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.

What’s so wrong with just a little fun?

Dagnabbit, another recording goes begging…

I think the time may have come for my venerable old iRiver to go and do the decent thing. Completely unilaterally (I swear) the cussed old bugger switched to its (frankly worthless) internal mic, rather than my wonderful skytronic stealth one. The results are just unlistenable.

(A hot bath and a Frankie Five Angels set of razor blades await…)

The Wild Beasts

Terrific evening at a gratifyingly packed Guildhall Friday night, with the Wild Beasts breezing into town. I’ve seen the Wild Beasts before, but they’ve grown a little bigger since then – Two Dancers getting a Mercury Nomination, I believe –  and there’s a general feeling that the new album, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve not yet heard, is going to be The Big One.

I’d been rushing around all day and was actually later getting along than I like to be, so I missed most of the support band Summer Camp’s set. I’ve seen them before and I remember thinking at the time that there’s a good idea in there but it’s just not being done very well. I caught the last three songs, including their strongest song Ghost Train, but I still feel this is pretty much the case. The procession of people coming and going during their set tended to confirm this…

No matter because there was a general Hail Fellow Well Met feel to the evening, as I met a good few old friends and a few of my newer Twitter playmates for the first time, which was all good fun.

Soon enough the Wild Beasts came on to a huge reception and were modest and apparently genuinely surprised to see so many folk there. I’ve said before, I appreciate this; good manners cost nothing eh? The set was great, the new record being heavily featured of course, but there were a good few from Two Dancers and even Limbo Panto too. On balance I prefer their faster, funkier songs, and when they get their lumbering, galumphing rhythm on they are absolutely beguiling, but some of the newer slower songs are good listening too.

Unfortunately, as I’ve alluded to my ancient recording gear let me down, and I’m afraid The Wild Beasts @ the Guildhall is destined to be another great lost recording moment (joining some pretty illustrious company, really – Anthony & the Johnsons  Colston Hall, Gruff Rhys @ St Georges and Lee Perry, Colston hall again). All a little embarrassing as I’d said to more than one person that they could listen to the recordings afterwards. Ho hum.

I’ve had a root around, though, and found some recordings that I made back in October 2009 when I saw them at Thekla, before the release of Two Dancers I think, and they’re pretty good. Most of the songs featured on Friday (apart from Clairvoyants, one of my favourites) and are interesting listening for some early versions of some WB standards.

The Funpowder Plot

We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues

All the King’s Men

Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants

Please, Sir

This is our Lot

Hooting and Howling

Devil’s Crayon

Empty Nest

So maybe, if we all close our eyes, we can pretend this latest outbreak of cack-handedness never happened…

The Belle of the Ball

A great evening at Thekla with friends Martin and Steve on Saturday. Thekla is a place I’ve not been to before although the list of indie bands on their schedule has often made me feel that I should be there. It was indeed my debut and I was well impressed.

Some sort of cargo boat / ship thingie in its time, it’s now a seriously cool music venue with most of its endearingly industrial features – pipes, heaters, railings – still in evidence, hiding behind only the scantiest coat of black paint. On top of that there’s the lowest balcony above the main floor I think I’ve ever seen – I could have reached up and tickled the toes of the punters above me. Not a video screen in sight, I loved it.

The Wild Beasts

Anyway, the occasion of my maiden appearance was the visit of indie crooners the Wild Beasts, who were for a few moments in danger of falling foul of my being so absorbed by my surroundings. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and a storming set roused me from my (frankly embarrassing) reveries.

Having had their first record Limbo, Panto on my iRiver all week, and being mindful of the swooning falsettos in evidence there, I’d built up a picture of the Wild Beasts being a troupe of ambiguously dressed young fops smothered in eyeliner. In the event, this was not the case and they ran through a tight, fidgety and very danceable set that sped by.

I don’t pretend to understand these things, but a friend had told me that the sound was particularly good there and if I took said iRiver along I’d get some good recordings.

And so it proved it.

Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants

All the King’s Men

The first of these songs was their debut single from almost three years ago, which I think still sounds pretty fresh. And, with a satisfying symmetry which may lead you to the (quite wrong) conclusion that I actually plan all of this stuff, the second song is due to be released as their new single … wait for it… today.

There you go, impressive huh?