George East’s Top Ten Gigs of 2012

by George_East on January 21, 2013

Dexys live

This is a post by George East which was originally posted on 31 December 2012 but which was lost from the site during our recent difficulties.  It is not clear whether the post is complete and unfortunately all comments on the post and any graphics originally posted have been lost.

Ray North has already posted his Top 10 Sporting Disappointments of the year.  The excitement of our Annual Hero, Villain and Prat Awards Ceremony is imminent. But first there is my traditional top ten gigs of the year review (my top albums will follow shortly).

In putting together my list this year I was struck about how many really good gigs I went to, even if there wasn’t any stand out experience to compare with last year’s Hillsborough Justice Tonight benefit. There were a whole bunch of gigs which just missed my cut and which I have agonised about leaving out including New Order at Brixton Academy, my first gig of the year- Bonnie Prince Billy at the Hackney Empire, Beirut at Hammersmith Apollo and the Happy Mondays at the Roundhouse.

The oddest gig experience of the year was undoubtedly Lynyrd Skynyrd at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, with Jackie South. I enjoyed it, but I think more for its sheer bizarreness than anything else – one third Spinal Tap tribute band (I have never laughed so hard as I did in one guitar solo), one third Hammer Horror film freak show and only about one third for the music. So in the end , although it was one of my most memorable gig experiences of the year, the fact that I know I wouldn’t repeat the experience means it would be wrong to include it in my best gigs of the year.

My biggest disappointment was missing Leonard Cohen.  I had tickets to see him at the Hop Farm in September, then for some still unexplained reason a mere week before the gig, it was switched to Wembley Arena. You had to call Ticketmaster to switch your tickets over but I was in Greece at the time and wasn’t able to access the ˜hotline” from abroad.  Dispite this being 2012, it was not possible to sort out the ticket switch on-line. As a consequence I may have missed the last chance to see Leonard Cohen live in the UK. Oh well.  At least the weather in Santorini was lovely.

So here we go. My Top 10 gigs of 2012:

1. Dexy’s – The Barbican

Ah the eccentric genius that is Kevin Rowland. Before this year I had only seen him once before and that was one of the most bizarre live music experiences I have ever had.  The 1999 Reading Festival. The Main Stage. Rowland in drag, singing diva songs to a backing tape.   He got bottled off.  In June I saw him play a DJ set at The Apple Cart Festival in Victoria Park, which was absolutely brilliant, as he sang his trademark nasally ‘yeahs‘ and warbles over soul classics.

But then in September he brought his re-incarnated Dexy’s (the Midnight Runners bit of the bands name having been abandoned) to the Barbican Hall to play the entirety of their first album in 26 years, the truly astounding, One Day I’m Going To Soar, a concept album about love and rejection. The support act was a burlesque artist, who did one strip to her nipple tassles and that was it, setting the whole night up for the bonkerness you come to expect from Rowland.  There was no bottling this time, as the band played the entirety of the album as a musical drama – it was as much acted as sung, with Rowland dominating the proceedings as he went through all the emotions of a new relationship, excitement, lust, idealism, then realism, disappointment and break up.

The object of his ardour was initially shown as a cardboard cut out (someone to dream about) but  joined the band in the second half, with the key two tracks, I’mAlways Going To Love You and Incapable of Love playing out as a duet of intense melodrama.

Wonderful arrogant mad crazy stuff. Added to by an encore of old favourites, which helped to rescue Come On Eileen from the wedding disco hell to which it has been consigned for a couple of decades. The only disappointment.  No Geno.

2. Jack White/First Aid Kit – Hammersmith Apollo

Sometimes gigs are as much about discovering a new artist in the support slot as the main act you have come to see.  I have got into a little bit of a bad habit over recent years of timing my arrival at gigs for about 8.30, which is usually plenty of time before the main artist (9pm seems to be de rigueur) but rarely in time to see the support act. I should have learned my lesson from the experience of John Grant‘s magnificent support slot with Midlake a couple of years back). The Jack White gig at Hammersmith at the end of June was a case in point. I made it in time to see the last few songs by the support band, First Aid Kit, and was blown away by them.  Two Swedish Sisters playing country-inflected, Emmylou referencing Americana, all long thrashing hair and perfect harmonies.

That is not to take anything away from the main man, backed on the night I saw him by his all-female backing band (who were rotating with an all-male backing band), the oddly named. The Peacocks. The set or sets (45 minutes followed by a 45 minute encore) was dominated by material from his fantastic debut solo album, Blunderbuss, but with a smattering of classics from his White Stripes and Raconteurs‘ back catalogue, and even a snatch of the gospel blues classic, John The Revelator. The highlight for me a slowed down and countrified version of The White Stripes’ Hotel Yorba.

3. Public Image Limited – The Forum

Sometimes gigs are about expectations.  I had never seen John Lydon live.  I couldnt bring myself to pay for the cartoon comeback of the Sex Pistols and was too young to see PiL back in the day, when they were at their peak (ie pre-1986).  I was a little hesitant when the tour dates were announced, but I really liked the new album (This Is PiL) - the first in 20 years, and as a music fan you really should see John Lydon live, at least once, I figured.

Even then I went to the gig (along with Jackie South) with a certain amount of trepidation. And then the band came on and the band and Lydon in particular blew me away. The stage presence, the arrogance, the sheer charisma. This was not a nostalgia gig – a good proportion of the material the band played was from the new album and sounded amazing (Lollipop Opera being a particular highlight).  The Forum has always had a good PA – back when it was The Town and Country Club and it put more gigs on – it was my favourite London venue. Mixed in with the new though were startling good versions of This Is Not A Love Song, Death Disco, Chant and Flowers of Romance stick in my mind. With an encore of Rise and Open Up Jackie and I left to find a bar for another couple of beers, and to talk in awe at what we had just seen.

4.Richard Hawley – Brixton Academy

In October I saw Richard Hawley for the first time (if you don’t count a DJ set at the ICA back in the late 1990s).   His brilliant new album, Standing At The Sky’s Edge has marked a shift to a far more rocked out sound than the crooner style that made his name.

That rockier sound worked perfectly in the cavernous space of the Academy.  Hawley’s band psych-rocked out and were the perfect accompaniment to his extraordinary baritone voice. He was angry (about the political direction of the country), passionate in his music and funny.

The highlight was a cover of a Paul Robeson song, Water Boy in the encore – a song about the boys who brought water to factory workers working punishing hours, which Hawley related to the steel mills of his native Sheffield.

5. Liz Fraser – Royal Festival Hall

Antony Hegarty curated the annual Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall this year. The most extraordinary scoop he achieved was to persuade the Cocteau Twins’ Liz  Frazer, to play live for the first time in over a decade. The woman who the late great John Peel once described as having the best female voice in the world and who in my view certainly has the best white female voice in the world, was back where she should be, playing live.

It was  every bit as magical, evocative, atmospheric and perfect as a bloke my age could hope for. I never saw the Cocteau Twins back in the day, so to have the privilege of seeing and hearing Liz Fraser sing Pearly Dew Drops and Primitive Painters was truly extraordinary.  No Aikea Guinea, but I guess you can’t have everything.

6. Blur/Specials/New Order –  Hyde Park

The line-up for this year’s Olympic Games closing ceremony concert in Hyde Park was enough to make a music fan of my age weep. Blur, The Specials (who I had never seen) and New Order).  Ok Bombay Bicycle Club also played, but they were kind of overwhelmed by an audience which had turned up for the big names of their  1980s and 1990s youth.

Back in 2009 I had the pleasure of going to one of Blur’s reunion gigs in Hyde Park (seeing them for the first time since they headlined the Reading Festival in 1999) and that experience remains one of my best gigs of all time. I suppose the effect of that gig had the reverse expectations effect.  I was expecting this year’s gig to be astounding, instead it was merely very good.

New Order were a little disappointing (certainly nowhere good as they were at Brixton in May), going through the motions and with the year’s most misguided live song (a discoed up version of Joy Division‘ s almost unbearably bleak Isolation), but ended very strongly with cracking versions of Blue Monday, Temptation and Love Will Tear Us Apart.

The Specials though were fabulous causing a mad (and knackering) outbreak of ska dancing by Jackie and me. No Ghost Town- instead a relentlessly fun and upbeat set, with Gangsters and A Message To You Rudy being particular highlights.

Blur showed again why they were the best British band of the 1990s – though a neat segue between Madness‘ Our House at the Olympic Closing Ceremony into their first song, Boys and Girls was a reminder of how much the BritPop Parklife era Blur owed to the Nutty Boys. The set was a crowd pleasing run through their biggest hits (the first album notwithstanding), with the main set ending with what I think is the greatest Blur song, This Is A Low  leaving barely a dry eye in the field, as it marked both the end of the set and the end of the Olympic Games.

Over-priced beer, ridiculous queues for food and the bogs aside, this was the event gig of the summer.

7. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit/Communist Daughter – Lincoln Hall, Chicago

I didn’t have any plans to go to this gig at all.  I didn’t even know it was on until the night before.

In Chicago for a few days in a last minute pre-Christmas break, the local listings magazine shows that former-Drive-By Truckers guitarist, Jason Isbell  is playing a gig.  A check on the web-site of the venue (a converted cinema in the north of the city) shows that there are still tickets. It almost turns into a disaster when I turn up without any photo ID, forgetting how precious some US places are about carding absolutely everyone. To say that I haven’t passed for 21 in a good few years, would be a huge understatement. In the end, after a bit of a debate, the guy on the door is happy to let me in, on the basis that I agree not to drink (a pledge promptly ignored as soon as we get in without any difficulty at the bar).  I am not in a good mood as a result of this, coming as it did a few days after the Newtown massacre.

The contrast between the ease with which guns can be purchased and the obstacles put in the way of buying a beer or two in the US cause me to go into a bit of a rant. But then the support band come on. A Minneapolis based slacker indie band, with a male singer of beard magnificent harmonising beautifully with a female co-singer.  They go by the great name of Communist Daughter and are excellent. And my mood improves immeasurably.

Then Jason Isbell comes on and plays a great two hour set of  country and country-rock with an Alabama accent so deep and mellifluous you could fall asleep in it. The set is mostly solo material I’ve not heard before but mixed in are a few of the Drive By Truckers‘ tracks he wrote, including a brilliant Desolation Day and the highlight of his set, Outfit. It is a song which is obviously the fans’ favourite, as Isbell recounts in the intro to it the story of a bloke who stood at the front of one of his gigs, and just shouted  ˜stop fucking about and play Outfit”,  a slogan which now proudly adorns the tee-shirts on sale at the concessions stand.

The problem with getting in his thoroughly forgotten. A great gig. Fuck it. A great night.

8. Calexico/Laura Gibson – The Forum

It was the second time I had seen the fantastic  Arizona based Tex-Mex band, Calexico. The first was at the End of the Road festival back in 2008.  The band supporting their excellent new album, Algiers, were superb playing their wonderful blend of Americana and Mexican Mariachi music A Mex’ed up cover of Love’s seminal Alone Again Or was the highlight in a tight two hour set which oozed the professionalism of a band that has been on the road for a decade and a half. Portland-based Laura Gibson (as with last year’s Richmond Fontaine gig) again provided a top support slot.

9. Lambchop/Courtney Tidwell  - The Barbican

I saw Lambchop twice this year, as it may be the last time they tour, given Kurt Wagner’s indications that the most recent album (Mr M) may be their last.  I saw them last month at Cadogan Hall, in an excellent gig. But the better gig I think was the one in March at the Barbican Hall. Wagner all hunched over sat down at the side of the stage under his baseball cap, practically whispering his devastating songs of love and loss.  The material from the new album standing comfortably alongside material from their peak Nixon/Is A Woman period. Courtney Tidwell’s old time country in support was also superb.

10. Elbow – The 02

I fucking hate the soulless corporate monstrosity that is the O2. I bought the tickets as a treat for Mrs East, who is particularly partial to Guy Garvey’s brand of epic indie rock. I don’t mind a bit of Elbow myself, but was deeply deeply suspicious about the venue.

Our seats were about a thousand miles high, the band were dots on the stage. But but then the band played a joyous, hopeful, optimistic set which made, however briefly, my cynicism float away. Guy Garvey giving his guitar  (he had used on a fantastic version of Leaders of The Free World) as a present to some bloke called Marcus who was there with his Dad for his birthday, was simply lovely. The roadie even came out with the case before the encore.

And Elbow really are a very impressive band live, even in such a soulless venue. Garvey’s huge voice amply filled the space.  With a huge signalong encore of One Day Like Thisfollowing two hours of smiling through the set, I went home a very happy punter.

Now I wonder what live musical delights 2013 has in store.

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