Speakers Push Air

Gigs of 2013 – The Best

Having listed all the gigs I went to this year, I thought I’d prove that my OCD listiness knows no bound by picking a top 5.

01. Oren Ambarchi, Neil Campbell & Mick Flower – Tusk Festival, Newcastle, October 12th

Ambarchi, Campbell, Flower

Ambarchi, Campbell, Flower

“Kenney & Kang brought a gorgeous, meditative calm to bear on a crowd still reeling from the Oren Ambarchi / Neil Campbell / Mick Flower collaboration, which may well be the greatest performance I’ve seen this year. They took the point of sheer euphoria where most bands peak as their starting point and rode waves of utter joy to a rapt crowd. Hard to explain, impossible to ignore.” – my review, Narc

02. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Glastonbury Festival, June 30th


I’ve seen Nick and his band of groovy uncles twice the year. The Edinburgh gig was as good as I’ve ever seen him – the incredible sound, the lovely venue and his seeming willingness to just keep playing helped.

But Glastonbury? That was something else. Playing to a crowd split equally between passionate converts and hoo-ray fucking gap year Mumfords fan waiting for the Waitrose Waterboys to headline (and this isn’t lazy stereotyping: words were exchanged, an actual punch thrown, although not by me), Cave  came out angry (the TV cameras bothered him, I think) and ready to win Glastonbury. And he fucking did. The band were on fire, although Barry Adamson would never show it, and Cave was teetering on the crash barriers within one song (the night after ending up in hospital after falling from the very same). This would already have been one of the very greatest Cave gigs. But then this happened.


I was a matter of yards away (I’m in the footage if you look closely) but I was getting texts from people back home. “Are you SEEING this?”. Yes. Yes I was. Out of the crowd rises this astonishing girl, all in white, free of mud and certainly not looking like she’d spent 3 days in a field. Cave took her hand and sang at her. Not to her. At her. The look on her face – equal parts utter lustfulness and a sterling determination not to burst into tears – and everybody’s confusion (Cave’s included) when it went on… just… that… little… bit… too… long, that’s something I’ve never seen before. Utterly exhilarating.

03. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – The Borderline, May 19th


I saw Slim Cessna’s Auto Club twice this year too. The show in Vermont was great but the Sunday night crowd was sparse and the band seemed a little tired. The Borderline show was the one: they’d only played the UK once before, the previous year in the Barfly. A small gig but enough to prove they might be able to get away with UK shows. The Borderline sealed it. It was rammed, the band worked hard, Slim and Munly’s chemistry was in full effect. They finished the gig looking like they knew they’d proved something.

04. Caitlin Rose – Leeds Brudenell,  February 28th / Brixton Windmill, March 3rd


Just to ramp things up, I saw Caitlin Rose THREE times this year.

It’s a cunning trick: stuff your band with crack musicians and songwriters and let them be your support acts. Keeps it cheap and simple and hopefully a lot more entertaining than having a series of badly-picked local nonentities clutter things up. And so the bill opens with Andrew Combs, Caitlin Rose’s rhythm guitarist, who specialises in a brooding, heartbreak country that calls to mind Townes Van Zandt. What his performance lacks in originality it makes up for in intensity (and the ladies love him). Other members of the band then join him for a couple of properly shitkicking country rock numbers. Things get deeply peculiar with the middle slot: Steelism are led by the astonishing pedal steel playing of London-born giant Spencer Cullum, and they specialise in really quite daft cover versions, some (Sleepwalk by Santo & Johnny, for example) played much straighter than others (the James Bond theme). Three of the things this writer hates most in music are The Beatles, vocoders and cod reggae, so when Steelism close with a cod reggae version of Something – vocoder and all – I wasn’t sure whether to grin or rush the stage and crack heads.

Caitlin Rose was in Grazia last week apparently, which surely means megastardom beckons and we won’t see her in venues this small again, which is a shame, because making the crowd feel like they’re sharing something really up close and personal is one of her many qualities. She’s also only 5’4” so her stadium gigs are going to suck. Anyhoo, tonight saw a beefed up sound with a 5-piece band to do justice to the bigger sounding material from her new, amazing album The Stand In. which isn’t to say any subtlety was lost – songs like For The Rabbits and Sinful Wishing Well still depend on a sympatico backing to her frankly astonishing voice. She reminds me a bit of Kirsty McColl in the way she uses her voice to hit the note, pure and simple, with no need for flash or warbling. During the songs she seems distant – shy, even – but her between song patter is witty and warm and pottymouthed as all hell. She even does a Buck Owens song just to remind us that she is at heart a proper country girl. She seems genuinely surprised and maybe even a little abashed by the reaction she gets, which adds to sense of being at one of ‘those’ gigs. A total fucking delight – my Narc review

The Windmill gig was different – more scrappy (in a good way), intimate, homely (Rose had played the Windmill a lot, these were her people). At one point she told us her grandma had just died, and she sang an acapella You Are My Sunshine as a tribute. The electric melancholy of that moment still hits me as I type this.

05. Rocket From The Crypt, Newcastle Cluny, December 2nd


At least 15 years since I last saw them, they were back and they fucking killed it. That’s all.

(Proper review in Narc next month)

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