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.

SO – GIG OF THE YEAR?

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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Devin Townsend Project / Fear Factory – Glasgow O2 ABC

Fear Factory
Fear Factory (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[Photo sets on flickr: Fear Factory and Devin Townsend Project]

Happy birthday to me! And after a huge KFC and a phone call after some interviews to say I’d been offered the new job I was after, we headed into Glasgow to see the pioneers of industrial metalFear Factory.

Annoyingly, they weren’t headlining and even if they had – being the ABC – they’d only have had an hour anyway. Despite getting there shortly after 7pm we’d missed the openers (Tesseract), but were in decent time to grab a pint before Burton and Pals came on stage.

You could  tell the sound was better than last week’s Little Angels gig simply from the sound check. The bass was far clearer, there was no distortion and the vocals were sharp. However, this actually worked against Fear Factory as Burton’s voice just isn’t what it used to be.

During the heavier numbers, he was fine. But get onto the supposed harmonies on tracks such as “Resurrection” and he was flatter than a flat thing that had been flattened. At times the vocals just seems to go quiet as well and I’m not sure if that was Burton himself or just he sound.

This aside, the set was crushing with a great selection of tracks. The core of the crowd did warm to them, but it was obvious that the majority of the ABC were just treating them as a distraction until the headliner came on. A shame. Not too many years ago (OK, maybe 10), I’d seen Fear Factory pack out the Barrowlands which has, I would guess, a similar capacity to the ABC. Now they’re playing places like the Garage with a fraction of the audience.

When a band plays a set as good as theirs, with such a distinctive sound it’s a pity to see them not getting that recognition. Mind you, I’m going to say that as I’m a fan. Certainly they looked like they enjoyed it, and there was little time for audience interaction as they jammed the sixty minute set with a sensible number of classics as well as a couple of well received tracks from new album The Industrialist.

With fan favourites such as Linchpin, Edgecrusher, and Replica in there it was always going to get messy and indeed the smallish pit did its best for the duration of the set. Huge credit to the security staff for handling things well (as always) including a very disciplined method for making sure crowdsurfers didn’t get hurt!

Devin Townsend Project
Devin Townsend Project (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

All too short a time to play for after such a long wait for a tour, but even with Burton’s poor vocals (sorry, Burton) this was a show I was glad I made it to.

The Devin Townsend Experience took to the stage around 9pm and… well, they underwhelmed Gillian and myself. Despite some nice, crunching, heavy intros not one of the songs grabbed us. The stage show seemed to be a set of in-jokes for a bunch of tripped-out fanboys and Townsend himself spent the time between singing lyrics mugging to the crowd like a nutjob or muttering life-affirming epithets.

While the guitars were good, the drumming adequate and the keyboards OK (as far as keyboards go), they all sounded like they were trying to follow a different rhythm and the whole sounded very stilted indeed. Seriously not our kind of thing. I’m all for variety in music and often I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a support or other band I’ve known nothing much about until I saw them live. Not this time.

So we retired to the aptly-named “Polar Bar” (it’s like a bloody ice box in there), finished our drinks, had a chat and wandered off home.

Oh, a quick shout out to Sean who I got talking to on the Lawnmower Deth facebook page. Nice to meet you, fella! Here’s to next time!

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