknot play Disasterpieces live was just wonderful (the song that starts with the line “I’m gonna spit your throat and fuck the wound”). Loved it. Shout out to Behemoth as well, who looked and sounded great on that big stage.

2. Sabaton - SSE Arena, London. February 2020

This one almost got scuppered by a hangover (see earlier entry about The Interrupters). I wasn’t going to bin it, but I was tempted to transfer my mates’ ticket to him and stay in the hotel until I absolutely had to leave. I decided to grit my teeth and bare it, and as it happens the hangover headache had gone by the time the music started, which was fortuitous. Amaranthe opened and were excellent. I really enjoyed Apocalyptica. Sabaton set a high bar for me when I saw them at Wacken 2013, and with this set, they comfortably cleared it. Quality set. Their stage show was awesome as well – big fan.

1. Employed To Serve - The Joiners, Southampton. March 2020

The travel to and from this gig was a proper headache. It meant missing a chunk of the first band, which was a shame as what I heard sounded very good. Palm Reader were incredible. And somehow, Employed to Serve were even better. Their headline show in London last year was ace, and since then they’ve introduced more from their new album which is cracking. The one thing which caught me off guard was them playing “I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away” in the middle of the set, as I am used to that being a set closer. Not sure what else to write really, ETS crushed it. My only gripe is I wish they played longer, which in the grand scheme of things is a small gripe.

Photos of most of these gigs (of varying quality...) can be found on Instagram. There are also other photos there, because that's how it works. 

And that, as they say, is that. Despite ranking them all, I am pleased to say that all 9 gigs were varying degrees of good to superb. If there is no more this year then that would be a shame. I hope that this isn’t it but am aware there are bigger things at play - and honestly, I won’t complain about there being no more gigs this year for me if the trade-off is me, my family and friends all stay safe and well. This disease discriminates against no-one (earlier tonight as I write this, the Prime Minister was hospitalised as a precaution), so my overriding hope is as few people as possible are harmed by this thing. Anything else can wait. I don’t know what will happen next, and it would be a lie to say I’m not concerned or anxious about it. A prediction I’ve seen is that in the UK, we’re going to hit the peak in the next couple of weeks in terms of cases/deaths – so it is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Stay safe. Be kind.

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