Friday 8 January 2010

In the style of High Fidelity...

I've talked about it often enough (here, here, here and here, for starters). Now it's finally time to write about my fabled (drumroll please) Top Five Gigs List. Except that I want to write about more than just five gigs, so it's going to be the (can I get another drumroll please?) Top Ten Gigs List. And since all the best charts count down, I'd better start at ten. Here goes.

10. The Wedding Present - Koko, Camden - 31 Oct 2007
Finally, after twenty years of waiting, I get to see one of my favourite bands perform their landmark album George Best, in order, in its entirety. Before the gig, the pub across the road is full of men of a certain age who have all waited a long time for this too - the atmosphere is buzzing, friendly, expectant, excited. If that's not enough, I'm there with my best mate, a fellow long-time Weddoes fan. I even get to meet the support act, the wonderful Astrid Williamson, in the lobby and she signs a CD for me. Even the fact that the guy in front of me of me is alarmingly drunk and, embarrassingly for his friends, looks like he might want a fight (with me!) cannot spoil this gig. Gedge is on form, the sound is tight, and we have an excellent, lofted perch from which to watch it all. I've seen the Weddoes many times, but since I'm going to limit myself to one entry per band in this list, this one just gets the nod for its uncompromising George Best-ness, just pipping their 1995 show in the tiny (and now defunct) Penny Theatre, Canterbury.

9. James - UEA, Norwich - 18 Apr 2008
The biggest surprise in the list. I didn't go into this as a huge James fan, only owning three of their albums (and one of those was a "best of"). Add to this the fact that they had reformed after a lengthy hiatus and were promoting new material (not usually good signs) and you can see why I wasn't expecting too much. But they blew the roof off the place with their energy and enthusiasm for the show. I knew far more of the songs than I'd thought I would, Tim Booth was still an exciting frontman and they somehow resisted playing Sit Down - it didn't even make the encore. I still only own three James albums - I just play them a bit more often now.

8. Travis - UEA, Norwich - 09 Jun 2005
For a long time, this gig was rooted firmly in my Top Five. The band had been drafted in as last-minute replacements for Morrissey at the Isle of Wight festival, and so needed a warm-up gig at short notice. This was it. With no album to promote, they gave a crowd-pleasing greatest hits set, the highlights of which were Fran's acoustic, unmiked rendition of Flowers In The Window and a world premiere of a new song, Closer. Oh, and they covered Everyday Is Like Sunday too, in preparation for that Isle of Wight slot. It's a testament to how good this gig was that I thought it would always be in my Top Five... the fact that it's slipped down a bit is testament to how many great gigs I've been to in recent years.

7. Gene - The Forum, London - 14 Jan 2000
How I wish I'd seen Gene live more than twice. How I wish they would jump on the reformation bandwagon and come back to us. How I wish... etc, etc. Yes, I am a big Gene fan. There are few things as good as going to see a band you love, when you know every word to every song, even the album tracks, and most of the rest of the audience does too. The atmosphere lifts you up. For a few hours, you share something with a couple of thousand strangers, and that indefinable something is special. This is what Gene gave me that night, a night on which they were at the top of their game. Reform, gentlemen, reform!

6. Morrissey - Alexandra Palace, London - 19 Dec 1992
The artist I've seen live more than any other. I'd had tickets to see Mozza (for what would have been the first time) at Madstock a few months earlier, but he'd pulled out after being bottled on the first night of the Nutty Boys' reunion. So this was a big night for me and my best mate and fellow Smiths devotee, The Man of Cheese. Walking up the hill from the tube station, surrounded by Moz-alikes, between chancers selling knock-off t-shirts and posters, everything about going to a gig felt new and exciting. Nearly all of my previous gigs had been in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of uni - this was different. Kirsty MacColl was the (brilliant) support act and, being a week before Christmas, she was joined on stage for her finale by a monumentally drunken Shane MacGowan for a rendition of Fairytale Of New York. If the night had ended there I would have been happy, but then Moz came on, and was just... MORRISSEY. Really, truly. He was brilliant, his band at that time were so much better than the current incarnation, and my fandom was set for life.

5. Ray Davies - The Roundhouse, Camden - 28 Oct 2007
It's hard to overstate just how much bands like The Kinks meant to me during my teenage years, so when I saw that Ray Davies was giving a rare live UK performance as part of the BBC's Electric Proms, well, I just had to go. The pre-gig atmosphere was almost perfect, undampened by the rain. I sat in a quiet corner of a proper pub with a beautiful woman, drying out, chilling out... and then we were off into the Roundhouse to see Ray turn back the clock. All the Kinks hits that you'd want to hear were rolled out, as were plenty of less familiar tracks to please the more serious fans. And he performed Waterloo Sunset with a choir providing an angelic backing. I could have floated out the door afterwards...

4. U2 - The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff - 22 Aug 2009
Beforehand, I had doubts - I hadn't been bowled over by their most recent album, and a gig in such an enormous venue isn't always the most engaging. I needn't have worried. Not only did U2 bowl over 70,000 people, they also gave me three genuine hairs-up-on-the-back-of-my-neck moments in the course of this show. Forget the astounding stage set, the sheer scale of the peformance and the weirdness of being in such a big crowd (and sitting down for a gig)... for the goosebumps, and the goosebumps alone, this gig is deserving of its Top Five slot.

3. Billy Bragg - UEA, Norwich - 18 May 1990
The good thing about being young and impressionable is, well... things make a big impression, obviously. I'd liked Bragg's work since my big brother had excitedly brought home a vinyl copy of Life's A Riot With Spy Vs Spy some years earlier, but at this gig Bragg became Uncle Bill, became mine... and created such a bow-wave of fandom that I've even been able to surf through some of his more recent albums, despite them not really being so satisfying. Support was great too, from Caroline Trettine, with whom I sort of fell in love for the duration of her twenty minute set. Uncle Bill played half of the set alone, then was joined by a backing band. His finale, Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards saw him, his band, Caroline and all the other support band (The Cole Porters) on stage at once for a rabble-rousing singalong. I saw him again a couple of years later and, whilst he was good, there was no recreating this. A special night.

2. Radiohead - Lancashire County Cricket ground, Manchester - 29 Jun 2008
What do you do when you spot two tickets to see one of your all-time favourite bands for sale on your employer's intranet bulletin board? Well, you snap them up, of course! Just because you're skint and the gig is 250 miles away doesn't matter. Yes, we got slightly ripped off for car-parking. Yes, we were stood a long way back in the crowd. And yes, the weather wasn't the best for an outdoor gig (though the rain did, miraculously, hold off). But Radiohead were... just everything I had been hoping they would be. And they played almost everything I wanted them to - it was almost as if I'd written the set list. And Fake Plastic Trees gave my goosebumps goosebumps. I'm almost scared to see them again, because I don't know how they can top this.

1. Paul Weller - Brixton Academy, London - 24 Nov 2008
I've seen the Modfather several times now and, like a fine wine, he seems to be getting better with age. Or maybe it was the love he had newly found at the time, or the fact that this seemed like a sort-of-homecoming gig, I don't know. Whatever it was, Mr Weller was on fire - so up for this, he seemed like someone in his mid-30s, not a 50-something. And he finally seems really comfortable with his full back-catalogue, playing plenty of Jam material to keeps the old mods happy. The first time I saw him, back in the very early 90s, he (perhaps understandably) taunted the fans who were chanting "Jam, Jam, Jam". But I digress. We had a great spot, close to the front but not so close as to be moshed, the sound and lighting rigs were excellent, Paul and his band (mostly long-term collaborators, so well bedded in) were on good form... and there were surprises too. The backdrop - essentially unused throughout the show - sprung to life for Whirlpool's End, showing a genuinely thought-provoking collection of images and quotes. I didn't want this night to end, and it will be a long time before this gig drops out of the Top Five.

So, what do you think? The almost-made-its, just bubbling under outside the Top Ten, included REM at Milton Keynes in 95 (a scorching hot day, with an undercard of Sleeper, The Cranberries and Radiohead!), Blur at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in 94 (again with Sleeper for support, coincidentally - I used to fancy Louise Wener something rotten, just my kind of indie-chick), Thom Yorke solo and acoustic at Latitude 2009 (really solo, he did everything himself) and the aforementioned Madstock (30,000 people in a park, singing all the words to all the songs... and Ian Dury and Prince Buster too). But these are the Top Ten... for now. You can see my SongKick gigography in full (well, almost, I've still got one gap to fill) here.


  1. Nine fantastic gigs... and U2. Great list!

  2. I was at that Gene gig and yes, that's exactly how I felt about Gene, although I did see them slightly more than twice... Anyway, Forum, I taped that gig using some very rudimentary microphones, and my shoddy recording of 'Let Me Move On' was downloaded at least half a dozen times by Gene obsessives from my slightly obsessive website. I wonder whatever happened to that.

    1. If you track down the MP3s let me know, I'll publicise them here and here.