Saturday, April 22, 2017

THE CAN PROJECT (London Barbican, 08/04/17)

Shame ol' Jaki couldn't make it (RIP), but despite slightly muddy sound up in the Gods, this 50th anniversary tribute to perhaps the greatest practitioners of Krautrock - featuring the electrifying presence of original vocalist Malcolm Mooney- was an inventive, ear-pounding, motorik treat.
GRANDADDY (Brighton Concorde 2, 01/04/17)

Ol' Grumpykins Lytle was pissed off with the venue, and there were a few around me who'd had a little too much Pimms in the sunshine, but Grandaddy's superlative lo-fi indie-rock was well worth the trek from the Big Smoke.
GOLDFRAPP (London Roundhouse, 27/03/17)

Alison Goldfrapp has historically alternated between high-energy albums and more sedate releases (and tours), and whilst I'm certain I've enjoyed seeing either incarnation, I'm not going to deny that seeing Goldfrapp in full "vamp disco" mode was a pretty invigorating experience. Minimalist set-up, maximally effective.
TONY ALLEN (London Forum, 24/03/17)

The Crown Prince of Afrobeat, now in his mid-Seventies, is always worth checking out, but even he couldn't quite transcend the sheer, unyielding awfulness that is the Kentish Town Forum on a Friday night.
MANUEL GOTTSCHING (London Barbican, 22/03/17)

There are few musicians out there that can claim to be influential in two completely disparate genres, but Manuel Gottsching has over his five-decade career proved to be instrumental in the development of both psychedelic rock (via his group Ash Ra Tempel) and techno, via his spontaneously improvised 1984 work "E2 E4". Tonight's performance showcased both aspects, with varying success- "E2 E4" was mesmerising in a soporific, minimalist way, but the psych jamming wasn't as far-out as it should have been, perhaps due to last-minute withdrawal of Ariel Pink.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CAT POWER (London Islington Assembly Hall, 12/03/17)

Two hours of two-chord balladry gets a bit tiresome even when paired with Chan Marshall's exquisitely smoky, fragile vocals, but it's good to see her in a relatively happy place.
EFTERKLANG (London Barbican, 09/03/17)

Well, this was certainly far less awful than the Knife's stab at opera, even if the breathtaking operatic talent and the ambition of the arrangements were sometimes undermined by pretentious, nonsensical lyrics. A mixed bag, albeit one with more impressive moments than not.
THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT (London Barbican, 04/03/17)

One of the weirder, more challenging bands to emerge from 70's London, This Heat sounded way ahead of their time forty years ago, and they still do in 2017. Uncompromisingly unique.
TEI SHI (London Moth Club, 01/03/17)

Not even the hordes of chattering industry fucks could ruin a commanding performance from the up-and-coming Argentinian talent, whose headline song"Bassically" is legitimately one the most accomplished bangers this decade has had to offer.
THE DEARS (London Village Underground, 28/02/17)

It's strange, the dourly romantic husband-and-wife duo of Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak were one of the very first members of the mid-Noughties Canadian hype train, yet they somehow ended up forgotten in the rush. Which is a damn shame, as tonight's "pleasure/pain" set alternating new songs with old favourites was the most riveting indie-rock shows I've seen in yonks.
THE DIVINE COMEDY (London Palladium, 21/02/17)

The Divine Comedy were the first band I ever went to see on my own back in 2004, so it was nice to finally catch up with them again thirteen years later (let's forget the time they were bloody awful in '06). In truth, my taste for grandoise, knowing orchestral pop has diminished in the intervening years, but there's no denying Neil Hannon is a master at what he does and that this was a thoroughly excellent way to spend an evening.
SLØTFACE (London Kamio, 17/02/17)

It might seem like I only listen to avant-garde jazz and Inuit throat singers these days, but I'll always have a soft spot for super-energetic Nordic pop-punk, especially when the choruses are as catchy as those crafted by the Band Formerly Formerly Known As Slutface.
KRISTIN ANNA VALTYSDOTTIR (London Cafe Oto, 16/02/17)

"If you see James Bond, as I know that he lives here, please tell him this would be a good theme for one of this films." And it's hard to disagree with the former member of Icelandic glich-poppers múm, with her dark, sultry yet somewhat eccentric collection of piano balladry.
THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO (London Cafe Oto, 03/02/17)

The show that made me finally "get" free jazz. Yes, it's chaotic, yes, it cares little for melody or the precious sensibilities of your typical "proper lads, proper haircuts" school of music, but somehow the wildly disparate elements, most notably Roscoe Mitchell's avant-garde saxophony meld together to form something thoroughly transcendental. A remarkable, boundary-pushing hour of music.
PHILIP GLASS: VISITORS (London Barbican, 29/01/17)

Review: HERE
TANYA TAGAQ (London Cafe Oto, 24/01/17)

Cafe Oto have been knocking it out of the park recently with its weird and wonderful bookings, but even by their standards they triumphed with Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq, whose mixture of guttural Inuk vocalisations and jazz-esque improvisation resulted in an experience both entirely unique and utterly mesmerising.
THE FLAMING LIPS (London Brixton Academy, 21/01/17)

Yeah, the bullshit-to-music ratio is astoundingly high, and Wayne Coyne's extended mid-life crisis continues to render him insufferable but dear Lord, it's impossible not love the unrelenting fever dream that is a Flaming Lips' show. Neon unicorns, confetti cannons, giant balloons, a metric fuckton of miscellaneous pyschedelia...and even, on occasion, some genuinely excellent songs. Plus, he only screamed "C'MON MOTHERFUCKERS" three times, which is definitely a turn-up for the books.
A TRIBUTE TO DAVID BOWIE (London Brixton Academy, 08/01/17)

It's not an easy job to do justice to one of the greatest musical artists in human history, and in fairness to Mike Garson and his coterie of Bowie band alumni and guest stars, they gave it a damn good shot. But sadly poor sound, under-rehearsed numbers and too many bland vocalists overshadowed its genuinely great moments - Gaby Moreno's powerhouse "Five Years", a swaggering performance of "Diamond Dogs" and Angelo Moore's deliciously eccentric takes on "Moonage Daydream" and "Ashes to Ashes".
JEFFREY LEWIS (London The Islington, 05/01/17)

In the hands of the majority of artists, an hour-long set of incomplete or in-the-works material may have come across as self-indulgently dull - but Jeffrey Lewis ain't most artists. From ditties about Lower East Side parking restrictions to paeans to the difficulty of remembering internet passwords he continues to be one of the wittiest and charming wordsmiths around, even without his trademark comics to punctuate proceedings.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


2016 may have been colossally shit in almost every respect, but it also happened to be the best year for live music I've ever experienced. It's been a real challenge whittling this list down to a mere fifty acts, so here's some honourable mentions for those that didn't quite make the cut:

Sex Swing, Susanne Sundfor, Low, Cat Power, Fire!, The Boy Least Likely To, Sigur Ros, Bo Ningen, Explosions In The Sky, Daniel Knox, Stars of The Lid, Diet Cig, Liima, Mothers, Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld, Boredoms, Battles, Terry Riley, Floating Points, Mulatu Astatke, Jambinai, LNZNDRF, Merzbow, Orchestra of Spheres, OMD, Shonen Knife, Edwyn Collins, Islam Chipsy, Dilly Dally, Idris Ackamoor, The Joy Formidable, Swans, Marginal Consort and Eleanor Friedberger

50. SLEIGH BELLS- London Tufnell Park Dome
The Brooklyn noise-pop duo are as subtle as Brian Blessed bellowing a ton of bricks off Trump Tower - but dammit, we wouldn't have it any other way.

49. SILVER APPLES- London Corsica Studios
With his self-crafted synthesizer bodged together from "vintage oscillators, sound filters, telegraph keys, radio parts, lab gear and a miscellany of second hand junk", Simeon Coxe III was one of the very first to incorporate electronics into rock music back in 1967. Now 78, he might lack the mullet and formidable sideburns of his youth, but his music still sounds resolutely like the future.

48. MICHAEL ROTHER- London Under The Bridge
75 minutes of vividly-hued Krautrock from the amiable Neu! and Harmonia visionary, whose gloriously fuzzy guitar tones prefigured a whole generation of shoegaze/dream-pop.

47. ANDREW BIRD- London Roundhouse
Ol' Whistlechops may be living the glamorous L.A. lifestyle these days, but damn, he still knows how to loop a violin pretty.

46. PAUL SIMON- London Royal Albert Hall
Paul Simon has written a hell of a lot of good songs in his time. Sadly, he's also written a lot of bollocks too. But despite an uneven setlist and a mediocre sound mix, the unimpeachable encore of The Boxer -> Sound of Silence -> Mrs. Robinson -> Bridge Over Trouble Water elevated a slightly disappointing night to "one to remember."

45. MASSIVE ATTACK- London Brixton Academy
Politically-charged shows are often earnest to the point of cringe, but the Bristolian trip-hoppers' intellegent and striking visuals, manipulating data straight from the internet, synced fantastically with their dark, minimalist vibe. Plus, Horace Andy performing "Angel" was pretty damn special

44. RADIOHEAD- London Roundhouse
Tommy York and his bleepy-bloopy brethren will never be my favourite band in the world, but even I will admit feeling emotion in my cold dead heart when "Exit Music (For A Film)" kicked in.

43. BORIS- London Electric Ballroom
Who needs hearing when you've got Boris? The Japanese three-piece may readily flit between drone, metal, noise-rock and shoegaze, but if there's one thing you can rely on it's that they'll leave your eardrums feeling like a kaiju-ravaged city.

42. GET WELL SOON- London Lexington
Germany's answer to the Divine Comedy have always been inexplicably overlooked by the British music press but more fool them, as Get Well Soon's lushly orchestrated indie-pop remains an underrated delight.

41. AURORA- London Union Chapel
The best thing to come out of Norway since "Take On Me", it seems unlikely that we'll be seeing the elfin 20-year old play venues as intimate as this the future. Her plaintive cover of "Life On Mars" less than a month after Bowie's passing was quite the...cathartic experience.

40. MELT-BANANA- London Tufnell Park Dome
Melt-Banana's uncompromising grindcore assaults prove to be as damaging to my long-term hearing prospects as Donald Trump is to liberal democracy.

39. THE SUN-RA ARKESTRA- London Union Chapel
Interplanetary jazz wizards bring a splash of Saturn and a tsunami of avant-garde squalling to the genteel environs of Highbury and Islington.

38. HOLY FUCK- London Village Underground
I don't know who Allen is, or whether if he is indeed "lovely", but the Toronto quartet sure did him credit over 70 minutes of clattering electro-noise.

37. OKKERVIL RIVER- London Islington Assembly Hall
Will Sheff may continue to have an uneasy relationship with the notes he's actually trying to hit, but his erudite folk-rock proved a much-needed salve in the week of the Great Catastrophe.

36. DAHKABRAHKA- London Rich Mix
The act on this list most likely to make Putin cry bitter tears into his Smirnoff, the Ukrainian purveyors of "ethno-chaos" did their beleaguered country proud with an eccentric, colourful fusion of traditional Slavic musical forms, Western pop music and even hip-hop.

35. SAVAGES- London 100 Club
There are many creditable ways to start off your day, but to my mind none of them compares to having Jehnny Beth scream "Husbands" directly into your face at 9 in the morning.

34. HORSE LORDS- London Lexington
If Colin Stetson and Deerhoof formed an off-kilter, Can-infused math-rock band, but with more cowbell, they might sound like Baltimore's Horse Lords. This is no bad thing.

33. JOANNA NEWSOM- End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
Not even the dependably shit British weather could dampen J-No's mesmerising brand of harpin' and squawkin', but man, I'd wish she'd stop ditching "Emily" for  "Monkey & the Fucking Bear".

32. PRIMAL SCREAM- London Brixton Academy
A cogent and sober Bobby Gillespie fronting a blissed-out run through Primal Scream's back catalogue, without making a single controversial comment? Truly, a Christmas miracle.

31. PWR BTTM- London Shacklewell Arms
An elatory sugar-high of a set from the queercore power-pop duo, who sound like Fang Island and bitch like Joan Rivers. 

30. PATTI SMITH- London Hyde Park
A bit too heavy on the post-Horses material to top last year's remarkable Field Day performance, but the High Priestess of Punk's messianic fervour remains the perfect antidote to the cult of bland placidity.

29. IGGY POP- London Royal Albert Hall
Two hours of James Newell Osterberg, Jr, aged 69, putting ever single other rock 'n roll frontman to shame.

28. JEFFREY LEWIS- London DIY Space
Illustrated biographies of Alan Moore! Paeans to English breakfasts and cats on the internet! Half-Yiddish spiels concerning a man's inability to impress a pigeon! Random Faith No More covers! So yeah, just another Jeff Lewis show.

27. MOONFACE- London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen
Wedged in the middle of a Wolf Parade tour, this hastily-assembled live collaboration between Spencer Krug and Finnish kraut-rockers Siinai had no right to sound this gloriously epic.

It's a shame "Home" has been overplayed to death, as it makes it easy to forget that Alex Ebert and co., despite their self-confessed corniness, are one hell of a hoot live.

25. WEAVES- London Scala
Possibly the best band to emerge from Canada since the mid-Noughties, the off-kilter, grungey art-pop of WEAVES is an unabashed riot, fusing the wonkiness of Deerhoof with the lo-fi ferocity of 90's garage-rock. 
24. BURT BACHARACH- London Palladium
There's not many performers who can dispatch songs of the calibre of "Walk On By", "I Say A Little Prayer" and "There's Always Something There To Remind Me" within the first ten minutes of their set and still have a gazillion all-time classics in their pocket, but then, not many performers are Burt Bacharach. One can only dream of having his vitality and enthusiasm at the age of 88.

23. EZRA FURMAN- End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
Queer Jew channels Springsteen, produces magic (and a damn fine Arcade Fire cover too).

22. CALEXICO- London Barbican
It is said there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. I'd argue the excellence of Calexico's live shows constitute a third.

21. GRANDADDY- London Oslo
Saw Jason Lytle perform "The Crystal Lake" less than a metre away from me. Not going to lie, it was a bit awkward.

20. TRICOT- London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen
Guitarists whirling, bassists river-dancing, singers draped over the sound-desk, and a room filled with sweat, flailing arms and potent joy. Viva Tricot!

19. SPIRITUALIZED- London Barbican
"ALL I WANT IN LIFE'S A LITTLE BIT OF LOVE TO TAKE THE PAIN AWAY". Wouldn't say no to a gospel choir, though.

18. DAN DEACON- London Roundhouse
Malfunctioning player-pianos. A 25-minute audience participation piece involving five hundred mobile phones blasting out Phil Collins. Dance-offs and human tunnels and overhead projectors and The Crystal Goddamn Cat. Even by Dan Deacon's standards, this was pretty out-there but man, it was tremendous fun.

17. TEETH OF THE SEA- London Tufnell Park Dome
Always thought Teeth of the Sea's oppressive aural dystopia naturally evoked "1984". Now I'm thinking it's a little more "2017".

16. OPERATORS- London Lexington
Potentially the best Dan Boeckner side-project yet, Operators take the zest and furious energy of The Handsome Furs and marries them to scintillating, hard-edged synth-rock. Much 80's, very dance. Wow!

15. CHARLES BRADLEY- London Rough Trade East
Given his recent cancer diagnosis, I'm even more honoured to have had the opportunity to catch the Screaming Eagle of Soul performing a set to 100 very lucky people. "Spine-tingling" doesn't do it justice.

14. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM- Lovebox Festival, Victoria Park, London
Five years ago, Win Butler told James Murphy to "Shut Up And Play The Hits". At Victoria Park, he took that advice to heart.

13. OTOBOKE BEAVER- London Brixton Windmill
Four whirling, immaculately-dressed dervishes of garage-rock energy, hitting the perfect mid-point between the unabashed fun-times of Shonen Knife and the explosive brilliance of Bo Ningen. When a gig ends up with one guitarist writhing on the venue floor before the other piles right on top of her, you know it's a good 'un.

12. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE- End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
Hearing "Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl" performed live for the first time since 2008 was "totes emosh", as the kids might say. Rest of the show was alright too.

11. STEVIE WONDER- London Hyde Park
Only Stevie Wonder could take four hours to play an album that clocks in at 90 minutes, but then what do you expect from a man for whom the line between genius and self-indulgence has never been terribly well-defined? That said, for every interminable solo or inexplicable cover, we got a moment of such exquisite brilliance that it truly took your breath away. And let's face it, there's few set-closers that can even get close to touching "Superstition".

10. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF- London St. John's, Bethnal Green
The only gig I've ever been to that's caused masonry to fall off a church. Guess that's what you get for booking the harbinger of the Apocalypse.

9. ZA!- London DIY Space
Channelling Calexico, Deerhoof, Captain Beefheart, the Buena Vista Social Club and Acid Mothers Temple all in the space of 50 minutes, the relentlessly exuberant Catalans proved their Arcade Fire-topping set at Primavera 2014 wasn't a fluke: they really are one of the best live bands in the world right now.

8. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN- London Wembley Stadium
Badlands->Jungleland->Born To Run->Dancing In The Dark->10th Avenue Freezeout->Shout->Bobby Jean->Thunder Road. FLAWLESS VICTORY.

7. BJORK- London Royal Albert Hall
The best single live music moment of 2016? Bjork giggling in delight when the audience spontaneously sang the refrain of "Pagan Poetry" back at her. 

6. BRIAN WILSON- NOS Primavera, Parque da Cidade, Porto
Brian Wilson is basically a zombified Chuck McGill these days, but even he cracked a smile or two during this sublime performance of "Pet Sounds" (and a myriad other hits) under the setting Portuguese sun.

5. XENIA RUBINOS- London Birthdays
Being a tired, embittered old troll it's rare that I'm genuinely blown away by a new artist, but Xenia Rubinos truly is The Real Deal - a funky, political blend of R&B, Cuban rap and indie-rock, delivered by one of the most magnetic performers I've seen since Janelle Monae. 

4. CAROLE KING- London Hyde Park
65,000 people singing along to "You've Got A Friend". Can't really beat that.

3. TITUS ANDRONICUS- NOS Primavera, Parque da Cidade, Porto
A show that left me physically, mentally and emotionally broken. #toooldformoshpits

2. WOLF PARADE- London Scala
God doesn't always have the best goddamn plans, but persuading Wolf Parade to reform after a six-year hiatus was definitely one of his better wheezes. 

1. KAMASI WASHINGTON- London Royal Albert Hall
One of the greatest contemporary jazz groups on the planet, backed by a 20-piece gospel choir and a 36-piece string section? Of course it was going to be my gig of the year. True, some of the arrangements were a little bit too enamoured with Star Trek: The Original series, but when everything clicked, it sounded more transcendent than Piers Morgan suffocating to death in the depths of Trump's rectum.

(And for previous editions of this self-indulgent nonsense, now in its 11th year, here are the lists for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

BO NINGEN (London Cafe Oto, 22/12/16)

The 121st and final gig of 2016- and what finer note to wrap up the year than an unhinged psych-noise assault from London's own "Stick Men"? It's pretty much the same show I've seen them do thirteen times before, but why would you ask for anything else?
PRIMAL SCREAM (London Brixton Academy, 15/12/16)

Review: HERE
BORIS (London Electric Ballroom, 13/12/16)

Who needs hearing when you've got drone-metal/noise rock/shoegaze trio Boris performing "Pink" in full? By the end of it my eardrums felt like a Japanese city, post-Godzilla...
THE BOY LEAST LIKELY TO (London Social, 12/12/16)

The long-awaited return of the most gleefully twee band in existence, playing selections from their festive album as well as all the old classics (not to mention a delightful cover of Wham!'s "Last Christmas"). A pretty joyous experience all round.
CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX (London Dome, 09/12/16)

A two-hour psych/prog/metal odyssey from the erstwhile Mogwai side-project. Not really my bag, but "Burnt Reynolds" remains a sorely underrated epic.
PWR BTTM (London Shacklewell Arms, 06/12/16)

An inspiring, elatory show from the queercore power-pop duo, who sound like Fang Island and bitch like Joan Rivers.
LOW (London Union Chapel, 05/12/16)

There's no better way to kick off the Christmas season than with a dose of melancholic slowcore, and the Duluth veterans more than deliver with a mix of Christmas standards, self-composed Yuletime numbers and various down-tempo tunes from their extensive back catalogue.
PIXIES (London Brixton Academy, 29/11/16)

Review: HERE

Despite hanging round these earthly spheres since 1972, Idris Ackamoor and his eccentric brand of afro-futurism hasn't quite achieved the acclaim or cultural visibility of the not-dissimilar Sun Ra Arkestra. But their energetic live shows, fascinating array of instruments and compelling fusion of free-jazz, funk and traditional African influences make them a band well worth checking out if you like your mind blown and your grooves cosmic.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

MONO (London Electric Brixton, 17/11/16)

The Japanese post-rockers may be a one-trick pony (start off slow, build up glacially, GLORIOUSLY CACOPHONOUS PAY-OFF) but it's a damn good trick nonetheless.
HORSE LORDS (London Lexington, 14/11/16)

Do you like the idea of Colin Stetson and Deerhoof forming an off-kilter, Can-infused math-rock band? Do you like ridiculous displays of musical and rhythmic proficiency? Do you like fucktons of cowbell? If so, then Baltimore's tremendous Horse Lords might be the band for you.
OKKERVIL RIVER (London Islington Assembly Hall, 10/11/16)

Review: HERE
PAUL SIMON (London Royal Albert Hall, 08/11/16)

Not going to lie- this wasn't quite the epoch-defining gig I expected to be. But despite the stuffiness of the venue, the mediocrity of the sound-mix and the surfeit of filler, the sheer quantity of stone-cold classics nevertheless made this a gig worth the £75 ticket price. I mean, say what you like about Paul Simon's post-Garfunkel musical output, but The Boxer -> Sound of Silence -> Mrs. Robinson -> Bridge Over Trouble Water is a pretty solid encore by anyone's standards.