The Affs Awards 2013 – Gig of the Year

As is now customary, as well as my reviews that I post here and the missives I’ve been filing this year to Daily Dischord, I like to do what every other magazine/blog/back of a fag packet writer likes to do and tie up the previous year in some sort of ‘Top 5’ style bonanza. Fortunately for you, you’ve stumbled across the latest one, as I embark on the 2013 Affs Award for Gig Of The Year.

Andy Cairns

Acoustic therapy.

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I’m going to cheat a bit with number four and combine two gigs into one. They’re my awards, I can do that, and the tenuous link is that they were both acoustic and saw frontmen more renowned for their band’s work than their solo stuff putting on remarkable intimate shows.

First up, Andy Cairns. If you know me or read this blog with any amount of regularity (my full review of the show is here), you’ll know that on balance, Therapy? are my favourite band of all time and I’ve been following their adventures since I was just a youngling. One thing I hadn’t seen though was this amount of T? songs in an acoustic format. Yes, there were a selection of stripped down Therapy? hits on the b-sides of the ‘Diane’ singles and the title track was given a suitably raw treatment when I saw them at Sheffield’s Leadmill in around 1998, but this was the first time that frontman Cairns had gone out on the road by himself. Perched on the stage in the small Ruby Lounge, Cairns combined well-known classics, hilarious banter and alternative versions of more familiar songs and gave us a night we really didn’t want to end.

The crowd was completely on point and although some of the singalongs may have wavered the more beer was drunk, the love of Therapy?‘s entire canon was more than evident.

Tony Wright

Tone alone.

The other acoustic show that deserves a place here came courtesy of Terrorvision frontman Tony Wright and Almighty/Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders leader Ricky Warwick. Putting on a tour in-between other assignments, the opportunity to see the two play in such a way, in a small venue was again a delight. Tony showed some guitar playing skills as he banged out numerous Terrorvision classics, whilst Warwick delivered a blisteringly heartfelt but joyous set of everything he’s ever been involved with. Two great guys having as much fun as the crowd led to one of the definitive live experiences of the year.

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Top three time and this one should be no surprise, it’s the 5th annual Ginger Wildheart Birthday Show. Last year, the equivalent show made it to number one in my list, and although once again proving to be an amazing experience, the gig was pipped to the post this time around.

Hey! Hello!

Well Hello there.

But before we move on, let’s look at just how it all went down at the mainman’s celebratory shindig. First and foremost this was a whole different set up to 2012’s show. The change of venue to London’s Koko made the night more intimate and the elaborate decor was fitting, but whereas last year was focused around the reformation of The Wildhearts, this year was all about Ginger’s many influences, friends and contemporaries. Around 30 guests appeared alongside Ginger, from members of Snow Patrol to The Damned, through to faces new to many, the ever-rotating line up brought some incredible moments. Frank Turner nailing ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ and a cover of ‘Baby Blue’ featuring Yolanda from Phantom Limb which left even co-vocalist Victoria Liedtke in awe, this night was full of variety and pure unadulterated joy. Maybe not as much of a crowd pleaser as 2012 but personally I found the surprises hugely refreshing.

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Number two in my list is an interesting one as I’d seen this person previously with mixed results. On one occasion I’d witnessed a mute but haunting show in a cathedral which was ended prematurely by tramps with a toaster. The second time was one of the most intense dirges I’ve seen live. The third time though was different. The artist in question was Mark Lanegan and this time he meant business.

Mark Lanegan

Red and alert.

For such a seemingly reluctant frontman, Lanegan is hugely prolific whether he’s churning out records with his own band or with long-term collaborator Isobel Campbell. You’ll find a new record of his in the shops every year, but what made 2013 a bit different was that Lanegan had chosen to release a covers album featuring stripped down, bleak versions of 60s and 70s songs that he grew up listening to. Touring the record, Lanegan chose the Royal Northern College of Music for the Manchester date, and the best acoustics in townTM, didn’t let him down. Seemingly at home in the all-seater venue, Lanegan mixed up old hits with the aforementioned new covers and backed by a hugely talented band, he was utterly mesmerising for the whole set, almost bringing you to tears with his covers of ‘Solitaire’ and (in tribute to the recently deceased Lou Reed) ‘Satellite of Love’. Another one of those nights where everything simply fell into place, this was utterly brilliant stuff.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

James Dean Bradfield – Everlasting

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And so to the best gig of 2013, and this was a complete surprise to me; it’s the return of the Manic Street Preachers. When I bought the tickets for this one I was expecting a bit of a nostalgia hit and some time to get the beers in when the band played their newer stuff. But just how wrong was I? Wrong diddly wrong wrong, that’s how wrong. What I got that night was a reminder of why I got into rock and roll in the first place. Not only did the Manics tear a new one into a sold out Ritz, everyone in there sang every word and suddenly I found myself enjoying their previously more alien latter-day material. As incendiary as when I first saw them nearly two decades previously, this was a special, special night that is unlikely to be repeated.

So there we have it, a new name etched onto the trophy and a few surprises courtesy of the year that was 2013. Bring on 2014!

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Alice In Chains + Ghost + Walking Papers @ Manchester Academy – 11th November 2013

Alice In Chains @ Manchester Academy

The devil put brontosaurus-sized riffs here.

It’s Academy WeatherTM in Manchester tonight, with the long walk down Oxford Road punctuated by the usual splashes right up the trouser from the odd loose paving stone. Despite the increasingly wet nether regions, however, the prospect of yet another killer live bill is preventing spirits from being dampened as we head towards a night with Alice In Chains, Ghost and Walking Papers.

The Academy is moderately busy as roadies ready the stage for Walking Papers, the latest band featuring former Guns N’ Roses four-stringer Duff McKagan. Purveyors of a decent brand of blues-tinged rock and roll, the group are obviously experienced and talented and get some heads nodding, but singer Jeff Angell appears disappointed with both the turnout and the reaction. In reality, he should be grateful, and let’s be honest here, that so many have rocked up at 7pm on a cold Monday evening solely to see what Duff McKagan’s been up to lately.

It’s a shame that Angell is initially a touch downbeat, since Walking Papers play some great stuff, with McKagan himself in outstanding form. Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin is full of stick-twirling showmanship and Benjamin Anderson bangs the holy hell out of his keyboard to raucous effect and eventually Angell joins in by hopping into the crowd to give high fives, his charm offensive receiving some worthy adulation. Overall, Walking Papers’ set is full of hip swaying goodness that will hopefully see some Euro festival slots next year.

Ghost @ Manchester Academy

Preaching to the unconverted.

And so to Ghost. This is the venue I first experienced them in a couple of years previously and since then they’ve released an album of the year candidate, but the band are still greeted with more static than a TV aerial pointing directly into a hippo’s undercarriage. I really don’t know what it is about the Swedish ghouls, whether people are just in awe of the spectacle, if a support slot with Alice In Chains is misjudged or if the typically reserved British public simply don’t know what to do with themselves, but if a pounding ‘Per Aspera ad Inferi’ and a groove-riddled ‘Stand By Him’ don’t get feet jiggling I don’t know what will.

I just pray to Lucifer that Papa and the gang finally tour these shores on their own headline outing so the brethren can get well and truly involved. Tonight, it’s only after a spine-tingling ‘Year Zero’ that the audience really acknowledges the grandeur of their music and despite a clap-a-long ‘Ritual’ and faux-encore ‘Monstrance Clock’, Ghost remain on the very cusp of awkward UK audience acceptance.

If there is an unsold ticket for tonight then you’re going to struggle to find it as people almost stack on top of each other to witness the return of Alice In Chains. Latest release The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is arguably a career best album from the grunge godfathers and after two records with vocalist William DuVall, the band are playing with an intensity and drive that belies the fact they’re in their 27th year.

Opening up with ‘Again’, the crowd are instantly in awe and as ‘Check My Brain’ and a euphoric ‘Them Bones’ are banged out, the love in the room is almost tangible. ‘Hollow’ and ‘Voices’ from the band’s latest opus are heavier live than on record and the groovy sludge is powerfully accompanied by DuVall and Jerry Cantrell’s amazing harmonies. ‘Man In The Box’ will be the standard bearer for many AIC fans and tonight it feels as fresh as it did when doing the rounds on MTV in its heyday, whilst ‘We Die Young’, ‘Grind’ and ‘Got Me Wrong’ are all greeted like the bride at a wedding, with doe-eyed fans worshipping at the feet of such classic songs.

Closing the main set with the grace and elegance of ‘Nutshell’ and a balls-out ‘Would?’, no-one in attendance wants this night to ever end. Returning to the stage for an encore of ‘Down In A Hole’, ‘It Ain’t Like That’ and of course ‘Rooster’, Alice In Chains not only sound good tonight, they look amazing, happy and proud to be playing to such adoration, which includes numerous ‘Jerry, Jerry’ chants throughout the night.

It’s almost as if the ghost of Layne Staley is watching over the band, content that not only does DuVall more than do justice to early AIC classics, but he’s also helped the band carry on to even bigger and better things. Sean Kinney’s drum kit may bear the initials ‘LSMS’ in memory of Staley and former bassist Mike Starr but this is no memorial to the once-great, this is a celebration of what came before just as much as it is the here and now.

A superb bill, an emotional night and a set rammed so full of classics you’re going to struggle to listen to any other band’s records for the rest of the year. Simply stunning stuff.