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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

The concept behind the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, where a particular band/artist is chosen to curate the event, is a genius one but it isn’t new or unique – the annual Meltdown Festival held at London’s South Bank Centre has been inviting notable musicians to program the festival’s lineup since 1993. Previous luminaries to have acted as curator include Scott Walker, David Bowie, Nick Cave, Lee “Scratch” Perry and John Peel (not a musician of course, but certainly deserving of a Meltdown curatorship), and this year it is the turn of Jarvis Cocker. Cocker has invited an intriguingly diverse set of performers, from the reformed Jesus & Mary Chain to Roky Erickson, by way of Motörhead, Devo and the “vintage Disney songbook” (as performed by Nick Cave, Grace Jones, Pete Doherty, Beth Orton, Shane MacGowan and Cocker himself). The two shows that most caught my eye were that of Sunn O))) and Iggy & The Stooges (with Scout Niblett in support), with The Stooges to perform in the newly-refurbished Royal Festival Hall and sure to give the revamped acoustics a good test!

The Sunn O))) performance takes place in the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 18 June. In keeping with the band’s cowled & cloaked mystique, the impressive array of amps onstage looks like a set of megaliths, it’s like we’re about to witness some arcane druidic ritual. Smoke machines work overtime to fill the cavernous space of the concert hall, and when the air is suitably hazy the lights go down and five shadowy figures take to the stage. Sunn O))) high priests Stephen O’Malley (gloom-axe) and Greg Anderson (sub-bass) are tonight joined by ‘vokillist’ Attila Csihar, Daniel O’Sullivan (Guapo) on keyboards, and Steve Stapleton of Nurse With Wound (electronics, treated guitar) – it was rumoured that Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu) would be part of the line-up, but (sadly for a Broadrick fanboy like me) he doesn’t appear.
All that is initially visible on stage is the blonde-wigged Attila, lit by two green spotlights, long blonde hair cascading out of his hood, a ghostly figure contorted in the enveloping smoke. His ‘vokills’ range from Gregorian-like chanting to grunts & gurgles & hisses that evoke a Lovecraftian otherworld, while behind him the band create a physically-punishing doom drone. I have never before experienced sound as a physical force in this way – sitting in the QEH’s comfortable leather seats, the rumbling sub-bass and guitar drones feel as though they’re re-arranging my internal organs. It is not an unpleasant experience – I find that Sunn O)))’s sound has a soporific quality, and several times during the performance I drift into a near-sleep meditative state.
After the first piece Attila leaves the stage and the band switch into another innard-massaging glacial riff. The stage is still dark and enshrouded in smoke, the imposing backline occasionally lit with red & orange from behind, as though Sunn O))) are playing on the lip of one of Hell’s lava pits. O’Malley and Anderson play their guitars in a ritualistic way, raising them high in the air before bringing them down as another reverberating gloom chord is struck.
Attila rejoins the band for the final piece, this time clad in a blood-stained hessian sack with only one arm-hole – a grotesque, malformed presence to go with his unearthly guttural growls and unnerving Blixa Bargeld-like screams. When the performance ends I’m in a daze and completely miss the fact that when the lights come back on the performers are all lying around the stage as if dead – I was too involved in my own Sunn O)))-induced nightmarish visions to clock the (theatrically) gruesome scene right before me…

Sunn O))) - Meltdown Festival (18/06/2007)

Here is a mix of material from the 2007 tour-only “Oracle” double-disc, which is similar in sound to Sunn O)))’s Meltdown performance.

Sunn O))) – Oracle mix

A few photos of the performance can be viewed at Damon Allen Davison‘s Flickr page.
Southern Records have made available some Sunn O))) mp3s in the Discography section of the band’s Southern homepage here.

It’s always great when you’re equally as keen on the support act as on the headliner, so “thank you Jarvis” I really got my money’s worth this night of 20 June 2007. Unfortunately much of the (aged) Stooges crowd doesn’t seem interested in Scout Niblett‘s primal rock and the vast Royal Festival Hall is quite empty. This doesn’t deter Scout and she plays a typically delicate/savage show, her soaring voice effortlessly filling the spacious concert hall. The set is similar to her recent Bush Hall show, starting off with two new songs (presumably to appear on the Steve Albini-recorded album due this Autumn), followed by “Lullaby For Scout In 10 Years” and “No-one’s Wrong (Giricocola)”. She then kicks drummer Kristian Goddard off the drumset for “PomPoms” and “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death” (“We’re all gonna die!”). With Scout back on guitar we get the sparse “Dinosaur Egg”, to which she adds a couple of new verses to the David Shrigley-penned lyrics. There’s one more new song before she closes with the grungey guitar and martial drum rolls of “Hot To Death”.

For some great photos from Scout’s performance check Lee Hooper‘s Flickr set here.

Iggy Pop is both a force of nature and a freak of nature. From the opening “Loose” to the performance’s end well over an hour later, Iggy is barely stationary: leaping around the stage, rolling around on the floor, throwing the mic (and mic-stand) around, and on his knees worshipping in front of the speaker stacks (with some simulated amp-copulation thrown in for good measure). It’s only a couple of songs in and he’s thrown himself from the stage into the arms of the adoring fans. Later on he smashes a beer bottle against his mic stand, and although a diligent Royal Festival Hall employee is quick to remove the broken glass from the stage almost immediately, I’m happy in the knowledge that there has still gotta be a few pieces laying around for Iggy to roll around in as though it were 25 years ago. He’s in his trademark gig ‘uniform’ – shirtless in tight blue jeans – and with his boundless energy and muscled torso it is impossible to believe that this man is 60 years old. No fuckin’ way, it can’t be.
The Stooges play like champions and deliver exactly what I’d hoped, powering through their early material (everything off “Fun House” bar “L.A. Blues” and half of “The Stooges”) with vigour and intensity. The band are even joined by “Fun House” saxophonist Steve Mackay on the likes of “1970” and “Fun House”. Every song sounds like a masterpiece – The Stooges’s sound is (or should be) hardwired into the DNA of every alternative rock fan there is. During “Real Good Time” and the following “No Fun” Iggy invites about thirty audience members up on to the stage to jump around with him, an activity which he describes as “very Benny Hill” once the ‘dancers’ have been sent back down…
The second half of the set is less engaging, given over to newer material from this year’s “The Weirdness” and a couple of songs from Iggy’s “Skull Ring” album (2003) which saw him collaborate with the Asheton brothers for the first time since The Stooges split in 1974. I must confess to not having heard “The Weirdness”, having been put off by some pretty negative write-ups, and on the evidence of “Trollin'”, “I’m Fried” and “She Took My Money” I won’t be rushing out to lay claim to a copy – these songs are overshadowed by some rather puerile/juvenile lyrics, and just don’t have that magic ingredient that The Stooges managed to distill into their first two albums. The night ends with an encore of “Not Right” and “Little Electric Chair”, and although I leave exhilirated by having finally seen this seminal band in action, I would have left happier if the set had been restricted to the first nine songs.

Iggy & The Stooges - Meltdown Festival (20/06/2007)

Setlist: Iggy & the Stooges @ Royal Festival Hall, London
(20 June 2007) part of Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown Festival
Down On The Street
I Wanna Be Your Dog
TV Eye
Real Good Time
No Fun
Fun House
Skull Rings
I’m Fried
She Took My Money
Not Right
Little Electric Chair

Lee Hooper has some great shots of Iggy in action here at Flickr. Chart (weekly)

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