This year, I attended a whopping 58 gigs (compared with a mere 30 in 2006), and I thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of them. These were my absolute favourites.
1. From The Jam, Rescue Rooms, May
When the chants down the front changed from “We are the mods” to “Who needs Weller?” you knew Bruce and Rick’s gamble had paid off.
2. Beyoncé, Arena, June
Also the winner of 2007’s How Many Superlatives Can I Cram Into One Review Award. If only all Arena gigs were of this exemplary standard…
3. Cardiacs, Rescue Rooms, November
Revelation of the year! This lot have been together for 30 years, and yet I’ve only just discovered them. Proving that prog and punk CAN mix, and that songs with impossible time signatures can still be moshable.
4. Los Campesinos!, Social, March
In some respects, as traditionally “indie” as indie gets (shambling undergraduates in charity-shop cardigans, all very Peel Would Approve) – and as such, not something which would normally float my boat – but when it’s done as captivatingly well as this, I’m not about to argue.
5. Amy Winehouse / Mr. Hudson & the Library, Rock City, March
The wheels may have fallen off Amy’s wagon rather too often since, but we had it lucky: she was straight, sober and stunning. Having initially found Back To Black rather too mannered to convice, I emerged from this show fully converted.
6. Feist, Social, September
On the night that 1234 went Top Forty, the Social’s consistently ahead-of-the-curve booking policy gave us one last chance to experience Leslie Feist in a suitably intimate setting. A fine performance, with no lingering traces of dinner-party-friendly Hipster Norah Jones-isms (if that’s even such a bad thing in the first place).
7. Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, The Maze, November
Jollier, jokier and less austere than the second album might have suggested, but with none of their essential impact diluted along the way. If English folk is not your bag, then be prepared for a serious re-think.
8. Get Cape Wear Cape Fly / Kate Nash, Trent University, January
On the strength of this show, I had Mister Cape pegged as a major star by the summer, and Ms Nash as a Lily Allen wannabe who would sink without trace. What unfathomably strange creatures the British public can be…
9. Black Mountain / Evil Hawk, Rescue Rooms, December
Glistening Irridescent Shards Of Pure Unfettered Sound Alert! Crack open the Thesaurus, Mabel, this is a good ‘un! Black Mountain’s second album “drops” in 2008, and I for one shall be around to catch it when it falls.
10. Young Knives / Ungdomskulen / The Housewives, Rescue Rooms, October
OK, so the Young Knives were no more than OK – but the Norwegian prog-trash trio Ungdomskulen were a revelation, and duly pick up the Support Act Of The Year award.
11. Low, Rescue Rooms, April
One of those rare gigs where the band plays quiet, and everyone concentrates (see also Feist above). Rescue Rooms, I commend you. A truly spell-binding show.
12. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Royal Centre, November
When it comes to the restoration of his muse to 2000-era Heartbreaker levels, the number of false dawns has been second only to Prince – but now, with his demons firmly dispelled, Ryan’s time could well have come at last. (That was a shit sentence, but I’m on me hols and temporarily past caring.)
13. John Martyn, Royal Centre, May
A grim start to be sure, but everything snapped into focus for the classic Solid Air album, which was played in full. What began as a dithery mumble ended as a passionate roar.
14. Euros Childs / Das Wanderlust, Social, September
Understated, self-effacing, alternately reflective and whimsical, effortlessly charming and melodically acute… no, it’s not Kevin Ayers, but Euros could be shaping up as his spiritual heir.
15. Joan Baez, Royal Centre, March
But I thought she was all pious and preachy? Volte-face of the year, as I finally twig just what makes La Baez one of the greats.
16. Donny Osmond, Royal Centre, October
The second of three occasions (the others being Jason Donovan and the Arcade Fire’s Win Butler) when a performer leapt off the stage and lurched determinedly through the audience, only to end up within touching distance of me. (My sister: “I’ve pulled Donny Osmond!”) What strange, unearthly magnetism do I possess, that compels these men to throw themselves at me?
17. Andy Williams, Royal Centre, July
The last ever show of his last ever tour, we were told. And with his show-stopping rendition of Macarthur Park, one hell of a way to bow out.
18. Fionn Regan, Social, October
I didn’t see this one coming at all. A quiet revelation, of the folk-meets-alt-country variety.
19. Cocorosie / Tez, Trent University, June
The French human beat-boxer Tez took the art to a whole new level, while Cocorosie turned their set around from smug aloofness to captivating brilliance.
20. Smokey Robinson, Royal Centre, July
Worth it for The Tracks Of My Tears alone, and with enough living-legend soulfulness to balance out the showbiz schmaltz (and the cheesy Miss Anglia Television 1978 backing dancers).
21. Palladium, Social, October
“They’ll be back and they’ll be big”, I said. Fashion victim stylings tempered by incongruously musicianly “chops” and some magnificently flashy Axe Hero diddling ‘n widdling.
22. Nuru Kane & Bayefall Gnawa, Lakeside, April
Playing for nearly three hours, Nuru Kane melded smoky desert blues, trance-like Moroccan “gnawa”, hypnotic Afrobeat, and a rhythmic propulsion which got even this predominantly academic arts-centre crowd on their feet and grooving.
23. From The Jam, Rock City, December
WHO! NEEDS! WELLAH! WHO! NEEDS! WELLAH!
24. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Rock City, January
OK, so he lost it after the first hour – but what a magnificent first hour, all the same.
25. Maria McKee, Rescue Rooms, May
Just plain enjoyable, basically. Smiles all round.
26. Erasure / Onetwo, Royal Centre, September
Being on the front row was a bit weird, but MY GOD did I make the most of it. Knocked the arty-but-dull Pet Shop Boys show into a cocked hat, that’s for sure.
27. Tinariwen, Leicester De Montfort, May
More than good enough for me to forgive the repeated interview no-shows (of which there were several, CSS I’m looking at YOU).
28. Diana Ross, Arena, May
A bit all-over-the-place, but endearingly so – and when she hit it, she HIT it. The Boss! Ain’t No Mountain High Enough! ShizafookinSTAR! I can die happy!
29. Alabama Three, London Astoria, October
Not just a gig, but a mini-blogmeet to boot, as I twinkled my toes off down the front with Zoe and the Twat. ShizafookinSTAR! Et cetera, et cetera!
30. Foals, Rescue Rooms, October
Once you factored out the Trendy Wanker seen-em-on-Skins faction, who were more bothered with being seen in the right place than actually paying attention (and believe me, that took some doing), what we were left with was a rather promising little band. Impossible to tell whether the recordings will match the intensity of the live shows, but I’ll be keeping an optimistic ear out.
And these were the duds:
53. Manu Chao, Rock City, November
The only show this year that I walked out of – although to be fair, it was also one of the most deliriously ecstatic audiences that I’ve ever witnessed at Rock City, in 27 years of going there. God knows what they saw in him, but there you go.
54. The Sugababes, Arena, April
Characterised above all else by the total and utter lack of rapport between the three women on stage, each of whom performed in their own little bubble of disinterested disconnection.
55. The Verve, Arena, December
WHADDA FAKKIN LIBERTY! Sloppy, under-rehearsed, shit sound, duff vocals, bad attitude both onstage and off.
56. Bucks Fizz / Brotherhood Of Man, Royal Centre, June
Until you have seen the Brotherhood Of Man perform a “Seventies Medley” which includes the likes of Shang-A-Lang, My Ding-A-Ling and Remember You’re A Womble, you don’t know the meaning of true suffering.
57. The X Factor Live, Arena, February
Leona was fine, the Macdonald Brothers were tolerably entertaining… and the rest was desperate, exploitative, bargain basement shite, even down to the taped backing vocals and the pointless, milk-em-dry, text message competition.
58. Siobhan Donaghy, London Popstarz, June
Painfully off-key, lousy sound mix, zero charisma, and no-one even bothered to get rid of the software error message on the DVD backdrop. At least I could enjoy hating the X Factor show, but this was just dismal and depressing.