Because it’s honestly comical how bad I am at brevity.
I promise this is it now. For those wondering: I went to a lot of gigs this year, my brain tried to make me feel bad about going to so many gigs instead of gainfully improving my life and thus ordered me to rank them like it’s a work thing, and my chronic inability to not write THE MOST about stuff I care for means it ballooned into a listicle almost as long as my Top 50 Songs of 2022 series. Never listening to my brain again. You can read the first two parts here and here, if you feel any desire to.
Venue: Brudenell Community Room, Leeds
Date: 11th May
This one was a long-time coming, one of those shows which kept being pushed back again and again due to COVID, to such an extent that the album it was originally intended to promote was two-and-a-half years old by the time Anamanaguchi finally stepped on-stage. In the meantime, the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game turned 10, got out of licensing purgatory, everybody remembered that Anamanaguchi’s soundtrack for it was one of the greatest-ever in gaming, and the tour pivoted to being a chance to hear them perform said soundtrack followed by a smattering of their greatest hits. (“We’ve done other stuff, too!” Peter Berkman joked before kicking off that half of the show.) After initially being disappointed that the Scott Pilgrim section was being done as an abbreviated medley, rather than literally all 24 tracks in-full for an hour, I found my appreciation for that soundtrack grew as we got deeper into the medley. You don’t always realise just how varied the sounds are until they get stacked up like this; chiptune giving way to pop punk, musical theatre, chillout and ambient, hard rock, it’s deceptively adventurous.
And, of course, the non-Scott Pilgrim second-half was even better. Anamanaguchi have bangers upon bangers and [ U S A ] was one of 2019’s best albums, they really have gotten better in the decade since as Peter slyly noted before launching into “Sunset by Plane.” I was mainly shocked by just how into that half the crowd also were. Having figured that most were gonna be there for the nostalgia run only, it turned out they were more into the later material! Moshpits to “On My Own” and “Meow!” What a world! Massive praise should go to Luke Silas on the drums, too. That man was a machine for the entire set, pure power and total control; could’ve just watched him for 80 minutes without anything else!
09] Petrol Girls
Support: HAWXX, How to Catch a Pig
Venue: Oslo, London
Date: 6th October
My third-ever hardcore show and perhaps the best for one specific reason. Petrol Girls position themselves as trans-inclusionary feminists so, during their call for “girls to the front,” they made sure to include trans and non-binary people in that call with an explicit order to “not gender-police” anybody in the pit. As somebody who is non-binary but passes so easily for cis-male, which is something that I still have great anxiety and shame about, to have somebody up on-stage (albeit unintentionally since obviously they don’t know me) look out for me that way meant the absolute world. Especially in the UK’s current social/political landscape where it is just plain hell to be trans at the moment, this hour of safety and respect felt incredible. It was maybe the most cathartic, feminine and inclusive pit I have ever been in, especially come the closing refrain of anti-harassment anthem “Touch Me Again.”
Show was also great outside of that, of course. Petrol Girls are a hardcore punk-ass hardcore punk band which means songs played dead-loud at 100MPH, a frontwoman who ensures to speak up on important social movements across the world between songs, and a hot crowd who go mad for surprise guest Janey Starling. HAWXX were also a nice surprise, a feminist metal group whose recorded output I really need to check out properly. Meanwhile, whatever image you have in your head when I ask you to envision a hard-left queer performance art troupe, How to Catch a Pig embodied it totally and it was the kind of experience that made me feel rather culturally deprived for not having something like that up here in Scunthorpe; equal parts eye-rolling (in a mostly good way) and entertaining.
08] Magdalena Bay
Support: Tiberius B
Venue: XOYO, London
Date: 10th June
The Mercurial World Experience was Magdalena Bay’s debut album performed in full, in order, as recorded, transitions and everything, plus a brief medley of their pre-debut EPs as an encore. There may have been live drums and some of the synth parts were moved over to Matthew Lewin’s guitar, but otherwise fundamentally unchanged from putting on the album’s vinyl. This sounds like a criticism; I can assure you it is not. Firstly, these are 14 of the best pop songs of 2021 and, as the Mercurial World deluxe edition proved, altering them in any significant way makes for a lesser experience. Secondly, Matt and Mica Tenenbaum bring Confidence Man-style showmanship to their live shows. Props, dance routines, between-song skits with a retro-styled AI slowly gaining sentience, and a full-blown commitment to turn-of-the-millennium Internet aesthetics. It earned that Experience moniker. And third, this crowd was red-hot from the great opener (Tiberius B, check them out) all the way through to encore’s close.
Fantastic night. Only marred by XOYO’s security being little bitches who refused to let everyone who wanted to buy merch do so, forcibly shoving a load of us who’d waited in line 45 minutes out the door cos they “had to open the club.”
(Also, yeah, consider this a make-good for underrating Mercurial World in 2021. That album became almost all I listened to for the first half of the year even with all the exceptional new music floating about.)
07] Confidence Man
Venue: O2 Ritz, Manchester
Date: 3rd May
In 2022, Confidence Man stopped being the little secret that I had spent half-a-decade extolling to anybody who would or wouldn’t listen and began to crossover in the UK. The reason? Shows like this. Con Man are without a doubt one of the absolute best live acts going right now. Just pure no-nonsense FUN designed to make you fling your limbs about in all directions or out you as a miserable bastard trying. High-tempo, proudly kitsch, gloriously catchy dance anthems performed by four musicians absolutely committed to their ‘Vengaboys from North Shore High School’ characters replete with costume changes, intricate dance moves for every single song, and attitude to spare. They provide such an entertaining spectacle without needing to blow the budget like popstars five-times their size feel obligated to, and have the tunes to back it up. Any reservations I had about TILT were rendered moot by the live show, every song sounds so much better with live drums and the rush of a well-tuned DJ set whilst being fully Con Man with Janet Planet & Sugar Bones’ dance moves.
So happy that their Glastonbury set seems to have set them off on the path to proper stardom. They did a second UK tour in November purely to sate the new demand from that breakout performance, though naturally I couldn’t go cos of the hip thing. Get yourself to a Confidence Man show, if you’re yet to!
06] The Beths
Venue: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Date: 28th March
Exactly like their studio recordings. Oftentimes when you see an indie act, they can’t actually play their songs at the same tempo or key as the studio recording, so they slow down a notch and these energetic youthful indie songs about rushing heartache or romance just sound kinda sad and deflating. (This, along with a dull second album, was what killed my Circa Waves fandom dead.) Not the case with The Beths. Every song was as tight, breakneck, and moving live as the day they recorded them to tape. Like, super-tight, to the degree it inspires genuine awe. Even those intricate harmonies were dead-on! They might actually be tighter as a live unit than they are on-record. Those harmonies on “Acrid” feel closer together, the drums on “Little Death” sound even more urgent, and Jonathan Pearce’s guitar shredding on “I’m Not Getting Excited” has more of a, err, shred to it.
A surprisingly hot crowd certainly added to the experience. Perhaps that was down to this being another gig that kept getting pushed back again and again due to COVID, but Leeds’ sell-out crowd was completely here for The Beths. Moshing, singing, bantering with the charmingly awkward Kiwis. Internet narratives had led me to believe I was in the minority declaring Jump Rope Gazers a major step-up from their already-excellent debut, but it turns out nope! The sophomore record held the songs which got the loudest reactions from the crowd that night. Great, great show. CHERYM absolutely killed it on opener duties, too. I’m really hoping I hear more from those folks soon, cos that kind of power pop-punk is totally my shit.
05] St. Vincent
Support: Celya AB
Venue: Academy, Manchester
Date: 25th June
Annie Clark’s “I Am a Lot Like You” tour during the MASSEDUCTION era was one of the very best shows I have ever been to. This wasn’t quite as good but it came damn close. I had just the biggest grin under my mask from the moment she grabbed onto the theremin during “Digital Witness” – a theremin that, for the record, appeared to have been brought along on tour solely for 30 seconds on this one song and nothing else – which didn’t subside til about 30 minutes after the show ended. As much as Annie likes to lean on the conceptual, with the theatre-kid clouds hanging above and 70s-cosplay of everyone’s outfits, and playing a character, a female Thin White Duke without the fascist bits, the Daddy’s Home show ultimately comes down to Annie Clark, one of our greatest living artists, and a murderer’s row of our greatest living session musicians playing some great fucking tunes. You could even see Annie slowly slip out of character as the show went on and have some genuine fun shredding with Jason Falkner or boogying with Nayanna Holley, not to mention the venomous rage which bled into this post-Roe v. Wade overturning performance of “Cheerleader.”
As a certified Daddy’s Home stan, the cuts from that record sounded excellent live, especially the one-two closing shots of “Live in the Dream” and “The Melting of the Sun” which more than earned their right to be set-enders. The funkified reworks of older material slotted in with such snugness as to make it clear that, for all the vaunted talk of Annie being a forward-thinker sonically, she’s always been playing with at least the DNA of 70s art rock; “New York” somehow gets more loungey in this new arrangement. Only two minor interconnected nit-picks. The first being that I wish Annie would’ve shred herself more instead of mostly handing those pyrotechnics over to Falkner; witnessing her let rip on that MASSEDUCTION tour was a true “holy SHIT!” moment for moi and I selfishly wanted at least 20 minutes of that again. The second being that, at least from where I was stood, Falkner’s guitar had a tendency to overpower everything else on the levels when he was let loose. But, like I said, minor nit-picks. Annie Clark fucking rules and can gladly ruin my life if she wants.
04] The War on Drugs
Support: Lo Moon
Venue: First Direct Arena, Leeds
Date: 16th April
Leeds Arena is just… so rubbish, you guys. I’ve never liked it, its cramped standing area, its unnatural shape, and shitbox sound mixing that somehow makes nearly every act I’ve seen there drown under crowd noise. It’s a venue I tolerate due to being the closest arena that live acts seem to bother coming to in the North anymore – note to bands: you can play cities other than Manchester and Leeds! It’s doable! I swear! – rather than having any affinity for the place. So, it should really tell you something about how transcendent a War on Drugs live show is that their gig at Leeds Arena managed to just about overcome that handicap and rank this high. I’d spent the entire second-half of COVID lockdown with LIVE DRUGS on repeat and yet even that couldn’t prepare me for just how fucking incredible these guys are in-person.
Whilst they have their moments, I’d always rate The War on Drugs more on the vibes end of the ‘rocks/vibes’ scale with their albums. Bangers cresting over the horizon following long, gorgeous treks in the ambient wilderness making those payoffs even more spectacular. So, colour me shocked at just how much the band rocks on-stage. “Harmonia’s Dream,” “In Reverse,” even “Brothers” charge and swagger here whilst also stretching their legs without becoming indulgent. I was prepared to have an emotional EXPERIENCE at “Under the Pressure” and was instead disarmed by how a legit natural-feeling dad-mosh could break out. And, no joke, I was pushed to the brink of tears at “Strangest Thing” and the closing take on “Thinking of a Place.” The reaction I was psyching myself up to have to “Pressure” instead hit like a freight train out of nowhere at the big “Strangest” solo and the bit midway through “Place” where everything just hangs in those deep synth chords. If I weren’t already a converted member of the WoD cult going in, I certainly would’ve been after those beautiful moments.
Better venue, plus an opener who wasn’t so meh, and this would’ve been #1 with a bullet. Just, wow.
03] LCD Soundsystem
Support: James Righton
Venue: O2 Academy Brixton, London
Date: 1st July
For 11 years, LCD Soundsystem were my white whale. The band I always wanted to see live yet never managed to make happen. Firstly by getting into them the same month that they broke up, then by their initial reunion tour being festival-only, then by the american dream (an album which is still excellent fuck all y’all) tour almost never venturing outside of London and my ass being too broke to make it work. After once more resigning myself to the likelihood that I’d never see them live, the Brixton residency got announced. With that long of a journey, that long of a backstory and mental weight put on eventually seeing this one band, surely there was no way that the show could live up to the expectations in my head, yeah? The venue might be shit for sound. The setlist might be sub-par. The band might not have their hearts in it. Surely, in some way, this had to be a disappointment?
Nope. Not in the least. It was worth every second of that 11 year wait. Brixton’s allegedly notorious PA held out the whole time, with lots of dynamics and every instrument having pristine clarity which never devolved into soupy mush. Whilst I didn’t get “how do you sleep?” on my setlist, I did get “Yr City’s a Sucker,” “You Wanted a Hit,” “Someone Great” into “Losing My Edge” into “Home,” and opening with “Us v Them.” The crowd was molten, not an ounce of cunty behaviour at any point, which really added to the celebratory vibe of the night. I had a Velma Dinkley moment during “Dance Yrself Clean”’s second drop. And, man, no matter how much cynicism James Murphy invites upon the second-life of LCD, this band evidently lives to perform in front of crowds. Genuinely wish I’d spunked money on multiple dates for this. Sometimes you should meet your heroes!
Getting older is going from “I wanna be James Murphy when I grow up” to “I wanna be Nancy Whang when I grow up!”
02] Lucy Dacus
Venue: Irish Centre, Leeds
Date: 20th April
I was prepared for a great show. Lucy Dacus is one of the best songwriters working today, with one of the best voices in music right now, and Home Video has so many masterful works of emotional devastation that “Christine” somehow only ranks as the third-best example on the album. I wasn’t prepared for just how magical of a show it would end up being. The beauty of Dacus’ music is how she’s able to paint entire lived-in scenes with her words yet still make you feel like an intimate partner in that storytelling. Put that in a live setting, especially in a venue as cosy as Leeds Irish Centre, and that intimacy increases fifty-fold and the emotional weight with it. Hearing every tremor in her voice on the sparse “Thumbs,” the guitars crushing everything on the brief solo in “VBS” like a teenager drowning out the world, the communal catharsis of “Night Shift.”
In fact, there’s one of the major aces for why this gig was so special. The crowd were amazing the entire time. It was sold-out yet you could hear a pin drop during the heaviest and sparsest numbers, everybody listening with reverence and phones away, sharing and processing this moment with Lucy. (Also, at least 70% abided by her request for everyone to wear masks, since this was a rescheduled make-up due to her getting COVID the previous month, which was more than any other show I’ve been to. Yay!) You could feel everyone being on the same wavelength together, enraptured, and singalongs had a choral energy whilst never drowning out Lucy herself. And that respect was even extended to SOAK’s opening solo acoustic set, consisting mostly of unreleased material from their then-upcoming album, where nobody talked at any point and everyone was giving them their full attention. It says something that SOAK made sure to point this out and thank everyone at the end.
In nearly every respect, this was a perfect gig. One of those ones where everything went right at every step/facet of the experience.
01] Billie Eilish
Venue: AO Arena, Manchester
Date: 8th June
When I was going through my gig list for the year after Lucy Dacus, I earmarked this one as being the best shot on-paper at dethroning Lucy from being my favourite. A generational talent touring both her mainstream-shifting debut (cos COVID cancelled that tour) and the somehow-even-better sophomore, a support act with a good live reputation and precisely enough time to bash out all the biggest bangers they have on-hand without resorting to filler, and the best of the various arenas I’ve visited over the years in terms of layout and sound quality, hopefully with a crowd who won’t start no shit. Sometimes, rarely but sometimes, things which sound perfect on-paper end up fulfilling that potential and then some.
It has been said time and again over the last half-decade by every single rockist voice in the industry, either musician or critic, to an almost cliché degree, but it really is the truth: Billie Eilish is a generational talent. Her voice, both literal and figurative, cuts through all the noise with total unique character. Her songwriting chops are impeccable, as the lengthy career-spanning all-bangers setlist demonstrates, and she pulls the absolute experimental best out of brother FINNEAS (and if you need further proof then just load up his milquetoast solo work). She is a born performer, effortlessly cool and charismatic and commanding a playful swagger rockstars with a decade more experience than her can’t replicate. And remember when I said that Lorde was able to foster an almost parasocial intimacy? Billie is able to do that same thing to an entire goddamned arena! Pulling out pride flags from the crowd to drape over her shoulders, leading calisthenics breaks, getting everybody to clam up then join in as a proper choir on a just-written new song, and just generally pulling everyone into her world and holding down the stage no matter how big the screen’s visuals may get.
Jungle were fantastic too, for the record, and way more of a fit with both Billie’s music and the crowd than I feared going in. They beef up majorly in a live context, walking the walk of their retro neo soul which can sometimes suffer from TK Maxx playlist production on-record. But it’s all about Billie, in the end. She’s just truly one of a kind and blows past even the most stan-perbolic praise thrown her way. Even if you don’t get her on-record, catch her live. “Special” doesn’t begin to cover it.