Top 10 live performances of 2016
I made it to 41 gigs and festivals this year. So 38 gigs plus three festivals; the less said about Download the better but the Steelhouse Festival was great fun despite the rain on Sunday and my sole day in the sun for the Friday kept up my annual attendance at Catton Hall. Amongst all of the bands who appeared in the outdoors and the other 38 headliners and numerous supports many were just amazing. I've selected ten to share, either the entire gig or the individual band performance. I've worked through the year, which had one massive absence in the shape of an empty Hammersmith Odeon at the end of January where the bomber should have been. Whether Motorhead would have been any good is all conjecture of course but it would have been ace for Lemmy, Mikkey and Phil to have made it to that 40th run at their spiritual home. Of course, you always look back on the year and wonder why you didn't go to more live music. Finances, other commitments and sheer exhaustion of life sit amongst a host of other reasons but I feel reasonably content with this number. I've put a fair bit back into the music world and add on the cds and merchandise and it's not too shabby.
Staring at the beginning of the year, my first gig in late January was also one of the best. Steven Wilson is not only a masterful musician but a superb performer and his band delivered a stunning show at Bristol’s Colston Hall performing all of 2015’s Hand.Cannot. Erase, as well as a collection of tracks from his previous solo work and a couple of Porcupine Tree covers alongside a poignant tribute to the recently deceased David Bowie.
Moving into March we had a triple bill in South Wales in one week with the Swedes Sabaton hitting the Tramshed and Bay Area thrashers Exodus laying waste to the Globe. However, it was another thrash titan, the mighty Machine Fucking Head who pick up my second nomination with their Evening with Machine Head at a packed Great Hall. Of all the numerous MFH performances I've seen over the years this was possibly the best I've ever seen. Shorn of the internal strife, the band played with a relaxed freedom of an outfit moving into the legendary status. Powerful, intense and so tight, with a set list crammed with more treats than a stocking on Christmas Day.
My third pick was a band who rarely visit these shores. Amorphis visited the brilliant Fleece in Bristol a week after MFH and whilst we were still recovering from the thrash assault the Finnish outfit proved their worth to an enchanted audience who were over joyed to see them in the UK. With their strongest album Under The Red Cloud comprising a Decent part of the set, they also flooded the evening with some memorable tracks from their back catalogue. A cracking evening.
Roll forward to July, past a soggy Download where little inspired mainly due to the absolute misery of standing in the pissing rain and where Sabbath’s final (not) UK performance fizzled rather than exploded, and the first U.K. appearances since 2004 of the Wilson sisters and Heart. Whilst the band were superb, with a magical 90 minutes of classics, the setting made the event. The 2200 seater Symphony Hall in Birmingham allowed the evening to be so intimate in comparison to their other dates and really made the evening special.
Through the summer and some storming performances at Steelhouse from Raveneye, Blues Pills, The Answer and The Von Hertzen Brothers as well as the finale of Twisted Sister’s UK career on a gloriously hot day at Catton Hall and a trip down memory lane with Status Quo in the fine settings of Caldicott Castle. Canadian outfit Barenaked Ladies made a rare visit to South Wales whilst the stoner fuelled rock of Ben Ward’s Orange Goblin filled the Globe in early October. My fifth gig of the year was totally different with an evening with Mrs H at the O2 Academy Bristol to witness gothic perfection in the shape of Wayne Hussey and The Mission. Whisking us back to 1986 and God’s Own Medicine, this was no nostalgia trip with a set list buoyed by tracks from the band’s excellent Another Fall From Grace. What made this gig so fantastic was not only the tightness of the band now in their 30th year but the immense collective spirit of the crowd who looked out for each other from the start. With security heavy handed, Hussey ordered them out of the pit and the crowd sorted it from there on in. The mandatory human tower for Tower of Strength was just awesome. A rare glimpse of human bonding which we metal heads falsely think we have the monopoly on.
The beautiful setting of Shepherds Bush Empire in Central London was the venue for gig number six. The melancholic sound of Swedish outfit Katatonia has long been a favourite of mine and the opportunity to take the three lads to a special evening to celebrate Alex and Chris’s 21st birthday was snapped up. We were not disappointed as the band played the entire Cold Great Distance before a greatest hits set which covered songs from their entire back catalogue. An impromptu and additional encore of Ghost of the Sun concluded a very special evening.
As we hit November the gigs came thick and fast. Raveneye’s energetic show in Clwb Ifor Bach was close to inclusion in the top ten, as were solid shows from stalwarts UFO at Tramshed and Saxon at the O2. However, the next gig did make it into the top ten. A sold out Globe was treated to two hours of Liverpool’s finest Anathema, who played a quite magical show. Four new tracks nestled comfortably alongside the emotional Untouchable Part I and II, which had half the audience in tears, and a plethora of songs from the band's now extensive back catalogue. Rarely do we get to see this stunning band on home soil, and the crowd were once more a contributory factor to the evening with massive knowledge and respect show. Throughout the show.
Three more gigs the following week including number eight. The Marble Factory had two visits in three days but after the sound made Blues Pills show a disappointment our return was anything but as Italians Lacuna Coil rammed the place to the rafters and put on their best Perfromance I'd ever seen from the band. Attacking hard from the start with Ultimate Ratio from the superb Delirium, the band delivered a show of incredibly high quality. Packed with top songs and newer tracks, the crowd were on board from the start whilst the duel vocals of Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia combined more effectively than ever before.
It was off to Wembley Arena for the gig of the year, and number nine in the list. A bonus treats for this one as Anathema opened the evening with a confident performance. However, if ever a band peaked during 2016 it was Opeth, who were just remarkable. Oozing confidence, the band played a double set which contained some mighty slabs of progressive metal and a selection of tracks from Damnation and Deliverance which culminated in the epic 12 minute title track of the latter. I was breathless when we left London.
After that, it was going to be difficult for any band to match it but French band Lazuli got close with their lovely show at the Fleece a week later. Marillion’s sold out show at the Tramshed was marred by arse holes in the crowd. Electric Six were great value whilst my final show saw the mighty Clutch bring the house down at the Great Hall. However, the final gig in my top ten took place in a small 600 capacity venue, The Asylum in Birmingham where Karl Willetts’ new band Memoriam provided a stunning hour of death metal which really was first class. Brutal but controlled and so so good.
With ten gigs already booked for 2017 and goodies like The Answer still to purchase, anticipation will be high again. I'm hoping for an arena tour from Metallica and Very much looking forward to the old guard of Maiden and Purple in Cardiff and Kiss at Wembley. The return of the eagle at Steelhouse, an amazing line up already at BOA and the inaugural Hammerfest Birmingham weekend are also in the diary. Live music. There is nothing like it. See you at the back!