The Affs Awards 2014 – Gig of the Year

Black Moth @ The Roadhouse

Black Moth – unflappable.

 

Lists. Everyone likes a list. Whether it’s the top ten chores you’re not very likely to complete this year or a batch of unachievable New Year resolutions, you’ve probably scribbled down a few words on the back of a fag packet as Big Ben struck midnight. And as critics around the world compile their lists to summarise the year that’s just passed, it’s time for the definitive catch up on 2014’s finest in live music from none other than yours truly with the Affs Award 2014 for Gig of the Year.

Sepultura @ The Ritz

Sepultura – Chaos 2014

First off, it’s the honourable mentions section, this year going to 2013’s winners, Manic Street Preachers who belted out a storming rendition of classic LP The Holy Bible in December. Stalwarts Sepultura also proved there’s plenty of life left in them yet with a furiously heavy outing back in February, whilst Volbeat sold out Manchester Academy once again and proved they’re one of the best bands on the planet for creating a party at any size gig. Towards the end of 2014 Mastodon, Machine Head and Behemoth all showed what it takes to be a big modern metal band with sets full of dizzying invention and showmanship, all three of whom should count themselves unlucky to just miss out on the very top of my list.

A few individuals and bands also deserve shout-outs simply for working their arses off in 2014. Turbowolf played two outstanding headline shows in Manchester alongside a triumphant set at Camden Rocks that saw the whole Electric Ballroom jumping. I can guarantee right now that 2015 will be their year. Chris Catalyst also toured his gig trousers off with Eureka Machines shows at Camden as well as their own headline run, with the frontman somehow also finding time to help out Ginger Wildheart and Tony Wright on numerous dates throughout the year and belting out a brilliant acoustic set of his own in a cramped and sweaty Brewdog Camden basement.

Tony Wright @ Gulliver's

Tony Wright – rock and sausage roll

Speaking of the erstwhile Terrorvision frontman, Tony Wright provided us with a few shows of absolute comedy and songwriting gold as he embarked on début solo outings in 2014, whilst dynamic duo The Dowling Poole served up glittering acoustic pop rock ahead of full-on electric shows in 2015. Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns followed up last year’s solo shows with an excellent new set, giving us 20 years worth of classics in a stupidly intimate environment, also taking his band out earlier in the year to celebrate two decades since the release of the seminal Troublegum LP.

God Damn also saw their stock rise with a couple of headline jaunts and a destructive support slot with Turbowolf, whilst Beastmilk brought some beautifully melancholic noise to these shores on a couple of occasions. UK music continued to rule the roost with Black Moth covering us in a shroud of wondrous doom off the back of their brilliant second opus and Tropical Contact fortunately deciding not to call it a day, whilst our US cousins threatened to upset the balance by sending Butcher Babies over to blow us away with crunchy riffs and some insanely catchy yet heavy tunes.

It wasn’t a year solely of metal either, with two gigs in particular standing out for their sheer camp spectacle. I usually avoid arena gigs like the plague but there was no denying Lady Gaga put on a mammoth performance and was note perfect alongside the dancing and costume changes, whilst Erasure rolled back the years with a succession of perfect pop classics.

But now, onto the top five…

Rival Sons @ Gorilla

Rival Sons – unrivalled.

4= Black Stone Cherry @ The Ritz and Rival Sons @ Gorilla

I’m putting these two shows together for a couple of reasons. Firstly, both bands have played far bigger shows in Manchester since, and I feel truly privileged to have snagged tickets to such intimate occasions. Secondly, the first time I saw both of these bands was when Rival Sons supported BSC at the Academy, so for me they’ll always be intertwined. BSC’s gig at The Ritz in 2014 felt like a fan club show where we got to sit in the band’s front room as 20-odd tracks were interspersed with banter and Q&As that you wouldn’t normally get from such a huge group, all inside a cosy 1,500-capacity venue. Not only did we get a one-off experience, BSC were also on fire, blitzing out old and new tracks alike with power and emotion that you couldn’t help but be taken in by.

Fellow Southern rockers Rival Sons played across the road on a different night at the even cosier Gorilla. Essentially a back-room-of-a-pub gig, seeing these guys so up close was an absolute honour and proved why they’ve rocketed in popularity so successfully over the past couple of years. As far as 70s-influenced bluesy riffing goes, Rival Sons are going to be tough to beat for the foreseeable future.

Kerbdog @ The Ritz

Cormac Battle – crushing dummies.

3 Kerbdog @ The Ritz

No write-up of 2014 would be complete without mentioning certain comebacks. Baby Chaos nearly made this list just from the pure euphoria of seeing them get back on stage and bang out half an hour of perfect pop rock, but the most welcome return has to have been Kerbdog. Not content with just playing a couple of club gigs to test the waters, they brought a load of old muckers along for the ride which saw Hawk Eyes, Nine Black Alps and Amplifier get us giddy with anticipation. But it was the Kilkenny four-piece who provided the biggest roar, making it hard to believe we’ve only ever had two albums from them, the latter of which emerged 17 years ago. Treated like returning heroes, Kerbdog had not lost a beat in the intervening years, nailing a high-octane masterclass and leaving a gleeful crowd relishing more new material in 2015.

Frank Turner - reach for the stars.

Frank Turner – reach for the stars.

2 Möngöl Hörde @ Academy 3

In between larger shows, Mr Frank Turner likes to get back to basics with the odd small and sweaty gig, and by taking his hardcore outfit Möngöl Hörde out on the road it was easy to fulfil such ambitions.  A dirty, punky and most importantly, fun show, this was a brilliant showcase of not just Turner‘s songwriting prowess but also an opportunity to pay homage to his influences. Covers of Rage Against The Machine‘s ‘Bulls On Parade’, Faith No More‘s ‘Epic’ and Sepultura‘s ‘Refuse/Resist’ all sat comfortably side-by-side with tracks off the Hörde‘s début album, and Turner himself surfed and threw himself all over the place in an energetic display of rock and roll splendour. It’s tough to beat a show that sees everyone in the room let themselves go with sheer enjoyment, but there can be only one winner…

Ginger @ The Roadhouse

Ginger Wildheart – father and son.

1 Ginger Wildheart @ The Roadhouse

I saw Ginger five times in 2014, once with The Wildhearts, once for his Halloween Hootenanny, once for his annual Birthday knees up, and once standing outside the packed Baby Godzilla show at Camden Rocks, but it was his gig at the smallest venue I’d seen him at since an acoustic show at Ashton-under-Lyne’s Witchwood in 2011 that really resonated with me.

After the hangovers had subsided from the aforementioned Halloween shindig, the relentless mainman took his merry band of cohorts as well as The Scaramanga Six and Eureka Machines on a jaunt North, and their first stop was Manchester’s Roadhouse. I was lucky enough to attend a pre-show meet and greet where Ginger seemed on excellent, relaxed form alongside his family and this atmosphere definitely seeped into the gig itself. Ginger smiled away throughout, Random Jon Poole and Kelli Compulsive bounced around like lunatics, and Chris Catalyst enhanced his pitch for Man of the Year with another show of double-duty perfection. The setlist was pitched brilliantly between classics and new songs that were only a few months old and for once the Manchester crowd did themselves proud, belting out each and every line. A family affair in the truest of senses, Ginger’s Roadhouse show was everything you’d want from an intimate gig with music, crowd and artist all simply falling into place, leaving the lucky punters who’d managed to grab a ticket grinning from ear to ear. Live music at its most joyous.

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge, Manchester – 31st May 2013

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge

Andy Cairns – Going nowhere anytime soon.

When I talk to people about Therapy?, the reactions vary wildly. Those of a similar age to me remember their bigger hits and maybe the odd Top Of The Pops performance, whilst others seem genuinely surprised they’ve released any records in the past 10 years. Fortunately, the band have had a loyal, hardcore set of fans throughout their career and it’s these people who make sure they keep plugging away and churning out quality records and astonishing live shows.

Following last year’s tour in support of the magnificent ‘A Brief Crack Of Light’, the Therapy? apparently had a large enough window in their schedule to try something a bit different, sending frontman Andy Cairns out around the country by himself to play Therapy? classics both new and old as well as trialing some new material for the first time in public.

This wasn’t the first time the members of Therapy? have dabbled in acoustic songs; back in 1995, the B-Sides to the ‘Diane’ single featured some great arrangements of both ‘Troublegum’ and ‘Infernal Love’-era tracks. Even so, it’s not often that Andy performs live by himself, so the announcement of a solo acoustic tour during this mid-album period was exciting if a little rare.

Catching the tour on a sunny Friday evening in Manchester probably helps to set an enthusiastic mood, but the like-minded souls in attendance at The Ruby Lounge would still be grinning ear to ear if it was snowing outside and all the beer had been stolen by booze weasels.

On entering the venue a fluffy-sideburned wingman/long time guitar tech for both Therapy? and The Wildhearts, Stevie Firth, is manning the merch stand, flogging signed Cairns CDs recorded specifically as tour mementos. There aren’t many bands out there who would go to such an effort, and it’s these little things that lend the night a great relaxed vibe.

Support on the tour is being handled by local outfits in each town and it’s pleasing to see decent crowds for both Greg Larkin‘s incredible dexterity and Exit Ten‘s enjoyable, catchy set.

Andy Cairns @ The Ruby Lounge

Andy Cairns hears there’s a party at Lake Cove.

After a short break, a happy and chatty Andy Cairns takes to the stage and launches into an incredible ‘Die Laughing’. I’ve heard the song hundreds of times on record and at probably every Therapy? show I’ve attended, but acoustically it takes on a whole new dimension.

Cairns rattles through numerous singles, each being met with utter joy by an appreciative mob. ‘Lonely Crying Only’, ‘Nowhere’, the oft-forgotten ‘Opal Mantra’ ( I may have optimistically requested ‘Auto Surgery’ at this point), ‘Loose’ and of course the band’s biggest hit to date ‘Screamager’ all put smiles on faces and springs in steps and it’s a wonder that a mini mosh doesn’t break out instantaneously.

Even sinister short sharp shocks such as ‘Knives’ work brilliantly either solo or with Stevie as he takes to the stage later on, whilst a frantic ‘Our Love Must Die’, live favourite ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’ and old school classics ‘Meat Abstract’ and ‘Potato Junkie’ get a more enthusiastic response than I’ve seen at some fully plugged-in shows by other bands.

Both Cairns and Firth help set the tone with between-song anecdotes and banter, whether it’s Stevie professing his undying love for Taco Bell or Cairns giving small insights into how certain songs came about, both are brilliantly natural and genuine entertainers, taking the time to respond to the crowd as well as keeping the momentum going.

Perhaps the main beauty of this show is the way the audience participation works. Most in attendance are singing along to each and every classic, but Cairns is loud enough to cover a couple of over-enthusiastic duff notes from the crowd, whilst also encouraging maximum volume for ‘Church of NOISE’ and the chorus of ‘Living In The Shadow Of The Terrible Thing’. The favour is dutifully returned when, during a stunning ‘Diane’ (Therapy?‘s outstanding Hüsker Dü cover) the crowd watch on respectfully to ensure full impact.

You probably wouldn’t be able to get a better crowd in such a notoriously tough-to-please city, and it’s testament to Cairns and his songwriting ability that a good couple of hundred have turned out tonight to witness this one-off event.

The highlight of the night oddly comes during the kind-of-new-song ‘Lost In Care’. A recognisable track (since parts of it were extracted to create ‘The Buzzing’ from Therapy?‘s last record), this stripped down, haunting take on mental illness is hugely powerful and you can’t help but feel privileged to have experienced it at such an intimate venue.

As the show ends, this acoustic jaunt through the Therapy? back catalogue has proven to be a triumphantly special and unique event that immediately makes me want to do it all over again. Here’s hoping…