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…?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Rammstein / Deathstars – Newcastle Metro Radio Arena

Deathstars (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)


[Talking of pictures, the full sets are on Flickr here: Deathstars and Rammstein (of which there are around 300!)]

First of all “damn you, SECC, for not having an insurance policy that allows the use of flamethrowers indoors” as I gather that was why I ended up having to drive to Newcastle to see these bands. It was either that or Manchester and, let’s face it, Newcastle is always going to win given that choice.

The long trip was made more awkward by a physio’s appointment in the late afternoon which got me out of work a little early, but kept me back later than I would probably have been had I worked to the end of the day. Ah well. With a couple of hours to get down there, we jumped into Gillian’s car (more fuel efficient, but far less fun) and barrelled down the M74 and A69, pulling up in Newcastle around 6:30. Not bad going at all.

We were joined by Wendi and Dean O’Dinosaur (and his handler). As a pleasant surprise we bumped into Lainy and Adam inside the venue as we partook of overpriced beer, pizza and doughnuts. A word of warning for the Newcastle Arena – if you’re on a limited budget, skip the pizza. It’s crap. On the other hand, the doughnuts are great.

With the performance due to start at 7:30, we headed into the arena proper slightly early and got a good place off to stage left. I must point out that the nice lady who took our tickets is the proud mother of a lad who managed to hit Jedward with a (empty, plastic!) bottle at Leeds Festival recently. I shook her hand on all your behalves. Oh, talking of tickets – if anyone has their stub from the evening and wouldn’t mind passing it on I’d appreciate it. I have my tickets from every gig I’ve ever been to, but didn’t get to retrieve on as we poured out post-show 🙁

Rammstein (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Deathstars took the stage at 7:30 and played an enjoyable, if short, set of around 35 minutes. I’d have been tempted to see them the night before at The Cathouse in Glasgow, but I was utterly buried in work. A shame as they were pretty good and do know how to put on a show. Certainly, they didn’t look out of place on the large stage making more than full use of the smoke machines – something I doubt they’d have been able to do in the Cathouse.

They’re very much a “goth metal” act – both in appearance and musical style. Imagine a slightly more thrashy version of Sisters of Mercy.

This is a band who knows how to pose, gesture and perform. Personally I think they were an inspired choice to open for Rammstein. Dark, but otherwise musically different from the headliners. Good with the audience, too. They had a fair portion clapping their hands and cheering for the German behemoths on several occasions.

After 35 minutes or so, they packed up and headed off, leaving us to wait for Rammstein to amaze, astound and entertain.

Which they did. Oh, my, how they did.


Rammstein are best known for their live show. Don’t get me wrong, their music is good enough as it is and I’m sure they’d do well if they didn’t have the stage show that that do, but I seriously doubt they’d be selling out arenas. I’ve seen them once before – a superb 90 minute headlining slot at Sonisphere in 2010 where, in my opinion, they blew Iron Maiden away. Impressive given that I knew exactly one song.

Tonight’s show was a shade over 2 hours. Even with the fairly high ticket price, it was worth every single penny.

Ever the mould-breakers, Rammstein kicked things off by appearing not on-stage, but behind the audience in the loftier seating areas off stage right. Marching slowly down, bearing flags and flaming torches, they made their way down to floor level and up onto a platform. A walkway descended from the ceiling allowing them to walk over the heads of the crowd to the stage itself.

Rammstein (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Every song Rammstein played was accompanied by some kind of on-stage firework, explosive, lighting trick, prop, performance… Rammstein aren’t just musicians, they’re performers. Watching them live is like a stage show with an incredible sound track, rather than a music show with some props.

Lead singer Till Lindemann does a good job of almost ignoring the crowd for the entire set, only really speaking to them at the very end to say “thank you”. From his bizarre dancing and somewhat overzealous use of fire to keyboardist Christian Lorenz‘ off-kilter performance, the whole band are very much part of the show.

While it’s not unusual to see the occasional band member crowd surfing, Rammstein are the only one I’m aware of who routinely have a keyboardist in an inflatable raft “sailing” over the audience. They’re certainly the only one with e lead singer who wears huge, flaming angel wings during an encore performance.

Flaming bows and arrows; huge flash pots (Metallica – you had one one stage and your singer burned himself on it – these guys have dozens of them!); the best light show in the business which actually moves around; flame throwers; burning hearts; fireworks on their clothes; showers of sparkles; a huge foam cannon shaped like a penis… All part of the show. Utterly incredible.

A highlight was the band coming on-stage after a quick break to that walkway descending again. This time, they crawled back across to the small platform from where they’d begin the gig. This time it was prepared with a full set of instruments and they played a good handful of songs from there – far closer to the audience than you’d normally get at a stadium concert.

Rammstein (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

As well as the excellent performances, I met a couple of really nice people at the gig. One admired my camera (hi, Ant!) so I’ve pointed him at the photos. Another had come down from Glasgow, just like us, and started talking to me because he liked my shirt (“If you can’t mosh to it, it’s not worth listening to“).

Two hours just flew by. I would gladly fork out the money to see them again, and although the drive home exhausted me, it was absolutely worth it. If you’ve never seen Rammstein live before, then it’s something you simply have to do. People pay similar amounts for theatre tickets and probably don’t get half as spectacular a show as we got for our £50.

Roll on the next album and next tour.



Enhanced by Zemanta