I said I’d do this ages ago but I haven’t been on a computer much lately so this is really the first proper chance I’ve had!
Managed to narrow it down to a top 15! First off I want to give a few honorable mentions to those who didn’t make it. James Blake put on a brilliant show at the HMV Forum in late November. The Civil Wars played great original songs and covers on a lovely night at the Union Chapel (my first visit there!) back in September. The Jezabels and especially Hayley Mary had me very much in ‘Heaven’ (gig venue pun…) when I went to see them recently. And I must mention Morrissey. For all his idiocy that man really is a gem. If only The Smiths could reform! Singing “There Is A Light That Will Never Go Out” and “This Charming Man” along with all these Morrissey fanatics (Stevie you know who you are!) will be a moment I won’t forget in a hurry.
And so onto the Top 15. While they are in an order for a reason don’t pay too much attention to it. All 15 were fantastic for different reasons that I’ll try to go through without boring you too much:
15. 23rd June - BRIGHT EYES (Royal Albert Hall)
They didn’t play Lua, they didn’t play First Day Of My Life, they didn’t play many songs I wanted to hear. But the second Conor settled down and started to sing Landlocked Blues and Poison Oak I was sold. “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” may be the greatest album I’ve ever personally listened to and owned and God do I wish I had seen Bright Eyes live back when they were touring it.
14. 5th December - THE DRUMS & Cloud Control (Junction, Cambridge)
I actually lost my ticket for this and was lucky to be let in by a nice guy who felt sorry for me being a donut. Cloud Control were great support acts and have a huge future ahead of them. They got the party started and The Drums took it to the next level. I came out feeling thoroughly satisfied at what I had seen (even if I did have to miss the end of the set to catch my train home!)
13. 28th October - TRIBES & Dog Is Dead (Electric Ballroom)
Dog Is Dead put on a decent set without being as spectacular as their hype suggests but Tribes very much lived up to theirs. I had been a fan of Tribes for quite sometime before. But I came out of that gig a FAN. If you understand my use of capitalized letters. If this band doesn’t take over the world I won’t be happy.
12. 7th October - MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA (Koko)
Manchester Orchestra are a band my friend Catrina recommended me who I knew I’d like but never really got round to actually liking them. Just simply because i never listened to more than the 3 or so songs I really did like of theirs. However after seeing them live, I bought a few of their albums, I recognise them on the radio, I champion them to friends and I want to see them again. Fantastic set even though they sadly didn’t play “I Can Feel A Hot One”
11. 2nd March - JAMES VINCENT MCMORROW (ICA)
I was really excited for this gig. At the start of 2011 I had only been to a few gigs and most of them involved stars to be (not!) Mona. Though I would like to state that I am a huge Mona fan. But for all the hype it just hasn’t really materialised for them (just yet…). Anyway I liked ICA. It was a nice little venue. I also like James Vincent McMorrow’s voice. The Bon Iver of Ireland didn’t let me down with a mesmorising set. We Don’t Eat being a particular highlight.
10. 22nd June - KINGS OF LEON (Hyde Park)
It’s become cool these days to hate Kings of Leon. It’s never good when it becomes “cool” to hate a band. Especially when they are one of my personal favourites! I ended up going to this gig alone after my friend pulled out the day before and wasn’t really in the mood for it. But with 4 excellent albums and 1 okay one under their belt Kings of Leon have so many songs in their armoury that my mood was soon lifted. Knocked Up, Fans, Arizona, Four Kicks and the very memorable and moving McFearless made it a night to remember for me. It does annoy me that people just love to hate on Sex on Fire and Use Somebody. Yes they’ve been overplayed 15 too many times, but in ten years time we’ll all be appreciating how groundbreaking those songs really were. A band who have developed a different sound with each album and I just hope they stick around long enough and drop the dramatics to tour a sixth. They just need to make sure it’s a great one. And even if it’s not, I’m pretty sure I’ll be there anyway!
9. 27th November - FRANK TURNER & Against Me! (Hammersmith)
I decided not to include Festival appearances in this list and if I had then Frank Turner’s “secret set” at Reading would have scored very highly. But he has to settle for 9th with his show at Hammersmith. Probably the most fun I’ve had a gig this year in all honesty. The sing-a-longs were epic as always and Frank was on top form. Bring on Wembley in April! I highly enjoyed Against Me! too.
8. 27th October - BEN HOWARD, Lucy Rose & Brother And Bones (Scala)
Three great acts putting on three great sets. Ben Howard in particular of course just stealing
the (his own) show. This guy blows me away everytime I see him. Fantastic vocals, great guitar player, amazing musical arrangements (especially the intros/outros to songs), modest personality. I must admit I have a bit of a man crush! But yes, if you haven’t seen Ben Howard live then I suggest you do. I can’t wait to see him again.
7. 16th November - DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE (Hammersmith)
The first 20 minutes of Death Cab I was far from blown away. I went with my friend Pip and we were having a bit of a catch up and so were a bit distracted. We also were perched in a crap spot and it was only when we found a nice spot by a barrier after going for a wee that I really started to get into the gig. It was also probably cause their best songs were played later in the set too but who knows! You Are A Tourist was one of the best tracks of 2011, I Will Follow You Into The Dark and Transatlanticism were unbelievable live as were a lot of other songs. I went into the gig a fan of Death Cab because I liked the odd song and Seth Cohen. I came out wondering why the hell Zooey Deschanel would ever split up with this man!
6. 18th April - THE AIRBORNE TOXIC EVENT (Drill Hall)
Seeing one of your personal favourite bands play in a little theatre in front of 50 people is something pretty special. Especially considering in Sometime Around Midnight they have one of the best songs of the last ten years. It was fantastic. I saw The Airborne Toxic Event 4 times in 2011 and 3 of them could have made it into my top 10 quite easily. A very madly under-rated band.
5. 30th August - EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS (Shepherd’s Bush)
I’ll keep this short (just because I’m getting tired of writing now!). It was fantastic. It was memorable. The album is great. Listen to Ed Sharpe. I can’t wait to see them live again. It’s something to behold, I tell you that. Also the highlight of Reading Festival for me personally.
4. 7th December - THE ANTLERS & DRY THE RIVER (Lexington)
Won tickets for this. It was perfection. Just had to appreciate how damn good the music was on offer. A band who released pretty much my favourite album of the year, and my favourite up and coming band. Says it all really. And in a tiny little venue above a pub.
3. 15th October - BRIAN FALLON, Dan Andriano, Chuck Ragan & Dave Hause - Revival Tour (Shepherd’s Bush)
Just four humble honest guys having a bromance on stage whlie busting out some folkpunk. Something like that anyway. Dave Hause opened and impressed immensely. Chuck Regan and Dan Andriano did their thing. And then Brian Fallon came to the fore. The crowd went crazy. We heard some wonderful Horrible Crowes stuff. We all sung Here’s Looking At You, Kid together at the tops of your voices in what was probably my favourite gig moment like ever. It was great. It made me long for a beard, to be American, to be able to sing, to have tattoos, to be different. But at the same time, it made me happy to be myself. Happy to know that I got to experience this while so many others (EMILY you should have come!) missed out!
2. 30th June - ARCADE FIRE, MUMFORD & SONS, Beirut, The Vaccines & Owen Pallett (Hyde Park)
The line up for this event was absolutely brilliant. Owen Pallett opened up the show nicely. The Vaccines then showed why everyone (especially Emily & the NME) were raving about them so much. Beirut came on and played a beautiful set and then the stage was set for the big two. Mumford & Sons totally blew me away. I had seen them once before but this was a whole other level. After they played my friends and I commented on how hard it would be for Arcade Fire to follow that. Well they did and more. Yes, they may have played Wake Up too early in the set but when you have songs that play as well live as they do; songs like Rebellion (Lies), Keep The Car Running, No Cars Go, Ready To Start, Intervention, Haiti (a personal fave of mine) who cares. I haven’t even included all those pesky Neighbourhoods! Some people don’t get the euphoria surrounding Arcade Fire and I admit it took me a long time to really understand it myself but once I got it, my life changed (at least musically) forever. I may have loved their set at Reading more, but I felt I appreciated it more this time around. So much so that I even went to see them in Edinburgh later on!
1. 24th October - BON IVER (Hammersmith)
Quite simply the greatest and most emotional thing I’ve been a part of musically. A say being a part of really meaning it too. I think everyone who was there, or who has been to a Bon Iver concert has felt “a part” of it. As much as I would have loved to see him in his “For Emma” days I felt this was just magical. The new album played beautifully live. There was tears from those around me. The audience completely silent for a good hour and a half in respect and adoration for the man in front of them. Everyone just took in the beautiful voice, the beautiful music and the amazingly portrayed emotion that this man has been able to create and capture so well. It pays great tribute to a man like Justin Vernon that even with all these extra musicians, layers and flashy lights that the new album has brought he still manages to bring a sense of intimacy to the occasion. I won’t ever forget The Wolves (Act I & II) and Skinny Love at the end either. Or the strange but fantastic sense of overwhelming emotion I got when For Emma started to play.