Monday, January 04, 2016



2015. The year I finally breached the 1000-gig barrier and cemented my reputation as an irredeemably awful human being. Nonetheless, it's been another incredible year for live music- dare I say one of the best ever?- so apologies to the likes of Two Gallants, Ibibio Sound Machine, Oneida, No Cars, Tweak Bird, Will Butler, Ibeyi, The Julie Ruin, HEALTH, Lightning Bolt, Todd Terje, Ex Hex, Circuit des Yeux, Liima, The Go! Team, The Strokes, Public Service Broadcasting, Pika, Sons of Kemet, Roy Ayres, Meilyr Jones, The Drink, Songhoy Blues, Television, Metric, Masayoshi Fujita, Caspian, Car Seat Headrest, Built To Spill, Mercury Rev, EL VY, Hauschka, Mew and Neko Case, all of whom put on great shows that nonetheless didn't quite make the cut.

50. NATALIE PRASS- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
For a lady whose oeuvre mostly concerns heartbreak and the causes thereof, the Natalie Prass live experience is a decidedly uplifting one. The former Jenny Lewis keyboardist may not have achieved the success she deserves just yet, but her winsome alt-country - shot through with almost preternatural charisma - surely heralds a bright future.

49. PHARMAKON- London Tufnell Park Dome
The noise Milo Yiannopoulos hears when a woman opens her mouth. So apocalyptically intense, a speaker literally burst into flame.

48. ST VINCENT- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
Annie Clark's 2013 collaboration with David Byrne resulted in a truly sublime live experience, but his impact on her own style hasn't been entirely positive. It's hard to deny St Vincent's early shows were a little hit-and-miss, but they had a spontaneity that isn't really present in the visually spectacular but sterile theatre of her latest tour. Can't knock the songs, mind.

It's amazing what enchantment one can weave with just a cello and a loop pedal. Whilst the former Mùm musician underplays the influences of the Icelandic landscape on her work, her half hour set nonetheless exudes a bewitching starkness that could only come from that land of black sand and glaciers.

A short, sweet, oh-so-sweaty set from the chiptune masters, whose glistening synth-pop and neon aesthetics are the musical equivalent of downing a skipful of sherbet inside a malfunctioning Gameboy.

45. MISTY'S BIG ADVENTURE- London Islington Academy 2
An 80's prog re-interpretation of "The Snowman". Christmas ditties involving Nice biscuits and Blairites. Nightmare-inducing interpretative dancing from "Erotic Volvo". Half Man Half Biscuit may be this island's premier musical eccentrics, but the veteran Brummies come in a close second.

44. HOLY FUCK- London Oval Space
It's been five years since anyone heard a peep from Canada's foremost "analogue electronica" band, but on the strength of this set of almost entirely new material, it's clear they've got no intention of relinquishing their title as Tim Horton Land's most visceral live act.

43. ZUN ZUN EGUI- London Cafe Oto
Not all gigs start with a traditional Mauritian ritual to wake the spirits of music, but then again not all bands were Zun Zun Egui. It's a shame they imploded in acrimonious fashion three months later, but I'll fondly remember their vibrant polyrhythms and boundless energy.

42. BATTLES- London Tufnell Park Dome
"FUCKING BATTLES! BOOM BOOM BOOM!" The avant-garde Brooklynites were a tad out-of-practice after a couple of years off the road, but there's nothing like watching John Stanier pummel the literal fuck out of a drum (not to mention his absurdly lofty hi-hat) to reinvigorate one's love of live music.

41. KIKAGAKU MOYO- London Lexington
Japanese psych hippies bring the spirit of Haight-Ashbury to Pentonville Road. Long hair, electric sitars, mind-expanding riffage- they're essentially "Bo Ningen at Woodstock", and no worse for it.

40. SUFJAN STEVENS- London Royal Festival Hall
It may be that I'm a bitter, burned-out husk of a man, but Sufjan's sad-jams did little to stir the ol' heartstrings despite spectacular lighting and Nico Muhly's cacophonous pipe organ drone. Partially redeemed by a marvellous encore that went some way to reminding me why his 2011 Copenhagen show remains one of my all-time Top Five.

Two guitarists. Two bassists. Two drummers. One harmonica player. Dozens of crowd surfers. Gallons of sweat. ALL THE RIFFS.

38. NISENNENMONDAI- London Heaven
Minimalist motorik grooves courtesy of the ever-brilliant Japanese three-piece. No less an authority than John Stanier declared Sayaka Himeno to be one of the best percussionists in the world, and watching her relentless, superhumanly tight assault on her drumkit, it's hard to disagree.

37. SUN RA ARKESTRA- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
Sun Ra may have departed to the third ring of Saturn twenty years hence, but his spirit lives on through his 91-year-old protégé Marshall Allen and the be-sequined, free-jazz wizardry of the Arkestra. Space is indeed the place.

36. DESTROYER- London Islington Assembly Hall
Has there ever been a more unlikely crooner of louche soft-rock than Daniel Bejar, he of the ever-cryptic lyric and perpetually moody temperament? While the mellow, sax-heavy jams occasionally threaten to go full Mick Hucknell, Bejar's natural inscrutability and his band's effortless proficiency ensures an experience more celebratory than cheesy.

35. AURORA- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
The latter half of the Noughties: a golden age for high-energy, effortlessly infectious Scandinavian music. But at some point the joie de vivre gave way to ever-paler imitations of The Knife (or worse, Mumford and Sons), and everything went a bit Pete Tong. Yet one afternoon, in a soggy field in the Brecon Brecons, I witnessed a performance by an 18-year old Norwegian that recaptured that old Nordic spark, and made me realise there's still hope for our Northern cousins yet.

34. THE BESNARD LAKES- London 100 Club
Some mediocre bands sell out headline arenas, some amazing ones are destined never to graduate from the pub circuit. Such is the fickle nature of the music business. But it's a particular shame to see the Besnard Lakes play a half-full 100 Club, as their Fleetwood Mac-go-shoegaze grandeur is really bloody good.

33. CHAIRLIFT- London Oslo
I suspect quite a lot of people at this show were expecting an hour of bouncy indie-pop a la "Bruises" (admittedly one of the more charming songs to soundtrack an overplayed Apple commercial). What they actually got was an eclectic and compelling mix of sultry 80's jazz grooves, moody electronica and R&B-influenced bangers. Sucks to be them.

32. TV ON THE RADIO- London Roundhouse
Several years of lacklustre releases can take the shine off even the best bands, but with Tunde Adebimpe on truly blistering form and a sound mix that wasn't actually entirely terrible (Kyp's vocals are supposed to be audible, who knew), this show was a welcome reminder than when it comes to stone-cold indie classics, TVOTR are up there with the best of them.

31. JENS LEKMAN- London St John-at-Hackney Church
The Swedish crooner has kept somewhat of a low-profile the last few years, so it's was a particular delight to see his erudite brand of upbeat balladry get a rare airing as part of the otherwise underwhelming Visions Festival. The opposite of the opposite of Hallelujah.

30. SCREAMING FEMALES- Brighton Hope & Ruin
Wednesday Addams cosplayer unleashes brutal, unforgiving sonic assault, decimates significant proportion of South Coast.

29. CALEXICO- London Shepherd's Bush Empire
Calexico have long been one of the most dependable live bands on the circuit, but the addition of guitar-shredding Spaniard Jairo Zavala has raised their evocative blend of Americana and mariachi traditions to new levels of greatness.

28. JAMBANAI- London Rich Mix
Combining lushly atmospheric post-rock with Korean folk instrumentation, Jambanai are a welcome antidote to waegukin under the mistaken impression there's nothing more to the South Korean music scene than "Gangnam Style."

27. THE EARLIES- London Shacklewell Arms
Back in my student days, I discovered a superb half-Texan, half-Mancunian outfit named the Earlies, who combined 60's West Coast harmonies, psychedelic prog and several hundred assorted instruments. Then they disappeared for ten years, a period within which I lost most of my hair along with my dignity. But then, on my 30th birthday, they reformed for a one-off London show and it was pretty wonderful. THE END.

26. TONY ALLEN- London Royal Festival Hall
A monumentally groovy collaboration between "The Godfather of Afrobeat", kora masters Toumani and Sidike Diabate, Francophone rapper Oxmo, Senegalese baritone Baaba Maal and, somewhat inevitably, Damon Albarn, who might well be the Candyman of world music at this point.

25. BEIRUT- London St-John-At-Hackney Church
Arch-practitioner of maudlin brass-tinged folk Zach Condon may have once indirectly referred to me as a "bum", but after this wonderfully nostalgic amble through Beirut's greatest hits, I'm willing to let that slide.

24. BOREDOMS- London Barbican
THINGS I LEARNED IN 2015: sitting six feet from 88 people smashing cymbals in unison is something you'd probably want to experience with earplugs. Not quite the otherworldly experience Boredrums was, but an astonishing spectacle nonetheless.
23. THE DECEMBERISTS- London Brixton Academy
"When we give you the signal, we want you to scream like you're being eaten by a whale". Colin Meloy and co. may rock a pronounced dad-core vibe these days, but they're still dab hands gothically-tinged folk-rock and the odd morbid sea-shanty.

22. OWEN PALLETT- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
I've seen the Artist Formerly Known As Final Fantasy no less than nineteen times now, and I'm frankly running out of new superlatives to employ. So here's a video instead:

21. DAHKABRAKHA- London Village Underground
Can't say I've seen many self-described "ethno-chaos" bands in my time, but if they're half as good as this Ukrainian four-piece I've clearly been wasting my life. Marko Halanevych's vocal style, veering between high-pitched falsetto and guttural Eugene Hutz-ish growls, is a unique experience in itself, but it's the stunning Slavic-style harmonies of Olen Tsybulska, Iryna Kovalenko and Nina Harenetska that make DahkaBrakha such an exceptional experience.

20. ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE- London Tufnell Park Dome
Venerable Osaka psych-wizards form alliance with ex-Afrirampo drummer Pika to lay waste to the collective eardrums of Tufnell Park and possibly the Northern hemisphere. If I could live inside a song, "Pink Lady Lemonade" would be very high up on the list.

19. STARS- London Scala
One of the survivors of the mid-Noughties golden age of Canadian alternative music, Stars are masters of a type of earnest, hand-on-heart indie-pop that doesn't innovate or challenge, but is delivered with a sincerity and passion that more than compensates. I've seen objectively better bands this year, but very few have come close to the goosebump-inducing magic of "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" with the whole audience singing along.
18. CHARLES BRADLEY- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
It's easy to be cynical about an artist with a "compelling back story"- remember Seasick Steve? But Charles Bradley is the real deal, a man who worked his way up from the streets to become one of the most genuinely life-affirming practitioners of old-school soul touring today.

17. LUBOYMR MELNYK- London Cafe Oto
Lubomyr Melnyk is a pretty odd guy, but there's no denying his shimmering "continuous playing" style can produce some impeccably gorgeous music. He's certainly not a man who has much truck with variety but when he hits his stride on the likes of "Windmills", his fingers moving like lightning across the ivories, it's simply one of the most transcendental things you'll ever hear in concert.

16. CHILLY GONZALES- London Rough Trade East
70 minutes of prime Chilly, tinkling the ivories and imparting unto us compositional theory with trademark flair and humour - at a free Rough Trade in-store no less. This time round he was joined by a string quartet who both ornamented his own material and provided colour to his lectures on the mechanics of music, covering everything from violin techniques utilised in Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" to the use of arpeggios by artists ranging from Beethoven to Daft Punk. A true original.

15. BLUR- London Hyde Park
I survived the moshpit for Song 2. Surely that's reason enough?

14. TUNE-YARDS- London Royal Festival Hall
Despite the excessive quantity of bellendry in the audience, this may have been Merrill Garbus' finest performance since the legendary Cargo show five years back. From being somewhat superfluous on the "whokill" tour, her band are now an absolutely essential part to proceedings, augmenting Garbus' kaleidoscopic vision with breathtaking harmonies and rhythmic intensity.

Bit gutted Anna Van Hausswolff didn't feel the need to drag the 9,000-pipe organ she used to record her latest album to Hackney, but nonetheless, "Evocation" and "Come Wander with Me/Deliverance" sounded like the literal apocalypse.

12. THE OCTOPUS PROJECT- London Shacklewell Arms
Anyone who has ever had to endure my awful views on music might know I solemnly believe Austin's The Octopus Project to be one of the most underrated live bands in the world. An psychedelic take on Holy Fuck with additional theremin, their electrifying fusion of propulsive percussion and kaleidoscopic progginess should see them headlining the Brixton Academy rather than the back of a pub in Dalston.

11. DEERHOOF- London Oval Space
Deerhoof have been around for over two decades now, but they remain more exhilarating, energetic and original than almost any band that's emerged since. Yeah, they're not fans of coherent time signatures; yeah, their vocals tend towards the "cutely enthusiastic" rather than "in tune" but damn, watching them in full eccentric flow is one of the most vital experiences live music has to offer.

10. FFS- London Troxy
Despite their arch-eyebrowed protestation that "collaborations don't work", this team-up between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks results in a match made in heaven. Ron Mael is still a terrifying, terrifying man, Russell has more energy in his late 60's than I did in my late 20's, and the whole set, from the Sparksified version of "Michael" to the camp majesty of "Achoo" is an vibrant, tongue-in-cheek delight from start to finish.

9. COLIN STETSON AND SARAH NEUFELD- London Islington Assembly Hall
I'm not sure how Colin Stetson coaxes such sounds and timbres from three saxophones and some strategically-placed microphones, but I'm pretty sure witchcraft has something to with it. Add in the exceptional string arrangements of Schroedinger's Arcade Fire Member, and you've got a sound that seems to derive from another world.

8. THE POLYPHONIC SPREE- London Electric Ballroom
Texas' foremost pseudo-cultish music ensemble may be diminished from their mid-Noughties heyday (now featuring a mere fifteen members rather than thirty), but to hear "The Beginning Stages Of..." performed in its white-robed entirety was as close to a religious experience as you can get in a room reeking of BO and out-of-date Stella.

7. TITUS ANDRONICUS- London Village Underground
Titus Andronicus have struggled to match the quality of the rollocking, impossibly anthemic masterpiece that is "The Monitor" over the last half-decade, but damn, if their live shows aren't still an absolute grin-inducing, sweat-filled, hoarse-throated riot. My vocal chords will never be the same again.

6. JOANNA NEWSOM- Brighton Dome
Long live the Queen of Harps.

5. KAMASI WASHINGTON- London Barbican
While Kamasi Washington has been declared by several reputable sources to be the "new great hope of jazz", I personally feel that might be an understatement. Combining multiple traditions of the genre into one scintillating, visceral, unpredictable whole, Kamasi and the West Coast Get Down produce the kind of music that bypasses your brain and dives deep into your soul.

4. SON LUX- Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Powys
I always feel at a bit of a loss when it comes to describing Ryan Lott's music ("Deerhoof goes trip-hop", I guess?), but what I do know is that as a guy who's gone to quite a considerable amount of gigs over the last decade, Son Lux are one of those once-in-a-blue-moon bands that still have the power to dazzle me with their uniqueness. What was particularly striking about this set is that on paper, they're far from crowd-pleasing festival fodder - but damn, did they knock this one out of the park.

3. DAN DEACON- London Oval Space 
There may be a castle of snow up past the big glen, and that castle may have a fountain, a bear and a sick band of some critical acclaim, but everyone knows the real party is in a converted pharmaceutical warehouse in Bethnal Green. For those who have never experienced a Dan Deacon gig, it’s difficult to convey the strange euphoria they elicit but it’s almost if, for the space of ninety minutes, the denizens of the capital’s live music scene are given a free pass to shed their inhibitions and have genuine, non-ironic fun for once in their lives.

2. EZRA FURMAN- London Lexington
What Ezra Furman has taught me is that there's not enough transgender Jews channelling the spirit of Springsteen in modern popular music. His covers of Arcade Fire's "Crown of Love" and Jackie Wilson's "Higher" alone may have elicited more joy from me than half the gigs on this list combined.

1. PATTI SMITH (PERFORMING "HORSES")- Field Day Festival, London Victoria Park
Yeah, my favourite gig of 2015 was actually a run-through of an album released four decades ago, sue me. But this was far from some hackneyed nostalgia trip- Patricia Lee Smith is even more of a potent force at the age of 68 than she was in those heady CBGB days; a roaring, electrifying prophet delivering a sermon that's just as relevant as ever. And indeed, this show probably would have topped my list just for her performance of "Birdland", the kind of song that, frankly, makes you think why anyone else even bothers.

(And for previous editions of this self-indulgent nonsense, now in its 10th year, here are the lists for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.)

(All photographs property of the author.) 

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