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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Nickelback / Daughtry, Newcastle Arena

Nickelback
Nickelback (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[All pictures of both bands available on Flickr here: Daughtry / Nickelback]

Alright, let’s get this clear. Yes, I went to a Nickelback gig. No, I don’t care what you think. I am aware there was a Rock Radio reunion party and a Soulfly gig on in Glasgow on the same night, but those tickets went on sale after the Newcastle Arena ones for Nickelback. I still don’t get why they couldn’t fit in a date at the SECC to save me £70 in petrol, but hey.

Due to the distance, we got there around half seven – just in time to see the tail end of Daughtry. I’ve never heard of them, or the guy the band is named after, but apparently he’s a raging success after coming 4th in American Idol. That alone would have been enough to put me off him had I not seen the band perform first. Would I rush out and buy all their material? No. Would I turn the songs off if they came on the radio? Also no. Not bad, certainly talented, but just not raising the right neck-hairs for me.

Oh, around three minutes after we got there I had a nice, polite young lady in a yellow shirt telling me to put my camera away as the Nickelback production crew had insisted nobody was to take photos of the performance. I understood her position and she obviously wasn’t in agreement with it, so we moved somewhere into the crowd where nobody would be able to tap me on the shoulder. Seriously, in this day and age? Wake up, “Nickelback’s production crew”, you’re not losing any money from a few fans putting shots up on Twitter or wherever.

While I’m whinging, and before I get to the good stuff, I’d also like to mention that if you’re going to light a cigarette in a venue in the UK, please remember that a) it stinks, b) not to do it anywhere near me and c) it’s actually illegal and can have you fined and ejected. That message for the stupid bint behind me who at least ditched it when I told her quite firmly to do so. Also, petal, go and see a dentist. The smell coming over my shoulder from you was like someone trying to disguise chronic halitosis with cheap perfume and half a kilo of Floral Gums.

The Arena was packed, as far as I could tell, and the headliners came on around 9pm. Going for the “impressive light show” style of performance, they were never going to hit the visual heights of Rammstein (who the hell can?) but they probably used enough wattage to light up the moon had this been an open-air venue. The two drop-screens at the side catered for those at the back of the venue while the three large strip screens behind the stage alternated between choreographed footage, effects and live images as the show progressed. Impressive stuff.

Nickelback
Nickelback (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Despite putting on such a huge show, the band themselves don’t really come across as rock and roll “stars” in the way that some “larger-than-life” characters like Slash or Motley Crue often do. They seem more down to earth, interested in playing music and talking to the audience rather than using the stage as some kind of ego-boosting platform. Certainly, the banter was amusing and became slightly more sweary as the evening wore on and Chad downed more shots!

You could never say “all the hits were present” when you have a back-catalogue littered with top ten singles the way Nickelback do, especially when they’re obliged to play material off a new album. Many recognisable tunes were belted out, though, and in my personal view the best were saved for last with the set ending on a particularly good high.

Shouts were encouraged from the audience and there was much punching of the air and waving of devil horns as choruses kicked in. The guitar tech (well, the younger brother of the old one who’s gone off to seek his own fortune) was brought on stage to play a couple of songs, Daughtry joined them for a while, and beer was flung into the crowd along with the famous t-shirt cannons being used to distribute some free merchandise. This, as a rock and roll show, ticked all of the boxes.

Certainly when the last notes died out and the lights came up, the time seemed to have flown. As we walked out into the chilly night (unable to retrieve a ticket for my collection – who do they collect the damn things in? Why? I am missing two tickets from my collection, both from this venue!), Gillian was bouncing and we both reckoned it was worth the trip down.

So to all the “haters”: grow up. Are Nickelback commercially successful? Of course. Are they sell-outs? I don’t think so. I just don’t get why some people will heap loathing onto this Canadian band while going on about how great the Foo Fighters are. Both bands play similar types of music to similar audiences. Open your ears, watch a show and enjoy the entertainment. I’ll always prefer something heavier – Nickelback, to me, will never put on as good a show as Slipknot, Rammstein or Slayer for instance – but that doesn’t stop them being great fun for those ninety minutes.

Just next time, guys… play Glasgow, eh?

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