2017 has been positively laden with gigs up and down the country, from stadiums to bars. Normally this end of year list would be a rundown of just the top five, but there have been so many worthy gigs this year that first here’s a quick rundown of numbers ten to six…
10. Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Troxy, London, 31/10
Playing the entirety of their new album (not in order, naturally), as well as a couple of older cuts like ‘Mladic’ (a personal favourite) and ‘BBF3’, Godspeed put on a positively hypnotic show once again that completely enraptured the audience at Troxy.
See my full review of their 2015 gig in Coventry here
9. Grizzly Bear at O2 Academy Brixton, London, 09/10
Grizzly Bear returned to London for the first time in half a decade back in October, and not only did their older material like ‘Knife’ and ‘Ready, Able’ shine, but tracks from their latest album ‘Painted Ruins’ sat perfectly between them. This, doubled with one of the most clever yet minimalist lighting rigs I’ve seen this year made for an excellent gig.
8. Flyte at The Cellar, Oxford, 01/10
This is how small gigs should be done. Fresh from releasing their debut album ‘The Loved Ones’, Flyte were on impeccable form at The Cellar, showing off their incredible harmonies. The show culminated in an intimate, completely unplugged performance of ‘Faithless’, with the band stood in the middle of the crowd – for me, that was probably the gig moment of the year. Go and see Flyte live, and while you’re at it support your local venues too, because The Cellar was in serious danger earlier this year.
7. Car Seat Headrest at O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, 29/08
From small Bandcamp beginnings, Car Seat Headrest have become somewhat of a cult phenomenon, and this gig showed why. Brilliantly loose indie rock performed by highly talented musicians. Will Toledo’s ability to reinvent a song for the stage is phenomenal, and the crowd equally enjoyed cuts from ‘Teens of Denial’ and reaches into the band’s surprisingly extensive back catalogue.
6. Wolf Alice at The Boileroom, Guildford, 25/09
Ahead of the release of their sophomore album ‘Visions of a Life’, Wolf Alice performed a string of tiny, exclusive shows to crowds off only a couple of hundred people, and it made for a highly intense experience. Segueing seamlessly from loud rocky tracks like ‘Yuk Foo’ to much more intimate moments like ‘Blush’, Wolf Alice showed that they can pull off their musical range live just as well as they do on their albums. If you can see this band in a small venue, don’t miss your chance.
5. U2 at Twickenham Stadium, London, 09/07
Just entering the top five, U2’s The Joshua Tree tour was a masterclass in how anniversary shows should be done in a year that was swamped with them. Chronologically working through their early career at the beginning of the show with classics like ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Bad’, U2 then put on a spine-tingling performance of ‘The Joshua Tree’ in its entirety, and despite some of these songs not being performed in decades (or EVER, in ‘Red Hill Mining Town”s case), they sounded incredible, and the political charge of songs like ‘Exit’ was just as relevant today as it ever was.
As well as hearing the deep cuts from ‘The Joshua Tree’, the band delved into their catalogue in the encore, performing hits like ‘Mysterious Ways’ and ‘Vertigo’ as well as some fantastic, less obvious numbers like ‘Ultraviolet (Light My Way)’ and ‘Miss Sarajevo’, which was ethereal as ever. Here’s hoping we get an ‘Achtung Baby’ anniversary tour in a few years time…
4. Stornoway at New Theatre, Oxford, 12/03
The first of two farewell gigs on this list, Stornoway’s show at the New Theatre was in fact their final ever performance, and through all the emotions of the band and the audience alike, every track was performed with all of the band’s hearts. All three of Stornoway’s studio albums were well represented, and we were even treated to highly obscure early cut ‘The Old Blind Man’, performed for the first time in who-knows-how-many years.
The band also performed some of the tracks in a completely unplugged style, with Brian Briggs performing ‘November Song’ on his own and the rest of the band joining him for ‘Josephine’ and ‘Get Low’. A cover of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ rounded out the setlist of this truly magical gig, and Stornoway will be sorely missed in the UK music scene. They were truly, in this blogger’s opinion, the best of the British indie folk revival.
3. The Maccabees at O2 Institute, Birmingham, 22/06
The second of the two farewell gigs on this list – when the Maccabees announced their imminent, unexpected split they were seemingly on top of their game, and it’s safe to say they went out in a blaze of glory. Despite this being one of the ‘warm-up’ gigs for their final farewell shows, the band were on fire as they performed hit after hit from throughout their career, and the band seemed to be loving it perhaps even more than the uber-enthusiastic crowd were.
Big hitters like ‘Pelican’ and ‘Can You Give It’ were obvious highlights, but many tracks of note were actually those from their most recent release ‘Marks To Prove It’, especially more emotionally charged numbers like ‘WW1 Portraits’ and ‘Kamakura’. Much like Stornoway above, The Maccabees will be sorely missed and I truly hope they reunite some day to do it all over again.
2. Radiohead at Emirates Old Trafford, Manchester, 04/07
It’s a tight race for the top spot, and just missing out on topping this list for the second year in a row is Radiohead with their show at Emirates Old Trafford this year, which was their longest set since 2009 and contained some incredible rarities including ‘Let Down’, ‘I Promise’ and ‘The Bends’ as well as huge hits like ‘Paranoid Android’, ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘No Surprises’. Easily their most crowdpleasing tour setlist in years, there was something here for every kind of Radiohead fan.
Read my full thoughts on the gig here
1. The War On Drugs at Alexandra Palace, London, 14/11
There’s nothing quite like the feeling when you walk into a gig with no preconceptions of the band and walk out completely blown away, and The War On Drugs did just that when they played at Alexandra Palace in November. I had absolutely no idea how they’d pull off their unique brand of ambient Americana on stage, but the performance they put on was easily the most majestic of the year.
Whether it’s high energy numbers like ‘Holding On’ or the much more slow-burning ‘Thinking of a Place’, the band’s command of their music while having so much fun with it was something to behold – tracks were faithfully recreated for a live setting and the tantalising buildup that’s present in tracks like ‘Under The Pressure’ was brought to a fever pitch on stage. I never thought such laid back music could be so enthralling live, but I was so, so happy to be proven wrong.
The War On Drugs return to London in June 2018 supporting The National in Victoria Park.