Seven Great Gigs of 2011

I’m a little apprehensive about writing this post about best gigs of the year, partly because I think I’ve seen less this year than many others but mainly because I seem to know a few people who seem to go to a mindboggling number of gigs. I know of a couple of people who are nearly into three figures for the year.

Think about it, pretty much two gigs a week… {prostrates himself on the floor}

But, anyhoo, for what’s its worth here are seven cracking live experiences from this year.  In no particular order…

Seven Great Gigs of 2011

The Decemberists – Bristol Academy, March

I’ve tended to remember this gig for some of the sillier things that the ever-adlibbing Colin Melloy and friends got up to, but a quick listen back to the recordings remind me that it was actually a great evening. I loved the new songs (and went out soon after and bought The King is Dead on the strength of the evening) but also found myself enjoying the Hazards Of Love songs, previously not a record I’d warmed to at all.  Exhilarating, boisterous stuff, and they also played Grace Cathedral Hill, my favourite Decemberists song of all.  A lovely evening.

Laura Cantrell – St Bonaventura’s, May

A delightful get-together, in the unpretentious, intimate surroundings of St Bonaventura’s, itself a support player in a great evening. Laura Cantrell (can I call her Laura? Ms Cantrell?) still has a pure, ringing voice and an uncluttered delivery style which shines the spotlight full on her dazzling songs. Lots of Kitty Wells Dresses, but also a good few from the another favourite Not the Tremblin’ Kind. Engaging between-song chat and the always pleasing sight of a true star selling her own merchandise after the show.

Toots & the Maytals –BristolAcademy, September

I don’t think I actually wrote about this evening at all – I was sulking a little at another recording comprehensively buggered up by clumsiness and circumstance, I suspect. I’ve just referred to Laura Cantrell as a true star, so what is Toots Hibbert? I went through a phase in my early twenties of trying to see various old timers perform before they were gone forever, and I’m still a sucker for a bit of nostalgia. Great versions of 54-46 and Pressure Drop, and a whole lot off the Funky Kingston record, including a lung-busting, belting version of the title track. The sort of evening that the Academy does well…

Suuns – Green Man, August

I’ve banged on about this lot so much in the last months that there’s not a lot more to say, other than that for me this performance – in the Big Tent, mid evening, with enough smoke, distortion and swagger to suggest everything else should be called off afterwards – is the sort of stuff Suuns should be building their legacy upon. Belligerent, funky, inarticulate, and really very loud.

Phosphorescent – Thekla, May

One of those, for me classic, occasions when I turned up not entirely convinced of a band’s worth, but left having totally got it. The Here’s To Taking It Easy album sounded entirely different afterwards and throughout the following weeks, I couldn’t listen to Hard to be Humble without seeing the foppish Matthew Houk waving his finger in my face. Another of my favourite songs of my year, Mermaid Parade, got its definitive performance this evening.

Gruff Rhys / Y Niwl – St George’s, February

Saw both artists again later on in the year at Green Man, but neither sets were as good as the twin performances in the robust, muscular surroundings ofSt George’s. Again, some of the magic of the evening was lost for me as soon as I realised I’d not managed to record it properly, but that’s all wrong, really. It was a terrific evening, the Y Niwl boys banging out their surf sounds with infectious eagerness, before joining Gruff onstage as he ran through most of the Hotel Shampoo offering in his own inimitable, shambling style. Guest appearances from Cate le Bon and Sweet Baboo as well…

Wild Beasts – Guildhall, May

Yet another performance for which I have no recording, but which will survive in my memory for a good while. Lots from the two recent, breakthrough albums, neither of which I’m terribly familiar with, still (inexplicably); but also a good few of their older more awkward songs, their galumphing, shuffling rhythms still on show for all to see. Really enjoyed their combination of craft and enthusiasm, and they went down well in the old hall.

So, another year gone, another few tickets, pinned to the board, wink lasciviously at me and it all starts again…

Tomorrow I’ll think about my best of the year releases.

Don’t Break the heart that Needs You

Lord have mercy!

A very, very nice evening in Bristol last night…

I’ve been casting impatient looks up at a pair of Laura Cantrell tickets pinned to our notice board for a while now; but when it came to it, what with Easter, Royal Weddings and a raft of bank holidays and long weekends, the awaited day came on me suddenly. Aside from a hastily assembled mix tape for the journey down, I hadn’t really done any catching up or re-listening. But in the end, that all worked in my favour, and I came to the evening with no expectations or preconceptions.

St Bonaventure’s is a strange place – less a gig venue and more a community centre, with plastic chairs and upholstered arm chairs, and a tiny stage at little more than floor level. On the plus side, there were whole teams of friendly volunteers around the place (I counted eight behind the bar at one point…).

And Laura Cantrell blended into the friendly, unassuming environment as if she’d been playing there for weeks. With a couple of multi-skilled helpers (whose names escaped me, I’m afraid to say – they were excellent) on guitar, mandolin and Hawaiian guitar, she ran through a whole bunch of 16 songs and chatted easily between each one. Not The Tremblin’ Kind was well represented; there were three songs from the new Kitty Wells Dresses record and a couple of completely new songs. It was all delightful stuff- sung and performed with the skill, restraint and class her catalogue deserves. I beamed like a fool throughout…

My retirement age recording device did me proud and I’ve caught the whole lot. I’ll post a few highlights here, and a zipped file of the rest.

Don’t Break the Heart (live)

Nothing Came Easy but the Tears (live)

Churches off the Interstate (live)

Not the Tremblin’ Kind (live)

Laura Cantrell @ St Bonaventure’s, May ‘11

A trip to the Laura Cantrell website reveals an extraordinarily generous 19 (that’s nineteen) free tracks for download. She also mentioned a project she’s involved with called Radio Free Song Club where there are further downloads of new songs available.

A lovely evening…