Nothing has cheered me up more in the last decade than the slow, arthritic march of my favourite bands of the eighties and nineties back onto the stage. 2012 wasn’t the best, but it certainly wasn’t far off; here are my highlights. Awesome photos are brought to you by the BlackBerry Bold, courtesy of booze…
5th: Carter USM, Neds Atomic Dustbin & Cud
In recent years this annual pilgrimage to BrixtonAcademy might’ve been number one, but unfortunately this time things conspired against us.
We got in early to see Cud, but support band sound won the day and a half empty room failed to create an atmosphere.
Even the frilly shirt/tight trousers/beer gut combo and some, erm, unique dancing from frontman Carl Puttnum couldn’t save the day, despite them playing several of my old favourites (Hey Boots is still a winner).
Neds followed and led with Kill Your Television – but the sound was even worse. You could barely work out what it was in the first half of the song. The sound slowly improved, but I was never a big fan and we just got bored – and then realised the slightly sloping floor we’d been standing on had done some serious damage to our backs.
We were both feeling it, Zoe worse than me, so we tried to find a flat vantage point. But as the place filled for Carter it proved tough – especially with Zoe being vertically challenged – so we tried to get on the balcony.
A polite (yet fruitless) conversation later, and only half way through the set, it became clear Zoe wasn’t going to make it through so we just left. We did catch Prince in a Pauper’s Grave before we left though; a song that, when played live, will put pretty much any gig into a top five.
4th: The Human League
Again, this is a band that would often be higher up my list but we’ve been a bit spoilt by their shows in the last couple of years: first the triple bill with Heaven 17 and ABC, followed by the Dare Anniversary Tour.
This was a great show at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, but only when the songs were great. The stage setup was cool but a little lacklustre, while the performance was as good as we’ve come to expect – unfortunately there was a little too much filler.
Highlights included the usual ‘Dare’ classics (Sound of the Crowd, Things That Dreams are Made Of, Seconds), Lebanon and Love Action, while you can’t argue with an encore of Don’t You Want Me and Electric Dreams.
But there were too many of the feeble singles (Louis, Open Your Heart) and some average newer ones (which I understand they have to play) – but nothing from ‘Travelogue’ or ‘Reproduction’? Upsetting, but it was still a good night out.
3rd: Levellers & Citizen Fish
Another good night at the Corn Exchange started with something I’m not sure I could ever get used to – Citizen Fish on a posh stage.
Having said that, they were great; they got a pretty lukewarm reception when they came on, but their UK style punk ska soon won people over.
I’d still rather see them in a dingy pub, but they were roughly a million times better than the shitty support bands you often get at this type of show.
The Levellers themselves were right on form, mixing up a strong set of classics and some interesting new material. The encore was a bit of a disaster though; some weird sing-a-long-a, audience on the stage idea that I bet they wish they’d never dreamt up. Still, it was a good night as always.
Joint 1st: ABC
It was simply too difficult to choose between these two completely different experiences, as both perfectly recreating an equally important part of my musical upbringing.
ABC’s ‘Lexicon of Love’ album was one of the first I bought (on cassette, woohoo) and remains a classic to this day.
While I can understand why people don’t like it, to me it’s a flawless reminder of more innocent times. So when they announced a one-off 30th anniversary show with the Southbank Philharmonic at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, conducted by Anne Dudley (who was key in the original orchestration), I was there.
I met up with an old friend, Steve, for the gig and we had a blast. It was great to catch up with a few beers beforehand, while him putting some Champagne on expenses for the interval certainly helped too.
When they came on, I was a little concerned. The orchestra sounded great, the seats were comfy, but the first half of the show was a little underwhelming; people didn’t bother standing up as a string of old but largely uninspiring tunes rolled by. When Smokey Sings was great, as were …Zillionaire and Be Near Me, but too many mediocre songs were picked seemingly because of the orchestra (Ocean Blue, SOS, First Time).
But after the interval, as the orchestra played the intro, it all changed. It was louder, fuller and the whole audience was on its feet in about the first four bars of Show Me – and very few sat down from there on in. The album was played to perfection and the night was worth of every penny of the entrance fee.
This is at least the second time they’ve performed Lexicon of Love with an orchestra and if you have any love for the album, and they do it again, I’d thoroughly recommend it. That said I probably won’t go and see them again though, as I’d rather keep this as my abiding memory of a great LP, so perhaps it was counter productive!
Joint 1st: PWEI, The Wonder Stuff & Jesus Jones
So what could equal that, I hear you ask? Well, only a bunch of early 90s grebos of course!
Not only were Pop Will Eat Itself back, again, this time it was part of a travelling indie circus with Midlands neighbours The Wonder Stuff and old indie pop chart regulars Jesus Jones.
A mini Christmas tour saw the trio taking in four cities, but also saw me struck down with my now traditional gig flu. I can’t seem to go near an old school indie London gig without getting the lergy. This one was worse than usual, meaning I missed the first show (in London) but did at least make it to the rest in body (if not in full force).
Jesus Jones were a real surprise for me. I’d seen them a few years back and it had sounded really weak live, but these shows recreated what they had back in the day perfectly (even if Mike’s cold meant he didn’t really sound right until Birmingham). It was truly crowd-pleasing greatest hits stuff too, although it felt a little empty without the wonderful Victoria.
It was also great to catch up with keyboard monkey Ian. We crossed paths a lot back in the day, via work (Our Price) and girlfriends (one of his ended up with me at college, while one of mine ended up with one of the Jones’ for a while). Small world and hopefully we’ll now keep in touch – good ol’ Facebook.
As good as they were they weren’t a match for the Poppies (natch). It took them a while to get the crowd up in Liverpool, but in both Leeds and Birmingham PWEI were right on form – and the crowd responded in turn. I think it’s fair to say the new line-up is now accepted and established, so long may this incarnation continue.
It was also fun to see all the former members (Clint included, before he got thrown out…) dancing to them in the guest area in Brum; a clear sign the baton has now been passed with any animosity set aside. Although I wonder if Fuzz now thinks he’s in the wrong band…?
Talking of which, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve seen a bit too much of The Wonder Stuff in recent years. Don’t get me wrong: the good songs are some of my favourites of all time, while live they’re still a fantastic force to be reckoned with. It’s just the between song banter and new ones are doing my head in. I need a break.
It didn’t help that they were obviously concerned with how loud, and winning, PWEI were being as ‘support’. Both the Leeds and Liverpool Stuffs sets were way too loud, distorting and over generally compensating for their comparative lack of beef.
But I don’t want to end on a down note. Their Birmingham set was brilliant and they closed to rapturous applause every night, proving without doubt there is plenty of life left in all of these old dogs…
…which is lucky, because next year’s repeat Christmas shows (with the same line-up) have already been announced. I think I’ll just hibernate until then.