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.

Seven Records I’m Proud to Have Bought in 2011

Here’s to Taking It Easy – Phosphorescent

Pride saw arch finger-pointer Matthew Hauk and pals sound a bit Bon Iver-y, which was OK but 2010’s follow up was a much more ballsy, countrified affair, with brass, slide guitars and riffs all over the shop –terrific value. I think I’ve already posted a video of my favourite track ( “God damn, Amanda, God damn it all”), so here’s the opener – Bah bah badda ba badda bah!

 

 

Swinging Addis – Ethiopiques Series

Or to be honest, any of the Ethiopiques series of which I bought, I think, eleven volumes during the course of the year. Amazing stuff which I’ve gone on about before. The video here is of Tlahoun “The Voice” Gessesse, and I love it…

 

 

Last Days of Summer – White Denim

I say bought …

It seems incredible now but for a good while this record was being chucked away free at the band’s web site, before being given an “official” release this year. It’s probably not quite as strong and self confident as D, but still full of bristle and brawn, and with trademark catchiness all over. Lots of play in the car…

 

 

I Often Dream of Trains – Robyn Hitchcock

Listened to quite a lot of Hitchcock this year, partly because of an ongoing Soft Boys thing but also as preparation for seeing him at Green Man, where he was great and did a surprise extra set comprised only of insect songs. Title track is a highpoint, but the version of “Great When You’re Dead” on Later is a treat. Have grown to love this record with something like devotion.

 

 

Mighty Baby – Mighty Baby

A charming record that I was tipped off about as a result of the LPGroup 1967 session. I’d be banging on about Rolled Gold, and was told to get hold of this record, Might Baby being the band the Action melded into towards the end of the sixties. Hugely embarrassed to have missed this for so long – it’s a belter! No real footage, I’m afraid…

 

 

Pigeons – Here We Go Magic

Really eclectic, interesting and above all smart collection of pop songs on Secretly Canadian. Bought it at the same time as I was grimly trying to get into Merriweather Post Pavilion and consequently is bound up with that record in my mind. The acceptable face being “clever”…

 

 

Jun Ray Song Chang – Asa Chang & Jun Ray

I love Twitter! One of my virtual chums mentioned this in passing and reacquainted me with a record I’d loved when it came out but had ab-so-lutely forgotten about. The whole record is a challenging but rewarding listen. Beautiful, compelling, contrary…

 


Going through the attic…

I’m trying to tidy this old place up a little, and one of the things that’s needed doing for a fair while is to update all my recordings, a lot of which have lost their links.

So I’ve been going through some of the gigs I’ve been to in the last few years and renewed the links. In some cases, I’ve put up the whole set, where as before I’d only posted a few tracks (I have no idea why I didn’t do this at the time. I suspect idleness).

 

So here we go (some of this stuff is new):

David Byrne at Colston Hall, March ‘09

Art Brut at the Guildhall, Feb ‘08

Field Music at the Guildhall, June ‘10

Bon Iver at Green Man, August ’09 and

Phosphorescent at Thekla, May ‘11

More to follow…

But god damn it, Amanda… oh god damn it all.

Currently doing it for me..

I know all about your new man, your new, older, old man

And I heard that he’s married, ah, you be careful, Amanda

Yeah I found a new friend too, and yeah, she’s pretty and she’s small

But god damn it, Amanda… oh god damn it all.

If I’m talking to you, Mister, then you best be writing down what I say

Seems like everywhere I look at the moment, I see posters and tweets asking me to vote for our very own Guildhall as small venue of the year. I can’t be arsed to vote in things like this of course, but if I could I wouldn’t be voting for the Guildhall, love it though I do. My favourite small venue is, without doubt, Thekla.

Monday night was still only my third visit to Thekla, but it’s definitely one of the coolest places I’ve been to for music. I like the fact it’s a boat, I like the tiny little balcony that’s barely six feet above the main floor. I like the sound and the clumsily decorated industrial walls and pipes. It’s all very functional, but someone, somewhere is booking all the right bands there. If it was on my doorstep, I’d be there every night…

Phosphorescent

This night it was Alabama’s finest troupe of rednecks, Mathew Houck and the latest incarnation of Phosphorescent. I bought Pride a while ago and recently bought the new record but found it hard to link the two, very different pieces; so I was intrigued to see how the two sounds worked.

I needn’t have worried. Strolling loose-limbed onto the stage looking like a 21st century Flying Burritos they ran through 12 slices of bluesy country that had me grinning inanely for an hour and a half from start to finish. They played most of this year’s Here’s to Taking it Easy, played a few from Pride and few earlier songs I hadn’t heard. One of the encores was aNickCave song I didn’t know, called “Right Now I’m a-Roaming”. It was fine stuff, with Houck’s soul-filled vocals and languorous guitar style accompanied by a nice line in finger pointing and languid gesticulating. His Taking It Easy Band were great too; from the showy keyboard work of Scott Stapleton to the accomplished beardy guitar of Jesse Anderson Ainslie, they played an effortless seventies-inspired backdrop to Hauk’s lyrics. They clearly listen to a lot of Little Feat, the Allmans, Gram Parsons…

You may have detected a certain impatience over the last few posts with my old iRiver bootlegging set up. Well the old feller’s now Taking It Easy in a home for senile gadgets and has been replaced by a spanking new Zoom H1, which made its debut on Monday, and I’m glad to say had a good start. I recorded the whole set and it’s come out pretty well, doing some justice to a stonking set.

It’s Hard to be Humble (when you’re from Alabama)

Mermaid Parade

I am not a Heel / Wolves

Right Now I’m a-Roaming

Phosphorescent, Thekla, May ’11, p1

Phosphorescent Thekla, May ’11, p2,

A great evening, one of the best this year…