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.

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Manic Street Preachers @ Albert Hall, Manchester – 11th December 2014

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This is really hard for me. Obviously it’s far harder for the three remaining members of the Manic Street Preachers, but since The Holy Bible has sat proudly atop my albums podium for the past two decades, anticipation doesn’t quite cover it. I’m feeling want. I’m feeling desire. I’m feeling despair. I’m feeling every emotion under the sun as the Manics return to Manchester for two intimate gigs at the city’s Albert Hall to play one of the most passionate albums ever committed to disc.

For context, my first ever girlfriend ADORED Nicky Wire. A gangly rock legend, Wire was the poster boy for awkwardness, constantly grinning away in outrageous outfits. Then there was Sean Moore. An unassuming drummer at the best of times, when THB was unleashed he became a gloved destroyer. Then there was James Dean Bradfield. Effortlessly dextrous, the frontman turned hugely challenging subject matter into vocal beauty and it touched a 14 year old me like no other record.

But the author of much of the despair, Richey James hasn’t been there for almost as long as The Holy Bible has. Back in 1995 I had a letter published in Kerrang! which stated my hope that by choosing to see Terrorvision live rather than the Manics my decision wouldn’t come back to bite me on the backside. And how it did. I’d seen the full four-way force of the Manics in 1994. My first ever gig and indeed my first pint, but then Richey was gone. What followed never truly seemed to capture that spirit and I moved on, away from my icons. Until 2013.

Last year, the Manics played a set of intimate shows, the Manchester leg of which I was privileged to attend. An absolute tour de force of their career, the set encompassed everything I loved alongside all that I didn’t, but that night made me realise the beauty in all of their work both new and old.

So here we are in 2014 and the Manics announce The Holy Bible shows. I wasn’t anorexic in 1994. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t even that nihilistic, but the political and emotional chord of the record had struck a nerve and I’d been unwilling to ignore it since. Come hell or high water I would see the whole thing played live.

And now I have. There is no support tonight, merely a few 90s classics over the PA and an excitable throng, so when a militarily-garbed set of Manics emerge it’s with rapture and adoration quite befitting of such crossover legends.

As we hit The Holy Bible, the words to each and every song come flooding back into my mind no matter how political or complex. As chart-bothering records go, I’ve heard happier, so when ‘Yes’ and ‘Ifwhiteamerica’ spit their bile, it’s almost shocking that such singalong euphoria can greet them, but it does, and fortunately the bouncing hardcore remain down the front throughout.

This is probably one of the strangest celebrations of live music I’ve encountered. The subject matter of the holocaust, genocide and eating disorders wash over us, and as one we celebrate not only the record’s importance in musical history but also in its fight to put right the selfish attitudes of the majority. ‘Revol’ is still full of spiky punk attitude, ‘4st 7lbs’ is heartbreakingly beautiful and ‘Faster’ slaps us in the face like it only emerged yesterday.

‘Die In The Summertime’ raises pretty much every hand in the old Wesleyan chapel and after a mesmerising ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, ‘PCP’ sees a mini wall of death amongst us, all of whom are old enough to know better.

After a break, the Manics hit us with a second set quite rightly majoring on new material. Most recent record Futurology is full of innovative Euro rock and although they might not be overly familiar to many, songs like ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ and the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City’ sit comfortably alongside the usual classics. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ has been given a gradual makeover throughout the years and tonight becomes the fuller epic it’s always wanted to be, whilst ‘If You Tolerate This’ is suitably anthemic, and ‘You Love Us’ is as rabble rousingly frenetic as it was in 1992.

But then there’s the moment.

James Dean Bradfield purposefully moves his mic to stage right and into the previously empty Richey area and suddenly we’re cathartically feeling every joyous chord of ‘A Design For Life’.

This feels like closure. This feels like emotional outpouring. This feels like it. Richey has long been an anonymous part of Manics shows and in a way he always will, but for now he is gone. And we move on. But we celebrate every last second of life he shared with us and it feels incredible.

As the show ends we’ve got that usual sense of wanting more but we’re also happy that Richey’s most harrowing work has received the adulation it deserves. This might not be quite up there with last year’s show at The Ritz, but this is beautiful songwriting performed with dignity. And for that we salute you. All four of the Manic Street Preachers.

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.

4=
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.

3
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.

2
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

1
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!

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz – 27th September 2013

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

You still love us – damn right.

I’ve banged on ad nauseam on this blog about how the Manic Street Preachers were the first band I ever saw at a proper gig. This was way back at Bristol Anson Rooms, days before my 15th birthday. I was drinking my first ever pint in the form of finest Foster’s beer and on the left of the stage was an enigmatic songwriter called Richey James.

Fast forward 19 years and as I sit supping my latest beer of choice, I’m giddy with excitement at seeing the Welshmen again. Myself and the Manics have a bit of an odd relationship in that they, along with Terrorvision, Therapy? and The Wildhearts were my favourite bands of the mid 90s but soon after Everything Must Go I almost disowned them. Their previous long-player, The Holy Bible had been my all-time (at age 15, natch) favourite album, and was on constant rotation, sat alone in my gigantic five-CD super changer Sony hi-fi. To me, there wasn’t a need for any other album ever again, as the record not only marked the zenith of the MSP‘s songwriting powers it also paid poignant tribute to Richey James who went missing in February 1995.

And then came the aforementioned Everything Must Go. The Manics had already moved away from the punky Welsh Guns N’ Roses of Generation Terrorists and the catchy-as-hell pop rock of Gold Against The Soul, but I wasn’t prepared in my immaturity for the laid back textures and orchestral arrangements of EMG. I gave them every chance to please me, travelling over to Newport to see them on tour, but I just couldn’t get over how they’d moved on from The Holy Bible and myself and the Manics parted.

In 2007 I began hearing good things about Send Away The Tigers and so I picked up the album. Pleasantly surprised, I stuck with the band again until this very year when it was announced the group would be playing some smaller gigs to promote latest CD Rewind The Film.

And so here we are. On arriving at the 1500-capacity Ritz, I can’t quite believe the buzz in the building. The gig had sold out in mere hours and this feels like a celebration, almost a homecoming due to the excitement that’s palpable in the room. Hitting the stage just after 9pm, I don’t think I’ve heard a roaring welcome like the Manics receive for quite some time. Even the band themselves seem a little taken aback but it doesn’t stop them from launching into an absolutely spot on ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ as pretty much everyone in the crowd sings along to every word with passion, joy and beauty, encouraging the Manics to bask in the adoration.

The first test for me comes in second song ‘Ready For Drowning’. Taken from one of the MSP albums I’d avoided, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, I fully admit I had no idea whether I’d enjoy these songs in a live environment. But it’s at this point I realise this isn’t about me; this is about the power of music and the ability of chords, phrases and expression to form a collective passion, and that’s exactly what the song does. It’s mesmerising to see the juxtaposition of the gangly, grinning. Nicky Wire, the suited James Dean Bradfield and the ever precise Sean Moore back on stage together, and this ensures that even brand new songs such as ‘Show Me The Wonder’ are greeted like old friends. ‘Rewind The Film’ has the power to be a new live classic and Bradfield really excels in conveying the emotion of the song as if he’s singing it individually to each and every one of us.

And then something odd happens. I hadn’t been expecting anything from Gold Against The Soul, as I’d heard the band hadn’t played anything from that record thus far on tour, but after a short intro, the opening notes of ‘Sleepflower’ ring out and the whole place goes batshit crazy. It feels like people are bouncing off the walls, there’s that much energy in the room, and not content with trying to finish us off with one sonic eargasm, the Manics then launch into a mid-set ‘You Love Us’ that has men who should know better jumping around like speed-fuelled llamas.

Manic Street Preachers @ Manchester Ritz

James Dean Bradfield – Everlasting

An acoustic interlude from Bradfield takes little of the energy away from the set, with ‘This Sullen Welsh Heart’ in particular a song you can just stand there in awe of and revel in its emotive core. Teasing the crowd with snippets of songs created by Manchester’s finest (‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Waterfall’, ‘This Charming Man’) the Manics switch between playful and spell-binding effortlessly. After an outstanding acoustic ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Elvis Impersonator: Blackpool Pier’, the Manics launch into an absolutely electric ‘Revol’ charged with the spirit of Richey James to whom Wire dedicates the track. ‘Tsunami’, ’30-Year War’ and ‘Kevin Carter’ keep the crowd jumping and the honorary choir yelling and just when we all think things can’t get better, ‘Motown Junk’ slaps us squarely in the face, making us realise just why the whole evening has been such a success; songs new and old stand successfully shoulder to shoulder with one another. There are no eras anymore, each song is a brilliant piece of craftsmanship in its own right, and you wouldn’t be able to tell on this night that some have been written 21 years apart.

An absolutely majestic ‘Design For Life’ brings things to a pleasurable crescendo that should be deemed nigh-on illegal and you cannot spot a sullen face or heart anywhere in the Ritz. This has been one of those ‘were you there’ experiences that I along with 1500 others will be talking about for years to come. Gig of the year? Let’s just say other bands are going to have to pull out something special over these next three months to top it.