I have had an excellent year watching a large variety of bands and singers. In total I have seen 114 different live sets in total , in fact only July was gig free. Many of them have been really great fun but I have selected the 10 very best ones I have enjoyed this year. They vary from small intimate sets inside the brilliant Wedgewood Rooms through to the might of Wembley Stadium and one of the nations biggest festivals. Trying to put all of them into order is proving really hard but I have chosen the 10 that gave me the most pleasure.
Not quite in the top 10 but worthy of a mention include:
Villagers (with Stealing Sheep) – Wedgewood Rooms February
The B of the Bang album launch (6 bands, one evening) – Wedgewood Rooms April
The Pigeon Detectives – Wedgewood Rooms May
Bastille and the 1975 – roundhouse London September
Beans on Toast – the Joiners Southampton – October
Frightened Rabbit – Southampton University November
Plus Band of Skulls, Turin Brakes and Emily Barker at the legendary Pie and Vinyl – if they have a band playing, go and see them it’s brilliant
Some great stuff there but let’s see what made my top 10
10 – Two Door Cinema Club – 28 January – Southampton Guildhall
So number 10 was also my first gig of the year, supported by the then little known Swim Deep and Bastille, both of whom became a lot bigger in the course of the year the main act gave us a 19 track setlist comprising of the majority of both their albums, the crowd were really up for this one which added to a great atmosphere whilst some great pop tracks in This is the Life and I Can Talk ensured that the band helped the mood of the crowd too.
Highlight – the finale featuring What You Know and an endless stream of giant prisoner style balloons
9 – Billy Bragg – 2nd December – Southampton Guildhall
Supported by Aussie singer/songwriter Kim Churchill.
30 years after he came onto the scene to ‘perform the songs I wanted to hear’, Britain’s most well known protest singer came back with a brilliant 150 minute set, featuring songs old and new and some highly entertaining monologues from the great man covering everything from the death of Margaret Thatcher (and her politics) through his views on Nigella to the benefits of explaining what a CD offers instead of a download. All the classic hits were in place, between the wars (preceded by a moving story about how we must always teach our kids as to what happened in the two world wars), Sexuality (dedicated to Tom Daley who decided to tell the world he was in a gay relationship that day), Milkman of human kindness and his latest protest song – Never Buy The Sun (dedicated to the 96). On this return lets hope his next gigs are not that far away
Highlight – his story of how he worked on a Woody Guthrie track with Kraftwerk, offering to play it only for us to discover it was the wonderful A New England (with added autobahn)
8 – Southseafest – 14 September – in and around Albert Road
So the first of two festivals on the list and one where I managed to catch a large number of bands with a great variety of music, from the calm reflective sounds of CG Whitear through to the very loud almost Jesus and Mary Chain like Drenge this offered a lot for such a small amount of money (early bird tickets only £12). This festival has seen some bands grow into something much larger, only 2 years ago Bastille played! So was there any new ‘bastille’s’ this year? Well if there was I would probably have seen them in the Xtra Mile or Pie and Vinyl stages as the majority of the acts I saw played there. Sean McGowan, Ben Marwood and the Retrospective Soundtrack Players all excelled where as at P&V there were some superb bands playing including the remarkable Jaws and the even better Splashh. Definitely worth a go if you’ve never been before. Even better if you live 30 yards away!
Highlight – local heroes the B of the Bang playing a wonderfully entertaining set with the ever eccentric, and always great value, Wit playing the crowd brilliantly
7 – The Joy Formidable – 6 March – Wedgewood Rooms
The pride of North Wales came to Portsmouth to promote their new album Wolf’s Law. The only other time I had seen them before was opening the main stage at Reading. this was going to be a far more intimate setting for such a loud band. With 2 albums behind them, the band were able to mix the two pretty successfully and had a whale of a time. One guy in the crowd enjoyed it so much he managed to lose teeth in all the excitement, it was that kind of evening. Lead singer Ritzy is pretty tiny but when she sings songs such as This Ladder is Ours, Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie and the superb Whirring she certainly grows. It was certainly a great night to catch them well on form and with such an appreciative crowd (for the exact opposite of how a crowd can be then the Frightened Rabbit gig in Southampton is proof – great band but the crowd just didn’t get into it at all)
Highlight – whirring is an obvious choice so for something a little different I would say The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie has to be it.
6 – Peace – 23 April – Wedgewood Rooms
Peace, Birmingham’s leaders in the new sound coming out of the city, played twice in the city this year. I’ve gone for the April gig simply as it was new to see them but both gigs were great fun. With only 1 album to select tracks from this isn’t going to match Springsteen for length and at around 50 minutes it was all over but what a 50 minutes. Opening with delicious it was clear that the crowd were really up for a great set and that was what they got, each song was met with raucous singing, dancing, moshing, crowd surfing that kept the security guys earning a pretty decent proportion of their monthly wage that night! From the gentle Float Forever through to the poppy wonder of Lovesick through to Wraith there was plenty to enjoy and it’s safe to say everyone there at night certainly did. Even if a few would have been pretty battered and bruised in he morning.
Highlight easy, the superb guitar led, almost all instrumental cover of Binary Finary’s 1998. What a tune.
5 – Reading 2013 – 23-25 August
Bit of a cheat here but as I saw nearly 50 different acts from the very biggest in he world through to young up and coming ones, this years expanded Reading had it all. Spread over 3 days it’s hard to capture all the highlights but I will try. Friday began with a second chance for me to see Dry the River and they started the weekend off well. Following this came a chance to see Bastille on the BBC Introducing Stage play a semi acoustic short set and they delivered in spades, both Peace and the Living End delivered plenty. Next up was the main stage and Frank Turner’s highest ever billing at Reading. From his arrival in a wheel chair (he had hurt his back recently) through to another wonderful rendition of Photosynthesis, Frank performed wonderfully and was a real highlight of the weekend. After more Bastille and the, to me, woeful System of A Down, it was time for day ones headline act. Green Day. They played everything you could want and the whole of dookie, I snuck out to catch Chvrches for a bit as I had heard they were good (they were very good indeed). Only complaint was that the main stage sound was awful!
Saturday brought more of the same, the BBC Introducing guests this time were the 1975 so we took in their set there, managed to duck out of the only rain shower of the weekend when theme park played in the NME tent. Highlights on Saturday had to include Jake Bugg who even previewed his new excellent alum, White Lies and the incredible Foals. As evening settled in a quick blast of Chase and Status and it was time for Eminem. Now I’m not a huge fan, I like some stuff, but what a massive disappointment he was. After about 25 minutes we gave up and sought entertainment elsewhere and that came with a choice, alt J or British Sea Power, we went for the latter and thankfully so as they were remarkable yet again. The Festival Republic stage gave some of the best bands all weekend as of note there Saturday alone were Swim Deep, Drenge and Crrowns (Cornish punk sea shanties are the future).
Last day, Sunday and all was geared up for everyone (except me) to enjoy Biffy Clyro. The day did bring some more great stuff though, editors, city and colour, villagers, Merchandise were all superb. Nine Inch Nails started brightly then, to me, went a bit wrong before walking off stage in a perceived sulk and missing Hurt as a result. I promised the better half we would watch some Biffy so saw about 15 minutes before going off to see Phoenix headline the NME, 30 minutes later we were back for the remainder of the Biffy set. I’m not a fan but boy they put on a show for their fans, and one of fireworks, lasers and flames for everyone. It was one best suited to be seen from a slight distance to fully appreciate. Once they finished it was all over for another year, not a vintage one I admit but enough interest to make it fun – which spending time with friends always adds to anyway.
Highlight – for me probably Frank Turner but so many others deserve praise. It certainly wasn’t bloody System of a Down or whoever decided to make White lies and Johnny Marr clash.
4 – Vampire Weekend – 28 June – Portsmouth Guildhall
A warm up gig for a festival appearance can be a poor affair but not on this occasion. Last year I caught Mumford and Sons perform in the guildhall and was really disappointed with their set, too many gaps between songs, little or no banter with the crowd could not lift some decent tunes to a great gig. But Vampire Weekend are better than that, plenty of great tunes to enjoy from their 3 albums although they focused (rightly so in my view) on the first and third album saw a very sweaty crowd love every minute. There is a pseudo reggae-folk feel to much of their work and it comes across strongly live, the band enjoying it as much as the crowd. A-Punk came, for me, earlier than expected and was greeted with rapturous applause and a great old song along. The main set ended on Obvious Bicycle , my personal favourite off of Vampires. A brief encore of two track culminating in the very catchy Walcott and that was it, off to Glastonbury they went to support the afore mentioned Mumfords, it won’t be long before Vampire Weekend are headlining their own festivals.
Highlight – Walcott, could not get that tune out of my head for days, I’m evening humming it as I type!
2= – British Sea Power – 15 April – Wedgewood Rooms
Brilliant, simply brilliant. An incredible evening for anyone who was there. One of the more under-rated bands in Britain, though this means we get to see them in such intimate locations, this gig was part of the tour to promote new album Machineries of Joy (see my top 10 albums of the year). As a treat to early arrivals the band came out and played a quieter set of tracks for 20 minutes before heading out to allow the quirky Milk and Biscuits to keep the entertainment up before a much louder BSP came back for the full set. The tone was set by the opening bars of Remember Me. There was a real mix between the tracks from Machineries and older stuff, all of which complemented each other. If the music wasn’t enough then they also threw in dancing bears, band members dressed in horse and jockey outfits and flying bass players. They even dressed the stage up as a forest, this was a visual as well as aural pleasure. The set began to climax with title track Machineries of joy before the stunning The Great Skua set us up for Carrion and the joyous All In It before leaving the stage. There was still time for a three song encore and the bears to come out and stage a fight with each other within the crowd. Arguably the best gig I’ve ever witnessed at the Wedgewood Rooms.
Highlight – picking one is impossible, so I have selected 2. The Great Skua is a beautiful track and there is nothing finer than a good old sing along to All In It to make everything right with the world.
2= – White Lies – 11 December – The Roundhouse
Firstly let’s talk about the Roundhouse, if you have never been there then go, just go. It’s a superb venue that really adds to the atmosphere of a concert, acoustically brilliant, big enough to feel great but small enough to feel intimate to those there. It was an ideal venue to see White Lies support their latest release with a couple of homecoming gigs in London. After Frankie Rose kept us entertained, the room darkened and out stepped the band to kick straight into a breathtaking To Lose My Life followed by lead out single from Big TV, There Goes Our Love Again which was accompanied with a laser and smoke effect that worked superbly in the low light. The laser and light show really added to the whole experience as the band rapidly rattled through songs from all 3 albums, Farewell To The Fairground, Streetlights and Getting Even all were received warmly. As they introduced unfinished business singer Harry explained it was the first song they wrote and without it they would not be here today. Better still was to come, a cover of Prince’s I Would Die 4U then it was time for Death (dedicated to everyone there) brought the end of the main set. A two song encore of Big TV and finally Bigger Than Us – where they deployed the Prisoner Balloons (see number 10) to a crowd who joined in faithfully with everything they played. That was it, probably all over too soon but a visual and aural experience to finish the gig year for me on a huge high.
Highlight – for me it is always going to be Death and this occasion they didn’t let me down with another rousing performance.
1 – Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – 15 June – Wembley Stadium
There could only be one number 1 really. 3 and a half hours of fun filled rock delivered by one of the greatest artists ever to have walked the planet. From an opening salvo where the boss allowed the crowd to dictate the tracks the stadium erupted when the boss asked us did we want him to continue picking out tracks or would we rather they just played the whole do Darkness of the Edge of town? So he did. From there he mixed up old and new with modern classics like Death to Our Hometown. There were the customary moments we expect, one small child’s day made as he was pulled up to sing Waiting On A Sunny Day, whilst one mum and her daughter got to dance along on stage before the mother gave Steve Van Zandt a huge kiss. The encore saw Born to Run and Dancing in the Dark amongst others before the band got to play all of Twist and Shout without the power going off! And off they went, only for the great man to return and give us one lasting, memorable, golden treat. An acoustic version of Thunder Road. Simply a perfect night for everyone there.
Highlight – there was only one highlight, the moment the opening bars of Land of Hope and Dreams started though to the moment the boss ended thunder road, raised his guitar and finally left the stage for the final time.
So there you go, 2013 concert-wise in a nutshell. What will 2014 hold for us, well one known is the return of Elbow which will be brilliant. the Boss has new work coming out and, fingers crossed, the remainder of the Reading Festival will improve dramatically on the initial announcement – then again it probably won’t!