The last part of my 2016 round up with two Christmas shows.
Low, St. George’s Bristol, December
It was a treat to see Low performing their 1999 Christmas collection of songs. St. George’s in Bristol was the perfect venue to see one of my favourite Christmas albums live, the striking old church suiting their music perfectly. There was a mixture of covers and original songs, including Long Way Around the Sea, Blue Christmas, Silent Night and the first set finished with Just Like Christmas. The second set featured mostly songs from their last two albums, including No Comprende and Lies. They finished by playing their new Christmas single Some Hearts.
Stuart Maconie on 6 Music describes Low’s music as beautiful but with something darker always lurking in the corner of your eye. That was very much the feel on this evening, their cover versions always adding a slight menace to the original songs – particularly with their slowed down version of Blue Christmas. The most striking aspect of Low’s music if the vocal harmonies between guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker.
Their was excellent support from Erik Koskinen and Harkin. Unfortunately I only caught the end of Koskinen’s set, but he joined Low on stage and also performed his own brilliant On Christmas Day, one of the many highlights of the evening.
Location to view: various tried as there is some restricted viewing; we settled upstairs, third row.
The Coral, O2 Academy Bristol, December
The Coral are a band who deserve better attention than they get. This year they released their eighth album Distance Inbetween, and their Bristol set stretched back to their 2002 debut which included Dreaming of You. Pass it On, Jacqueline, In the Morning; The Coral have written so many memorable songs. But their talent goes deeper than that – brilliant musicianship and sound; one of the technically best bands I’ve seen. Their music is very Byrds influenced, and The Coral have grown up considerably over the last 15 years, their look now encompasses the full gamut of beards, hats and long hair. But it’s not just appearance; they’ve grown into a band of fine skill and stature.
Location to view: bar area.
That’s it for 2016. Next year is already looking good, with King Creosote, Bon Iver, Laura Marling, Simple Minds, The Who and Pretenders booked in.
Part two of my run down of the best concerts I’ve attended in 2016. Clips are provided where available, but don’t really do justice. I’m in one of these videos, but I’m not telling you which one.
Iggy Pop, Royal Albert Hall London, May
Not only one of the best concerts of 2016, but the best concert I’ve ever been to. Iggy Pop at the Albert Hall received five star reviews in the majority of the write ups that I read. He managed to charm the entire audience, and kicking into Lust for Life right at the beginning, he was a completely captivating performer for two solid hours. Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age led the excellent backing band. No Stooges material, with songs mostly from The Idiot, Lust for Life and this year’s Post Pop Depression.
Location to view: front stalls.
Neil Young, O2 Arena London, June
Although very much in Promise of the Real mode, Young performs many classics including After the Gold Rush, The Needle and the Damage Done, Alabama and Walk On. The excellent support came from Laura Marling, who in December joined the alumni of artists who’ve brought the Colston Hall website down due to ticket demand.
Location to view: stalls.
Elvis Costello, Colston Hall Bristol, July
Elvis Costello has turned out, like Morrissey, to be one of those artists that you have to see several times in concert before you finally catch a great performance. He was on top form this summer.
Location to view: stalls.
Primal Scream, Bristol Downs, September
And the rain came down.
Location to view: jostling for room.
ABC, Colston Hall Bristol, October
Like Primal Scream, I’ve always had a soft spot for ABC. The Lexicon of Love was one of the best albums of the early 80s, and they’ve received a lot of attention this year after releasing a follow up album. The Lexicon of Love II is really good – who would have thought it? But I’m still also a big fan of ABC’s odder excursions. Their second album Beauty Stab didn’t do too well with its change in direction to a “rockier” sound, but it’s a good record, as is 1985’s How to be a Zillionaire. Perhaps this was dismissed because ABC were viewed as having gone barking mad at the time by adopting a kind of cartoon image. But it’s an excellent record. Be Near Me is a classic pop song.
Tonight there’s a nod (I think it is) to Zillionaire with the presence of Rob Fusari. His opening set is very strange, but I loved his Michael Jackson version of Riders on the Storm. Dressed in sort of space overalls, when he joins ABC for several numbers he’s a funny contrast to their smart suits and Martin Fry’s gold shoes. He clearly enjoys himself, although my favourite member of the band is the very serious looking bass player Andy Carr.
ABC open with a collection that opens with When Smokey Sings, features Be Near Me and How to be a Millionaire and includes many tracks from The Lexicon of Love II, including Viva Love. After an interval, they deliver The Lexicon of Love in its entirety, the set opened by Anne Dudley and her very competent orchestra. Like other gigs I’ve seen where a full classic album is played, it’s over fairly quickly and is a touch inevitable (although Fry seems confused at times – “what’s the next one? Poison Arrow?”) when it comes to a close.
I’ve just worked out that this video was taken by the person sitting next to me.
Location to view: front row.
Echo and the Bunnymen, O2 Academy Bristol, November
Like The Damned, reviewed either before or after this post I’m not sure, Echo and the Bunnymen only have two core members left in the band, vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sargeant. But apart from Mac it’s difficult to tell who’s who on the stage at the O2 in Bristol with the lights being so low throughout their set.
The Bunnymen perform many of their finest songs including The Back of Love, The Killing Moon, Rescue and Bring on the Dancing Horses. This isn’t a sold out concert, as the stairs being roped off and the second bar being closed are tell tale signs of this, but the extra space is a luxury.
In the summer of 1976 I’m guessing that many of the early punk gigs took place in sweltering heat. Not so for the Bristol leg of the 40th anniversary tour of The Damned. Seeing them in sub-zero temperature I have never been so cold. The Motion nightclub closely resembles what I imagine to be a Gulag experience. But it was kind of fitting for the occasion, seeing Dave Vanian in his Dracula garb prowling around the stage and members of the audience breathing out mist.
There’s also a lot of what I would describe as punk vintage in attendance, who are on the whole surprisingly urbane, and I forgive the few who do push rudely to the front as jumping up and down in a frenzy is one option for keeping warm. And Motion does work in a way for this gig; squashed and often scarily intimate. Captain Sensible revels in this setup, addressing his audience often and even offering the mike stand at one point.
With Vanian being the more reticent of the two (like the Buzzcocks who are doing a similar anniversary thing, The Damned only retain guitarist – although original bassist in actuality – and lead vocalist from their first line up), it is Sensible who acts as spokesman for the band. When they enter to a background of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Fanfare for the Common Man he barks “turn that shit off!” Although the man next to me who’s been dancing to it has clearly missed the irony. It’s clear from the outset that they have retained their sense of humour. They have also kept their cartoonish aspect, and Sensible with his trademark red beret is a strange offset to Vanian.
The Damned launch into a full set of their debut album. Neat Neat Neat, I Fall, Born to Kill and all the rest of it. It’s superb, and obviously over in half an hour or so. What struck me, during the Damned, Damned, Damned set and later, is what a fine guitarist Sensible is. He does slip into guitar rock cliches from time to time but it’s welcome, although this does take the edge off his ELP antagonism. A strange mixture of styles unfolds during the rest of the set, which demonstrates the various flavours of the Damned that followed over the decades after their 1977 album, including an excellent version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.
Sensible and Vanian, now in their early 60s, look remarkably well. They fared better than I did, and I slid away before the end of the evening giving up against the cold. But all in all seeing the Damned in concert was a better alternative for marking the occasion than setting light to my collection of punk memorabilia. And with only a handful of 7 inch singles to my name, it wouldn’t have kept me warm.
Location to view: by the door.
* if you were expecting 2016 in Concert Part Two I have simply got ahead of myself and this instalment will follow.
Between now and the end of the year a run down of the best concerts I’ve attended in 2016. Clips are provided where available, but don’t really do justice. I’m in one of these videos by the way, but I’m not telling you which one.
John Grant, BBC 6 Music Festival, Colston Hall Bristol, February
In February BBC 6 Music succeeded in squeezing more people into the Colston Hall than I thought ever possible. The bill included Guy Garvey and Julia Holter, although the act who totally nailed proceedings was John Grant. The highlight was his duet with Jimi Goodwin from Doves. Popping over the road to catch the Buzzcocks at the O2, I missed Laura Marling, but more of her later.
Location to view: back stalls for Guy Garvey, balcony for Julia Holter, down at the front for John Grant. For Buzzcocks, bar area.
The Wonder Stuff, O2 Academy Bristol, March
I’d actually bought a ticket because I wanted to see the support band, The Wedding Present, for the first time since 1988 when they played at The Fridge in Brixton. But sadly they were a bit lacklustre, but I’m glad to have caught The Wonder Stuff again (the first time since about 1989 I think). I’d forgotten about what a good front man they have in Miles Hunt, and Erika Nockalls has made a fine more recent addition to the line up.
Location to view: bar area.
Joanne Shaw Taylor, O2 Academy Bristol, April
I last saw Wilko Johnson in 1990 at the Brixton Academy supporting Ian Dury and the Blockheads. So it’s nicely fitting that the support act on this occasion was also the more memorable and the one hour set from Joanne Shaw Taylor was captivating.
Location to view: bar area.
New Order, Teenage Cancer Trust, Royal Albert Hall London, April
Finally, after never seeing them live before. The Teenage Cancer trust concerts at the Albert Hall have become a regular fixture for me. Last year I saw Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and I have tickets for The Who next year. New Order filled two hours with a mixture of their back catalogue, which includes Joy Division songs, and their most recent album Music Complete.
It has taken me two weeks to finally come down to earth and write a review for Before the Dawn. And nine months to write another blog post. Of course, that’s nothing like the 35 years it’s taken Kate Bush to return to the Hammersmith Apollo for a new series of live shows. And even though I didn’t need convincing more, Graeme Thomson’s 2012 biography Under the Ivy, with its lengthy and excellent account of 1979’s The Tour of Life, and even longer deliberation on why Kate Bush would never tour again, finally drove the message home that live shows were never going to happen.
Next to David Bowie, Kate Bush is our most enigmatic star, but I find it difficult to write at length about her music. It’s probably because I have an emotional reaction to it. Hounds of Love is probably my favourite album, but I don’t really know what it’s about – especially the second side. Like many Bush fans, I’m guilty of crying at her recent concerts. We don’t know why – only that we have a deep love for her music.
So where to start with Before the Dawn? I’d long resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be attending a show after my failure to buy tickets during the March 2014 fiasco. Add the unreliability and inflated prices of tickets later being offered on Gumtree. But miraculously, I discovered that legitimate tickets were trickling out on the Eventim website and I was successful in buying a hospitality deal for September 2nd (bought on the day, resulting on a subsequent mad dash to London, racing over the Hammersmith flyover and wondering where the hell I was going to park). The Eventim hospitality deal is perhaps a separate story to tell, and I found the pre concert dinner in the church opposite the venue just one step too bizarre to digest.
The set-list of Before the Dawn is common knowledge now, and that it was largely dominated by Hounds of Love and Aerial, with songs from The Red Shoes and 50 Words for Snow. There was nothing dating further back than 1985, and the only noticeable similarity with the 1979 shows was that Bush appeared barefoot. As she has matured immeasurably as an artist since then (and if you don’t believe me, take a fresh look at the at times embarrassing Live at the Hammersmith OdeonDVD), I welcomed the focus on that later work (although, strangely, The Sensual World was ignored). In particular, The Ninth Wave sequence from Hounds of Love has I think always been crying out for a visual element. I’ve said I’ve really only had an emotional reaction to her work, and I’ve loved The Ninth Wave but could articulate little about its content. To a lesser degree as it is more of a sedate piece, A Sky of Honey from Aerial, is also perfect material for the stage.
However, before the expected visual feast Bush walks on to the stage with her seven piece band and five strong chorus (including her son, Bertie, who increasingly plays a major contribution in the show). In this first act there are breathtaking versions of Lily, Hounds of Love, Joanni, Top of the City, Running up that Hill and King of the Mountain. There is a lot to take it – it’s an emotional opening for the packed auditorium – but most noticeable is how relaxed Bush seems, and how incredibly strong her voice sounds.
The second act takes us into The Ninth Wave, which is a relentless and powerful piece of theatre. So much so that concentrated repeated viewings would only do it justice and bring it all together in the mind, the lasers and the helicopter included. Stand outs are And Dream of Sheep performed as a video sequence with Bush floating in a life jacket and the beautiful Hello Earth.
Following the interval the third act is Aerial territory, where the striking scenery includes puppetry and a backdrop of sweeping bird visuals. Bertie takes on the role of the painter (originally narrated, unfortunately, by Rolf Harris), and later he gets to sing a new song, Tawny Moon. It’s uncertain if such a structured show will allow for an encore, but after her goodbyes Bush returns to the piano for Among Angels and then the band return to close with a magnificent Cloudbusting, a moment where the highly appreciative audience stand up and almost begin to lose control.
Twitter rumours involved the other national obsession David Bowie joining Kate on stage. Of course it didn’t happen, and to be honest it would have been more fitting it Peter Gabriel or even Elton John (I’m thinking Snowed in at Wheeler Street) made an appearance. But this was her moment alone. This is possibly the best concert I have ever been to, but might allow time to let what for a long time seemed the impossible sink in.