Monday, May 07, 2018

JIMMY WEBB (London Roundhouse, 04/05/18)

In truth, Jimmy Webb is a far better raconteur than singer, but dude wrote "Wichita Lineman" so gets a pass for pretty much anything.
KAMASI WASHINGTON (London Roundhouse, 02/05/18)

It's hard to quantify what my "favourite gig" ever would be given I've seen so damn many, but Kamasi Washington at the Roundhouse would be a solid contender. No gimmicks, no fancy light-shows, just 100 minutes of absolutely transcendent, funk-infused jazz courtesy of some of the tightest musicians in the world (including the mighty Shabaka Hutchings making a cameo appearance on "Truth"). The kind of show that knocks the wind out of you and leaves you speechless, because what could you possibly say in the face of such brilliance?
ANNA MEREDITH (London Royal Festival Hall, 28/04/18)

The irrepressible Scottish musical alchemist once again struck gold with an orchestrally-backed rendition of her album "Varmints" so acoustically dense, it pushed the structural integrity of the Southbank to breaking point. Brilliantly bonkers.
A HAWK AND A HACKSAW (London Cafe Oto, 25/04/18)

Balkan folk, Persian santurs and a big fuck-off drum. What else could a man want?
NATALIE PRASS (London Bush Hall, 23/04/18)

The alt-country superstar-in-waiting has shifted from her comfort zone to embrace the funk, and I am totally on board with that.
OTOBOKE BEAVER (London Scala, 19/04/18)

OTOBOKE BEAVER WE LOVE YOU. And perhaps there's a contingent of balding 50-year old punks who love you a bit *too* much, but nonetheless neither they, or the over-zealous security, could detract from the frenzied whirlwind of garage-rock energy that the Kyoto quartet effortlessly whip up. Stunning.
HOLLY MIRANDA (London The Islington, 18/04/18)

After eight years of waiting, I finally got to catch the highly underrated musician in London, and though on a personal level it was a bit disappointing that she's consigned most of her older work to the setlist graveyard, her latest material is more than strong enough to carry the show.
MIDORI TAKADA (London Union Chapel, 17/04/18)

Part minimalist percussion set, part avant-garde theatre, part Buddhist ritual- Midori Takada's mesmerising performances draw heavily on traditional Japanese aesthetics, yet incorporate African and American modernist elements to create something compelling and unique. A true one-off.
ARCADE FIRE (London Wembley Arena, 11/04/18 - 13/04/18)

It may have seemed like Arcade Fire were down for the count after the much-maligned "Everything Now", but the critical mauling seems to have given the Canadians a most astonishing second wind. The boxing ring staging, the phenomenal lighting, and litany of guest starts (Chrissie Hynde! Jarvis Cocker! Florence! Boy George) proved they can pull off an arena show as well as any band in the world, but it was their unfailing energy and passion that once again reminded me why they were the band that triggered my addiction to live music in the first place. Utterly sublime.
PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND (London Islington Assembly Hall, 10/04/18)

A sincere pleasure to experience a genuine slice of New Orleans in Islington, not least because they brought over living legend Charlie Gabriel (now 85 years old) to lend a little more saxo-mo-phone to their effervescently groovy proceedings. Nice!
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (London Village Underground, 29/03/18)

Review: HERE
DAPHNE & CELESTE (London Boston Music Room, 27/03/18)

I ain't got no alibi: I bought tickets to see Daphne and Celeste with actual, real money and it was quite a lot of fun - in an endearing naff sort of way. New material with wonk-pop maestro Max Tundra is inexplicably decent (even if they struggle to replicate it live) and of course, you can't deny the intellectual and compositional genius of "Ooh, Stick You".
WILL SHEFF (London Slaughtered Lamb, 26/03/18)

Neither flu nor lost luggage nor a lack of guitar pedals could stay Will Sheff from his duty to energetically if imprecisely croon Okkervil River songs in a Satanically-themed pub in Islington, and thank Baal for that as it was pretty delightful.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

FEVER RAY (London Troxy, 20/03/18)

Karin Dreijer may have built a reputation as an unknowable ice-queen, but tonight's show, reflecting her embrace of queer polyamory, is at turns intense, raunchy, dynamic and political- and most of all, a hell of a lot of fun. Plus, that bit where everyone bellowed *that* line from "To The Moon And Back" in unison was hilarious.
ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF (London Dome, 12/03/18)

There's acts that sound like the Apocalypse, and then there's Anna Von Hausswolff. Having shifted gothwards from Kate Bush to "Dark Elf Sigur Ros", her set was so relentlessly intense, it may well have distorted space-time.
THE HOLD STEADY (London Electric Ballroom, 09/03/18)

A raucous, exultant and extremely sweaty set of almost Springsteenian proportions, the Hold Steady no longer have anything left to prove, except that they're still the best goddamn bar-band in the whole damn world.
SUPERORGANISM (London Oval Space, 08/03/18)

The East London-based collective are essentially MGMT/Architecture In Helsinki for the Snapchat generation, but their ramshackle, technicolour aesthetic (both visually and aurally) proves a winning, winsome prospect.
GWENNO (London Rough Trade East, 05/03/18)

What better way to spend St Piran's Day by singing along to a Cornish-language indie-pop ditty about cheese, and the acquisition thereof? Gwenno's melding of traditional Celtic tongues with 21st century synths may sound gimmicky on paper, but it's all pretty "bryntin" as she might say.
AURORA (London Hoxton Hall, 27/02/18)

Thing I love most about Norway's most exciting export is that her elvish eccentricity isn't an act- in between soaring gothic balladry, she holds court about her constantly runny nose, or reveals a vein of unexpectedly dark humour. Of course, her electifying stage presence and stunning talent contributes to the charm somewhat, especially on triumphant set closer "Conqueror".
FRANZ FERDINAND (London Brixton Academy, 24/02/18)

The Mid-Noughties British indie-rock scene is often (and fairly) remembered as the musical equivalent of a Smirnoff Ice, but I still have a lot of time for the angular riffs and synchronised starjumps of Franz Ferdinard, whose first album tracks sound as fresh as they ever did.
SON LUX (London Scala, 20/02/18)

Subtle, sensuous and sophisticated, Son Lux are one of the most technically dazzling live acts of our generation, and although I've seen the band on even more formidable form, tonight still regularly sent shivers down our collective spines.
THE GO! TEAM (London Electric Ballroom, 15/02/18)

The Go! Team's kaleidoscopic, "kids-TV-show-through-a-vintage-filter" schtick could well have gone stale a long time ago, but the effervescent glee that permeates every part of the enterprise is simply impossible to resist. Wonderful.
JEN CLOHER (London Dome, 13/02/18)

Courtney Barnett's other half may not quite rival her for lo-fi wryness, but Jen Cloher's no-nonsense alt-rock balladry stands tall on its own charismatic merits.
THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT (London Cafe Oto, 10/02/18)

Review: HERE
EZRA FURMAN (London Lexington, 07/02/18)

Retro-revivalism is out, socially-charged alt-rock concerning fugitive angels is in - but regardless of the tenor of his current mode of being, Ezra Furman remains one of the most incisive, dynamic and downright superb singer-songwriters of our era.
MICHAEL ROTHER (London Jazz Cafe, 06/02/18)

Mesmerising motorik soundscapes from the Krautrock veteran, whose enchanting guitar tones stave off monotony far longer than science should allow.
LIIMA (London Oslo, 02/02/18)

Not sure I'll ever love neo-Efterklang quite as much as the ethereal original, but the joy Casper, Rasmus and Mads bring to a room by their mere presence is a remarkable and beautiful thing.
OUMOU SANGARE (London Roundhouse, 31/01/18)

Review: HERE
AK/DK (London Birthdays, 24/01/18)

Holy Fuck's nerdy transatlantic cousins. Synths and drums and a whole load of awesome.
NERVOUS CONDITIONS (London Old Blue Last, 23/01/18)

For a brief, beautiful moment, Nervous Conditions were the most exciting band in the UK- a seething maelstrom of avant-garde influences exuding wide-eyed menace underpinned with inexorable grooves. Then it turned out their lead singer was a wrong 'un and they (rightly) disbanded. At least we had this show as a testament to what might have been...
MYRKUR (London St John On Bethnal Green, 22/01/18)

A beguiling evening of traditional Nordic folk from black metal artiste Amalie Bruun, who implausibly managed to entice three hundred neckbeards into a House of God.
STARCRAWLER (London Omeara, 18/01/18)

A "subtle" start to the 2018 gig schedule courtesy of the Elton John-endorsed psych rockers, whose flailing guitars, fake blood and flamboyant stage presence were more over-the-top than the Battle of the Somme.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


A cretinous man-baby runs rampant in the White House, fascism is on the rise and GRRM still hasn't released "The Winds of Winter". But hey, at least 2017 was alright on the live music front. Whilst it's tempting to include every decent show I went to on this list, the internet sadly only contains so much storage, so apologies to the following noteworthy acts who missed the cut:

Young Fathers, Colin Stetson, Tank and the Bangas, Anna von Hausswolff, The Boy Least Likely To, Jeffrey Lewis, Green Day, Slotface, Sparks, The Magnetic Fields, Goldfrapp, King Khan and The Shrines, Downtown Boys, Erin McKeown, Alex Lahey, The Can Project, Toumani Diabate, Kristin Anna Valysdottir, Ex-Easter Island Head, Wovoka Gentle, Alvvays, Mogwai, Pharmakon, Haiku Salut, Tomaga, Fujiya and Miyagi, Afrirampo, OOIOO, TV Girl, Go Go Penguin, This Is Not This Heat, Evil Blizzard, Efterklang, Songhoy Blues, Martha Wainwright and Mary Ocher 

Anyhow, without further ado, here's my Top 50 Live Acts of 2017:

50. DAKHABRAKHA- London Oval Space 
A colourful, coruscating set from the Ukrainian four-piece, whose aptly-named "ethno-chaos" fuses traditional Slavic folk with pop, hip-hop and everything in-between.

49. SILVER APPLES- London Oslo 
In 1967, Simeon Coxe III was one of the very first to incorporate electronics into rock music, and at the age of 80, his cosmic beats still sound like the future.

48. PATRICK WOLF- London Bush Hall 
Having purged 2011's glam-pop excess from his system, it's gratifying Patrick Wolf has returned to the baroque balladry he excels at (now with bonus Gwendoline Christie!)

47. SHUGO TOKUMARU- London Oslo 
Ukuleles, feline hand-puppets and a Ghiblisworth of whimsy - a Shugo Tokumaru show should be a twee overdose-in-waiting, but his inventively charming pop-craft has substance to match the style.

46. MELT-BANANA- London Garage 
The Japanese noiseniks may have lost half their members, but they still sound like 500 Pokemon angrily having a seizure.

45. VAUDOU GAME- End of the Road Festival 
It's not every lunchtime you see a conga line winding through a wet Wiltshire field, but then again, it's not every lunchtime you experience Vaudou Game's irrepressible Togolese funk.

44. TANYA TAGAQ- London Cafe Oto 
An evening of guttural Inuk vocalisations and jazz-esque improvisation is literally the most "Cafe Oto" thing ever, but that's certainly no criticism of Tanya Tagaq's mesmerising and politically-charged performance.

43. THE AVALANCHES- London Kentish Town Forum 
Brief, bassy, and at times basically karaoke- but watching 2,000 sweat-drenched people, arms aloft, bellowing "Since I Left You" with various levels of skill was worth the sixteen-year wait. Crazier than a coconut indeed.

42. DESTROYER- London Scala
In recent years "Mad" Dan Bejar has channelled Mick Hucknall a bit too much for my liking, but when he's on form the tousle-haired grump is proof "smooth" doesn't need to mean "stale".

41. YUZO KUSHIRO- London Fabric 
When a much younger, but equally awful, version of me used to listen to the Streets of Rage II sound test on repeat, I never imagined that twenty years later I'd watch 500 grown adults throw shapes to "Go Straight" in one of Britain's premier nightclubs. That said, I never imagined Brexit, so I'm clearly crap at predictions.

40. KRAFTWERK- London Royal Albert Hall 
IMPORT Kraftwerk
DEF Show:
      Visuals = 3D
      Eye-Popping Performers = 4
      WHILE x > 3:
            SING "FAHREN"
            x += 1

39. BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE- London Brixton Academy 
It's a ballsy move to ditch your "introverted piano man" persona to waltz with mannequins and croon surrealist love songs about love-struck files, but if there's one guy who could carry it off, it's Benjamin Clementine. Mostly fantastic, often bonkers, seldom dull.

38. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS- London Electric Ballroom 
The New Pornos: the platonic ideal for no-nonsense, "play the hits" indie bands. No fuss, no gimmickry, just great songs played damn well.

37. ANNA MEREDITH- London Oval Space 
Silver capes. Konami dancemats. "Enter Sandman" incorporating the theme tune from The Bill. Tubas. Chants of "BUY OUR STUFF" in time with that song from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Oh, and some bloody good maximalist indie-pop. Anna Meredith: the best thing to come from Scotland since shortbread.

36. TEI SHI- London Moth Club 
Not even hordes of chattering industry fucks could ruin a commanding performance from the Argentinian-Canadian behind "Bassically", A.K.A this decade's greatest banger.

35. SINKANE- London Heaven 
Ahmed Galleb's Fela Kuti-meets-Curtis Mayfield afro funk was so good at End of the Road, I immediately bought tickets to see him again four days later. No regrets.

My annual dose of uncompromising face-meltage courtesy of Japan's premier psychedelic space wizards. I had no idea "disco post-rock" was even a thing until I heard their most recent take on "Pink Lady Lemonade"...

33. TALL TALL TREES- London Oslo 
Mike Savino's one-man mission to rehabilitate the banjo continues apace with another tour-de-force of loop pedal wizardry and rainbow LEDs.

32. CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH!- London Village Underground 
The transformation of Alec Ounsworth from inexorable charisma void to frontman par excellence remains one of the more pleasing developments of my gigging career. Songs ain't so bad either.

31. HOLY FUCK- London Jazz Cafe 
I still don't know who Allen is, or why he's so lovely, but the Canadian electro-rock wizards' pulsating, pulverising aural onslaught presumably wiped him out some time ago.

30. JOHN GRANT- London Union Chapel 
An emotional, stripped-down fundraiser for a friend fallen on hard times, this was John Grant at his rawest- no orchestras, no Kylie Minogue, just no-bullshit songwriting and the odd spine-tingling guest spot from Mara Carlyle. Beautiful.

29. THE DIVINE COMEDY- London Palladium 
A pure nostalgia rush from the first band I ever went to see solo. My taste for grandoise, knowing orchestral pop may have diminished in the intervening 13(!) years, but there's no denying Neil Hannon is an absolute master at what he does.

28. KISHI BASHI- London Oslo 
Kaoru Ishibashi may lack the technical polish of some loop-pedalling string manipulators, but his exhilarating mid-audience encore proved he's the most accomplished showman of them all.

27. WHY?- London Village Underground 
The alt-hip-hop hipsters remain infuriatingly un-Googleable, but theirs is a gig I would get the Tube to from anywhere.

26. JENS LEKMAN- London Koko
The cardigan-wearing community's favourite Swedish balladeer can straddle a thin line between charm and smugness, but this celebratory performance showcased him at his very best. The Opposite of the Opposite of Halleujah.

25. TRICOT- London Bush Hall
Sugar-rush math-rock from the Kyoto quartet, whose chaotic, frenzied energy could probably power a small country.

In a world where we tolerate artists with names like "Cabbage" and "Rat Boy", checking out Le Tout Puissant ("All Powerful") Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou becomes a sacred duty. The fact that the veteran Beninese afro-funk collective live up to their name is a mere bonus.

23. QUJAKU- Raw Power Festival 
I once unfairly dismissed this long-haired Japanese four-piece as "Faux-Ningen", but their neutron-star heavy brand of dark shoegaze pulverised even by Raw Power standards.

22. MERCURY REV- London Barbican 
Bewildering this was the first time someone twigged Mercury Rev's symphonic dream-pop might sound good with an orchestra, but needless to say, it was a match made in musical heaven. They even carried off "When You Wish Upon A Star" without hitting Richard Madeley levels of cringe - a miracle in itself.

21. BO NINGEN- End of the Road Festival 
The Stick Men have pretty much guaranteed themselves an annual place on this list, but let's face it, a year of gigs just ain't complete without Yuki Tsujii whirling a guitar perilously close to my face.

20. EZRA FURMAN- London Barbican
Ezra Furman made his name with his scrappy, euphoric rock 'n roll sermons, but this more sophisticated affair featuring Leonard Cohen covers, string quartets and a slightly odd "Jazz Club" interlude highlighted there's far, far more to him than retro-revivalism. "The kid taking over the opera house" sure did good.

19. SIGUR ROS- London Hammersmith Apollo
Untitled 7 AND Untitled 8 in the space of 90 minutes. 'Nuff said.

18. GRANDADDY- Brighton Concorde 2
Jason Lytle continues to vie with Stephin Merritt for the accolade of indie-rock's grumpiest frontman, but Grandaddy's superlative lo-fi indie-rock will never fail to hit me in the feels.

17. ZA!- Raw Power Festival
Genre-bending bedlam from the anarchic Catalan duo, who channel Calexico, Deerhoof, Captain Beefheart, the Buena Vista Social Club and Acid Mothers Temple into something refreshingly and exuberantly unique.

16. AMIDOU AND MARIAM- End Of The Road Festival
Mali has produced a disproportionate number of world-class artists over the years, but if there's one duo you can always rely on to bring on the party, it's the brilliant Bards of Bamako. The best set of End of the Road by far, despite the torrential rain.

15. THE FLAMING LIPS- London Brixton Academy
The bullshit-to-music ratio remains astoundingly high, and Wayne Coyne's extended mid-life crisis continues to render him insufferable...yet it's impossible not to love the unrelenting fever dream of The Flaming Lips' live experience. Neon unicorns, confetti cannons, giant balloons, a metric fuckton of miscellaneous psychedelia- and even, on occasion, some genuinely beautiful psych-pop.

Sweat, synths and shirtlessness from a deliriously fun band with a notoriously crap name. Think Lightning Bolt, but even more so.

13. FEIST- London Shepherd's Bush Empire
There's always been far more to Leslie Feist than "1234", and this abrasive, uncompromising yet elatory performance demonstrated that in spades. Bubblegum choruses are fine and all, but righteous guitar shreddage and Jarvis Cocker are even better.

12. CHILLY GONZALES- London Barbican
Another sublime melding of recital, musical theory lecture and comic revue from the Canadian maverick, whose show with the LSO incorporated "Champagne Supernova", a Britney Spears/Psycho mashup, Black Sabbath riffs, Dr Dre and the entire audience - and orchestra - performing jumping jacks. You don't get that at the Proms...

11. NERVOUS CONDITIONS- London Moth Club 
If you locked a bunch of teens in a room with only the more avant-garde records of the late 70's as entertainment, you might eventually get a band that sound like Nervous Conditions (you'd probably get put on some sort of list too, but that's beside the point). Abrasive, intense and shot through with sinister swagger, I can't help but feel they're karmic compensation for Ed Sheeran and his thrice-cursed ilk.

10. BNQT- London Borderline
Midlake plus Fran Healy (Travis), Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) and Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) performing their collaborative indie-folk album, as well as "Roscoe", "Sing", "Why Does It Always Rain On Me", "Hewlett's Daughter", "AM180", "Take Me Out" and Tom Petty and Beatles covers? In a 300 capacity venue? Fair play then.

9. OTOBOKE BEAVER- London 100 Club
A blistering return to London from the effervescent garage-rock dervishes, whose white-knuckle antics culminated in guitarist Yoshi using yours truly as a platform for the first of four consecutive crowd surfs.

Roscoe's Magic Saxo-Mo-Phone Makes Local Oaf Appreciate Free Jazz.

7. !!!- London Electric Ballroom
"Chk Chk Chk" are basically Chic plus James Murphy plus that Windows 95 conference with Bill Gates dancing, and frankly I'm not sure that formula could really be bettered.

6. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE- London Brixton Academy 
"Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl" made me cry, "Ibi Dreams of Pavement" made me scream, and Kevin Drew occasionally made me wince. A cathartic celebration of the power of live music in a week we all really needed it.

5. THE DEARS- London Village Underground 
A show so fantastic that even Murray Lightburn looked like he was having fun. Lushly baroque indie-rock, delivered with the intensity of a true believer.

4. WOLF PARADE- Bristol Thekla
Dan Boeckner's hoarse-throated rock 'n roll showmanship, plus Spencer Krug's yelping surrealist mania, plus loads of good friends, plus A MOTHERF'IN BOAT suggests that God sometimes DOES have the best goddamn plans.

3. NICK CAVE- London O2 Arena
The O2 remains a terrible venue full of terrible people, but for two hours, Nick Cave lent that godforsaken corporate aircraft hanger the intimacy of a church. From the drunk-preacher ferocity of "Higgs Boson Blues", through the soul-crushing "Distant Sky" to the ever-apocalyptic "Mercy Seat", it was a masterclass in arena performance from start to finish, but it's impossible not to highlight "Stagger Lee", with its mass stage invasion, as one of the best things ever to happen in S.E London.

2. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM- London Alexandra Palace
You'll still find a lot of indier-than-thou types crying into their craft IPAs that James Murphy dared to reform the act he disbanded in a silly hissy fit, but let's be honest- they're much better live now then they were back then. The double-whammy of "Dance Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends" remains an unimprovable encore, but it's the debut-centric mid-section run of "Losing My Edge"/"Tribulations"/"Yeah" that blew this show into the stratosphere.

1. ARCADE FIRE- London York Hall 
"Everything Now" might have seen Arcade Fire inexplicably channeling mid-80's David Bowie, delivering more tired cliches than a Tory press conference, but watching them in a 900-capacity boxing hall in Bethnal Green proved that when it comes to live performance, the band that made me fall in love with gigs in the first place remain as exuberant, passionate and euphoric as any act on the planet.

(And for previous editions of this self-indulgent nonsense, now in its 12th year, here are the lists for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016)