Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE BEST LIVE ACTS OF TWO THOUSAND AND SEVENTEEN



A cretinous man-baby runs rampant in the White House, fascism is on the rise and GRRM still hasn't released "The Winds of Winter". But hey, at least 2017 was alright on the live music front. Whilst it's tempting to include every decent show I went to on this list, the internet sadly only contains so much storage, so apologies to the following noteworthy acts who missed the cut:

Young Fathers, Colin Stetson, Tank and the Bangas, Anna von Hausswolff, The Boy Least Likely To, Jeffrey Lewis, Green Day, Slotface, Sparks, The Magnetic Fields, Goldfrapp, King Khan and The Shrines, Downtown Boys, Erin McKeown, Alex Lahey, The Can Project, Toumani Diabate, Kristin Anna Valysdottir, Ex-Easter Island Head, Wovoka Gentle, Alvvays, Mogwai, Pharmakon, Haiku Salut, Tomaga, Fujiya and Miyagi, Afrirampo, OOIOO, TV Girl, Go Go Penguin, This Is Not This Heat, Evil Blizzard, Efterklang, Songhoy Blues, Martha Wainwright and Mary Ocher 

Anyhow, without further ado, here's my Top 50 Live Acts of 2017:

50. DAKHABRAKHA- London Oval Space 
A colourful, coruscating set from the Ukrainian four-piece, whose aptly-named "ethno-chaos" fuses traditional Slavic folk with pop, hip-hop and everything in-between.

49. SILVER APPLES- London Oslo 
In 1967, Simeon Coxe III was one of the very first to incorporate electronics into rock music, and at the age of 80, his cosmic beats still sound like the future.

48. PATRICK WOLF- London Bush Hall 
Having purged 2011's glam-pop excess from his system, it's gratifying Patrick Wolf has returned to the baroque balladry he excels at (now with bonus Gwendoline Christie!)

47. SHUGO TOKUMARU- London Oslo 
Ukuleles, feline hand-puppets and a Ghiblisworth of whimsy - a Shugo Tokumaru show should be a twee overdose-in-waiting, but his inventively charming pop-craft has substance to match the style.

46. MELT-BANANA- London Garage 
The Japanese noiseniks may have lost half their members, but they still sound like 500 Pokemon angrily having a seizure.




45. VAUDOU GAME- End of the Road Festival 
It's not every lunchtime you see a conga line winding through a wet Wiltshire field, but then again, it's not every lunchtime you experience Vaudou Game's irrepressible Togolese funk.

44. TANYA TAGAQ- London Cafe Oto 
An evening of guttural Inuk vocalisations and jazz-esque improvisation is literally the most "Cafe Oto" thing ever, but that's certainly no criticism of Tanya Tagaq's mesmerising and politically-charged performance.

43. THE AVALANCHES- London Kentish Town Forum 
Brief, bassy, and at times basically karaoke- but watching 2,000 sweat-drenched people, arms aloft, bellowing "Since I Left You" with various levels of skill was worth the sixteen-year wait. Crazier than a coconut indeed.

42. DESTROYER- London Scala
In recent years "Mad" Dan Bejar has channelled Mick Hucknall a bit too much for my liking, but when he's on form the tousle-haired grump is proof "smooth" doesn't need to mean "stale".

41. YUZO KUSHIRO- London Fabric 
When a much younger, but equally awful, version of me used to listen to the Streets of Rage II sound test on repeat, I never imagined that twenty years later I'd watch 500 grown adults throw shapes to "Go Straight" in one of Britain's premier nightclubs. That said, I never imagined Brexit, so I'm clearly crap at predictions.



40. KRAFTWERK- London Royal Albert Hall 
IMPORT Kraftwerk
DEF Show:
      Visuals = 3D
      Eye-Popping Performers = 4
      Aesthetic(70'sFuturism)
      WHILE x > 3:
            SING "FAHREN"
            x += 1
      SING "AUF DER AUTOBAHN"
PRINT "WUNDERBAR!"

39. BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE- London Brixton Academy 
It's a ballsy move to ditch your "introverted piano man" persona to waltz with mannequins and croon surrealist love songs about love-struck files, but if there's one guy who could carry it off, it's Benjamin Clementine. Mostly fantastic, often bonkers, seldom dull.

38. THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS- London Electric Ballroom 
The New Pornos: the platonic ideal for no-nonsense, "play the hits" indie bands. No fuss, no gimmickry, just great songs played damn well.

37. ANNA MEREDITH- London Oval Space 
Silver capes. Konami dancemats. "Enter Sandman" incorporating the theme tune from The Bill. Tubas. Chants of "BUY OUR STUFF" in time with that song from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Oh, and some bloody good maximalist indie-pop. Anna Meredith: the best thing to come from Scotland since shortbread.

36. TEI SHI- London Moth Club 
Not even hordes of chattering industry fucks could ruin a commanding performance from the Argentinian-Canadian behind "Bassically", A.K.A this decade's greatest banger.



35. SINKANE- London Heaven 
Ahmed Galleb's Fela Kuti-meets-Curtis Mayfield afro funk was so good at End of the Road, I immediately bought tickets to see him again four days later. No regrets.

34. ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE- London Dome 
My annual dose of uncompromising face-meltage courtesy of Japan's premier psychedelic space wizards. I had no idea "disco post-rock" was even a thing until I heard their most recent take on "Pink Lady Lemonade"...

33. TALL TALL TREES- London Oslo 
Mike Savino's one-man mission to rehabilitate the banjo continues apace with another tour-de-force of loop pedal wizardry and rainbow LEDs.

32. CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH!- London Village Underground 
The transformation of Alec Ounsworth from inexorable charisma void to frontman par excellence remains one of the more pleasing developments of my gigging career. Songs ain't so bad either.

31. HOLY FUCK- London Jazz Cafe 
I still don't know who Allen is, or why he's so lovely, but the Canadian electro-rock wizards' pulsating, pulverising aural onslaught presumably wiped him out some time ago.



30. JOHN GRANT- London Union Chapel 
An emotional, stripped-down fundraiser for a friend fallen on hard times, this was John Grant at his rawest- no orchestras, no Kylie Minogue, just no-bullshit songwriting and the odd spine-tingling guest spot from Mara Carlyle. Beautiful.

29. THE DIVINE COMEDY- London Palladium 
A pure nostalgia rush from the first band I ever went to see solo. My taste for grandoise, knowing orchestral pop may have diminished in the intervening 13(!) years, but there's no denying Neil Hannon is an absolute master at what he does.

28. KISHI BASHI- London Oslo 
Kaoru Ishibashi may lack the technical polish of some loop-pedalling string manipulators, but his exhilarating mid-audience encore proved he's the most accomplished showman of them all.

27. WHY?- London Village Underground 
The alt-hip-hop hipsters remain infuriatingly un-Googleable, but theirs is a gig I would get the Tube to from anywhere.

26. JENS LEKMAN- London Koko
The cardigan-wearing community's favourite Swedish balladeer can straddle a thin line between charm and smugness, but this celebratory performance showcased him at his very best. The Opposite of the Opposite of Halleujah.



25. TRICOT- London Bush Hall
Sugar-rush math-rock from the Kyoto quartet, whose chaotic, frenzied energy could probably power a small country.

24. TOUT-PUISSANT ORCHESTRE POLY-RYTHMO DE COTONOU- London 229
In a world where we tolerate artists with names like "Cabbage" and "Rat Boy", checking out Le Tout Puissant ("All Powerful") Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou becomes a sacred duty. The fact that the veteran Beninese afro-funk collective live up to their name is a mere bonus.

23. QUJAKU- Raw Power Festival 
I once unfairly dismissed this long-haired Japanese four-piece as "Faux-Ningen", but their neutron-star heavy brand of dark shoegaze pulverised even by Raw Power standards.

22. MERCURY REV- London Barbican 
Bewildering this was the first time someone twigged Mercury Rev's symphonic dream-pop might sound good with an orchestra, but needless to say, it was a match made in musical heaven. They even carried off "When You Wish Upon A Star" without hitting Richard Madeley levels of cringe - a miracle in itself.

21. BO NINGEN- End of the Road Festival 
The Stick Men have pretty much guaranteed themselves an annual place on this list, but let's face it, a year of gigs just ain't complete without Yuki Tsujii whirling a guitar perilously close to my face.



20. EZRA FURMAN- London Barbican
Ezra Furman made his name with his scrappy, euphoric rock 'n roll sermons, but this more sophisticated affair featuring Leonard Cohen covers, string quartets and a slightly odd "Jazz Club" interlude highlighted there's far, far more to him than retro-revivalism. "The kid taking over the opera house" sure did good.

19. SIGUR ROS- London Hammersmith Apollo
Untitled 7 AND Untitled 8 in the space of 90 minutes. 'Nuff said.

18. GRANDADDY- Brighton Concorde 2
Jason Lytle continues to vie with Stephin Merritt for the accolade of indie-rock's grumpiest frontman, but Grandaddy's superlative lo-fi indie-rock will never fail to hit me in the feels.

17. ZA!- Raw Power Festival
Genre-bending bedlam from the anarchic Catalan duo, who channel Calexico, Deerhoof, Captain Beefheart, the Buena Vista Social Club and Acid Mothers Temple into something refreshingly and exuberantly unique.

16. AMIDOU AND MARIAM- End Of The Road Festival
Mali has produced a disproportionate number of world-class artists over the years, but if there's one duo you can always rely on to bring on the party, it's the brilliant Bards of Bamako. The best set of End of the Road by far, despite the torrential rain.



15. THE FLAMING LIPS- London Brixton Academy
The bullshit-to-music ratio remains astoundingly high, and Wayne Coyne's extended mid-life crisis continues to render him insufferable...yet it's impossible not to love the unrelenting fever dream of The Flaming Lips' live experience. Neon unicorns, confetti cannons, giant balloons, a metric fuckton of miscellaneous psychedelia- and even, on occasion, some genuinely beautiful psych-pop.

14. (THE BAND FORMERLY KNOWN AS) SHITWIFE- Raw Power Festival
Sweat, synths and shirtlessness from a deliriously fun band with a notoriously crap name. Think Lightning Bolt, but even more so.

13. FEIST- London Shepherd's Bush Empire
There's always been far more to Leslie Feist than "1234", and this abrasive, uncompromising yet elatory performance demonstrated that in spades. Bubblegum choruses are fine and all, but righteous guitar shreddage and Jarvis Cocker are even better.

12. CHILLY GONZALES- London Barbican
Another sublime melding of recital, musical theory lecture and comic revue from the Canadian maverick, whose show with the LSO incorporated "Champagne Supernova", a Britney Spears/Psycho mashup, Black Sabbath riffs, Dr Dre and the entire audience - and orchestra - performing jumping jacks. You don't get that at the Proms...

11. NERVOUS CONDITIONS- London Moth Club 
If you locked a bunch of teens in a room with only the more avant-garde records of the late 70's as entertainment, you might eventually get a band that sound like Nervous Conditions (you'd probably get put on some sort of list too, but that's beside the point). Abrasive, intense and shot through with sinister swagger, I can't help but feel they're karmic compensation for Ed Sheeran and his thrice-cursed ilk.



10. BNQT- London Borderline
Midlake plus Fran Healy (Travis), Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) and Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) performing their collaborative indie-folk album, as well as "Roscoe", "Sing", "Why Does It Always Rain On Me", "Hewlett's Daughter", "AM180", "Take Me Out" and Tom Petty and Beatles covers? In a 300 capacity venue? Fair play then.



9. OTOBOKE BEAVER- London 100 Club
A blistering return to London from the effervescent garage-rock dervishes, whose white-knuckle antics culminated in guitarist Yoshi using yours truly as a platform for the first of four consecutive crowd surfs.



8. THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO- London Cafe Oto 
Roscoe's Magic Saxo-Mo-Phone Makes Local Oaf Appreciate Free Jazz.



7. !!!- London Electric Ballroom
"Chk Chk Chk" are basically Chic plus James Murphy plus that Windows 95 conference with Bill Gates dancing, and frankly I'm not sure that formula could really be bettered.



6. BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE- London Brixton Academy 
"Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl" made me cry, "Ibi Dreams of Pavement" made me scream, and Kevin Drew occasionally made me wince. A cathartic celebration of the power of live music in a week we all really needed it.



5. THE DEARS- London Village Underground 
A show so fantastic that even Murray Lightburn looked like he was having fun. Lushly baroque indie-rock, delivered with the intensity of a true believer.



4. WOLF PARADE- Bristol Thekla
Dan Boeckner's hoarse-throated rock 'n roll showmanship, plus Spencer Krug's yelping surrealist mania, plus loads of good friends, plus A MOTHERF'IN BOAT suggests that God sometimes DOES have the best goddamn plans.



3. NICK CAVE- London O2 Arena
The O2 remains a terrible venue full of terrible people, but for two hours, Nick Cave lent that godforsaken corporate aircraft hanger the intimacy of a church. From the drunk-preacher ferocity of "Higgs Boson Blues", through the soul-crushing "Distant Sky" to the ever-apocalyptic "Mercy Seat", it was a masterclass in arena performance from start to finish, but it's impossible not to highlight "Stagger Lee", with its mass stage invasion, as one of the best things ever to happen in S.E London.



2. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM- London Alexandra Palace
You'll still find a lot of indier-than-thou types crying into their craft IPAs that James Murphy dared to reform the act he disbanded in a silly hissy fit, but let's be honest- they're much better live now then they were back then. The double-whammy of "Dance Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends" remains an unimprovable encore, but it's the debut-centric mid-section run of "Losing My Edge"/"Tribulations"/"Yeah" that blew this show into the stratosphere.



1. ARCADE FIRE- London York Hall 
"Everything Now" might have seen Arcade Fire inexplicably channeling mid-80's David Bowie, delivering more tired cliches than a Tory press conference, but watching them in a 900-capacity boxing hall in Bethnal Green proved that when it comes to live performance, the band that made me fall in love with gigs in the first place remain as exuberant, passionate and euphoric as any act on the planet.

(And for previous editions of this self-indulgent nonsense, now in its 12th year, here are the lists for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

PATRICK WOLF (London Bush Hall, 18/12/17)



Patrick Wolf's back, and he's quit the "glam M. Bison" look of his tween-pop phase to re-embrace the boho Slytherin vibe that propelled him to cult fame in the first place. Though it's one of his first performance in years and his nerves clearly show, his endearing stage presence, his mastery of every instrument under the sun and some wonderfully chosen guest musicians (Serafina Steer on harp, Gwendoline Christie (!) on vocals) ensures that my 2017 gig schedule ends on a gratifyingly memorable note.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

HAIKU SALUT (London St John-on-Bethnal Green Church, 15/12/17)



Last time I saw the ever-delightful Haiku Salut, the Tories won an unexpected majority, leading directly to Brexit and the demise of civilisation as we knew it. Tonight, thankfully, was a little less dramatic. Their lamp show is pretty much a Christmas institution by now, and their twinkly, lush instrumentals prove the perfect accompaniment to the festive season.
TANK AND THE BANGAS (London Islington Assembly Hall, 12/12/17)



An effervescent set from the New Orleans funk/soul/R&B outfit that was only let down by over-intense bass that muddied the vibrancy of their sound. Give them a couple of good festival slots, and they'll be headlining Brixton this time next year.
FUJIYA & MIYAGI (London Hoxton Bar & Kitchen, 09/12/17)



The underrated, understated Fujiya & Miyagi, with their Japanese name, French sound and British demeanour always provide good value with their addictive, motorik grooves, even though it was sometimes difficult to hear them over the fascinating conversations of Hoxton's most riveting raconteurs.
DESTROYER (London Scala, 07/12/17)



Review: HERE
BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE (London Brixton Academy, 05/12/17)



Review: HERE
YUZO KUSHIRO (London Fabric, 30/11/17)



As a kid I'd listen to the Streets of Rage 2 soundtrack on repeat, so it was pretty - well, "cool" might not be the right word - to see it performed live by Yuzo Koshiro tonight. Nerdy as hell but legitimately joyous.
DAKHABRAKHA (London Oval Space, 29/11/17)



Few bands would compel me to trek to Oval Space on a schoolnight, but my joint-favourite crazy Ukrainians are definitely not a band to miss. Traditional Slavic folk meets rock, pop and hip-hop- what's not to love?
WOLF PARADE (London Kentish Town Forum, 22/11/17)



Not quite as fun as Boat Parade on account of it taking place in London rather than somewhere where people enjoy music, but still pretty darn marvellous.
WEAVES (London Oslo, 21/11/17)



Weaves' off-kilter, grungey art-pop may not have sparkled in the same way as it did at the Scala last year, but they remain one of the most intriguing new Canadian bands of recent years.
WOLF PARADE (Bristol Thekla, 18/11/17)



There are few bands in this world I will ever love more than Wolf Parade, the perfect marriage between Dan Boeckner's hoarse-throated, classic rock 'n roll showmanship and Spencer Krug's yelping surrealist mania, but even by their standards, "Boat Parade" was thoroughly sublime. The new material shines in a live setting, the classics sounded better than ever, and the presence of a dozen good friends ensured this show was one of the most memorable of recent times.
ANNA MEREDITH (London Oval Space, 16/11/17)



Silver capes. Konami dancemats. "Enter Sandman" incorporating the theme tune from The Bill. Tubas. Singing "BUY OUR STUFF" to the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme. Oh, and some bloody good songs too. Anna Meredith: truly one of the best people in British music right now.
RUN THE JEWELS (London Brixton Academy, 12/11/17)



Still never seen a live hip-hop show that's quite lived up to my expectations (except for maybe the Wu Tang Clan,), but RTJ veered pretty close. Their set-up is pretty minimalist and arguably somewhat repetitive, but El-P and Killer Mike's synergy as a double-act carries them through.
U2 (London Trafalgar Square, 11/11/17)



Up-and-coming Irish band, some alright tunes, lead singer's a preachy get. 6/10.
ALEX LAHEY (London Dome, 08/11/17)



A top-notch hour of "Courtney Barnett-meets-Sløtface" indie rock from the Melbourne songwriter, whose take on Australia's national anthem ("Torn") would have brought a tear to the eye of even the most hard-hearted Antipodean.
WOKOVA GENTLE (London Rich Mix, 07/11/17)



Review: HERE

Sunday, November 05, 2017

DISTANT WORLDS (London Royal Albert Hall, 04/11/17)



Another year, another fantastic Distant Worlds concert. No less than *five* pieces from Final Fantasy VII (Opening~Bombing Mission, Cosmo Canyon, Cinco de Chocobo, Aeris' Theme and One Winged Angel), a stunning a capella Hymn of The Fayth, the mighty Liberi Fatali, To Zanarkand, You're Not Alone, A Flash of Steel...and of course, Nobuo Uematsu being The Absolute Boss.
!!! (London Electric Ballroom, 02/11/17)



Twenty-one years to the week since !!!'s first band practice. Ten years to the week since I first saw them at the Koko (supported by Holy Fuck, because 2007 was awesome). Several days since I saw them perform the most unabashedly fun gig of the year. "Chk Chk Chk" are basically Chic plus James Murphy plus that Windows 95 conference with Bill Gates dancing, and I'm really not sure that formula could be bettered.
THE ORIELLES (London Lexington, 01/11/17)



Genial indie-rock from the hotly-tipped Yorkshire trio.
BNQT (London Borderline, 31/10/17)



Midlake plus Fran Healy of Travis, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy and Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand playing most of their collaborative album, as well as "Roscoe", "Sing", "Why Does It Always Rain On Me", "Hewlett's Daughter", "AM180", "Take Me Out", a Tom Petty cover and The Beatles' "Revolution"? In a 300 capacity venue? Yeah, OK then.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

SLOTFACE (London Camden Assembly, 25/10/17)



It took an uncharacteristically long time for Slotface to rouse a sedate London audience from its slumber, but by the end even the most undemonstrative scenesters were pumping their fists to the Norwegian pop-punks' effortlessly catchy hooks. Good show, though the lack of "Shave My Head" was baffling.
THE VRYLL SOCIETY (London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 23/10/17)


Solid set from the hotly-tipped Liverpudlians, whose sound distils the best elements of 90's British guitar music into something promising, if not entirely original.
DARK ROOMS (London Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, 21/10/17)



A well-received London debut from St Vincent collaborator Daniel Hart, who infuses his Son Lux-esque indie balladry with a heavy dose of R&B. Very much enjoyed the unexpected cover of "Lover's Spit"; not so much the drunken Spaniards kicking off in front of me.
MURRAY LIGHTBURN (London St Pancras Old Church, 20/10/17)



Obviously, Murray Lightburn playing Dears songs with a string quartet in a tiny Medieval church was always going to be special, but what will stay most with me is how Mr Grumpychops became such a charming, effusive raconteur with his band on the other side of the Atlantic. A scrappy, yet delightful evening.
PRIESTS (London Tufnell Park Dome, 18/10/17)



No offense to Priests, but they kind of got blown out of the water by queer Latino rabble-rousers Downtown Boys, whose uncompromising, ferocious punk was a glorious riposte to all those dullards who claim our generation doesn't "do" political music.
ST VINCENT (London Brixton Academy, 17/10/17)



Annie Clark has always had a left-field attitude to live performance, but her Masseduction tour might be her most divisive yet. A visual extravaganza which sees her alone on stage with nothing but a backing track to augment her guitar shreddage, it's fascinating conceptually (is the setup meant to reflect her unwelcome foray into the tabloid spotlight?) but a bit of a drag in reality, especially with Brixton's reliably shit sound. Amazing setlist though.
AUX (London Rich Mix, 15/10/17)



Excellent set from a seven-piece Korean outfit who fuse traditional Korean musical styles with Western rock music; think Jambinai, with a greater scene of theatricality. Enjoyed their take on the traditional Joseon ballad "Hey Jude", plus the organisers provided free fried chicken all night, which should become compulsory at all future cultural events.
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE (London Tufnell Park Dome, 14/10/17)



My annual dose of uncompromising face-meltage courtesy of Japan's premier psychedelic space wizards. Didn't even realise "disco post-rock" was a conceivable genre until I heard their newest take on "Pink Lady Lemonade"...
GO GO PENGUIN (London Barbican, 11/10/17)



KOYAANISQATSI! Go Go Penguin's jazz-inflected rescoring of Reggio's masterpiece didn't actually include that particular choral intonation (sadly), but nonetheless they delivered a creditable challenge to Glass' peerless soundtrack, especially during the fast-paced city-based sections, which must remain some of the most stunningly edited visuals ever committed to screen.
ERIN MCKEOWN (London Green Note, 10/10/17)



A charming hour of top-tier folk-rock from the assured and self-depreciating Erin McKeown, who definitely deserves to be better known than she actually is.
THE DEARS (London Oslo, 07/10/17) 



Well, it didn't quite match THAT Village Underground show (few things could, to be honest), but there's few bands out there that can touch Murray and Natalia for baroque indie-rock awesomeness. I still kind of wish they'd bring back "Never Destroy Us" though...
SHILPA RAY (London Social, 04/10/17)



A rare, welcome London appearance from the smoky-voiced New Yorker, who seems made to play in poky little jazz clubs where she scream in the face of unwitting audience members.