Year in Review – Gigs (and which were the best?)

Well, December is almost over and it’s time to dig through the reviews and see what I reckoned was the live musical high-point of the year. And it’s bloody hard, believe me. If you just want to skip down to the bit where I try to make my mind up, scroll down until you see the headline. Otherwise, let me take you on a quick run-down…

First gig was Reel Big Fish at the Garage (and they’re touring again in early 2013). Having never seen them before, I was very pleasantly surprised with an excellent atmosphere and a ton of fun!

Biohazard made a welcome return in February, playing a crushing set at King Tut’s, but the highlight of their gig was touring support Heights. Definitely ones to watch out for.

Alestorm drowned the Garage in rum a week later and also supported Dragonforce in September (for those who got to the ABC in time to see their ridiculously early slot).

Less than a week after that and a tremendous two-header hit the Academy with soon-to-be-fecking-huge Halestorm opening for the brilliant Shinedown. Both bands reappeared later in the year, with Shinedown headlining the HMV Picturehouse on Hallowe’en and Halestorm upgrading from the Cathouse to the Garage (which then sold out) due to phenomenal demand.

The first let-down of the year was Theory of a Deadman. Not the band themselves, but the truly awful sound at the Queen Margaret Union building. One I’ll be avoiding in future, though I’ll certainly give the Canadian rockers another chance if they play elsewhere in future.

February drew to a leap-year close with Rammstein at the Newcastle Arena. Not so much a gig as a spectacle, and something that any band would be hard-pushed to beat. They’re headlining Download this year and if you’ve not seen them then they’re worth the ticket price alone.

Another ridiculous (and unannounced) change to the door times meant that I missed the two openers for Cannibal Corpse at the ABC, but did get to see most of Triptycon’s set. Corpse, however, played a drastically shortened set in part due to now knowing they had to be off-stage at 10pm for the student night to take place.

March ended at a blistering pace with three cracking gigs in the space of a week. Black Stone Cherry rocked the Academy, Bowling For Soup (and People on Vacation) had us entertained and laughing along at the Oran Mor with their acoustic tour and Steel Panther taught us all The Shocker at the Academy (a few months after stealing the show from Def Leppard and Motley Crue at the SECC). Hard-working as they are, they were back in Scotland soon after with a show in Edinburgh.

Into April and two very contrasting styles of music in a fairly fallow month for me. First up, an unadulterated party atmosphere lifted the Garage when Andrew W.K. came the play. Barely a week later and Paradise Lost angled more for the doom end of the scale in a wonderfully downbeat performance at King Tut’s.

My only gig in May was to see the delightfully ridiculous Tragedy with their tie-dyed, glitter-encrusted Bee Gees cover extravaganza at the ABC2. Only a few days after the sad passing of Robin Gibb, I doubt he could have been more proud of the send-off this group of fans gave him.

Halfway into the year as June finished and two gigs that month. Sacred Reich with their first Scottish date in eighteen years as they tore up the Wah Wah Hut; and a slight departure for me as I sampled Combichrist at The Arches with their dance-infused metal.

And then… a breather. July and August passed gig-free despite us staying in the country. Virtually every major band was heading to play the festivals which we couldn’t attend due to work and family commitments. On the other hand, we saved some cash.

We made up for it in September with no fewer than five concerts. The Darkness were touring the UK with Lady Gaga (I know, WTF?) but as the tour wasn’t hitting Scotland they opted to play a one-off headlining show with long-standing local favourites Gun at the ABC.

Three gigs in three nights saw me at the Cathouse (Dying Fetus, Job For A Cowboy, Revocation and Cerebral Bore), Edinburgh PlayHouse (W.A.S.P.’s 30th anniversary tour) and the Garage for the aforementioned sell-out Halestorm show.

Another previously mentioned gig ended the month as Dragonforce and Alestorm formed a perfect partnership at the ABC.

October could have been the busiest month of the year gig-wise. We still did very well, but missed no fewer than five gigs. The first one we had to skip was Soulfly as it clashed with Nickelback at the Newcastle Arena and we got tickets to see Chad and co. before those for Max’s project were announced. The Canadian guys were good – very good – but Soulfly would have been much cheaper and closer to home!

Nickelback became the last gig I went to with my fiancée as we skipped Bowling For Soup, Trivium, Muse and Terrorvision to jet off to Jamaica with the family and get married! I did try tweeting most of the bands, but they didn’t reply as to the possibility of shifting their gig dates. Pah.

Our first gig as a married couple was a second performance this year by Shinedown in Edinburgh (mentioned back at the top). A big crowd despite playing on the same night and less than 2 minutes walk away from Alice Cooper’s seemingly annual Scottish show.

The second-last month of the year equalled the second as November joined February in hosting six gigs. Sabaton / Eluvetie at the Garage opened the month for me with an interesting combination and more people on one small stage than I’ve seen since Lawnmower Deth allowed stage-diving at the Newcastle Riverside. We then had the choice between Motorhead’s annual gig at the Academy or going to see Steel Panther again, this time in Edinburgh. There was no decision to be made as soon as we saw Lemmy’s support band – the mighty Anthrax. Glasgow it was.

Two nights later I headed to the Cathouse for the Metal Hammer Razor Tour II  featuring Steak Number 8 (missed them, sorry), Heart of a Coward, Heights (again) and Devil Sold His Soul. I love cheap gigs like this featuring relative unknowns and this was a prime example. All of the bands on here should do well though, again, Heights stole the show for me like they did in February opening for Biohazard.

Turbonegro brought their brand of death-core-punk to King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut towards the end of the month and impressed, while legendary Thrash-meisters Testament made a triumphant return to these shores after far too long. They destroyed the Garage with a mixture of old material and stuff from their superb latest album. Barely pausing to draw breath, I was at the SECC the following night to see the Twins of Evil tour. Marilyn Manson put on a decent enough theatrical performance while Rob Zombie deservedly played the “headlining” position of this equal-footed billing.

The year drew to a close with a hugely anticipated comeback tour from the Little Angels who rocked the ABC as if they’d never been away these last twenty years. Just under a week later and Fear Factory gave me a birthday present consisting of an hour-long set at the same venue in support to the Devin Townsend Project.


Bloody hell. That’s a tough question. At a rough count, there are 39 bands in contention (including some of the support acts) for the top performance. Hell, there are some I’ve not even mentioned such as Deathstars who opened for Rammstein. Not in contention, but deserving of a mention. As are Lionheart (Biohazard), The Treatment (Steel Panther), Insomnium (Paradise Lost), Skin (Little Angels)…

So let’s just hand out some awards based on certain performances. That’s fair. After all, what small band – no matter how talented – could expect to play a 200-capacity venue and compete with the:

Most Spectacular Gig

Easy winner – Rammstein at the Newcastle Arena. At £50 plus fees plus travel expenses, not a cheap ticket but worth every penny as you could see where your cash was going. Superb songs wrapped in probably the best showmanship in metal these days (Iron Maiden at a festival are about the only band that come close) and I doubt a single person that night left the venue feeling ripped off. My only disappointment is that it’s still the only gig I’ve ever been to that I don’t have my ticket as a souvenir. Stupid floor policy of taking your ticket off you!

Best Atmosphere At A Gig

Quite a tricky one as there are different atmospheres. The expectation at the Testament gig after their long absence. Similar with the Little Angels. Reel Big Fish, of course. The boos rained upon Turbonegro as they chose to play an England football song before they came on stage in Glasgow. Tragedy, who could have been playing to thousands, not just the couple of dozen who showed up (shame one you – see them next time). But, no. As with Rammstein above, there’s only one streets-ahead winner of this award: Andrew W.K. at the Glasgow Garage, who put on as big a party as he promises in his Twitter feed day after day – using nothing but the power of short, silly, punchy rock anthems. A man who can talk the talk, walk the walk and rock the rock.

Best Comeback Gig

A surprising number of entrants this year (and many more who I didn’t go to see, sadly). Some just haven’t toured the UK, some have actually been split up for years and reformed recently. In the running, we have:

  • Biohazard
  • Little Angels
  • Testament
  • Sacred Reich

Bloody hard to decide with this one. Really hard. My heart says Little Angels because of the fact I saw their last ever gig before they split. My heavier side (and the bruises) say Testament. My “support the underdog” mentality says Sacred Reich. My surprise at having a guitarist standing my shoulder during the first song says Biohazard.

The heart wins. Little Angels at the ABC take the prize, partly as I’ve seen Testament and Sacred Reich at Graspop in more recent years.

Best Support Act

Let’s not forget those poor sods who often get ignored (or worse) trying to warm you up for the headliners. This year, there were some great bands – many of them listed at the top of this section. The winner will come as no surprise, but special mentions to Halestorm – headliners in their own right, frankly, but still touring as a support band in 2013 – and Anthrax, who for some reason haven’t done a UK headlining tour in far too long.

Heights for two gigs – Biohazard and the Metal Hammer Razor Tour II. They’re back in Glasgow again in February, if I recall correctly. And main support again. Keep up the hard word guys, and here’s hoping we get ninety minutes from you in the years to come.

Best Sound At  A Gig

Now this one is a toughie. Some of the venues can be hit and miss with sound (ABC), some are usually crap but somehow pull a blinder once in a while (Academy), some are just awful (Queen Margaret Union, Cathouse) and some have the advantage of being huge (SECC). Winner this year? Bowling For Soup (Acoustic) at the Oran Mor for being just right. Maybe it’s easier as the volume doesn’t need to be cranked, but we could hear every note being strummed.

I’ll leave the awards there for this year. Next year will be a little quieter gig-wise  as I’m changing to a part time job with the equivalent drop in pay. Unless someone wants to sponsor me buy buying tickets or guest-listing me…?

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Bowling For Soup / People on Vacation – Glasgow Oran Mor

Bowling For Soup / People on Vacation
Bowling For Soup / People on Vacation (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[Full set of pictures on Flickr]

Bowling For Soup are a great band in many ways, but one thing I really love is the way they tour twice a year. Once as a full band, and once as a two-piece acoustic pairing featuring Jaret Reddick and Erik Chandler. This is the third time I’ve seen any band at the Oran Mor and, perhaps as a coincidence, they’ve all been humorous acts. The others were Hayseed Dixie and Amateur Transplants.

Erik opened the night with a solo set featuring tracks from his EP “Writing The Wrongs”, which we bought from the merch stand. A good enough set, and he’s a great guy on stage. Funny, quick-witted and entertaining. There were only a few songs, and it was often hard to hear him over the buzz of conversation from those who weren’t bothered about his set.

The second act were People on Vacation, a side-project of Jaret and Ryan Hamilton of Smile Smile. Again, they’ve got a good line in banter and some decent songs to while away the time until the headliners (that’d be Jaret and Erik again) came on. Their style is a little different from BfS, and it’s nice to see someone stretching themselves a little wider musically. As luck would have it, they were bundling their EP in with Erik’s so we got both for a tenner.

Bowling For Soup / People on Vacation
Bowling For Soup / People on Vacation (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

The two Soup lads were on stage moderately early with a 10:30 curfew (which they ran over), and video cameras poised to record them for a DVD. Whether this was unique to Glasgow or not I don’t know, but the performance was a good one, so fingers crossed they make use of some of the footage at least.

As they stated on stage, Bowling For Soup have a hell of a catalogue of songs. As such, there’s no real set list when they do these acoustic gigs. Instead, the boys have a “cheat sheet” listing all their stuff and they do react to suggestions from the crowd (or at least appear to!). Tracks played went as far back as “Running From Your Dad” and “Emily” and as recent as “Turbulence” which really suits the acoustic sound.

Of course, there were favourites  such as “Girl All The Bad Boys Want”, “Punk Rock 101” and set-ender “1985”. As ever, there are always more songs that it would have been great to hear but with under ninety minutes and some great between-songs banter (including discussion of their discovery of the Scots words “honking” and “pish”), there was no way they’d play every single one.

They were, though, superb. As ever, it seems there will be a full band tour in October to look forward to and if they continue to sell out these acoustic tours then I guess we can look forward to another in a year or so’s time.

Great guys, great music and a great value gig. If you’re not into loud rock music, but like good entertainment from some people who don’t take themselves too seriously, it’s a great tour to catch.

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Bowling for Soup / Suburban Legends / Orange – O2 ABC, Glasgow

Suburban Legends
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

[more photos of the gig in this Flickr collection, and this one]

Bowling For Soup are always bound to guarantee a giggle and also to bring good support with them. This year we got Orange (who we missed, sorry) and Suburban Legends who were incredibly good fun. As well as having nice bouncy songs, they were well-choreographed and acted like a headlining act for their short tenure on the stage. Definitely a band to keep your eye out for if they tour sometime.

BFS themselves strolled on stage around 15 minutes after SL finished – a quick set change by anyone’s standards. Sadly, three of the band are recovering from ‘flu which did seem to affect their performance. Don’t get me wrong. They were great fun, but you could just tell it was a harder slog than normal. Credit to them for fighting through the snot and headaches to put on a performance.

Many of the classics were blasted out at rapid speed as well as a decent selection from the current Fishing For Woos. As a bonus, we also got “Stacy’s Mom” which the band recently released as a B-side because people keep thinking they did the original. The between-song banter was as good as ever, though perhaps not as prevalent as last year due to the headaches being suffered by the band. Man flu is a killer.

Bowling For Soup - Glasgow ABC
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Despite this, they did pretty damn well though the stage set itself wasn’t as good as the one at the Academy in 2010 where we had nice big video screens. There was an inflatable pig, though. Admittedly it was about 12″ long and thrown up from the crowd, but hey. Beggars can’t be choosers. You’re not going to get a 25′ inflatable sheep into the ABC without crushing half the crowd.

Overall, an enjoyable show but not the best I’ve seen from them. I put this entirely down to evil viruses and not the band. Other acts would have considered cancelling, so full credit to Jared and the guys for going ahead with the show. It was worth the effort!

Also, please excuse the short post. I’m knackered after virtually no sleep from last night after the Volbeat gig

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Bowling For Soup (acoustic performance)

Bowling For Soup Acoustic
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

I first Saw Bowling For Soup at Download some years ago and thought they were rather good fun. When I saw they were playing Glasgow last year I rushed to get a ticket and wasn’t at all disappointed (Anni had told me they were great when she saw them in Cardiff back in 2007, I think). It turns out that Jaret and Erik do an acoustic show, and this is what I went to see this week at the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh.

I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect, but it turned out to be excellent. Certainly a departure from what I’m used to, but one of the best gigs I’ve been to in some time precisely because of it.

Jaret and Ryan Hamilton (from Smile Smile) kicked things off as a duo called “People on Vacation”. They did a handful of nice songs then tootled off to be replaced by “Linus of Hollywood” who did a solo set, which was very well received.

With a very short set change, and in between having their photos take at the side of the stage with umpteen fans, half of Bowling For Soup grabbed their guitars and ploughed through a set lasting nigh on two hours. This was partly due to a very accommodating venue. The gig was, apparently, meant to end at 10pm, but they ran on until just after half past. Thanks to Liquid Rooms for that! I guess they were still coining it in over the bar…

I don’t think a hit was left untouched, and the acoustic versions were suitably different in places to warrant a separate album, in my opinion. The crowd were singing along from the start and the banter was as good as you’d expect from BfS. Any shout was responded to in good humour, the between-song dialogue genuinely funny and it was obvious you were watching two long-standing friends doing what they dreamed of doing when they were kids.

They even managed to squeeze in a version of “Dance Song” from the current album (soon to be outdated by a new release in three weeks). So we have an acoustic version of a rock song parodying a dance song. Cool.

The icing on the cake was the two guys in front of me trying to pull the two girls next to them… who ended up getting off with each other.

A great night with a great band in a great venue with a great crowd. Roll on October and the full band coming back for another tour!


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Alter Bridge / Bowling For Soup

Alter Bridge - Glasgow 5
Alter Bridge – Glasgow

I’m a little short on time so I’m just going to cram these two reviews into the same blog post.

Alter Bridge – Glasgow O2 Academy, 16th Oct 2010

I just caught the tail end of Slaves To Gravity when I arrived and they had the crowd going, and seemed OK. The venue was pretty much packed, no surprise with it being a sell-out, but there was still a lot of room to walk around and find a good position.

The headliners hit the stage around 9:30 for a 90 minute set. They’re not a glamorous, special effects-heavy band instead relying on belting out some good songs to keep the crowd happy. The set list was quite heavy on new material from the album ABIII which had only been out for about a week at the time of the gig. Lunacy on the part of the record company, but – as Myles Kennedy stated towards the end – the crowd reacted well and enjoyed it nonetheless.

Of course, the most pleasing reaction was for the better known material and there was plenty of it. If I had to pick three highlights, they’d be Blackbird“, “Ties That Bind” and the acoustic version of “Watch Over You“. The latter raised the hairs on the back of my neck, just like the first time I heard Linkin Park‘s Chester Bennington singing “Pushing Me Away” accompanied only by keyboards.

However, it did raise one issue I’ve had with the O2 cademy before – the acoustic track was the only one where I could easily make out the vocals. Machine Head suffered the same issue a few months ago.

It’s not that the sound’s too loud – the bass, drums and guitar solos were all clear. For some reason, though, the vocals had been set at a level around the same as the music and so became buried. A hell of a shame as Kennedy’s got a great voice and part of the appeal of Alter Bridge are the excellent lyrics.

Not the band’s fault, I suppose, and it only took the gloss off an excellent performance. The new album is easily on a par with the first two, as well.

Bowling For Soup – Glasgow O2 Academy, 17th Oct 2010

Bowling For Soup - Glasgow 3
Bowling For Soup – Glasgow

Next night, same venue, different band! I was too late to see the Dollyrots, and only caught the end of Forever The Sickest Kids‘ set, which is a shame as they seemed to have got the crowd jumping. “A” followed and had about 25 fans. They’re not bad… but that’s about it.

On a night when Guns ‘n’ Roses were keeping fans waiting 85 minutes longer than they should before coming on stage in Birmingham, Bowling For Soup bounded on a little after 21:30 and launched into a great set.

Silly backdrops, music videos, jokes, banter with the crowd, improvisation… never a dull moment. Hell, they even took a photo-op break mid-song at one point. Standing and posing at each end and the centre of the stage before continuing where they left off.

Mexican waves were done. A death/thrash metal band called Haggis Farts were formed on stage, a song written, and the band broken up… all within five crazy minutes. The crowd were encourage to chant that the bassist, Eric, liked penis… and then chastised and told to chant that they were sorry. Which they did.

Bowling For Soup are all about having fun and not taking life too seriously. I don’t think I’ve seen a crowd grin throughout a show the way the mob did tonight. OK, except for the last time I saw Lawnmower Deth – and that’s a hell of a long time ago.

The other point of note is that the sound was a hell of a lot better than for Alter Bridge. I could make out Jaret’s vocals far more clearly than Myles’ the night before. Still, it could have been better. Maybe it’s the sound system there.

BFS were great fun and picked a nice selection of tracks for the set, including a novel cover of the utterly awful “That’s Not My Name”. I would definitely recommend them to anyone with a sense of humour and can’t wait for them to come round again.

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