Regular readers may remember that last year saw the inaugural Affs Awards for services to music in the shape of Gig and Album of the Year, won by Terrorvision and Black Spiders respectively.
After the pretty mammoth write up of the year in live music that’s just gone up on this very blog, it’s time for the real big hitters to battle it out for a second set of prestigious gongs as I take a look at who shone from the stage in 2012.
This time round, I’ve picked seven gigs which really stood out to talk about in a bit more detail. This in itself was a tough task as I don’t think I saw a poor performance from anyone at any of the 28 shows I attended in 2012 so I’m certainly not going to try and pick between too many of the runners up as they’re all worthy of a special mention.
Bush have long been a band who I could listen to whatever mood I’m in. Their debut album, Sixteen Stone is still one of my favourite ever CDs, and although I lost touch with their output at around four albums in, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to go and see them for the first time in nearly two decades. I wrote up my experiences of that night immediately after and reading it back now, I think that the only bad thing about the show was the lack of initial excitement from a disappointing crowd. Gavin Rossdale and co should be congratulated for overcoming this and laying down a marker for younger bands as to how to stay relevant and energised over the years.
Another show I wrote up earlier in the year was Chris Cornell’s astonishing solo gig at the Lowry Theatre. Not being a fan of festivals or massive arena gigs, I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see Cornell live, and to finally be able to do so, seeing him enjoy an intimate time with the audience made for one of those occasions that was an honour to be a part of. It also once again proved just what a talented songwriter the guy is, combing Soundgarden, Temple Of The Dog, Audioslave and solo work with a selection of covers that beautifully complemented his unmistakeable style. During a mesmerising Hunger Strike I even felt a tear or two in my usually cold, calculating peepers; stunning stuff indeed.
Saying that the Cornell gig was the peak of grunge hero worship for 2012 would do disservice to another legend of that era. Eddie Vedder produced a remarkable, standout show at the Manchester Apollo enjoying banter with the crowd which brought some light into what is a pretty melancholic audio output. The only thing this show may have benefitted from was a change of venue as the setup of the place did little to discourage what can only be classed as ‘knobheads’ from chattering and disrupting the flow of the acoustic set. Tickets weren’t cheap so it was a surprise to see so many people not paying full attention. Nevertheless, Vedder and a courageous Glen Hansard supporting (who at one point unplugged his guitar to FORCE everyone to shut up and pay attention) were on top form.
Last year’s Gig of the Year award winners, Terrorvision toured again in 2012, and this was a show I was itching to get involved in. Last time round I hadn’t heard their brilliant new album Super Delux, but now fully prepped with all the lyrics ensconced in my music mind, I was all set to holler along for 90 minutes of pure pop rock fun. As with last year, T’vision put on the bounciest of shows, plastering grins on the faces of the most long in the tooth fans in attendance, with a 24-song annihilation of rainy Manchester misery.
Time for the big three, and it’s here where I start to feel really spoilt for choice. The last four years of me returning to regular gig-going has coincided with some of my all time favourite bands playing live, arguably at the peak of their powers, and it was one such band, Therapy? Who got me back into the world of gigs that short while ago.
Throughout my youth, Therapy? were the one band that myself and most of my friends all adored. We saw them in the most bizarre of settings, supporting Metallica at Donington in 1995 as well as at various shows in Bristol, Newport, Sheffield, and now in Manchester and following the release of the excellent A Brief Crack Of Light, Therapy? finally tore up stages across the country towards the end of 2012.
The beauty of seeing bands that have been knocking around for 20-odd years is that you’re guaranteed a fair few of your favourites from the greatest hits. Admittedly, this must be a nightmare for the bands themselves to try and balance alongside promoting their latest material, but nevertheless, you’re going to please most of the people most of the time, and it was incredible to witness Therapy? kick off their set with their cover of ‘Isolation’ by Manchester’s most miserable monkeys, Joy Division.
As they worked their way through pretty much every classic you’d want to hear as well as stunning renditions of their latest tracks, the show was another great example of bands seeming more relaxed these days with less pressure from record labels and industry idiots forcing them to work against their will. That’s not to say that the set wasn’t challenging and provocative, with a stark ‘The Buzzing’ providing a real stand-and-watch moment, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the band first played ‘Diane’ live. But when Therapy? have raucous tunes like ‘Knives’ and the still box-fresh ‘Screamager’, you know you’re going to have a damn good night.
Another not dissimilar night makes my number two selection; the Jagermeister Tour at Bristol Academy. With tickets only £5, the show sold out with only headliners Skindred and support (yes, them again) Therapy? announced for the bill. Fortunately, I had locked in my tickets despite not even liking the ragga-metal headliners, and so when Black Spiders and Turbowolf were named as the other supports I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat chomping on a particularly tasty piece of cheese.
The ‘Wolf on this night, playing their hometown, really threw down the gauntlet for all that followed with a mesmerising show of eccentricity and musical genius. It’s still astonishing to think where these guys have got to in a relatively short period of time, and it’s a credit to them that their single album (and couple of EPs) are still so listen-able after a few hundred spins.
Black Spiders hadn’t let me down in 2011, and as this tour was a bit of a one off for them in 2012 other than a handful of festival appearances, they really seemed to turn it up to 11, if that’s even possible after some incredible shows the previous year. Slaying the crowd with as much guitar-aloft fun as anyone could really handle, the Spiders got the place jumping at a pretty early hour, proving that the crowd didn’t need copious shots of the sponsor’s finest beverage to get themselves moving.
It’s tricky to choose between Therapy?’s two shows I saw this year but as this one was the first time I’d seen them in about three years, plus the fact the previous two bands were so strong, this one nicks it. Right down the front with many like-minded long-term fans, the new material on display was perfectly played and appreciated. ‘Teethgrinder’ and ‘Die Laughing’ are utterly timeless tracks, whilst ‘Get Your Dead Hand Off My Shoulder’ felt like it was an old buddy of ‘Exiles’ with the two intertwining brilliantly mid-set.
It’s testament to Turbowolf, Black Spiders and Therapy? that this show can make number two in my list when I didn’t even stick around to see the headliners. As mentioned before, I’ve never really been a fan of Skindred so I decided to go on a double date with local rock urchins The Radio Nasties who were also playing that night. Supported by the great Calimocho Club, the second gig of the night was almost as good as the first, making that single time in Bristol one of the best nights of my life.
And so, onto number one. And it’s a late entry, albeit a completely warranted one.
Each year, Ginger, lead singer of The Wildhearts (along with numerous other side projects and experimental fuck arounds), plays a late-December Birthday show. Always in London, every year I can be found umm-ing and ah-ing about going, but the proximity to the festive season and the distance to travel usually prove prohibitive. Until this year. This year, Ginger was reforming The Wildhearts. No longer willing to miss out, I scarpered from work and headed down to the Big Smoke.
Getting to London and hot footing it across to Hampstead to check in to my hotel, the excitement was incredible. I probably hadn’t seen The Wildhearts since my Bristol years, when the band were working through the ‘phuq’ album with a certain amount of pop-punk swagger which saw them make numerous appearances on Top Of The Pops whilst bothering the midriff of the Top 40. Legging it across to the Kentish Town Forum, it hit me just how much of a draw Ginger and the band still were. The queue snaked for an eternity, and the prospect of waiting in it on a chilly London night wasn’t that enticing, but then something magical happened which summed up the whole night: A random guy further forward in the queue piped up with “do you want a beer mate, it’s a long queue.”
Taken aback, (this was in our faceless capital after all), I accepted the Red Stripe of Generosity and thought for a second it must have been some trick. Had he taken a shine to my tail and decided to break open the rohypnol early doors? No, the guy had spare beers and he was willing to dish them out knowing that at this particular gig, they were going to go to a good home.
It’s a massive credit to Ginger that despite us all living in a world of crusading keyboard warriors with a selfish blame culture, the guy can still create an on- and off-line community who exist solely for the pleasure of true, independent music. The Forum was completely sold out. People were actually joking in the queue rather than moaning about the weather, and during the gig, various strangers were going to the bar to get water for all and sundry, not just themselves. I don’t think I have ever experienced such a positive vibe from a scene that can on frequent occasions disappear up its own backside due to willy-waving bravado and drunken idiocy.
And then there was the music. As it was his birthday, Ginger saw fit to pull double duty and support himself. With a set culled from his brilliant solo output as well as the latest Hey, Hello! record, it was the perfect pre-celebration set up and the crowd were already getting well lubricated with the excitement of hearing ‘How I Survived The Punk Wars’ and ‘Swimwear’ live alongside the already-anthemic ‘Forget About It’ and a joyous cover of Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’.
And then onto the main event: The Wildhearts. It seems odd saying that the band were reforming, as CJ, Random Jon Poole and Ritch Battersby have all been playing with Ginger on his various electric and acoustic shows over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, this was still the first time the band had played under the moniker for a good three years and it seemed like they’d never been away as they hit an adoring crowd with ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes’,’TV Tan’, ‘Sick of Drugs’ and ‘Red Light Green Light’ without pausing for breath.
The blistering one-two of ‘Caffeine Bomb’ and ‘Suckerpunch’ still sound incredible live and guarantee a hell of a bouncy pit, whilst newer songs like Mazel Tov Cocktail are treated with just as much respect, proving just how consistent the band’s quality has been over the years.
An encore beginning with Nita Nitro can never be a bad thing, and after a break so that Ginger’s son Jake could present his old man with a cake and we could sing our best wishes to the frontman, it was time for a singalong-a-Vanilla Radio with the aforementioned Wildheart Jr strapping on a six string and playing along.
Continuing with the friends and family theme, a cover of The Cardiac’s ‘Is This The Life’ saw Ginger dabble behind the drums before resuming his rightful place front and centre for the closing salvo of Jason and the Scorchers’ ‘White Lies’, the timeless ‘My Baby Is A Headfuck’ and ideal finisher ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’.
As the confetti cannons exploded around us, we all knew we’d been a part of something pretty special. Ginger claims that 2012 was his year of recording and that 2013 will be his true year of touring but considering how much time I spent in the company of his recorded output as well as bopping around like a smacked up budgie at his shows in 2012, I’m going to be spoilt rotten this year, that’s for sure.
A fitting end to an incredible year of live music, and one that proved how much truly astounding new and live music there is out there if you just get off your backside and look for it.