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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Steel Panther / The Treatment – Glasgow O2 Academy

Steel Panther
Steel Panther (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[sets on Flickr of The Treatment and Steel Panther]

Amazingly, the day before the gig Steel Panther announced another tour in November with tickets on sale on Friday. With their recent opening slot for Def Leppard/Motley Crue and a performance at Download coming up you can’t fault their work-rate. Pretty damn good for a band a lot of people classed as a novelty cover act not too long ago.

Openers The Treatment weren’t too bad. A young bunch of upstarts from down south with all the bottle needed to get a crowd interested in them. They really looked the part with all the poses, bouncing, jackets, flash guitars and so on. The music wasn’t half bad and after the first couple of tracks my foot was tapping. It took me a while to find anything about them online – the name doesn’t make it easy to Google – but if you want to sample some of their stuff then check out their MySpace page.

Steel Panther bounced on stage (despite their creaky ages – Michael Starr‘s 50-ish years is constantly referred to throughout the set) around nine o’ clock and launched into a cracking set of songs from both albums. Starr has a cracking voice and in Satchel they have an incredibly talented guitarist. Drummer Stix Zadinia (*childish giggle*) is no slow poke either, and also a dab hand on the keyboards. It’s always hard to rate bassists especially with the mushy sound you get at the Academy, but Lexxi Foxxx at least looks the preening part.

Steel Panther
Steel Panther (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Despite being just off the lower floor area, we had a cracking view of all the action. They easily had the energy of the younger opening band, and a sense of humour more appropriate for an early teenager. Nob gags, blow-job miming, constant cries of “boobies!”, painful segues into each track – all of this made for a highly entertaining 90 minutes. If there was anything missing it was [name song here].

As ever, when a band has a decent amount of material to pick from, they always have to skip some stuff. In my opinion I’d hoped for “Stripper Girl” and “The Shocker”. Although I bet that there was one guy in the crowd who was more disappointed than me at the lack of the latter – he’d gone to all the trouble of dressing up for it!

The set passed in no time at all, including a couple of songs for an encore. The teenage part of me loved them grabbing girls from the audience to dance on stage for them and – surprise – one of them flashed the audience. I’m sure she’ll love that one cropping up all over Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube…

We legged it right after the gig to dodge the crowd and because Wendi had to drive home. As it turned out, the band left the venue while the crowd were still outside to sign autographs and get pictures taken. Great to hear that they’re still very much in touch with the people who are spending hard-earned cash to put them where they are. There aren’t that many bands that will still do that in this day and age.

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Steel Panther / Motley Crue / Def Leppard – SECC

[Flickr sets for the three acts can be found via these links: Steel Panther / Motley Crue / Def Leppard]

Steel Panther
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Three big bands, one expensive ticket… and in my view a very upside-down bill with the best band of the night opening and the weakest closing.

I missed Steel Panther a year or so ago when they played the Garage. I found out about the gig the day after they were on. Gutted. We predominantly got tickets for this shindig because they were on the bill despite it working out at over £50 per person with the booking fees. Of course, with the opening slot they only got about 40 minutes to play. And, of course, we were running late courtesy of traffic on the Squinty Bridge being rubbish for absolutely no reason and a huge queue to pick up pre-ordered tickets.

As a result, we caught maybe 30 minutes of the set. Thankfully a) what we saw was excellent and b) they’re headlining their own show at the Academy in March for which we’ve already got tickets. A large number of people were definitely there to see them (in particular the guy dressed up in a “Shocker” costume) and I think they’ve made themselves a lot of fans from this tour, too.

Let’s give them credit. They’re taking the piss out of the rock and roll lifestyle that the likes of Crue led during the 80’s and 90’s. However, they’re doing it with imagination and great musical talent, plus a desire to put on a genuinely fun show. I’m really looking forward to the gig next year.

After a surprisingly short set change, Motley Crue exploded (quite literally) onto stage with fireworks going off as the curtain dropped. I was on my way back from the bar with some overpriced soft drinks as the lot went off and I’m glad I didn’t drop anything.

Now, I’ve seen Crue twice before. The first time was at Graspop a few years back where they headlined… and were awful. Marina and I gave up after maybe three songs of flat-vocals and badly-tuned instruments. I then caught them at Sonisphere (I think) last year where there was definitely some improvement.

Motley Crue
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

Tonight they put on the kind of show you’d expect from a band who’ve been doing this for so long. They’re definitely not as young as they once were, but – like Steel Panther before them – they gave it everything. For those who’ve seen them live before, there were no real surprised. Indoor fireworks, flames, explosions and part of a roller coaster stolen from an amusement park somewhere which has had Tommy Lee‘s drum kit welded to it.

One of the highlights was a blink-and-you’d-miss-it appearance by Justin Bieber… as one of the photographs displayed on the huge backdrop during “Girls, Girls, Girls“. A cheap shot, but who cares.

Although they’re not one of my favourite bands, and I really wasn’t expecting much from them Motley Crue did themselves proud and certainly entertained a sizeable crowd for ninety minutes. I reckon their stage set along accounted for 50% of the ticket price.

And so to the headliners. Def Leppard have been going for about as long as Crue and, during the Hysteria heyday, apparently went through an equivalent amount of drugs, booze and women as did their American counterparts. They had a comeback at Download last year which received rave reviews with an energetic performance. Sadly, tonight, I don’t think they pulled that off.

Def Leppard
Image by Iain Purdie via Flickr

The set was fine. Every song was a hit, but it was obvious even before they took to the stage that they weren’t the band of choice from the three on the bill. The crowd had visibly thinned as soon as Crue departed and those that were left began trickling out less than a third of the way through the Steel City’s finest’s set. In honesty, we only stayed as we begrudged paying over £50 per ticket only to leave early. That and Gillian and Wendi were busy perving the guitarist.

In all honesty, though, we were all bored. After half an hour or so, we were checking our watches and I was spending more time on Tweetdeck than I was on watching the show. They weren’t that great to start with, but following on from two such good acts just made it worse for them.

I just wish I’d seen Def Leppard about 20 years ago when I was really into them. This just wasn’t the right time to catch their show. For the die-hard I’m sure it was a great performance, but for those who were just there to see the rest of the bill it was somewhat disappointing.

Full marks to Joe Elliott, though, who battled his way through a sore throat. This meant the high notes just weren’t going to be hit but it’s better than cancelling. One note to the band, though. If you’re playing a city split by royalist sectarianism such as Glasgow… don’t emblazon your stage with Union flags when you walk off before your encore. There was a notable section of the crowd booing them as a result. Sad – but even sadder that it wasn’t surprising when it happened.

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Big gig update

I have five gigs to attend this week. In fact, I’m just in from the first (Machine Head at the SECC). However, due to this silly “work” thing I have to go to each day I’m going to struggle to get the reviews up shortly afterwards, so expect a deluge over the weekend.

In addition, I got a new toy – a Panasonic Lumix TZ20. It has a cracking zoom and the photos from the gig tonight are definitely a step above what I’ve been getting in the past. Not professional level by any shot, but definitely more “keepers” than “chuckers” out of the 200+ I took. This means more upload time to Flickr, but what the heck. It’s all fun!

I also promise that I’ll try my best to get back to some general posts on here rather than the constant film and gig reviews.

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Have I mentioned Steel Panther yet?

I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this bunch of nutters before but they have a new video out. Steel Panther apparently started off as a parody act purely ripping the piss out of glam bands. They did a show on Broadway or in Vegas or something. Google them to find out. It’s not important.

What is important is the fact that they’re incredibly entertaining, rude and don’t take themselves at all seriously. Very rock’n’roll!

They have also gone down the standard metal road taken by their forebears – Queen, AC/DC, Spinal Tap and Hayseed Dixie amongst others – and released a song about fat birds. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Fat Girl [Thar She Blows]” (courtesy of Metal Injection)…

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