THE BEST LIVE ACTS OF TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN
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
Visuals = 3D
Performers = 4
WHILE x > 3:
x += 1
SING "AUF DER AUTOBAHN"
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.
34. ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE- London Dome
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.
24. TOUT-PUISSANT ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU- London 229
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.
14. (THE BAND FORMERLY KNOWN AS) SHITWIFE- Raw Power Festival
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.
8. THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO- London Cafe Oto
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)