Gigs Of 2018
It was also a cracking year for quality live shows. We look back at some of our favourites.
THE ROLLING STONES
Coventry Ricoh Stadium
Taking the piss out of the Rolling Stones isn’t just easy, it’s almost compulsory – like laughing at religion or the Royal Family. They’ve been the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World for so long, it’s easy to take them for granted. But unlike religion or the Royals, they won’t be around forever.
The Stones’ songs still resonate like few other bands’. The band have an uncanny knack for invoking the history of the past few decades. They sound like fighting in the streets, like sex gods, serial killers and Studio
54. They are bluesmen, rock legends and party starters. Street Fighting Man is the Paris riots; Gimme Shelter is the death of the
60s – Altamont, Charles Manson. Even Brown Sugar, the song that could sound out of date, a confusing race-and-rape fantasy in the #Metoo era, was triumphant. Which just goes to show that when you have that riff and the bit that goes ‘I say yeah, yeah, yeah, woooh!’ – surely the finest combination of sounds since Little Richard hollered ‘Awopbopaloobop-awopbamboom!’ – you can get away with anything.
NICK MASON’S SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS London Camden Dingwalls / Chalk Farm Roundhouse
Few, if any, expected Nick Mason to revisit Pink Floyd’s golden psychedelic era with an unlikely pick-up quintet comprising alumni from The Blockheads, The Orb and Spandau Ballet (let alone in such fine style), but his Saucerful Of Secrets breathed a vital spark of contemporary relevance into a neglected corner of Floyd’s recorded legacy.
A low-key Dingwalls debut in May was electrifying in its intimacy, as Interstellar Overdrive introduced a band that could replicate the early Floyd’s combination of deft pop chops and inspired improvisational brilliance. Snippets of Syd Barrett singularity (Lucifer Sam,
Bike) soared alongside The Nile Song’s gonzo muscle and One Of These Days’ transcendent menace.
After a triumphal European tour, Guy Pratt, Lee Harris, Dom Beken, Gary Kemp and a beaming Mason took their roadhoned sonic assault force a couple of hundred yards up Chalk Farm Road to The Roundhouse in September (where the nascent Floyd had played the venue’s opening night in October 1966) and, with retinascorching light show in tow and a set expanded to include Syd’s legendary Vegetable Man, all but tore the roof off.
London O2 Arena
The conversation will have gone something like this:
Steve Harris: “Hey, did you see Metallica’s latest stage production?”
Bruce Dickinson: “Yeah. I wish we had something like that. Waving a Union flag around during The Trooper isn’t enough any more, is it?”
Harris: “Those fluorescent moths coming out of the floor, circling in the air
and going back in again… I couldn’t believe my bleedin’ eyes. Enough is enough. I ain’t ’avin’ it!”
Dickinson: “Being upstaged by Metallica is embarrassing. Let’s show
’em how it’s really done.”
And so Iron Maiden upped the visual stakes on their Legacy Of The
Beast tour, with an almost life-size Spitfire darting and swerving above them during a swashbuckling opening rendition of Aces High. Later on, Dickinson gleefully deployed a pair of flamethrowers to shoot flames out over the audience’s heads as the levels of pyromania and showmanship were ramped up across the board.
Of course, it wasn’t all about the delivery. An imaginative mix of golden oldies with a smattering of contemporary tunes ticked every box. This time, though, the eyeballs as well as the ears were also given a right ol’ treat.
The Struts’ plan for world domination was simple: naff off to America and stay there until America had no option but to sit up and take notice. A ringing endorsement from Dave Grohl and a whole heap of radio play later, Derby’s finest are well on their way to achieving that goal.
The downside is that it’s meant their UK shows have been rare, although the handful they have done have felt special. And none more so than their sold-out show at Camden’s Koko – the most triumphant of homecomings.
Hardly shy and retiring at the best of times, months on the road opening for the Foo Fighters served to amplify The Struts’ already bulletproof confidence to superhuman levels. In front of a 1,500-capacity audience, Luke Spiller swaggered, sashayed and, yes, strutted like this was a last-minute audition for the role of Freddie Mercury in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie.
The Struts’ new album, Young & Dangerous, was months away from being released, but new songs
Body Talk and Fire were embraced as enthusiastically as numbers from their debut album. Most memorable of all was a un-ironic cover of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, complete with Spiller dancing with with a fan he’d pulled out of the audience, Courteney Cox-style.
Best live band right now? Could be.
The TexaS genTleMen London Shepherd’s Bush Bush Hall
Don’t let the name fool you; this is no band of straightahead southern hicks. Previously an in-demand backing group for the countrified likes of Shakey Graves and Nikki Lane,
The Texas Gentlemen mix Americana, jazz, surfy harmonies, blues, rock’n’roll and a bunch of other stuff into infectious nuggets and jams. All of which came to light – in quietly, surprisingly magnificent style – at this midweek show.
We liked the Gentlemen’s
debut album, TX Jelly, but this gig was a whole other level of musical mastery. Without saying a great deal, and with any established ‘hits’ in their repertoire, they conveyed the full weight of their collective talents with effortless class and charisma. They didn’t even play our personal favourites, and we still came away thinking it was the best thing we’d seen all year – and one of the best gigs we’d been to…well, ever.
But maybe that’s what you get with a team of shithot session players who click like this; a colourful, boundaries-be-damned but super tight fusion, built on first-class tunes. And best of all, they made it look so damn fun and easy.
London The Lexington
When it comes to leeching inspiration from the
1970s, The Sheepdogs do it with more sophistication than just about anyone. A southern-rock hybrid formed a mere 600 miles north-west of the Mason Dixon line, they’re about 53 per cent Allman Brothers and 47 per cent everything else. And if Greta Van Fleet’s sonic similarity to Led Zeppelin makes you fearful of bands who sound like other bands, fear not, for The Sheepdogs have songs. Real songs. Lots of them.
When the band hit London in April, they played 11 songs from their new album Changing Colours. It had quietly been added to streaming services a few weeks earlier, but a domestic physical release didn’t arrive until six weeks after the show, and such emphasis on unheard material can be a recipe for disgruntlement. But it didn’t matter. The Sheepdogs killed. It was a ‘greatest hits’ set, with each new chorus somehow, almost magically, instantly memorable. It was slick, playful, brilliantly played and, in a venue this small, perfection. And when you walk home with your head filled with songs you’ve never heard before, you know you’ve been witness to something special.
Queen + adaM laMbeRT
Some shows come with a guaranteed good time, and Queen headlining Wembley, this time celebrating 40 years of their News Of The
World album. is surely one of them. The guitar-shaped stage stretched into the arena, and vast screens loomed overhead beaming images of the band and Frank (the robot) to the thousands of die-hard fans. It was a bonkers set-list, too: Seven Seas Of Rhye, Fat Bottomed Girls, We Are The Champions, Another One Bites The Dust, Radio Ga Ga… on it went with a 24 timeless classics – complete with Brian May soloing in space inside a robot’s hand for full rock’n’roll ridiculousness.
It was a true celebration of Queen and their fans, as May waved his selfie stick around and Adam Lambert found himself either riding a bike or sitting atop Frank’s head. A proper show, in other words. There was a touching nod to Freddie Mercury in there too. Not just as a tribute, but as a reminder to the cynics who bash this incarnation of the band.
No, this isn’t Fred’s Queen (obviously), but it’s one of the best nights out in rock.
London O2 Arena
Pearl Jam were supposed to play two nights here in June, but Eddie Vedder blew out his voice and was forced to cancel the second night. Thankfully, PJ made good on their pledge to return swiftly and make amends..
These days, Pearl Jam are the quintessential classic rock band. They’ve got the crazy good songs – Alive, Given To
Fly, Even Flow – massive guitar solos (Mike McCready is rock’s most underrated player) and they’re handy with a few covers – tonight Tom Petty, The Who and Bob Dylan… And in Vedder, they have a frontman who had the audience in the palm of his hand to such a degree that at one point he simply asks them to take three steps back to avoid a crush at the front and the crowd moves en masse, without fuss, on his cue – it was jaw-dropping.
At the climax, they came back for a legit, old-school, curfew bustin’, house-lightsup encore. People had already flooded for the exits, but those who remained were treated to McCready going full Hendrix, Gossard, Ament and Cameron playing like their lives depended upon it and Vedder ending the whole shindig with a shit-eating grin and a devilmay-care microphone stand smash. Incredible scenes.
Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets
Queen + Adam Lambert