THE BEST LIVE ACTS OF TWO THOUSAND AND NINETEEN
The less said about the state of the world, the better, but if nothing else, it's been a sterling 12 months for those of us whose idea of fun involves acquiring tinnitus in cramped, sweaty rooms. Indeed, 2019 proved to be my busiest year for gigs since the start of the decade, so whittling all the great sets I've seen down to a list of fifty has been even more of a challenge than usual.
First off, here's all the worthy acts that didn't quite make the cut this year (sorry guys):
Slotface, Charlotte Adigery, Melt-Banana, Moses Boyd, Qujaku, Idiotape, The Comet Is Coming, Molly, Altin Gun, Elephant Gym, Mulatu Astatke, Pi Ja Ma, Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan, Madness, Flamingods, Patti Smith, The Essex Green, Erland Cooper, Emily Wells, Tall Tall Trees, Hatis Noit, Deerhoof, Weyes Blood, Caroline Polachek, Blue Hawaii, Beirut, Lightning Dust, Bikini Kill, Hibushibire, Mesange, Jeffrey Lewis, Makeness, Stereolab, Built to Spill, Melt Yourself Down, Say Sue Me, Pom Poko, Eleanor Friedberger, Marika Hackman, Oneida, Snapped Ankles, Ichiko Aoba, Advance Base, Daniel Knox, Boris, Sasami, Fuji Yuki, Black String, William Doyle, Dream Themes, Kuunatic, The Andreas Roysum Ensemble, Hypnoculte and Low
As for those who did make the cut, I present, without further ado: The Top 50 Live Acts of 2019.
50. ELO- London BBC Broadcasting House
With 43,000 entries and 150 pairs of tickets to be won, the likelihood of getting to see Electric Light Orchestra perform a Greatest Hits set in the heart of the BBC was miniscule to say the least. But thanks to the beneficence of an old friend, that's exactly what I got to do. "Sailin' away on the crest of a wave, it's like magic..."
49. JAMBINAI- London Purcell Room
Positively apocalyptic post-rock/metal from the South Korean six-piece. To be honest, I'm not sure the genteel environs of the Purcell Room were built to withstand such a mighty racket.
48. THE CLAQUE- Birmingham The Crossing
Ireland's currently the crucible of some of the most exciting new music around (plus, uh, Fontaines DC), and The Claque's "Metric meets MBV" noise-pop may well be the best of the bunch. An unexpected highlight of the amazing Future Days Festival.
47. GYDA VALTYSDOTTIR- London Kings Place
At turns bewitching and darkly dramatic, this selection of self-penned compositions and works encompassing Ancient Greek devotional music, Harry Partch and everything in between was one of the year's low-key delights. You can always rely on Icelandic cellists to deliver the goods.
46. RONNIE SPECTOR- London Roundhouse
Some legends struggle to live up to their reputation in their twilight of their careers. Not Ronnie Spector though. I could have gone home happy just hearing "Bye Bye Baby", but the way she deftly weaved in anecdotes and historical footage throughout her set without it coming across as cheesy or self-regarding was quite the feat.
45. HARU NEMURI- London Hoxton Bar & Kitchen
Maximal good times courtesy of the J-pop, hip-hop/electro human dynamo, who executed the best crowd-surf I've seen since David Yow at ATP Vs The Fans. Shame that the weeaboo-heavy crowd seemed a bit non-plussed by it all...
44. THE BURNING HELL- London Lexington
Whimsy, wit and bass clarinets abound from the cult Canadian indie-folksters, who did not accidentally advocate pet euthanasia on this particular occasion.
43. VAMPIRE WEEKEND- London Islington Assembly Hall
"Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?" Can't say I care that much either way, but spending a Saturday morning in the exuberant company of Ezra Koenig and co. was a pretty uplifting way to celebrate my 1,500th gig.
42. AURORA- London Courtyard Theatre
Sometimes a sprinkle of eccentric Norwegian elf magic is exactly what you need. A magical show for a worthwhile cause.
41. ANNA MEREDITH- London Kings Place
Two very different performances by the non-malevolent Willy Wonka of British composition; one "classical" (if kazoos and parchment paper are canonically permissible) and one "modern" (featuring, amongst other things, a percussive piece composed for PlayStation dance-mat). A mad, effortlessly engaging genius.
40. SUDAN ARCHIVES- London Turning Tides Festival
The utility and architectural merit of Greenwich's new linear park is...questionable at best, but at least the opening celebrations introduced me to Brittney Parks' looped-violin-layered, Sudanese-influenced R&B. Revelatory.
39. MONO- London Barbican
Has anything ever sounded more epic than "Halcyon" with full orchestral backing? I very much doubt it.
38. OTOBOKE BEAVER- London Scala
There's few annual events I look forward to more than Damnably's Golden Week showcase, and Kyoto's all-female garage-rock dervishes, as ever, blew all contenders away.
37. CRAIG FINN & THE UPTOWN CONTROLLERS- London Oslo
The Uptown Controllers may be a little more sophisticated than The Hold Steady with their clarinets, flutes and so forth, but at heart, they're both perfect vehicles for Craig Finn's inimitable, energetic storytelling.
36. EELS- London Hammersmith Apollo
Goddamn right, it's a beautiful day - thanks to yet another killer set from E, Chet, Big Al and Little Joe. Eels completely switch up their style every tour or so, and their current "double-denim country-rock" incarnation serves E's material and temperament particularly well.
35. ANDREW BIRD- London Rough Trade West
His official Barbican show was fantastic, don't get me wrong, but it's not often you get to see the Whistle-Meister General play a record shop the size of a shoebox.
34. OPERATORS- London Sebright Arms
70 minutes of electro-percussive bangers, a tribute to late cultural critic Mark Fisher, top crisps banter, an unexpected airing of my favourite Handsome Furs song ("Serve The People"), hugs from Dan Boeckner, and the company of friends old and new. Better than a kick in the nuts, I guess.
33. HOLY FUCK- London Moth Club
Time to party like it's 2008 with the Loveliest, Allen-iest electro-motorik-indie-rockers around. Still an unassailable force of nature all these years on.
32. EZRA FURMAN- London Forum
After being slightly underwhelmed by the last tour, I'm happy to report that the new paired-down, punkier version of the Ezra Furman Experience saw everyone's favourite trans, Jewish rock 'n 'roll star back at the top of their game. Still miss the sax a bit, but the buzz that ran through the venue during "Love You So Bad" is the kind of stuff you can't bottle.
31. THE BETHS- London Hoxton Bar & Kitchen
Can't claim that the hotly-tipped Kiwis reinvent the wheel, but what they do, they do exceedingly well. Top-tier power pop to reinvigorate the soul.
30. KISHI BASHI- London Omeara
Seen the dapper-dressing, violin-playing, loop-pedalling, beatboxing musical wunderkind every time he's played the UK, and his unplugged encores in the middle of the audience never fail to leave me awestruck.
29. MUM- London Union Chapel
Glitchy Icelandic gorgeousness at one of London's most beautiful venues. Would have probably would have been even higher if the set hadn't been curtailed due to sound issues.
28. BO NINGEN- Birmingham The Crossing
It's a year beginning with "2", so naturally the psych-rocking Stick Men are going to find a place on this list. I swear I see them more regularly than most members of my family.
27. MINYO CRUSADERS- London Jazz Cafe
A marvellously grin-inducing performance from a 10-strong Tokyo ensemble who fuse traditional Japanese folk songs with Latin/Caribbean musical styles. Just hope no-one's got footage of me doing the Hokkaido version of the Macarena.
26. SOAP & SKIN- London EartH
Knew the artist responsible for the most intensely harrowing performance I've ever seen would bring her A-game to her first London show since 2012, but even I wasn't expecting a set of such ambition, artistry and passion. Beautiful subtlety shifting to industrial noise, gothic grandeur yielding to Omar Souleyman covers...truly, this had it all.
25. STELLA DONNELLY- London Scala
The performance that surpassed my expectations most this year, the Welsh-Australian singer-songwriter was an unalloyed delight- witty, charismatic and a damn fine songwriter to boot.
24. MICHAEL ROTHER- London EartH
The first truly memorable gig of the year, Michael Rother's premium Krautrock started off a little slow, but by the end had devolved into a venue-spanning motorik dance party. Not bad for a man pushing 70!
23. JASON LYTLE- London Bush Hall
A simply exquisite solo piano set from the Grandaddy frontman. Lovely bit near the end where the Bush Hall audience became impromptu backing singers for "A.M 180", but apart from that, there was no faff, gimmickry or ego to distract from 90 minutes of beautiful songwriting.
22. THOR & FRIENDS- London Moth Club
Not that I'd ever doubt the Mighty Thor, but this hypnotic mix of Reichian minimalism and instrumental lushness exceeded even my expectations. If you love watching 3 people simultaneously hitting vibraphones with metronomic precision, this is the show for you.
21. STARS- London Scala
Stars were always more earnest than most of their indie-rock peers, and their willingness to wear their hearts on their sleeve is one of the reasons why this celebration of their 2004 classic "Set Yourself On Fire" was so damn joyous.
20. THE FLAMING LIPS- London Brixton Academy
Wayne Coyne may well be the neediest man on the planet, but that didn't undermine the fact I finally got to hear The Flaming Lips play "The Soft Bulletin" in its entirety. "Waitin' For A Superman" and "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" were particularly welcome reminders that under the confetti, balloons and inflatable genocidal pink robots, there's still a pretty decent band down there.
19. !!!- London EartH
Still one of the most reliably fun live bands on the planet, even if they don't play "Must Be The Moon" these days. Got covered with more Nic Offer sweat than I anticipated though...
18. AVA LUNA- London Thousand Islands
Not sure what I was expecting from Ava Luna's live show, but it certainly wasn't a heady brew of Talking Heads, Devo and Dirty Projectors, fronted by the mesmerising Jennifer Vanilla. Art rock par excellence!
17. SINKANE- London Jazz Cafe
When it comes to the most underrated live acts around, surely Ahmed Gallab and his Sudanese funk collective must be up there? I mean, how many other bands could get a whole room of Londoners dancing on a wet Tuesday evening? Superb.
16. ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE- London 100 Club
If I could live in a piece of music, "Pink Lady Lemonade" would surely be a contender.
15. JANELLE MONAE- London Wembley Arena
Whilst this may not have been quite so intimate (or hellishly humid) as her 2010 set at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, it did feature a world-class stage show, Lupita Nyong'o, and the Arch-Android herself descending into the audience to bless us mere mortals, so I can't complain really.
14. THE SUN RA ARKESTRA- London Union Chapel
Always a pleasure to be transported to a higher realm by the greatest cosmic jazz wizards of them all. Marshall Allen remains a sprightly, irrepressible presence, even after 95(!) years upon this Terrestrial plane.
13. SARATHY KORWAR- London Moth Club
An exuberant, politically-charged melting pot of jazz, spoken word, noise and bhangra that brought together a diverse audience with the sheer joy of music. Which, in these divisive times, ain't something to be sniffed at.
12. WHY?- London Islington Assembly Hall
21 songs in 75 minutes, several Q&A interludes, Josiah Wolf's phenomenal drumming and the best rendition of The Vowels Pt 2 I've ever heard. WHY? may lack the same critical cachet they had in 2008, but they remain one of the most skillful live outfits around.
11. SPENCER KRUG- London Bush Hall
Not only did I chat to my Genuine Musical Hero and Deeply Intense Ivory Tinkler Spencer Krug in actual real life, but I got to hear him play a Sunset Rubdown song for the first time in ten years. So that was nice.
10. FUJIYA & MIYAGI- London Moth Club
A monumental set from the eternally under-the-radar Fujiya & Miyagi, whose sardonic motorik funk resulted in hundreds of slightly-sozzled Centrist Dads trying to dance (and in one case, crowdsurf). They even nobly tried to heal our divided nation with a song called "Gammon". Absolute heroes, one and all.
9. CRACK CLOUD- London Dalston Boys Club
Crack Cloud make me feel how Idles are supposed to make me feel. Hyper-kinetic straight-edge post-punk that's like a shot of pure adrenaline.
8. IGGY POP- London Barbican
Always forget quite how magnificent James Osterberg Jr is as a live performer, even if age has robbed him of some of his mobility. Although one might have predicted a rather sober set based on his latest album, the sheer viscerality of his stage presence swiftly put paid to such foolish assumptions. A true one-of-a-kind.
7. KOENJI HYAKKEI- London Lexington
After experiencing the Magma-inspired Japanese sextet, every Sunday evening that doesn't end with a 70 minute burst of delirous noise-jazz-prog-rock-opera seems pretty drab in comparison.
6. BLACK MIDI, NEW ROAD- London Brixton Windmill
What better way to wrap up a glorious decade of gigs than with a Black Midi/Black Country New Road supergroup covering "All I Want For Christmas Is You" followed by a festive rendition of "Sunglasses"? Bloody brilliant.
5. THE ANTLERS- London Union Chapel
I can take or leave most of the stuff The Antlers have released since, but "Hospice" remains uniquely devastating; an album of exquisite, spine-tingling wonder. To hear them play it in full, stripped-down, in a venue like Union Chapel was, therefore, inevitably one of the most emotional live musical experiences a fey Noughties indie kid could have.
4. KOKOKO!- London XOYO
Sixty minutes of undiluted joy from a Congolese quintet so electrifying they could solve the global energy crisis. Yellow jumpsuits, home-made instruments, and a killer fusion of afropop and hip-hop is a sure-fire recipe for dancefloor success.
3. KAMASI WASHINGTON- London Brixton Academy
There's not much more I can say about King Kamasi that I haven't said before, but though this didn't quite hit the heights of 2018's Roundhouse show, "Fists of Fury" (ft. Thundercat on bass) was one of the most monumental-sounding things these ears have ever been graced with.
2. THE HOLD STEADY- London Oslo
Ended up covered with beer, sweat and confetti, my voice completely shot, but my tenth Hold Steady show was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best rock gigs I've ever been to. It's difficult to pick a highlight, but the closing run of 'Chips Ahoy', 'Stay Positive' and 'Killer Parties' (not to mention 'Stuck Between Stations' and 'Massive Nights' back-to-back) left me higher than one of the protagonists in a Craig Finn song.
1. BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND- Bristol St George's Church
I've been to around 1,600 gigs, and the number that have made me actually cry can be counted on the fingers of one hand. This was one of them. An utterly, utterly extraordinary performance from a true gem of a human being, and by some distance, the most wonderful performance I've seen this, and perhaps any other, year.
for previous editions of this self-indulgent nonsense, now in its
14th year, here are the lists for 2006,
and 2018- sadly the photo links are STILL busted but I plan to sort that out before the heat-death of the Universe)