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An aural overview of some of my favourite records of 2009 is now available on the Mixtapes page. Go forth safe in the knowledge that it is an Animal Collective/Fever Ray/the xx-free zone…

And in thinking back on another year that fizzed by, yet was again punctuated by many wonderful live music experiences, I couldn’t resist coming up with a list of those that seemed extra special. When I’m standing in a crowd, washed over by waves of sound, I often think that this is as close to religion as I’m ever gonna get. The shared experience with one’s fellow concert-goers (who in that moment don’t seem to to be the greedy, selfish, stupid creatures that many of us are), seeing, hearing, feeling what is arguably humankind’s greatest artistic expression (I’m talking about Music, not David Yow’s bodily fluids), well it makes me feel good to be alive. These are ten instances where that feeling came on particularly strong – if you were there, you know what I mean…

The Jesus Lizard, Dälek, Grails, Magnolia Electric Co, Sonic Youth

l-r: (top) David W Sims of The Jesus Lizard, Dälek (middle) Grails
Magnolia Electric Co (bottom) Sonic Youth

Dälek @ Sonic City festival, De Kreun, Kortrijk, Belgium (04 April 2009)
Over an early-April weekend, Dälek curated their own ATP-like mini festival in the Belgian city of Kortrijk, bringing together friends & heroes like 2nd Gen, Earth, Zu and Charles Hayward – but it was the curators themselves (assisted by buddies Oddateee and Destructo Swarmbots) that stole the show with their industrial-strength beats & dense rhymes smothered in an avalanche of noise.

Grails @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
Highlight (one of many) of an ATP that delivered so much. Extra percussionist Dave Abramson allowed Emil Amos to switch between guitar and drums, and Sunn O))) soundman Randall Dunn manned the analogue synths, creating the sample-filled dronescapes that linked the songs into a single thrilling journey through exotic otherlands.

The Jesus Lizard @ ATP: The Fans Strike Back festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (10 May 2009)
The night before, the Lizard’s first show in some ten years, was something special for its sense of occasion and because the band delivered on all expectations. But this show seemed that bit better, like they rocked a little harder, a little tighter, a little shinier. But maybe only because I was able to properly focus on rawk-ing along, instead of standing transfixed like a mouth-breathing happy bunny caught fluff-fluffing in the headlights thinking “oh my god! It’s the Jesus Lizard!!!” …

Magnolia Electric Co. @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (29 May 2009)
Good times in the sweltering Spanish sunshine. The ever-affable Jason Molina and his Magnolia cohorts ‘classic country rock’-ed their way through much of “Josephine“, and although you’ll never hear Molina revisit Songs: Ohia material, at least they delved into the recent past for nuggets like “Leave The City”, “Hard To Love A Man” & “The Dark Don’t Hide It” – and were demanded back by the baying crowd for an encore of “Hammer Down”.

Sonic Youth @ Primavera Sound festival, Barcelona, Spain (30 May 2009)
Wow! With Pavement bassist Mark Ibold in the line-up, Kim Gordon (one hot [gran]mama in ripped stockings) could switch between adding extra guitar attack-ack-ack or double bass thump to the Yoof’s swirling noiserock. The whole show thundered by as though a blissed-out daydream, the crowd seemingly surfing on an euphoric wave of energy. Songs from “The Eternal”  made up the majority of the set, but it was oldies like “‘Cross The Breeze”, “Tom Violence” and closer “Expressway To Yr Skull” that had my grin at its widest.

Neurosis @ Patronaat, Haarlem, the Netherlands (08 July 2009)
Launching with “At The End Of The Road”, Neurosis quickly constructed a towering wall of sound, but the intricate interplay of the instruments was never lost in the din. The set is “Given To The Rising”-HEAVY (prompting a positive re-evaluation of an album that sorta passed me by), the atmosphere dark and oppressive – not least because the band have it written into their agreement with the venue that all airco is turned off during their set, making for a sweaty & claustrophobic experience.

Oneida @ Paradiso, Amsterdam, the Netherlands (14 August 2009)
The Little “O” seemed to be having a particularly good time (pleased too that the Big “O” was playing the main hall downstairs at the same time), the positive energy emanating from the stage proving infectious. Oneida sure know how to work a rifftastic groove, and man can that Kid Millions play the drums.

Micah P Hinson @ Toutpartout 15 Years Birthday Night, Botanique, Brussels, Belgium (28 November 2009)
Micah P‘s self-confessional and intimate songs were perfectly suited to the amazing Rotunda room in the Botanique (situated in the botanical gardens of Brussels), surely one of the best live music venues around. He played plenty off covers album “All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers“, paying tribute to his musical heroes & influences, including “coked-up airplane pilot” John Denver with a goosebump-inducing rendition of “This Old Guitar”.

Six Organs Of Admittance @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (11 December 2009)
The joke round these parts goes: although I’m an appreciator of the axe-wielding babe-ness of Elisa Ambrogio, I’d much rather shack up with her beau Ben Chasny. Well there was no Elisa this time, but aided by Alex Nielsen’s expressive drumming and the baritone guitar of Andrew Mitchell, Chasny delivered the highlight of the festival – well, at least until Shellac came, saw & conquered two days later.

Shellac @ 10 Years of ATP festival, Butlins Minehead, UK (13 December 2009)
About as perfect as a rock show can be. They’ve got the tunes, they play together as though they’ve discovered the ability to mind-meld, shit there’s even choreography (Albini’s impression of a slowed-down-then-sped-up-tape is spot on). And inbetween the ‘minimalist hard rock’ songs that make you wanna bang your head, they are just fuckin’ funny – Shellac stage-banter is second only to that of Warren Ellis in laugh-out-loud comedy gold.

Todd Trainer: “Do I look like I can fuck??!!”
Albini: “He’s being modest – he’s a genetically-engineered machine designed to only fuck and play drums. He’s the result of a gene-splicing experiment conducted on Gene Krupa and one of those earth-moving machines…”

Neurosis, Micah P Hinson, Oneida, Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

l-r: (top) Neurosis (middle) Micah P Hinson, Oneida
(bottom) Shellac, Six Organs Of Admittance

Of course, this list omits many other memorable experiences. Sheeee-it, I saw The Jesus Lizard in three different countries, the always-awesome Shellac the same. There was Sunn O)))’s Atilla Csihar creating an incredible piece of performance art with his cloak of mirrors, lasered-claws and mesmerising mix of hellish growls, throat singing & Gregorian-style chanting. Sleep (temporarily) reunited! Nick Cave playing stripped-down versions of Bad Seeds songs (backed only by Warren Ellis & Martyn P Casey), interspersed with readings from his latest novel. Two fantastic ATPs with a Primavera in balmy Barcelona sandwiched inbetween. Anti-Pop Consortium transposed from Nieuw Haarlem to the Old. And many more great nights out in the various ‘poppodia’ in an around Amsterdam. Huge gratitude to all those that made these happen.


Jason Molina + Okkervil River @ Crossing Border festival, Den Haag (23-Nov-2007)

Jason Molina @ Crossing Border festival, Den Haag

I arrived too late to see anything much of Okkervil River, but lucked into catching a live radio session from Okkervil’s Will Sheff later on. Then scored front-row seats for Jason Molina‘s solo set of electric blues. Molina, typically polite and humble, disappoints his hard core of Dutch fans (who identify themselves by their unanimous snappy correction of the MC’s mispronunciation of “Songs: Ohio“) by drawing from his last handful of releases and not playing any Songs: Ohia material. I too would love to hear him play some of his earliest songs – but Molina is a searcher, not looking back: this is a man who purportedly will play songs at nights like this that he wrote that same morning.

See Molina play “Memphis Moon” @ Crossing Border here

Qui + Future Of The Left @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (26-Nov-2007)

Future Of The Left finally arrive in the fine city of Amsterdam and deliver another acerbic, eloquently nonsensical set of short sharp sonic slams. Although ostensibly the support act to Qui, they are demanded back by the baying crowd for an instrument-abusing & drum-kit-disassembling encore. And all my FotL-stalking bears fruit: this is the first time I’ve ever had a song devoted to me, the particularly appropriate “Small Bones Small Bodies”!

Better Bovine Than Equine

Better Bovine Than Equine? (gevelsteen, Leiden)

David Yow now prowls menacingly rather than the all-action style he was renowned for when playing with Jesus Lizard, but that adds a tension to his performance – the audience never sure if he will flail off the stage when Qui hit one of their riff-peaks. He only leaves stage once, probably less from intent than from the unbalancing effects of excessive alcohol consumption…

See Qui play “Today, Gestation” @ Paradiso here

Jesu + Fear Falls Burning @ Paradiso (bovenzaal), Amsterdam (05-Dec-2007)

Jesu @ Paradiso, Amsterdam

Justin Broadrick is a supremely talented and influential musican – with a genre making-and-breaking history that takes in teenage inventor of grindcore (Napalm Death), a stint behind the kit with Head of David, the almighty mighty Godflesh, macro-dub infection (Ice, Techno Animal) and various breakbeat incarnations.
So yes, tonight I come to worship at the altar of JK Flesh, at his harmonics-bouncing-off-the-roof-of-hell guitar and his incredible way with machines. Jesu, the misty early morning light to Godflesh’s dark corners, is now a fully-fledged band, Broadrick augmented by longtime-collaborator Diarmuid Dalton on bass and drummer Ted Parsons, another with a special musical pedigree: Swans, Prong, Foetus, Godflesh amongst many (mostly dubbed-up) others. Parson pounds with precision and power, Broadrick’s programming filling in the spaces between and meshing perfectly with Parson’s biomechanical beats and Dalton’s low-end pulses. And then there is that guitar

State-X / New Forms festival @ Pard van Troje, Den Haag (14&15-Dec-2007)

State-X / New Forms festival @ Pard van Troje, Den Haag

from top: Killl, Michael Gira, Scout Niblett, Sunn O)))

An excellent two-night festival split across the multi-roomed Pard van Troje venue in The Hague. Catch the close of melodic Scottish indierockers The Twilight Sad‘s set, before then being put through the wringer by Norweigian math-metal supergroup Killl with their strobe assault, eye-twisting backdrop and extremely precise (and loud!) power-electronics-augmented Viking riffage. The night ends with an uninspiring (DJ?)set from Aphex Twin, too populist in its intent but insufficiently groovesome to get the crowd going.
Night #2 starts with another superb Michael Gira performance (always in humble good (dark) humour), shining a cleansing, burning white light on all our failures and inadequacies . Unfortunately then have to make the difficult choice between Jesu and Scout Niblett, Scout winning through having been treated to Jesu in Amsterdam 10 days previously. She again delivers in spades, quickly winning over the first-timers with her powerful combination of kickass and fragile. It’s the first Scout gig I’ve seen where she doesn’t take a turn to bash at the drums, which disappoints some of us but ends up making for a powerful performance with her grungy guitar riffage well underpinned by Kristian Goddard‘s hard-hitting drums.
The night ends with Sunn O)))‘s pagan drone worship, their innards-massaging rumbles nicely filling the large space of the main venue.

Aesop Rock @ Melkweg, Amsterdam (05-Feb-2008)

Aesop Rock @ Melkweg, Amsterdam

Aesop, ably assisted by New York compadre Rob Sonic and DJ Big Whiz’s Wheels Of Steel, brings peace & good times to the Melkweg. By the closer “Daylight” he has the whole crowd signing along to his tongue-twisting rhymes, and before that we’re treated to plenty of songs from his recent “None Shall Pass” album and some amazing cuts from Big Whiz (when Aesop instructs him to “take us into outer space” in the midst of “Bring Back Pluto” he even adds some theremin caressing  to his dextrous fingerplay). Songs like “Fast Cars”, “39 Thieves” and “Commencement At The Obedience Academy” are all fist-pumpingly great, the animated skulls and bunnies of Jeremy Fish providing a suitably left-field backdrop.

Whip @ De Nieuwe Anita, Amsterdam (12-Feb-2008)

De Nieuwe Anita is the very definition of “gezellig“, a converted ground floor & basement apartment in a large residential block on a wide Amsterdam street, where you can have a beer while you get your hair cut. Whip brings his shy acoustic blues free-of-charge to the small appreciative crowd packed into the basement performance space (I later learn that Jason Merritt’s claustrophobia kicked in and left him messed up for a couple of days after). His “Atheist Lovesongs To God” release had him sounding like an early Palace-era Will Oldham, but his newer songs show him ploughing his own furrow.

Here is Whip‘s cover version of Billy Idol‘s “White Wedding”, from the “Bridging The Distance” benefit compilation on Arena Rock.

Whip – White Wedding Chart (weekly)

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