The only reason to live in Manchester is the huge amount of gigs that happen in the city, so its funny that nearly all the most memorable ones I attended in 2009 happened in other places. These were my gigging highlights of 2009:
ALL TOMORROW'S NIGHTMARES
I've probably written more than enough about this already, but both All Tomorrow's Parties Nightmares plus the In Between Days added up to ten days solid gigging. I managed to extend that by going to see Josh Pearson and Six Organs of Admittance in Manchsester before departure and Sunn O))) on the way home. I witnessed eighty live performances in thirteen days, only counting bands I watched for twenty minutes or more. Could this be a record?
WIRE & MONKEY WEEK
Wire were playing three gigs in Spain so I headed south to Barcelona for the five days before they hit town and had a real cool time hanging out in the castle on the mountain by the sea. After following them to Europe's highest capitol city Madrid, the trail ended at El Puerto de Santa Maria, a small seaside town close to Cadiz, just south of Portugal. In early October the weather was so hot that it would make front page news in Britain in August. The sun roasted me lobster red, and I saw Wire play a unique unrepeatable gig under a clear starry sky in an old monastery. Despite playing a slightly truncated set, they played the most intense gig of the tour, and came pretty close to being as perfect as they were playing the "Send" album in a black old East German bunker in Berlin. I met lots of friendly Spaniards and had a great time by the sea. Walking in a fenced off forest I found a chameleon and a lynx! I also saw Howe Gelb, Silver Apple, Heavy Trash and some good Spanish bands I'd never heard before.
If someone had told me four years ago that I'd see four Magazine gigs in one year, I wouldn't have believed them. This was an unlikely reformation, as guitarist John McGeoch is dead. However as soon as Pete Shelley's unmistakable black hearted riff to "The Light Pours Out of Me" burned from the Academy PA on Valentine's day, it was obvious they'd found the right man to fill his shoes. Noko had played guitar in Luxuria with reluctant singer Howard Devoto, so made a much better choice than some celebrity guitarist with suspect baggage. The only thing I could possibly criticise in his playing was that I'd like to have heard more distortion on "Shot By Both Sides" but on the second Manchester gig, I'd wormed by way to the front of the crowd and was too lost in music to notice. The look of incredulous pleasure on Devoto's face at the phenomenal applause of the homecoming crowd hinted that more Magazine action could well follow. In the summer they charmingly elected to play a gig in Sheffield on my birthday and the best birthday present I've ever had was hearing an immaculate rendition of "Philadelphia," a song that hadn't featured in the February set. They did indeed make me feel healthier. Then they returned once more to play "The Correct Use of Soap" to a standing and shuffling ovation at the Bridgewater Hall, pulling the surprise stunt of not playing "Shot By Both Sides" but boosting the encore with "Give Me Everything." Rumour has it that they are now working on new songs. Maybe it's right to be nervous now?
My first trip to Blackpool, and what better reason than a sixteen song blast of classic Killing Joke "Madness?" OK so there were a load of drastically inferior bands to watch before they blasted the ballroom with a short sixteen song set, but the original line up has a unique chemistry that surpasses all other bands in sheer intensity. See review earlier on blog. I'd dreamt this gig years before, except in my dream I was watching from the balcony and here I was near the front on the Geordie side to catch maximum six string shockwaves. They are touring Europe in April and have spent the winter recording a new album for release in 2010 on Spinefarm records.
THAT PETROL EMOTION
Another band back from the dead, re-igniting their not so final flame, and fiery as ever. They played no new songs, but didn't really need to as there were still so many great ones from their five albums and singles that didn't make it to the "Chemicrazy" heavy set. It's a good thing they're back. Check out the All Tomorrow's Parties review for more.
JELLO BIAFRA AND THE GUANTANAMO SCHOOL OF MEDECINE
It was great to finally witness Jello Biafra fronting a rock band. I'd seen him in spoken word mode before, but this Sheffield sojourn was way more fun. Typical of Jello, he didn't rely on oldies to prop him up and the band blasted out new songs that were so new they aren't even on the album that came out in October. There were three Dead Kennedys songs in the set, but the proof was in the songwriting. Who cares what some vendetta-minded judge says when Jello continues to write song after song and his old corporate whore band mate East Bay Ray writes none at all. Who really wrote the Dead Kennedys songs then? I don't hear that pathetic dweeb Ray coming up with any new material, but maybe he's just too busy making advertising jingles for Nike and Walmart.
Another Sheffield gig reviewed earlier on this blog, as is the Jello Biafra gig. You will never play guitar like J Mascis, but no need to give up just yet. Further down reformation road they've made two great albums that do nothing but boost their formidable reputation and live they are better than they ever were.
PJ HARVEY AND JOHN PARISH
Not even two dopey shazzas shouting at each other during the quiet bits could ruin a stunning set drawn from both the PJ Harvey and John Parish albums. I was quite ill at the time and this made me feel a whole lot better. I think it was the first gig I'd been to at the Ritz since The Fall played one of the last gigs of the second Brix era there. As they ended one song very quietly, an ignorant bartender tipped a load of bottles into a bin making a huge crash. John Parish's broad grin, as he gripped his comically tiny ukelele, was a picture.
I was too sick to follow them around the country to other gigs as I usually do, but Melt Banana remain one of the greatest live music experiences in the known universe, even in a stupid venue like Satan's Hollow. The stage is too low, and fat bouncers kept blocking the meagre view of the band. The last time they played Manchester they sold out Academy 3 so it seemed odd to play this inferior venue. The funniest thing I heard anyone say from on stage was when Yako introduced them as Melt Banana Lite and they cranked out a cacophanous deluge of noise in darkness with flashlights on their heads. It's a shame they don't play a bit longer!
See earlier on blog. The whole of "Hoover Dam" and "Rattus Norvegicus" plus a five song encore from a sixty year old really put to shame all these younger bands who think a five or six song set is long enough. Short sets don't leave me wanting more so much as they leave me thinking the band doesn't respect the fact that I've spent an entire evening of my life going to listen to them. His second Manchester gig of the year was so much fun I went to Birmingham to repeat the experience the very next day.
THE DRONES / SNOWMAN / LAST HARBOUR
The Drones have a level of intensity that bands don't get without hitting the road and playing gig after gig in every town that they can get to. Snowman were nearly as enjoyable which was nice as I'd never heard of them before, and Manchester's Last Harbour played maybe the best gig I've seen them do. It's a shame the Roadhouse doesn't book a few more bands that are actually worth going to see, they seem to average two or three worthwhile gigs a year which is a bit pathetic.
Some other great bands I went to see that year: Retribution Gospel Choir, Arbouretum, Gang Gang Dance, Part Chimp, Soulsavers, Oneida, Therapy?, Flaming Lips, Obits, Night Marchers, Yo La Tengo, Daniel Johnston, Mark Eitzel, Oxbow, Sleeping Dog, Gnod, FTSE 100 and a whole lot of Plank!