2012 – A Year In Live Music

Ginger and Friends – Wild and wonderful.

As winter drags on and the high street becomes as empty as a Celebrity Big Brother contestant’s skull, it’s about time we all got a little reminder of some of the nicer things in life. One such treasure is the power that live music has to spellbind and dazzle, and so, a little later than planned, it’s time to dip back into the past 12 months and look at who took the spotlight in 2012.

Last year actually saw a bit of a slow start to my live music outings. Fortunately I had some unfinished business with a certain Mr Mark Lanegan following the rather premature end to his last gig, so I didn’t hesitate to go and check out his dusky blues once more. A croaky groove-laden set was a direct contrast to his previous show with the angelic Isobel Campbell, but an raw, intense show was perfect to get 2012 up and running.

Livening things up later that same week were Black Stone Cherry and Rival Sons at the main Manchester Academy. Being a relatively new fan of BSC, I was pretty unaware of the level of following they had, but a hot, sold-out gig put paid to that. Some may criticise BSC for mawkishness and clichéd lyrics, but the band certainly know how to throw together a catchy tune and tore up the Academy, rightly receiving a lot of love from the crowd in the process. Even support stars Rival Sons were a nice surprise, bringing a Led Zep aura to proceedings. If you want to know more about their output, you may just want to read my traditional Album of the Year blog, coming soon to an Internet near you…

Anyway, continuing the year in gigs, my next stop was more bluesy rock and roll by another band I’d only recently come across; Graveyard. Sometimes you just can’t beat a bunch of hairy Scandinavians in a sweaty Manchester Roadhouse and throughout a set mainly comprised of tracks from their recent ‘Hisingen Blues’ release, hair and leather went flying in appreciation.

One gig that I was really looking forward to in 2012 was Helmet. MTV darlings of, ooh, 20-odd years ago, Page Hamilton and crew reminded me of some great times in my life watching loops of Beavis & Butt-head and Rock Am Ring (when decent bands used to play it) and rocking out to what was deemed to be hardcore in those days (emo kids take note). Although only Hamilton remained from the band’s classic line-up, the opportunity to witness the legendary album ‘Meantime’ in its entirety (albeit backwards) was too good to turn down, especially in an intimate venue like Sound Control. A typically ‘Manchester’ crowd took a while to get into it, presumably struggling to recall the intricacies of each song through some early-90s brain fug, but as the favourites started to flow, the venue began to shake and reaching a pre-encore crescendo of In The Meantime, everyone was grinning with joy. Special mention at this one should go to Fighting With Wire, a support band who made people take notice and may also feature in another award I’ll be writing about soon…

From the more current metal scene, my next foray out to deaf school was to catch Parkway Drive. I’m not going to pretend I’m fully involved in their scene and seeing the amount of 14 year olds outside the gig, I really didn’t want to start, but I was a big proponent of ‘Deep Blue’ so I thought I’d see what the band were like live. Strangely, it was the older, less familiar songs that I enjoyed more and although I did a bit of a ‘stand at the back like Dad’ at this one, it was fun to see the surfer Aussie guys in Parkway get so vigorously involved in their performance.

Andrew WK
Andrew WK getting wet.

Next up was Andrew WK. I must admit I had wondered what on Earth was ruining the entire music scene when his party ‘classic’ ‘I Get Wet’ landed back in 2001, but I was lured along to the gig solely because my old muckers Turbowolf were supporting. It was great to see the ‘Wolf on a stage the size of the Academy’s and they never fail to turn a few heads even in the most stubborn of crowds.

When Andrew WK arrived on stage I really couldn’t believe the response that greeted him. Originally planned to be playing the 500 capacity Club Academy, ticket demand had ensured a sell-out in the near 2500 person main Academy and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them was there to party until their head fell off. Joyous, utterly ridiculous scenes could be witnessed throughout what was one of the more bizarre gigs I attended in 2012.

By this point, I had seen Twin Atlantic a fair few times. Rising stars on BBC 6 Music, the Scots had travelled the well-worn road of tiny pubs and clubs and this time were hitting one of my favourite venues in Manchester, The Ritz. As with Andrew WK, this was a show that proved just how passionate a North West crowd could be, every word being sung by the audience in a copycat ScotManc brogue.

New Order
New Order – back home.

A slightly more random one popped up next when an old friend asked me if I wanted to go and see one of his favourite bands, New Order. Again, I’d never really been a huge fan, but who DOESN’T know Blue Monday (and World in Motion, but despite my wishes, they were never going to wheel that one out). It was a great show, if missing a certain Peter Hook, with the band seeming tight and well-connected with their home-town crowd of people old enough to know better.

Heading back towards my bread and butter, the next show I saw came courtesy of perennial gloomsters Paradise Lost. The Yorkshire miserablists had recently churned out the crunching ‘Tragic Idol’ album which I immediately became a huge fan of, and having not seen the band live for a good 10 or 15 years, I wasted little time in getting involved with new material and old alike. Again, the crowd was disappointingly stand-offish at first, but after a few sardonic quips from Nick Holmes, it started to feel like a big doom party with old friends.

Baby Godzilla
Baby Godzilla – ruddy well dangerous.

Last year saw one man really take the music industry bull by the horns, flip it around and give it a damn good rodgering and that man was Ginger. As you may recall, I mentioned last year that the Wildhearts frontman’s fan-funded Pledge Music triple album was due in 2012, (and more of that in a future blog), but that didn’t stop him from touring his backside off in the past two years as well. The first occasion I saw him in 2012 (with the maniacally brilliant Baby Godzilla in support) was another great party atmosphere as his reliable supporting troupe of hugely talented musicians, and, more importantly, friends, were as witty and musically excitable as ever. A great show, and it is testament to Ginger himself that people were disappointed with the lack of some songs which weren’t even out on CD at that point.

Another more left-field musical venture came in the summer when a certain Mr Hugh Laurie played a select few shows and I was lucky enough to get very decent tickets. Playing songs from his blues album ‘Let Them Talk’, Laurie was mesmerising to watch, not just with his obvious self-taught musical skill but also because his between-song japes reminded you of that loveable fool from the Blackadder and Fry & Laurie days. Great fun, hampered only by a weird crackling noise that reared its head a few too many times.

Ministry – Let Uncle Al tell you a little story.

The next show to report on comes with a tinge of sadness as it was the last time I’ll ever see metal guitarist virtuoso Mike Scaccia live after he sadly passed away in December, but as a tribute, his performance with Ministry was nigh-on perfect. My ears were well and truly destroyed by a the industrial legend’s finest material collated from the past 20 years, and although frontman Al Jourgensen seems to have an air of Ozzy about him these days following years of drink and drug abuse (plus the small matter of being clinically dead on more than one occasion), Uncle Al still turned out a malevolently delightful performance.

Off to Bristol next, as I made a special trip to the fatherland to go power metal crazy to DragonForce. I’d been a bit disappointed with the departure of old vocalist ZP, and the new album hadn’t grabbed me as immediately as I’d hoped but the show at the Academy was still such good fun, it really didn’t matter. New singer Marc Hudson threw himself in at the deep end and made a good fist of things, and as the beer flowed (helped by a comedy support slot from pirate metallers Alestorm) the guitar wizardry became ever more impressive. DragonForce can also be commended for well and truly drinking everyone under the table in the boozer post-gig.

I had bought tickets to see Trivium following a storming showing at the Metal Hammer tour in 2011, so due to a date clash, I decided to travel further afield to catch Turbowolf on their first headline tour. It also gave me an opportunity to visit one of the homes of metal, Nottingham Rock City and so I hopped aboard the rock and roll express straight from work one night, full of excitement and train station lager. Quickly checking in to the hotel round the corner from the venue, I got to Rock City in time to see support act Black Moth, and I was so, so glad I did. These guys are going to be BIG. Fusing female vocals with some downright filthy riffs, the Moth are already quite rightly getting some mainstream airplay and I can’t wait to see them on their own tour. Not only that but they’re bloody nice people too as I found out when chatting to them at the merch stand post-gig.

Turbowolf & Black Moth
Turbowolf & Black Moth – Animal antics.

Soon it was time for the ‘Wolf, and oh how these guys go from strength to strength. Not only does every single track off their debut album sound as incredible live as it does on shiny disc, the performances they throw together every night can’t help but get a happy crowd launching themselves about the place like demented rubber bands. They’ve got all the tools, great musicianship, banter, their own genre, a rack of excellent cover songs, stage prop stolen straight from Spinal Tap, check, check, check, check, check. In no way were Turbowolf over-awed by headlining their own tour either and I had such a good time watching both bands that night I sold my Trivium tickets for the following Monday just so I could go and do it all over again in Manchester.

Later on in the year, with no new album in sight, Twin Atlantic played another show in Manchester, this time selling out the main Academy. This seemed absolutely incredible, if deserved for a band who I first saw in Club Academy maybe 18 months ago, and seeing the impressive sight of the fans knowing all the lyrics at the Ritz was nothing compared to 2,500 screaming along on this night, and God only knows where these guys will end up next.

A night at the Apollo on a cold November evening soon followed as I ventured out in my thermals to see Nightwish. I’d loved the band since Oceanborn back in 1998, and I’d never got round to seeing them with vocalist Tarja, but two albums in, their new singer Anette Olzon was really impressing. I was more than a little concerned, therefore, that a couple of weeks before the tour, she parted ways with the Finnish metallers. Fortunately, in the shape of the statuesque Floor Jansen, the group had a more than able replacement, and the beauty of Slow, Love, Slow wasn’t lost one bit in a venue the size of the Apollo. the whole show was epically staged and also brilliantly supported by Peter Tagtgren’s Pain.

Last year, I’d seen Evan Dando lead The Lemonheads back out on the road to celebrate the anniversary of their seminal ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’ album. Thinking it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’d sold Machine Head tickets for the same night, so you could say I was surprised when I saw that he would be playing Manchester again, this time with former squeeze and frequent Lemonheads collaborator Juliana Hatfield in tow. With no support act, the two simply traded songs, duetted on others and once again gave us all a priceless, stripped down experience.

Turning it up a notch next were Rancid. I’m still pretty sure I saw Rancid either at Bristol Bierkeller or the Fleece following the release of ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’, but as this would’ve made it 17 years bereft, I thought it was time to go and see them again on their this-is-making-me-feel-old-now 20th anniversary tour. Supported by the legendary Anti-Nowhere League, the show was a worthy celebration of all that the US punks have achieved in the past two decades.

Fear Factory
Fear Factory – Rise of the old machines.

Last up, before we get to the real biggies of the year, was a joint effort by Devin Townsend and Fear Factory. I’d seen the latter, again, many many moons ago, but having never had the pleasure of mercurial metal mastermind Townsend in the flesh I couldn’t resist this one. The Factory were a tour de force of classic industrial metal, playing a long dual-headline set of many Demanufacture classics and a smattering of newer numbers. Townsend himself was an effortlessly charismatic frontman, bringing such good humour to some seriously heavy, crunching tracks culled from his diverse discography. The guy is a seemingly unstoppable musical maverick and the fact that he gets even better with age bodes well for the future of Martian puppet metal for years to come.

So that’s 2012 in live music. Well, not quite, as the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed I’ve omitted some major shows from the past year. That can only mean one thing; it’s Affs Awards time…

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