10 Best Gigs of 2012

Posted on December 30, 2012


written by Rob Pollard

Art in 2012 has been a mixed bag. Whilst film and recorded music has only sporadically captured my imagination, it has been a brilliant year for live music performance. As 2012 draws to a close and we reflect on the past 12 months, I decided to put a list of the 10 best gigs I’ve seen this year. There were so many to choose from but here’s my 10.

1 – Patti Smith – Manchester Academy 1, 7th September

Patti is 66 today. 66. Anyone who saw this gig would have real trouble believing that; the energy she exudes is marvellous. This was more than just a concert: it was an evening in which the world was placed under the microscope and the audience were made to reassess their lives and the society in which they live. From the backing of Pussy Riot, to Patti telling us we were intelligent people who should question cruel and corrupt governments and financial institutions, this gig had everything. Her album Horses changed my life forever, and led me to the music I still love today. For that reason alone, she will always remain an idol of mine. This was undoubtedly the finest gig I’ve ever been to, and I’ve seen Patti before. Simply wonderful.

Setlist – Dancing Barefoot, Redondo Beach (dedicated to Morrissey), April Fool, Fuji-san, This Is the Girl (dedicated to Amy Winehouse), Pissing in a River, Peaceable Kingdom, Ghost Dance, Mosaic, Night Time / (We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet / Born to Lose / Pushin’ Too Hard, Beneath the Southern Cross, Because the Night, Gloria. Encore: Banga, People Have the Power, Babelogue, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger

2 – Grizzly Bear – Manchester Academy 1, 18th October

Grizzly Bear are one of my favourite bands of the last 10 years. They have a lush, rich sound that, on record, had always excited me. It wasn’t until this gig at the Academy that I first got to experience the wonder of their music in a live setting despite listening to them for many years. It didn’t disappoint. That tone on Daniel Rossen’s guitar is amazing. I have no idea how he achieves it but it works. When everyone from Jay-Z to Michael McDonald – via Zach Condon – love your music, you’re doing something right. My wait for this gig could have made it an anticlimax but it was anything but. Songs from their new record Shields made up the majority of the set, with the best of their previous albums thrown in, too.

Setlist – Speak in Rounds, Adelma, Sleeping Ute, Cheerleader, Lullabye, Yet Again, Shift, A Simple Answer, Gun-Shy, Ready, Able, I Live With You, Foreground, While You Wait For The Others, On A Neck, On A Spit, Two Weeks, Half Gate, Sun In Your Eyes. Encore: Knife, Fix It.

3 – Morrissey – Manchester Arena, 28th July

Arena gigs rarely do it for me. Over-hyped and over-priced, the atmosphere created in over-sized venues rarely satisfies my needs. This gig was an exception to that usually trustworthy rule. All Morrissey has to do is step onstage and whichever room he’s in goes bonkers. Seeing him in Manchester always seems like a special occasion and so it proved. The highlight was seeing I know It’s Over – possibly the finest song I’ve had the privilege of listening to – and it sounding so good. I’ve seen Morrissey many, many times, in England, Scotland, and America, and this was right up there for me with the very best.

Setlist – You Have Killed Me, Everyday Is Like Sunday, You’re The One For Me, Fatty, How Soon Is Now?, I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris, Ouija Board, Ouija Board, Maladjusted, When Last I Spoke To Carol, Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, People Are The Same Everywhere, I Know It’s Over, To Give (The Reason I Live), Scandinavia, Black Cloud, Action Is My Middle Name, I Will See You In Far Off Places, Meat Is Murder, Let Me Kiss You, Speedway, Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want. Encore: Still Ill

4 – Laura Marling – Apollo, Manchester, 9th March

Laura Marling is currently the most talented British musician and songwriter. I have followed her career and been constantly surprised at the depth of her talent. This was my third time seeing Laura live and it was just as good as the others. She has redefined what it means to be a modern-day folk musician, and pisses all over her contemporaries. Her new album, due out early in 2013, is eagerly anticipated by me.

SetlistWith Full Band: I Was Just a Card, The Muse, Don’t Ask Me Why, Salinas, Blackberry Stone, Ghosts, Alas I Cannot Swim. Laura solo: Pray For Me, Goodbye England (Covered in Snow), Night After Night, Failure. With full band: Alpha Shallows, My Friends, Sophia, Rambling Man, I Speak Because I Can

5 – Alt-J – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 27th October

Alt-J’s debut album, An Awesome Wave, is one of the finest debuts of the last 10 years and deservedly scooped the 2012 Mercury Music Prize. They are unashamedly studious and slightly geeky, something which is often confused with pretentiousness, but it would be difficult for even their harshest critics to not recognise their talents. Their album is beautiful and subtle, meaning I was rather unprepared for their stunning power of their live sound. It was an afternoon matinée at a brilliantly unconventional venue, all of which combined to make this a ‘Were You There?’ event. It was a very, very special afternoon of music, with a light show to match. Where they go next with their sound will be very interesting indeed.

Setlist – Into, Interlude I (Choir), Tessellate, Something Good, Dissolve Me, Fitzpleasure, Slow Dre, Matilda, Breezeblocks, MS, Bloodflood (Choir), Hand-Made, Taro.

6 – Wild Beasts – Sound Control, Manchester, 6th December

This was another gig that felt like a very special occasion to be a part of. Wild Beasts, in preparation for their performance at ATP Festival curated by The National a few days later, played their brilliant album Smother in its entirety. I love Wild Beasts. Whilst America seems to have no problem producing exceptional bands who make interesting music, we lag behind a little. Wild Beasts fly the flag for great UK indie music. They are stylish, literate, and always fascinating, and we should hold them dear. This was further proof, if any were needed, that they remain at the forefront of Britain’s best musical output.

SetlistSmother: Lion’s Share, Bed of Nails, Deeper, Loop the Loop, Plaything, Invisible, Albatross, Reach a Bit Further, Burning, End Come Too Soon. Encore: The Fun Powder Plot, The Devil’s Crayon, We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues, This Is Our Lot, Two Dancers (i), All the King’s Men, Hooting & Howling.

7 – Yeasayer – Manchester Academy 2, 3rd December

Yeasayer are one of the most innovative bands I’ve ever come across. Their leaps in sound from album to album have been breathtaking. The only thing that links each record is their ability to create hooks. Loads of ’em. They have this knack of turning any type of song into one which you can’t get out of your head (in the best possible way). Vocally, this band are second-to-none, with three singers who create harmonies to die for. They’re also the ultimate party band, and this gig was one big party.

Setlist: Blue Paper, Henrietta, 2080, Longevity, O.N.E., Don’t Come Close, Madder Red, Demon Road, Wait for the Summer, Reagan’s Skeleton, Ambling Alp. Encore: Fingers Never Bleed, Devil and the Deed, Tightrope, Folk Hero Shtick

8 – Beach House – HMV Ritz, Manchester, 31st October

Teen Dream, the third Beach House record and the one which first caught my attention, was a masterpiece in how to make beautiful, atmospheric music. This year’s fourth studio album, Bloom, continued in the same vein, meaning Beach House were a must-see band for me in 2012. This gig at Manchester’s Ritz was excellent, despite the grotty venue complete with smelly carpet. Victoria Legrand, Beach House’s captivating frontwoman, is a joy to behold. The Baltimore duo (trio when playing live) have found their sound and no one does it better.

Setlist – Wild, Walk in the Park, Other People, Norway, Lazuli, Gila, Equal Mind, Master Of None, Silver Soul, The Hours, Real Love, Zebra, Wishes, Take Care, Myth. Encore: 10 Mile Stereo, Irene.

9 – Real Estate – Sebright Arms, London, 27th February

In a tiny, 150-capacity venue in Bethnal Green, Real Estate took to the stage in front of a crowd of sweating hipsters. Their cool, relaxed sound soon had them all, me included, drifting away on a thoroughly enjoyable journey. Much like Beach House, Real Estate know their sound and they’ve mastered it. It’s lo-fi, it’s dreamy, and I love it. They hail from New Jersey, but like so many great American bands they learnt their craft in Brooklyn. Spectrals frontman, Louis Jones, also made an unexpected appearance with the band which topped off a fine evening.

10 – Grimes – HMV Ritz, Manchester, 30th August

2012 is the year that Grimes really made her breakthrough. Grimes is the moniker for Canadian born Claire Boucher, a young woman making excellent electronic music. She has a unique voice and an ability to write great pop melodies and her career looks set to really kick on. This gig was announced after her show in Salford earlier in the year sold out in double-quick time, and the original venue for this second performance sold-out again, meaning it moved to a larger hall. However, the night was marred by the news that her equipment was stolen outside the venue afterwards.

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