Sunday, January 03, 2021

THE BEST LIVE ACTS OF TWO THOUSAND AND TWENTY

 
Despite the best efforts of global pandemics that shall not be named, a certain incorrigible gig twat still managed to attend 34 live musical events during Hell Year 2020. Here are some of the highlights.
 
 (With honourable mentions for Richard Dawson, Graham Coxon, Jeffrey Lewis, Oki and Marewrew, Lonnie Liston Smith, Drug Store Romeos, Park Jiha, Rattle, Agathe Max, Sealionwoman and The Utopia Strong)

25. YACHT- London Colours

Their latest album may have been composed by computer algorithms digesting and reconfiguring their back catalogue, but the vitality and theatricality that infuses YACHT’s live show remains distinctly human.

24. KATE DAVIS- London The Islington

Classy balladeering from the former jazz chantreuse. Sadly, her full-band Lexington show in July had to be cancelled for Obvious Reasons, but hopefully she’ll be able to return to these shores soon.

23. GRIMM GRIMM- London Cafe Oto

Possibly the most pleasantly melodic show ever put on at Cafe Oto. Baroque pop plus Bo Ningen- what’s not to love?

22. LADYTRON- London Heaven

A veritable synth-bangerama from the stalwart Liverpudlians, only diminished by the choice of venue.

21. MYSTERY JETS- London Jazz Cafe

Who ever thought we’d be watching Mystery Jets in the Year Of Our Lord 2020, let alone in the middle of a global health crisis? Was never a big fan during their mid-Noughties heyday, but they’ve clearly got a knack for consistently solid songcraft I underestimated as a callow youth.

20. OTOBOKE BEAVER – London Scala

More high-octane thrills from the all-female garage-rock dervishes from Kyoto. Obviously, nothing will ever match THAT Brixton Windmill set, but they’re must-sees nonetheless.

19. BIG LAD (AKA SHITWIFE)- London Dalston Victoria

Their taste in band names: aggressively bad. Their “synth party noise machine” approach to music: aggressively awesome.

18. LADY LAMB- London Chat’s Palace

As you well know, I tend to be terminally allergic to acoustic guitar-wielding types, but Aly Spaltro is the Real Deal, combining commanding stage presence with a distinctive songwriting style and a voice not even a bad cough (hopefully not incipient COVID, in retrospect) could hinder.

17. GALAXIANS- Leeds Brudenell Social Club

Maximal 80's disco vibes from the hometown heroes, closing the 5th CHUNK Fundraiser in rave-tacular style. Sometimes it’s all about the atmosphere.

16. TEETH OF THE SEA- London Clapham Grand

There’s something inherently dystopian about Teeth of the Sea in any event, so watching them in an ice-cold music hall mid-pandemic felt like the most natural thing on Earth. A welcome assault on the ol’ eardrums.

15. ERLAND COOPER- London Barbican

You wouldn’t think it possible to be spirited across the Pentland Firth by flurries of gannets, especially given current travel restrictions, but if there’s one person who could work such spellcraft, it’d be Erland Cooper. His subtle yet evocative musical tribute to Orkney and the surrounding land-and-seascapes was as close to a trip abroad most of us will manage this year.

14. ASTREL K- London Brixton Windmill

It’s not often a band playing their very first UK show makes it on one of these lists, but the Ulrika Spacek side-project’s lush Grandaddy/Sparklehorse vibes immediately piqued my interest.

13. THE BOY LEAST LIKELY TO- London Social

A genuinely uplifting way to spend what The Twee-est Band Out Of Aylesbury claimed was “statistically the most depressing day of the year”. If only they’d known!

12. SLEATER KINNEY- London Brixton Academy

The sound-mix was poor and the venue colder than Priti Patel's heart, but Carrie Brownstein is a weapons-grade badass, her synergy with Corin Tucker remains next-level, and 26 songs whizzed by in a blink of an eye.

11. GIANT DRAG- London Oslo

We came for the monumental fuzz-drenched indie-rock, we stayed for Annie Hardy’s justifiably vicious takedowns of those who dared talk over her set.

 


10. ANTHONY BRAXTON- London Cafe Oto

Two hours of deconstructed jazz standards from the avant-garde legend (and father of the former Battles vocalist). The second set was particularly breathtaking, not least Alexander Hawkins' electrifying piano work on 'Freedom Jazz Dance'.

9. AIMING FOR ENRIKE- London Dalston Victoria

It's amazing what a racket you can generate with just a guitar, a drum kit and 100,000 effects pedals. A blistering statement of intent from a Norwegian duo whose sound falls between early Battles and Ratatat.

8. BLACK COUNTRY NEW ROAD- London Brixton Windmill

“I’M MORE THAN ADEQUATE, LEAVE KANYE OUT OF THIS”. Well, I wholeheartedly agree with the first part, at least. It’s a shame circumstances out of their control have left them high and dry yet again, but hopefully 2021 will finally be the year these art-house weirdos get their dues.

7. HMLTD- London Garage

I wasn’t expecting these flamboyant glam-rock types to win me over, but this show had that "cusp of something big" buzz that transforms a regular indie-rock set into something truly thrilling to witness. 



6. OSIBISA- London Jazz Cafe

We may be living in an era that the Mayor from Footloose might think somewhat extreme, but neither the trials nor tribulations of Tier 3 could contain the might of the veteran Afro-funk fusionists. An essential burst of joy in these dark times.

5. THE DIVINE COMEDY- London Barbican

For one night we flew, over the houses, the streets and trees, courtesy of a Greatest Hits set from the legendary Neil Hannon.

4. THE HOLD STEADY- London Bush Hall

Another year, another Hold Steady weekender, another vocally-ruined, sweat-drenched audience of elated Londoners. THERE IS. SO. MUCH. JOY.

(Although in retrospect, “Killer Parties” being the last live song I heard pre-lockdown was a bit...on-the-nose.)

3. ANNA MEREDITH- London EartH

Another evening of madcap maximalist genius from Scotland’s maddest musical scientist, which (naturally) wrapped up with a Daniel Bedingfield/ABBA/Carly Rae Jepsen/O-Zone/Crystal Maze medley. Because why not.

2. DAN DEACON- London Scala

I have seen the Bard of Baltimore 14 times, and I can think of few other experiences that unfailingly bring me so much joy. One big technicolour endorphin rush of a show, and one I could frankly do with on a weekly basis.

 

1. EFTERKLANG- London Barbican

A glorious comeback from the ever-delightful Danes, whose shows I'd call the embodiment of hygge if ii) I was a knob and ii) that didn't underplay the sublime qualities of their baroque indie-pop. The kind of evening that epitomises the magnificence and wonder of live music, and one that really underlines what’s been stolen from us these last few months.

(And for previous editions of this self-indulgent nonsense, now in its 15th year, here are the lists for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018-and 2019 - sadly the photo links are STILL busted but I plan to sort that out before Donald Trump graciously concedes the 2020 election)  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

LIVE FOR BEIRUT 2.0 (London Jazz Cafe, 11/12/20)
This wasn’t actually supposed to be my final gig of the year, but events ultimately eventuated in a predictably “2020” fashion. That said, watching Graham Coxon, The Mystery Jets, Rose Elinor Dougall and Bessie Turner in the classy, candlelit environs of the Camden Jazz Cafe was a perfectly low-key way to wrap up a year where live music may have been infrequent, but felt all the more special for it.
TEETH OF THE SEA (London Clapham Grand, 08/12/20)
There’s only one truly appropriate way to celebrate COVID Vaccine Announcement Day, and that’s getting your ears mercilessly shredded in an old Clapham music hall roughly the temperature of a deep-space asteroid. God bless Teeth Of The Sea and all that rock within them.
HOTEL LUX (London Signature Brew, 27/10/20)
Hotel Lux, then: zeitgeisty in that “South London neo-post-punk” type of fashion, though perhaps not quite as zeitgeisty as a bunch of millenials socially distancing in a freezing cold ale warehouse in Walthamstow. Not as interesting as some of the bands they associate with, but they make a decent racket nonetheless.
RICHARD DAWSON (London Barbican, 25/10/20)
Fulfilling all your fabric-themed balladry/dishevelled Geordie needs in one concise, COVID-compliant package, Richard Dawson’s eccentric genre-shattering approach to traditional folk might not be for everyone, but for those who like an imaginatively bat-shit edge to their music, he’s already pretty much a national treasure.
THE DIVINE COMEDY (London Barbican, 14/10/20)
Tonight we flew, over the houses, the streets and trees, thanks to the miracle of Neil Hannon and three solid decades of shamelessly baroque songcraft.
ERLAND COOPER (London Barbican, 10/10/20)
You wouldn’t think it possible to be spirited across the Pentland Firth by flurries of gannets, especially given current travel restrictions, but if there’s one person who could work such spellcraft, it’d be Erland Cooper. His subtle yet evocative musical tribute to Orkney and the surrounding land-and-seascapes, featuring the poetry of Will Burns, the spectral singing of Kathryn Joseph, and the lush ornamentation of the London Contemporary Orchestra was as close to a trip abroad most of us will manage this year.
JOSEF KURTZ (London Brixton Windmill, 01/10/20)
Some may have found this enigmatic fellow’s noise-pop weird and punishing, but in all honesty it was a damn sight less disturbing than candlelit tables at the Windmill.
OSIBISA (London Jazz Cafe, 26/09/20)
We may be living in an era that the Mayor from Footloose might think somewhat extreme, but neither the trials nor tribulations of Tier 3 could contain the might of the veteran Afro-funk fusionists. An essential burst of joy in these dark times.
THE MUSIC OF STUDIO GHIBLI (London Jazz Cafe, 21/09/20)
Put aside the new-fangled distancing requirements, and this was an identical show to the one in January. But hey, why change a successful formula? A delightful night of Joe Hisashi classics, performed by a vibrant and stylish string quartet.
SEALIONWOMAN (London Strongrooms, 31/08/20)
As I was saying before we were so rudely interrupted…

After seven months of COVID-induced lockdown, the mere fact I was in the company of people I wasn’t related to by blood was more thrilling than the particulars of the actual bill. But even under normal circumstances, the double-whammy of innovative string-looper Agathe Max and leftfield vocalist Kitty Whitelaw would have been a fine way to while away a sunny August Bank Holiday.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

THE HOLD STEADY (London Bush Hall, 08/03/20)



Another year, another Hold Steady weekender, another vocally-ruined, sweat-drenched audience of elated Londoners. THERE IS. SO. MUCH. JOY.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

LADY LAMB (London Chats Palace, 05/03/20)



I don't often rave about solo guitar-wielding types, but Aly Spaltro is the Real Deal- commanding stage presence, a distinctive songwriting style, and a voice even a bad cough couldn't hinder. Lovely stuff.
LADYTRON (London Heaven, 02/03/20)



A veritable synth-bangerama from the veteran Liverpudlians. Amazing visuals, great sound, underwhelming venue.
EFTERKLANG (London Barbican, 29/02/20)



Absolute magic from my beloved Danes, whose shows I'd call the embodiment of hygge if that didn't underplay how interesting and sublime their music is. A potential gig of the year contender, without a doubt.
GRIMM GRIMM (London Cafe Oto, 27/02/20)



Probably the most pleasantly melodic show I've ever seen at Cafe Oto, thanks to Koichi Yamanoha's baroque, Hideo-Kojima-endorsed, pop sensibilities. Not everyone gets half of Bo Ningen as their backing band, that's for sure.
SLEATER-KINNEY (London Brixton Academy, 26/02/20)



The mix was poor and the venue colder than Priti Patel's heart, but Carrie Brownstein is a weapons-grade badass, her synergy with Corin Tucker remains next-level, and 26 songs whizzed by in a blink of an eye. Been waiting to see these riot grrrls for years, and I was not disappointed.
OTOBOKE BEAVER (London Scala, 23/02/20)



Experienced the all-female Japanese garage-rock dervishes 7 times since 2016, and that may well have been their most raucous show yet. An extremely high-octane, but seriously thrilling, way to wrap up the week.
HMLTD (London Garage, 20/02/20)


 
Wasn't sure if these flamboyant glam-rock types would be my cup of tea, but even this cold-hearted old bastard was ultimately won over. It's been a long while since I've experienced a show with such "cusp of something big" energy.
NERIJA (London Village Underground, 18/02/20)



Had to ditch early for Reasons, but the half-hour I did catch featured more jazz than you can shake a baritone sax at.
YACHT (London Colours, 13/02/20)



The theatrical dance-pop collective brought their animated LA vibes to Hoxton for the first time in too long. Good fun all round.
AIMING FOR ENRIKE (London Dalston Victoria, 08/02/20)



Blistering set from the Norwegian math-rock duo - it's amazing what a noise you can generate with a guitar, a drum kit and 100,000 effects pedals. Think early Battles meets Ratatat.
DAN DEACON (London Scala, 06/02/20)



Seen the Bard of Baltimore 14 times now, and I can think of few other experiences that unfailingly bring me so much joy. A giant technicolour endorphin rush of a show.
ANNA MEREDITH (London EartH, 05/02/20)


 
Another evening of madcap maximalist genius from Scottish composition's mad scientist, which (naturally) wrapped up with a Daniel Bedingfield/ABBA/Carly Rae Jepsen/O-Zone/Crystal Maze medley because why not?
GALAXIANS (Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 01/02/20)



Maximal 80's disco vibes from the hometown heroes, closing the 5th CHUNK Fundraiser in rave-tacular style.
PARK JIHA (London LSO St Luke's, 31/01/20)



An often stunning fusion of traditional Korean instrumentation and minimalist modernism. Wasn't so much of a fan of the scraping strings piece as that sets my nerves on edge, but otherwise, a definite winner.
DRUG STORE ROMEOS (London Old Blue Last, 28/01/20)



Bit rough around the edges (as might be expected for such a new band), but Sarah sure has the ideal dream-pop voice. If you're a fan of Broadcast/Melody's Echo Chamber etc., you'll absolutely want to keep an eye out for these guys.
BLACK COUNTRY NEW ROAD (London Brixton Windmill, 27/01/20)



The only band I'll happily permit to start a headline set at 10.05pm on a Monday worknight. What a magnificent racket they make. Astrel K's first UK show was also fantastic- big fan of their Grandaddy/Sparklehorse vibes.
KATE DAVIS (London The Islington, 25/01/20)



An impressive performance from the jazz chantreuse-turned-indie balladeer. Sure she'll be playing far bigger venues than the backroom of a North London pub soon enough...
NORMAN CONNORS (London IndigO2, 24/01/20)



Top tip: if you ever want to feel young, go to a jazz-funk revue. Shame Ronnie Laws cancelled at the last minute and in all honesty some acts were better than others, but Lonnie Liston Smith and the tight-as-hell Starship Orchestra redeemed what could have been a disappointing night.
GIANT DRAG (London Oslo, 22/01/20)



A monumental-sounding show from the fuzz-drenched indie-rockers, though the highlight may have been the ever-volatile Annie Hardy launching the most deliciously withering takedown of the twats at the front who chatted through her first song. "Kevin Is Gay" remains a top-tier Tune.
ANTHONY BRAXTON (London Cafe Oto, 21/01/20)



Two hours of deconstructed jazz standards from the avant-garde legend (and Tyondai's dad). Second set was particularly breathtaking, not least Alexander Hawkins' electrifying piano work on 'Freedom Jazz Dance'.
THE BOY LEAST LIKELY TO (London Social, 20/01/20)



A pretty uplifting way to spend the most depressing day of the year, thanks to the Crown Princes of Twee.
OKI AND MAREWREW (London Japan House, 16/01/20)



A fascinating introduction into the world of Ainu music, with hilariously sharp commentary from tonkori master Oki.
JEFFREY LEWIS (London Rough Trade East 14/01/20)



A non-standard J-Lew set featuring a 30 minute tribute to an obscure Mike Rechner mixtape, previews of his comics work and a few audience requests for good measure. Odd, but not in a bad way.
THE SYMPHONIC SOUNDS OF STUDIO GHIBLI (London Jazz Cafe, 12/01/20)



Tend to set my expectations low for tribute concerts as they often prove a pale imitation of the real thing, but Stompy's Playground string-based effort was a genuine triumph. The Laputa, Spirited Away and Totoro selections were delightful, I was obviously chuffed to see the ever-underrated Porco Rosso get its due, and Whisper of The Heart was an unexpected highlight with its spontaneous audience sing-along.
THE JUST JOANS (London Lexington, 10/01/20)



Winsome, witty Scottish indie-pop to kick off another year of my bullshit.