Musical Waffle: Top Ten Gigs

A slight detour from our regularly scheduled Alt School posts. I’ll be back to finish off the hip hop challenge shortly.

I saw one of those Facebook memes the other day that asked people to postulate on the top ten gigs they’d ever attended. ‘Jesus,’ I thought to myself, ‘that sounds impossible. Where would you even start trying to narrow that list down?’

Then, naturally, it started to pick away at my brain, like reality must occasionally impinge into the psyche of Donald Trump. Then I found myself at an absolute cracker of a gig (All Them Witches at the Brudenell Social in Leeds) and wondered if that might make its way onto a list that I hadn’t even fully formed into my head. The next day I had to write 1,667 words of FICTION, so, naturally, I ended up procrastinating and writing the below list instead.


Anyway, here they are, my top ten gigs of all time, presented in chronological order, for no apparent reason, long after the reason to post them stopped being a meme.

I love being relevant.

1.     VariousFreddie Mercury Tribute Concert, Wembley, 1992. My first gig, and boy was it a corker. Guns ‘n’ Roses before the split, Metallica at the time of the Black album, Def Leppard, Extreme, Robert Plant, and, of course, Queen, singing with a massive array of vocalists nowhere near good enough to sing Freddie’s lines. I was up in the rafters, and we were nearly run over by Axl Rose’s limo before the show. Not a bad introduction to the world of live music.

2.     Deftones/Will HavenRiverside, Newcastle, 1998. This sticks in the mind as being a perfect moment in a band’s career. Around the Fur had just come out, and Deftones were about to blow up into the biggest band in metal. They absolutely owned the Riverside that night, and although I’d see them at least five more times (so far) I’d never see them get halfway to this good again. Bonus points because I met the now sorely missed Chi Cheng before the gig and he was a delight, and even more bonus points from the support being Will Haven, who absolutely crushed and went on to be one of my favourite bands in the whole wide world.

3.     At the Drive InLeeds Festival, 2000. I’ve caught a few bands just before they cracked the big time, but nothing compares to seeing a band with this level of buzz playing a small tent in front of a salivating crowd, waiting to be blown away as much as we’d been told we were going to be. Boy, did they deliver. Whenever people talk about what it must have been like to see the Pistols back in the day, I always imagine it being half as thrilling as this was.

4.     MogwaiLeeds Festival, 2001. I spent most of the day leading up to this headline slot telling all my friends they HAD to come see Mogwai, the miserable Scottish instrumentalists. In the end, they completely ignored me, and I stood alone, more stoned than a countryside wall, as waves of the loudest, most beautiful noise washed over me, ending on a wave of feedback that had people clutching their heads and falling to the floor. I definitely had better decision-making powers than my friends that day, who all went to go and see Liam Gallagher sneer at them instead.

5.     ConvergeJoseph’s Well, Leeds, 2004. I’d been into Converge for a few years before this, and had heard tell of their legendary live shows. Even having seen video footage, nothing could prepare me for the sight of people doing double somersaults off the speaker stacks, or the sheer snarling heft of those drums, those guitars, that bass. When the band blew up the PA, they turned their own backline towards the audience and carried on as though nothing had happened. It was such a chaotic punk-rock maelstrom, all I could do was stand at the back and giggle at it.

6.     Dillinger Escape Plan/MonoUniversity, Manchester, 2004. I’d seen Dillinger twice times before this, but never at their own show, and up close and personal. I don’t think I’ve seen a band that hard working on stage, before or since. It’s a miracle that they survive each gig. In fact, looking at the litany of injuries that have befallen the band over the years, it’s hardly a surprise that they’re hanging up their boots. Bonus points for the support slot by Japanese post-rock gods and goddesses, Mono, who came onstage and started with a whisper barely audible over the noise of people chatting, who ended their set with everyone staring, open-mouthed, at the beauty they’d just unleashed.

7.     Sufjan StevensApollo, Manchester, 2011. With a heavily-pregnant Good Lady Wife in tow, I went into this with heightened expectations off the back of Sufjan’s exceptional electro-prog-folk masterpiece, The Age of Adz. What we got surpassed those expectations by a mile, with Stevens sporting dayglow wings, and he and his band whipping the whole crowd into a raucous frenzy of joy and salutation. Bonus points for my wife talking her way into the disabled viewing platform with the other pregnant Mums in the audience, which meant all the Dads were surrounding the platform, trying to shout conversations up to our be-podiumed partners throughout.

8.     Cult of LunaHellfest Festival, 2013. I’ve not often been moved to tears by a gig, but this managed it. Cult of Luna are a band I’ve become steadily more obsessed with over the years, and having dropped the stunning Vertikal at the start of 2013, the anticipation to see them headline a big tent at the greatest festival in the world was immense. Again, the best gigs are those where expectations are high but the band more than meet them, and so it was here. It helped that the sound was absolutely immense, but the band were on absolute fire that night, and played most of Vertikal and pretty much every song you’d want them to. Just brilliant.

9.     NeurosisThe Cockpit, Leeds, 2014. Another band I’d seen at Hellfest the previous year, and they’d been immense then, too, but here in the Cockpit I was right there on the barrier, close enough to feel the band were singing to me and me alone. Not only that, but the band played with a venom and hostility that night that still sends shivers down my spine. Brilliantly harrowing.

10.  Pearl JamMilton Keynes Bowl, 2014. Long-time readers, long suffering friends, or people that I’ve only met a couple of times will know that Pearl Jam are my favourite band in the whole wide world, so it’s appropriate that I end with them. The third time I’ve seen them, this was basically the definition of a fan’s wet dream. Outdoors, with a crowd big enough to fill a festival but all uniquely enamoured with this single band, Pearl Jam played for over three hours, fitting in a mammoth 35. That I got to experience it stood next to the love of my life and my longest friend (as in, time served as friend, he’s not freakishly tall) only served to add bonus points to what was easily the best gig I’ve ever attended, or am likely ever to see.

There you go. I need to stop now because I can already remember at least five others that should probably fit on this list. Feel free to sound off in the comments about your own favourites.

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