The Top Ten

Before WordPress I had a blog on the photosharing site multiply.com but that mysteriously disappeared without warning (and the domain name has since resurfaced as something else entirely). One of the posts I published was my all time top 10 concerts, I think it might even have sown the seed in my mind for starting this blog, which was initially for gig reviews and little else. Then the gigs got more and more scarce but my appetite for writing stayed healthy so I’ve tried to launch other blogs, but I can never really sustain the same enthusiasm levels as I can when going on about music. So, I am re-hashing blog posts from history now. I know the top 5 probably hasn’t changed since I wrote this the first time (7 years ago maybe?) but maybe the rest has. Who knows.

Here are my top ten gigs in ascending order from 10

10 Hawkwind @ Fairfield Halls, 1989

Difficult to choose a best one of 3 or 4 excellent Hawkwind gigs, but this was the first one. I only knew half of the songs in those days, so a lot of it was a journey of discovery.

9  Datsuns @ The Astoria, 2002

As with #10, the first of several epic performances. They’ve never put in a less than amazing show, but the first time will always be the greatest. One of the very  best live acts on the circuit, even now.

8  Queens Of The Stone Age @ The Forum, 2002

Awesome due to the fact that I only knew the first 3 or 4 tracks off Songs For The Deaf, and the rest of it blew me away completely. I scarcely listen to them any more, which definitely makes this gig the odd one out on this list.

7  Def Leppard @ Brixton Academy, 2003

The very best of big hair and spandex rock, American stylee. The consummate professionals, made me wonder why I’d never seen them before. I’d go and see them again, I really would.

6  Dandy Warhols @ Brixton Academy, 2003

Much better than I expected them to be. I thought they’d be all sloppy and stoned and shit but they are incredibly tight (for a tripped out jam band).

5  Muse @ Big Day Out, 2007

Awesomeness abounds. Hideous environs, awful festival saved by a great performance.

4  Rush @ Wembley Arena, 1992

My heroes. Possibly the best sound I’ve ever heard at Wembley (to put it another way, possibly the only time it hasn’t been shit). They were just so fucking good.

3  Porcupine Tree @ Bloomsbury Theatre, 1999

Reignited a love affair with the works of Steven Wilson that had taken a bit of a back seat while rave happened. There is very little he has ever been involved in that I don’t absolutely adore. I probably listen to his stuff more than Rush or Nada Surf, even.

2  Nada Surf @ ULU, 2003

They taunted me by not playing again in the UK during the 2 1/2 years I lived there after this. Now Matthew Caws lives there and they play there (relatively) regularly and I know I’ll probably never see them again, much as I would like to.

1  Metallica @ Hammersmith Odeon, 1988

Best because of what it meant to me, as well as the fact that Metallica fucking kick ass live. I have since passed up the opportunity to see them in Christchurch, I would definitely see them if they played in Dunedin (as has been rumoured once) but that’s about it. It’s all about the time and the place.

 

The top 3 or 4 are never likely to change (especially not now I live in Dunedin!) but the rest are somewhat fluid and there are a few at the lower reaches of the top ten that might drop out in favour of others, depending on mood, what I’m listening to when you ask me etc etc. NMA hasn’t quite made the cut, neither has Maiden or Sabbath. Oh the fickleness of Aoide (the muse of song, classics nerds)

I haven’t included any electronic acts, as the circumstances in which I saw them make it less easy to be objective about things (i.e. I was trolleyed) but Orbital or Eat Static at Brixton might have made the cut on another day, as might The Orb. If I wrote a list of top 10 most trolleyed gigs then they’d definitely be on it.

I have tickets to see The Cult and Steven Wilson in the next couple of months. I would be very surprised if Astbury & Duffy came anywhere near getting themselves on this list, but I would be mildly disappointed if Steven Wilson doesn’t disturb the order of things. To say I am looking forward to that one is something of an understatement. I’m flying up to Auckland on my own for that one…

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Reading Festival – 28/08/03 – er, Reading

Too old to go to Reading Festival for the whole weekend, but seeing as they do day passes, I thought it would be a nice day out to catch the Sunday, headlined by none other than Metallica. It was 13 years since my last visit (not counting a gig or two at the After Dark Club), and 7 since the last time I saw Metallica, so there was some nostalgia to be had somewhere along the line, for sure. St Anger is the worst album they’ve ever made, by some margin but I had seen a live show from Nuremburg on Sky a few weeks previously, and it was seriously classic laden, chugging along for a full half hour before any new stuff, if I recall correctly, so I wasn’t going to miss this. Not much else on the bill tickled my fancy, but it would be worth it just for the main act, and there would be bound to be a few surprises throughout the day.

Arrived in Reading at lunchtime, and ran the gauntlet of shoddy merchandise hawkers that lined the route from the station to the site. I grew out of tour shirts (figuratively speaking) years ago, and cheap, ill-fitting pirate tat from China was really not high on my list of priorities. The thing that struck me about Reading Festival this time round was the litter. Even though Glastonbury is a far cry from the tree-hugging crunchy granola-fest it once was, at least the people that go there now sort of clean up after themselves. Reading was just a sea of empty paper pint cups – there were possibly bins under there somewhere, but the entire site was pretty much a Carling-sponsored municipal tip. Anyway, when in Rome, I do not do as the indie kids do, so I lobbed my empties in the direction of where I thought the bin probably was, because I am environmentally responsible.

Anyway, cut to the chase, a few warm Carlings (in silly paper cups) later, and we found ourselves in the tent watching Radio 4, a reasonably entertaining punky indie outfit from Noo Yawk. Complete with guest appearance from Har Mar Superstar (what ever happened to him?). They had sounded a lot better on XFM, it must be said. Anyway, we were just maneuvering ourselves into a decent position for 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Now, when I saw them in the Garage 9 months previously, they were utterly brilliant. Here, in a large drafty tent in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t nearly so effective. The atmosphere was nowhere near as good, mind, as apart from a few dozen down the front, it was really just people waiting, arms folded and pints in hand, for the later acts. 80s Matchbox were good, but nowhere near as good as they should have been. Next up was Hell Is For Heroes, whom I pretty sure we ignored entirely, while we waited for Hot Hot Heat. I knew a couple of their songs from Eddy Temple-Morris’s show on XFM, and I liked what I heard. Live though, they were a bit hot and cold. Hot Hot Hot and Cold Cold Cold, I should say. Puh-dm-tsh! Wandered out into the main arena just as the shambolic Primal Scream were, well, shambling off the stage. They’ve done a couple of decent tracks over the years (although most of my favourites have been heavily remixed by the Andy Weatheralls of this world), but I’ve always thought of them as a second rate Rolling Stones tribute act fronted by a professional smackheed. But that’s just the opinion of a very particular old get. Sum 41 did little for me other than annoy the fuck out of me with their facile and saccharine brand of, and I use the term extremely loosely, ‘punk’. Green Day, Blink 182, Weezer, Good Charlotte (also on the bill that day, mercifully avoided), Sum 41 etc etc etc. Fucking yawn. I think this sums up my thoughts towards all of that crap. However, such was the need to get a half-decent position for System Of A Down, from where we could push on and get a better position for Metallica, that we sat through the whole set.

System Of A Down were good. Really good. They’re so different from almost everything else around. Half the attraction, I think, is the quasi-operatic vocal style, but the music is very intricate, and the interplay between the two vocalists really stands out. The riffz and ting is fairly ordinary crunchy metal fare, but combined with the yodeling and stuff, it’s a rather complex sound. Armenian avant-metal is the next big thing, I’m telling you.

So, to the main reason for coming, Metallica. The weather had held out for us, and it was nearly dark by the time they came on. The traditional Ennio Morricone intro blared out and then we were off with Battery. Dang, they still sound good. They crunched through Sanitarium, Harvester, Blackened and just the one from St Anger (!). Lars had obviously listened to some of the feedback about his drum sound on St Anger and put the snare back in to play live, it didn’t sound nearly so bad as I thought it would. This was the first time I’d seen them play with Rob Trujillo, and he was a more than adequate replacement for Jason Newstead, but neither will ever be Cliff Burton, obviously. He noodled about with a confident (but sub-Anaesthesia) bass solo that eventually morphed into the beginning of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, probably my fave Metallica track.  There was a little bit of silly swappyroundyinstrumentitis in evidence when Lars ended up on guitar and Kirk on drums but on the whole they were extremely awesome. They encored with Creeping Death and Sad But True, and the final one (as we were heading for the gate) was Enter Sandman.  A grand day out.

Headed for the gate early only because First Great Western, or  whichever Mickey Mouse train company is responsible for the bit between London and Reading, was planning to use buses to transport several thousand festival-goers instead of the usual trains. Queues would surely abound…

Metallica + Danzig – 10/10/88 – Hammersmith Odeon

I remember, three months prior to this concert, walking away from Star Green box office just off Oxford Street with a pair of tickets (purchased for the princely sum of ₤7.95 each , plus booking fee) knowing that I was on the edge of something big, but I really was totally unprepared for what Metallica were about to do to me. This was to be my first ever concert of any description. I’d never even seen a band in a pub before this. I’m not altogether sure I’d even seen any live music other than on Top Of The Pops, so, I really had no idea what to expect.

Metallica Oct 88 Hammersmith OdeonThose three months took forever to pass. Metallica was my absolute favourite band at the time, so the anticipation on arriving at Hammersmith Tube was pretty much unbearable. I’d never been to this part of London before, but the hordes of metal fans swarming Odeon-wards made my mum’s worries that I might get lost (thanks Mum, really metal) seem a trifle unnecessary. I felt an immense sense of comradeship with these hairy strangers, and before I’d even set foot inside the venue, I felt I was part of a some awesome and exclusive club.

Although then I had nothing which which to compare, the Hammersmith Odeon, if you want a sit-down venue, is probably the best in town.
Seats were upstairs, quite far back and way out to the side, but the stage looked really close and intimate, I was expecting to feel a lot further away from the action. I think, in my eagerness and green-ness, I probably arrived even before the doors opened, in order not to miss a single thing, so sat for an hour watching the roadies do their thing while all the adults (I was only 16) were in the bar.

At long last, the lights went down and it was time for Danzig. As I keep pointing out, I was new to this game, so I wasn’t aware of the social order on a rock tour like this – even though The Misfits were a great influence on Metallica, Glen Danzig was allowed a third of the stage, a third of the PA and virtually none of the lights. The rear two thirds of the stage was shrouded in black.

Danzig were quite possibly OK, but this was the first time I’d seen a live band, and not being a fan of The Misfits I remember being distinctly underwhelmed. They just sounded muddy and not what I wanted to hear. I think at that stage, there was absolutely nothing I wanted to hear that wasn’t Metallica. They were fairly well received but I was glad to see them leave the stage. Cue another 30mins of watching the roadies dismantle Danzig’s gear, tune guitars, test mics and all the other cool stuff roadies get to do. There was a period in my life, before I got a bass and became a ‘musician’, when my dream career was roadie for a metal band, and I’m certain that dream would have been born at this gig. Sure it involved lifting a lot of heavy stuff, but you got to almost be in a band.

Anyway, finally, the pivotal moment in my life was about to begin. The lights went down again, but way down this time. The place was properly dark. The anticipatory whistles and cheers from the three and a half thousand Metallica fans were deafening, as the band’s intro music (some Ennio Morricone cowboy theme) started up. Even louder cheers started from near the stage, where I guess the people in the front few rows could see the band walking out – it was just blackness to us up in the gods. Then Lars’s glow-in-the-dark drumsticks waved over the top of the black shroud hiding his kit, so I knew my heroes were actually on the stage, they were in the same room as me. The intro music stopped. OMFG this was it. The melodic whining intro to Blackened started up, growing louder and louder, building and building, the Hammy-O still pitch black. I wasn’t yet a massive fan of …And Justice For All, but this intro was just awesome – it seemed to go on twice as long as the album’s intro, but that could just have been the anticipation dragging it out to torturous proportions. With a blinding flash of pyro, the stage was instantly flooded in light as the drums and heavy riffing kicked in. Fucking hell this was in-fucking-credible. There, not a hundred feet from me, were Lars, James, Kirk and Jason, in the flesh, surrounded by fallen pillars and towered over by a thirty foot Lady Justice. Every head was banging, every fist was pumping. This was so much better than Danzig. The sound was incredible – I didn’t realize at the time, but the acoustics in the Hammy-O are probably the best of any large venue in London. It was like listening to the album, but with my head jammed inside the speakers. James Hetfield was, at the time, the coolest person on the planet, dressed entirely in black, with the low-slung white Gibson Explorer. The exact set list eludes me, more than two decades on, but I remember coming away entirely satisfied, they played everything I wanted to hear, including a couple off Garage Days Re-Revisited and even Am I Evil. It was all over in a couple of hours, but it made such an impression on me that I was transformed there and then into a professional gig-goer. I knew I had to do that again, and soon. My ears were ringing for two days after that, and that would have been the start of the tinnitus that plagues me now. Oh well, it was worth it…