Because live music is the best.
Prior to the pandemic suddenly pulling the emergency brake on everything, I was basically living gig-to-gig. In the throes of a deep crippling depression, painfully lonely, and having my arse kicked by a gender dysphoria I hadn’t managed to get a proper handle on yet, I took solace in the fact that, amidst the vast ever-stretching horizon of nothing good-looking in my future, the next live music concert was never too far away. The ability to just get away from everything causing me mental anguish for a couple of hours, losing myself totally in the music I love and which helps me process my feelings a bit more clearly than I can on my own, amongst similar people. The surprise and the comforting expectation all at once. My dreadful financial state may have been primarily caused by flinging money at concerts at every opportunity, likely perpetuating that cycle, but I didn’t care. Gigs helped keep me centred. Then, just like that, they were gone.
After being pretty cautious in the back-half of 2021, when things started opening up again and I felt slightly less concerned by the possibility of catching a deadly virus every time I stepped foot outside my door, I went a bit concert-mad in 2022. Since I hadn’t been going out anywhere for the vast majority of the pandemic and, though it feels weird to use this term to describe a living situation brought about due to my Dad falling into a coma, privileged to not have to pay any rent or expenses, I’d saved up a little bit of a safety cushion that I could splurge on gigs without worrying about going fully broke. By the time in mid-April that Yeah Yeah Yeahs announced UK dates, I made a self-pledge to spend one year attending every single gig I was vaguely interested in. I don’t go out, I don’t have hobbies besides music and cinema, I don’t drink. One year of self-indulgence, then I promise to be a proper responsible adult and shit.
Whether 2023 involves me becoming a proper responsible adult is yet to be determined – though it looks unlikely since I spent £100 on Blur tickets – but in 2022, I tried to make it to every show I could. 36 total, and it would’ve been at least 44 had I not broken my hip in London and been forced to give up a full month-and-a-half of pre-booked fun times. All bar one were good nights out, too! Unfortunately, my brain is broken and, at a certain point in the year, began yelling at me about how I needed to turn these fun little mood-boosters into some kind of work otherwise “YOU’RE WASTING YOUR LIFE! WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO WHEN YOUR PARENTS FINALLY DIE, HUH? YOU’RE A DRAINING WASTE ON EVERYBODY!” and all the other hits that come from being mentally ill in a capitalist society. Hence, this. Because work on my Top 50 Songs of 2022 series was so exhausting and I’m not sleeping great, I was gonna do just small capsules for the write-ups so we could get this over with in one go. But, as has been repeatedly proven over the years, I am incapable of brevity so, yeah, proper listicle split in two. God help me.
Before diving in, something important to note that I’m not just rating the headliner’s performance here. Despite what an increasing number of TOTAL ARSEHOLES WHO TALK THROUGH THE OPENER may believe, a gig is not just about the artist you paid money to see standing on-stage and not totally bollocking up their songs. A gig is the full experience. From the time you get in line outside to the time you step back into the cold night air. The venue, the sound, the support acts, even the crowd you’re stuck with all affect the quality of a gig and, since I’m the kind of miserable nerd who feels the need to rank their year of live music, all factor into the overall placement on this two-part countdown. Some shows can overcome poor sound mixing, others can be dragged down from dreadful supports, and basically none can get around shit crowds. All good? Then…
Support: Treeboy + Arc
Venue: Welly, Hull
Date: 4th March
Can’t in good conscience rate this one cos my old work buddy Lydia is the band’s bass-player. I wouldn’t be going to see the band, or buying their music, if I didn’t think they were good, but I also don’t feel fully comfortable ranking them proper either cos of the inherent bias. LIFE are really good, though! Quality Brit indie-punk with a fun live show! You should go see them!
35] Snail Mail
Support: The Goon Sax
Venue: O2 Ritz, Manchester
Date: 23rd June
The one real exception to my “all shows were a great night” statement. My second time seeing Snail Mail live and, sadly, I just think the live stage exposes her weaknesses as a performer. Better than on the Lush tour, but still off-key and uncomfortable way more than not (“Light Blue” was painful). Also, the worst sound mix I have ever heard at a live show: drums>bass>>>>>guitars>>>>>vocals>keys. This was the one show all year where I experienced the kind of Terminally Online audience which has been plaguing gigs since the pandemic changed things; there was this one guy near the front who just kept screaming at everything and using terms like “mother” despite Lindsay being 23, made a real uncomfortable vibe. Still love her music, but think it’s gonna be in a non-live capacity going forward.
Oh, and the most notable part of Goon Sax’s opening set was when one of their guitar strings broke and they had to vamp for five excruciating minutes whilst a member of the audience restrung it for them. Goon Sax broke up barely a month later. Pretty grim foreshadowing when looked back on, honestly.
Support: Niamh Regan
Venue: EartH, London
Date: 7th October
This one was a let-down for me but for nothing to do with SOAK themselves; as you’ll see later, I really like SOAK live. Turned out that EartH was an all-seated venue arranged like an old-fashioned theatre, something I didn’t know when I bought the ticket (cos it was the only tour date I could hit with London Film Festival on). Seated gigs just feel distant and disconnected to me, too regimented and unnatural for somebody who likes being able to dance and react fully. SOAK are great as a band, this one was just my personal gig preferences.
33] Dua Lipa
Venue: First Direct Arena, Leeds
Date: 18th April
Crowd really ruined this. Dua’s come on majorly as a live performer in the Future Nostalgia era – spectacle, choreography, crowd engagement, set flow; all tops – but unfortunately all I can remember is the abysmal normie crowd who were piss-drunk, smoking shit vapes and weed that smelt like burnt toast, constantly getting into fights with each other, and just standing still at a dance show WHY THESE WERE NOT CHEAP TICKETS. An older drunk guy got into a proper altercation with a similarly drunk woman during anti-misogyny anthem “Boys Will Be Boys,” even screaming the chorus in her face, which was at least ironically funny and doubly so when security finally threw his ass out two songs later.
32] The Killers
Venue: Etihad Old Trafford, Manchester
Date: 11th June
The Killers’ eternal problem is that Those Six Songs overshadow literally everything else in their discography, even with Imploding the Mirage (the record they were touring) being their best album overall. It’s not the worst problem to have, since the group ecstasy which ensues when one does get played is mega, but it means that the energy at a Killers show dies a death in between Those Six Songs. Brandon Flowers tries to be a proper showman to compensate – inviting fans to play drums for a song, referring to their show as a “super-spreader event” (of rock and roll), and this was the show with the 67 year-old crowd surfer – yet, ultimately, you can feel the crowd tap their feet waiting for Those Six (Seven if You Don’t Think “Human” is Rubbish) Songs.
Also, Blossoms’ opening set was an entire hour. That is way too fucking long for a band like Blossoms to be playing. I heard maybe one ‘banger’ in the whole set. Interminable.
31] Wolf Alice
Support: Matt Maltese
Venue: O2 Academy, Sheffield
Date: 1st March
At the sixth time of asking, I finally got to experience a Wolf Alice show without needing to attach some kind of qualifier or excuse to it. (In order: festival show before I’d digested the debut fully, in the middle of ketoacidosis, ruined by heckling pissheads, album release show, post-Q Awards in the Roundhouse.) And it was… fine. It was fine. Band sounded great but lacked energy and stage presence. A hot crowd and Wolf Alice having an impeccable rolodex of songs carried it through. “Play the Greatest Hits” goes off in concert.
30] Charli XCX
Venue: O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
Date: 17th May
Victoria Warehouse is a shit venue with shit acoustics, shit air and temperature flow, and if you don’t get through the door first on a sold-out show then you can’t see shit either. Comfortably one of my very least-preferred venues. What I could see and hear of Charli was a lot of fun with a great, sometimes surprising setlist! Just couldn’t see or hear a lot of it from behind a big tall gay party. I did get to lose my shit to “Vroom Vroom” live at last, though; now that’s queer nirvana!
29] Tropical Fuck Storm
Venue: YES (Pink Room), Manchester
Date: 30th May
All I have in my notes for this one are “HEAVY,” “LOUD,” and “good night.” That tracks. Not really sure what else you can want or expect from an Australian noise-rock band. Does it take two days for your hearing to come back after seeing them? Yes? Then they did their job.
Support: Goat Girl
Venue: Bonus Arena, Hull
Date: 25th April
Here’s another gig hampered by the venue and a weirdly-passive crowd. This was my first time at Hull’s much ballyhooed arena and it’s… really weirdly designed. The stage is like the combined height of three tall people off the standing area floor, but the seats are way up in the rafters, so the band aren’t eye-level with either audience pool. The whole place is more like a warehouse depot box and its acoustics are super-echoey, which killed opener Goat Girl’s efforts to get over pretty quickly.
When Foals took the stage, they were still the same mighty live presence as the last time I saw them, albeit now two members down from 2016, and the closing run of “Providence” to “Inhaler” to “Black Bull” to “What Went Down” to “Two Steps, Twice” is the reason why late-00s Brit indie existed. Setlist flow was often awkward, though – play either “Spanish Sahara” OR “Late Night,” not both and certainly not one after another – and it remains frustrating they only do 80-min sub-18-song sets. You’re an arena-sized act on your seventh album, you can and should be playing for way longer.
Support: Treeboy + Arc, L. D. Moses
Venue: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Date: 1st September
I never did get the chance to see Ought live, so I naturally snapped up a ticket to Cola’s show the second that I finished listening to their album this year. Was short and sharp, light on chat or fuss. Watching the trio perform live really demonstrated the vitality of Evan Cartwright’s drums on these songs. He ties Tim Darcy’s guitar and Ben Stidworthy’s bass together with his slightly unconventional pattern work, adds a lot of character which sets Cola apart from being Ought II. The pair of new songs they played really demonstrated this; they feel much fuller like they were written in-person by a trio getting more in sync with each other, rather than isolated over Zoom. Excited to see where that second album goes. Also, I got to pick up two Ought records on vinyl for my collection, so worthy night overall.
26] Run the Jewels
Support: DJ Cutmaster Swift
Venue: O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester
Date: 6th June
Disappointed to have come away without much in the way of lasting thoughts on finally seeing RTJ live, but that’s Victoria Warehouse for you. Mike and El are a loveable comedy duo on-stage which is camaraderie you can feed off of between songs, and the crowd were hot for the whole show. But, well, it’s a problem at a rap show if you can’t make out what the rappers are saying half the time. Shit acoustics and shitter earplugs, what can I say? Hopefully their next UK excursion can take them to a better venue near me and my friends.
No disrespect to DJ Cutmaster Swift, but having his set introduction be a guy on the PA shouting “y’all remember Outkast?” to deafening screams… then following up with “well, we got Outkast’s DJ!” and the energy immediately dying off is one of the funniest things I’ve been a part of all year.
25] 100 gecs
Support: Lewis Grant
Venue: O2 Ritz, Manchester
Date: 4th September
OK, I either need to work on my fitness and stamina or I simply cannot keep up with the kids anymore. (Or, y’know, both.) This was wild from minute one. My friend Ben made his escape from the central throng before “Hey Big Man” had even finished, and I similarly had to escape to safety after “Ringtone” seven songs in. Just unconscionable levels of sweat, heat, and manic energy! Which I’m not really complaining about, it was fun to experience (then stand safely on the periphery of) an appropriately energetic crowd completely there for all the gecs Dylan & Laura could muster. What knocks the show down more than a few rungs was the strange decision to make well over half the setlist consist of songs that hadn’t yet been released, as 10,000 gecs continued to be stuck in development hell. They were mostly good songs, but hearing so very many of them one after the other meant it was hard for me to properly digest or distinguish them; gecs songs kind of assault you on first listen and reveal their songwriting bona fides and unique characteristics on later spins.
24] Everything Everything
Support: L’objectif, Do Nothing
Venue: O2 Academy, Leeds
Date: 1st April
After multiple missed calls over almost a full decade, I finally got to a headline Everything Everything show. And that headline EE show was great! They’re quietly one of Britain’s best bands, even if RAW DATA FEEL didn’t hit me like I wished, and, since this was in an awkward middle-zone where they hadn’t been able to tour RE-ANIMATOR but also DATA was only a month out from release, they put on a punchy well-balanced show. Some of the subtler dynamics of the studio recordings were lost in the live mix, but when you got hits like these guys do then a loss of subtlety is a small price to pay. Plus, y’know, “No Reptiles” live really is a transcendent experience even if you do accidentally cause Jonathan Higgs to fuck up the verses cos he’s watching your derpy hands mistime the rhythm as they dart across the air.
Unfortunately, and as foreshadowed in the intro spiel, a show is not just the headline set and, to get to Everything Everything, I had to slog through the openers. Landfill indie of the kind Vice will write mocking articles poorly disguised as affection about in a decade’s time (L’objectif), and yet another of the endless parade of miserably dull art-punk bands this country is procreating like enemy spawn doors in old first-person shooter games (Do Nothing). …but when they were done, it was a great night!
23] Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Support: English Teacher
Venue: O2 Apollo, Manchester
Date: 5th June
ENOUGH WITH THE BRITISH ART-PUNK BANDS! Seriously! I am so tired of these talk-singing, hookless, ultra-serious, performatively eccentric/experimental, interchangeable bores! English Teacher are by far the nadir of this current movement, their opening set was like pulling toenails. I imagine this must be what it felt like for people my age in the 90s or 00s when NME were proclaiming Menswear or Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong as THE MOST IMPORTANT BAND IN THE COUNTRY RIGHT NOW. Go write some actual fucking songs, you pretentious failed art-undergrads!
Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Yeah Yeah Yeahs were great! After everything I’ve read about them as a band over the years, particularly in Meet Me in the Bathroom, and their near-decade hiatus from doing anything substantial as a unit, it really warmed my heart to see all three (plus the supplementary players) on-stage clearly thrilled to be performing together. They didn’t go particularly long, but they put their whole bodies into everything they did play and the glimpses of Cool it Down material sounded fantastic – this was where I finally turned a corner on “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” hearing Nick Zinner’s guitar screaming the outro in-person caused the song to click for me. And I cannot stress this enough, even after decades of being told by people who were lucky to see her pre-sobering/maturation from the notorious early-00s, Karen O really is the coolest fucking woman alive. Complete and total magnetic raw star power that’s impossible to truly describe.
Venue: Alexandra Palace, London
Date: 2nd December
To put it mildly, I needed this one. Prior to October 15th, BICEP was merely to be my final gig of the year and a sorta symbolic capper on the Pandemic Years by being the last live show for an artist whose music I really connected to through those 14 months by myself at my Dad’s old house. After October 15th, and an accompanying wipe-out of the October/November gigs I had been excited for due to breaking my hip, BICEP became the great pie-in-the-sky goal for my recovery process. That I could heal fast and safe (or at least borderline) enough to get back down to London and have one last rave experience before the year closed down. (Plus, I had a friend going with me and didn’t want to leave her in the lurch.) Thankfully, and with a little creative goalpost-manoeuvring from my physiotherapist, BICEP did come to pass even if it still involved one (1) more crutch than I would’ve preferred (0).
Outside of its now-multiple symbolic natures, the show was pretty darn good too! One thing I will say I’m disappointed by was how little the set seemed to truly vary. A thing which really drew me to Isles was its usage of polyrhythms, two-step skips, and syncopation which played with dynamics and time-signatures to great effect, managing to hook listener attention throughout the entire album. Reworked for their live show – since they mentioned in interviews that the album versions of those songs were tweaked for home-listening – almost all of those are gone, subsumed under a relentless 4/4 thump. It means that a 90-minute set can drag in spots, feel a bit repetitious. Fortunately, the core melodies underpinning these songs remain just as moving and primal, whilst the nukes they have loaded in their arsenal really do just EXPLODE when deployed – oh, MAMA, “Boss Rhythm” live is something else! The light show was great, too; at once simple and geometric yet abstract!
21] illuminati hotties
Support: Momma, Ducks Ltd.
Venue: Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds
Date: 6th May
Not a whole lot to say about this one, but I mean that in a good way. Just an energetic, fun-as-heck little show powered by Sarah Tudzin’s gleeful smirk and lots of great 90s-esque power-pop. Upon reflection, after spending more time with both openers whom I had not heard or internalised much from beforehand, this turned out to be quite the indie super-line-up too. Momma hadn’t yet released Household Name but the instant they broke into “Speeding 72” at around the set’s midpoint, I knew that they’d be a big deal. Ducks Ltd. seemingly barrelled through their entire discography within the span of a 30-minute opening set, but it was exactly the kind of fast jangly indie pop which puts a little pep in my step; Kofi and I both chatted to the band and picked up some vinyl afterwards. (Momma and illuminati hotties I think were busy doing other stuff, didn’t see them around.) Only major drawback was Belgrave Music Hall’s notoriously woeful sound which is always ear-bleedingly loud and lacking in any dynamics.
Feel free to come back tomorrow for more of this thing which got way out of hand very quickly.