THE BEST LIVE ACTS OF TWO THOUSAND AND TWENTY
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)