Michael James Hall's 13 best shows of 2014

Michael James Hall’s 13 best shows of 2014


I thought I’d write about 13(well more than that really) of the live experiences that meant the most to me this year. They aren’t in order, the text won’t tell you much about the bands and it’s all irrelevant anyway as the best gig of the year was our wedding band back in July but anyway, let me know your favourite shows this year if you’d like to share.


1. Augustines – The Roundhouse,Camden, London 08/12/2014 & The Plug, Sheffield 10/05/2014

It was raining in Sheffield and I drank something called a Zombie Reviver at lunchtime. Sheffield was beautiful, a lurching, vertiginous maze of mountains, streets and genuine warmth despite the wetness. The venue was three quarters full and the band was incredible. Passionate, tuneful, desperate for excellence and heartbreakingly earnest in their need to connect. Off the back of their second album proper they were beginning a live journey that reached a climax at the Roundhouse seven months later as they played their biggest ever headline show to nearly 5,000 adoring fans/friends who screamed along to every song, cheered ‘til their throats were hoarse and proved conclusively that the plucky little band that “could”, actually had and were here to stay. Your heart fills, Christmas comes early, faith in rock n’ roll is righteously restored.

2. Mclusky – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff 15/11/2014

With his sometimes baffling blend of confidence and self-effacement, Falko’s decision to put Mclusky back together for a couple of benefit shows for the seemingly doomed Le Pub venue in Newport (played there once, no-one came…well, my mam did but she’s obliged) rather than attempt an all-guns blazing resurrection with shit new material and a string of atmosphere-free gigs in half-full Carling caverns, seems entirely logical. With an also reformed Jarcrew on support duties (they were like a Welsh At the Drive-In with better songs if you’re interested) this incarnation of the infamously prickly punk band was a thundering, hilarious, brilliant beast. Clwb shook, the whole room a swirling mass of limbs, lager, flying shoes and lost passports. To be in the pit for ‘Alan Is A Cowboy Killer’ seemed for me to be a dream that would be forever unrealised. The reality was better, even, than the fantasy. Though I felt pretty ill afterwards which diluted the euphoria somewhat. This, along with my constant falling over at that hardcore gig at the Empty Bottle in Chicago earlier in the year was proof positive that I am no longer destined for the mosh pit. Ah well.

3. John Grant – Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain 30/05/2014

The festival site emptied as the torrential downpour rendered the place essentially uninhabitable. But determined were we to see John Grant. Never having seen him before, now, it appeared, was The Moment. So we and a few hundred others, wrapped in whatever we could find to shield ourselves from the storm, stood in a massive seaside car park that should have held more than 10,000 and watched the man play. It was like falling in love. That voice, his words, the eye-watering mastery of melody, the abyss-like sadness of ‘Glacier’ and the resounding, jaw-dropping awe of ‘Queen Of Denmark’. It was chilling, thrilling, elating, fucking soaking. A double rainbow sprung up over the ocean as the final notes were played. I’m not kiddin’. A fucking double rainbow, maaaan. It was that kind of a gig.


4. Arcade Fire/Television/Dan Deacon/The Unicorns – Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York 25/08/2014

Our last night in New York and we’re treated by the great Dawn Kalani Cowle (check her blog http://ifhannahwere30.wordpress.com) to a show in beautiful Brooklyn. We’re exhausted, we’re flagging, we’re failing to catch the spark of excitement for the show. But Dawn takes us to a great dive bar, there’s vegan mac and cheese and then we settle into the nosebleeds in the cavernous home of the Nets. Unicorns play that song about them being Unicorns and it’s cool and cute and warm and fuzzy and then Dan Deacon turns the arena into a kid’s dance party – the standing area split down the middle, punters nominated as lead dancers we all need to mimic…the whole deal. It’s joyous, uplifting, just like Deacon’s expansive, wondrous music. Television play. You know, Television. Did they close with ‘Marquee Moon’? Can you get thrown out of the Barclays Center for wanking? Not saying. Arcade Fire enter through the crowd to the theme from Blade Runner and it’s genuinely exciting. As exciting as their visually sumptuous show, their arms wide open anthems, their broken ballads. As exciting as the centre of the arena’s DJ booth turned into a dance podium and as exciting as having David Byrne join them for a cover of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’. It was almost incomprehensible. It made it ok to have to come back to the UK.


5. Black Sabbath/Faith No More – Hyde Park, London 04/07/2014

Faith No More were the first band I ever went to see without parental supervision. Well, OK L7 were supporting so I saw them first technically but you get the idea. Could it be possible that 20-something years later they’d be just as good? As vital, as ferocious, as funny, as cool and kinky? Turns out yeah. And they had new songs that were an absolute blast too. For all the brilliance of Mike Patton’s many musical adventures FNM will always be the one closest to my heart and they showed just why here, on a sunny London afternoon. Later, in the dark, the screens fill with images of Bush, Blair, bombs dropping and blood. It’s ‘War Pigs’, it’s Sabbath and they sound like the end of the world. Iommi’s riffs are absolutely electrifying, Ozzy’s voice a wild croon from the netherworld, the tunes massive, the darkness all-enveloping. It was metal at its most majestic and overpowering. All hail.


Sun Kil Moon – St John’s Church, Hackney, London 03/12/2014

In twenty years of watching Mark Kozelek live never have I really seen him attempt to “front” a band. Sure in Red House Painters he stood up and sang but in no way could he be considered a frontman, hidden as he was behind his hair and guitar. In recent years he’s been firmly sat on his arse behind a nylon stringed Spanish guitar and trapped his sonorous voice at a low, whispered monotone. Tonight he’s got a cool, weird three-piece band as adept at experimentation and jazz runs as they are complex folkery and he’s stood right there, stage centre,belting out tunes from the very best album of 2014, ‘Benji’. It’s stunning. Confusing certainly, but also mesmeric. The Slint-like rap of new single ‘Possum’ gives way to a cover of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ that, in Kozelek’s own words, sounds like Swans. It’s all about dynamics tonight – Kozelek’s vocals leaping from deflated mumble to raucous scream, even a touch of falsetto as he and the band tear through a genuinely exciting, spine-tingling set to the largest crowd they’ve drawn in years. Yeah he plays on that thing he said about a band a bit too much but he’s on good form, in good humour and Sun Kil Moon sound like they are on the verge of a personal sonic breakthrough.

7. The Pharmacy/Snuff Redux – Summit Block Party, Seattle, Washington 09/08/2014

It’s hard to leave a city with which you’ve just fallen in love and maybe the hardest I’ve ever fallen was for Seattle. On our final night in that glorious spiral-down town of beaches, mountains, snow, sea, bars, bookstores and beauty we ambled into our neighbourhood street party. Local legends The Pharmacy tore out a scrappy, slurping set of rock n’ roll tunes in what would prove to be their farewell gig and the street filled with curious onlookers, hardcore fans lining the kerb, kids pulling skateboard tricks on a makeshift ramp on the corner. Later, the warm, swaying night played host to the fantastic, furious Snuff Redux, local kids with a penchant for Superchunk and a love of all things London which made me laugh as we spoke after their glorious, teenage dream of a set. The vision of Seattle I had as a teenager played out for me in person that evening and as that smiling, beer-spilling moshpit filled the residential road it was as close to a perfect moment as one could ever wish for. And I’m still in love.


The Twilight Sad – Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona, Spain 31/08/2014

Why, oh sweet lord, why did I never go and see Twilight Sad before? Here, under glistening green foliage they played a stripped down acoustic set that left the heart of each of their songs out on the blood-soaked sleeve of the stage. Having played a full set to an adoring crowd at the festival proper the night before this might have been approached as something of a throwaway. By a lesser band, sure, but Twilight Sad are on the verge of being a truly great band and they play like one here this afternoon. James Graham’s voice at the forefront, yearning, nearly collapsing through dark beauties like ‘The Wrong Car’ and rare encore offering ‘Mapped By What Surrounded Them’, there’s a classic Scottish sadness that runs through everything they do and when contrasted with the warm sun and greenery of this ancient park it feels like an approximation of magic.

9. Bob Mould – Village Underground, Shoreditch, London 18/11/2014


We’ve spent much of this year ripping off the songwriting style of Mr Mould in rehearsal rooms across East London and it only seemed fit that the band have a night out at his show. Sadly Stu (keyboards and singing) couldn’t come but otherwise a perfect night of looking at one another acknowledging exactly where all those steals were stolen from was had. Nick from the best I say.


10. Morrissey – O2, Greenwich, London 29/11/2014

‘At The Request Of The Artist NO MEAT PRODUCTS Available Tonight’ reads the sign which predisposes me to love this gig even more than usually I might. A properly, fully sold out 02 (no curtaining off the top bits for Moz) roared approval for the moaning, maudlin Mancunian as he dealt out most of his rather great new record ‘World Peace Is None Of your Business’ alongside 100% definite, no questions asked, cheque-cashed classics like ‘The Queen Is Dead’ Speedway’, ‘Nobody Loves Us’ and then, in the encore the savage 1-2 blow of ‘Asleep’ and ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ which remains the most life affirming declaration of misery ever penned. In these moments we forget the letdowns, the occasional lurches into Little Englander silliness and are able to appreciate Moz for what he is – one of our greatest ever songwriters and a man who, despite his incredible awkwardness, has the power to connect and unite.

11. Manic Street Preachers – The Roundhouse, Camden, London 15/12/2014 & 17/12/2014

Another band with whom I’ve a 20+ year history and, as I discussed at the first night with the rather excellent artist Peter Wilson (www.rotedesign.com), a unique one in their ability to push me away with one move and draw me back in with the next. In recent years they’ve overcome their mid-period droop and have released two excellent albums in as many years while remaining a consistently great live prospect. Now, they’ve taken on the tough job of facing up to their true legacy : The Holy Bible. It’s pointless describing why or how the album is important, suffice to say for Manics fans to see them play it live in its entirety in its twentieth anniversary year is the grail itself. When JDB struggled with his voice through illness on Monday the crowd are right there to joyously finish any line he couldn’t complete. They are just as loud on Wednesday when the maestro is back on form and in a place where he actually seemed somewhat at ease with the gargantuan beast he was carrying to birth in front of this adoring crowd. Nicky turning Mausoleum’s unbearably bleak chorus into a cathartic singalong might have been the best touch of the night. Or perhaps it was that ragged death-rattle of ‘4st 7lbs’…hell, maybe it was just when they opened the second set with ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. I mean, have you actually fucking HEARD that song?! These were two of the very best concerts I’ve ever witnessed and having seen them 30 times or more over the years, it’s absolutely easy to say they may never have been on better live form. Affirmation, redemption, intelligence, power … you get the fucking lot with MSP.

12. Neil Young/The National, Hyde park, London 12/07/2014

Sunshine, friends and Hyde Park in the summer. Neil Young cries out ‘Separate Ways’ and The National prove themselves serious contenders for the big leagues. The heat overwhelms as Mumbly Joe national sips his red and paints cryptic lyrical portraits of strange emotional landscapes. Later the arms go up and the head goes back for ‘Down By The River’, the fists pump and the voices raise for ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ and ol’ black takes a classic Crazy Horse battering. Despite the great times and sense of endless summer these days can recreate I still wish to never visit that shit pretend village they set up at these Hyde Park shows ever again. Somehow the organisation of the event made it seem even more anti-fan than previous Hard Rock Calling seasons at the park had even managed – and that takes some doing. Still – Neil conquers all.

13. Sharon Van Etten – The Chapel, Mission District, San Francisco 29/07/14

Charlie Gray (who has music here http://graycharles.bandcamp.com/ ) tipped us off that on the very first day of our Honeymoon there was an invite only Sharon van Etten show in town.  how would we get tickets? We emailed the promoters and they gave us some. Baffling. We walked the beautiful and endless streets of SF, took a bus out to Ocean Beach and basked in the foggy sunlight of the curve of the Great Highway, a Koz fan’s ultimate day trip. Delirious with tiredness and jetlag we queued on the street outside the Chapel for 2 hours. When we got inside the bar was absolutely free and so were the t-shirts and prints. They were printing them up right there as you chose your design and colour. We watched from the back as the packed room stood in rapt attention as one of our finest current singer/songwriters let fly with beauties like ‘Afraid of Nothing’ from her most recent album ‘Are We There’ as well as offering rare live outings to ‘Hotel 2 Tango’ and her closer, the Karen Dalton song ‘Red Are The Flowers’). It was strangely subdued, subtle, a respectful atmosphere of artistic appreciation. Can you imagine what a gig like this in the UK would be like with a free bar? No matter. This was perfection and we felt like it was all laid on just for us. ‘Cos we’re so fucking special. We sat out on the pavement afterwards and I thought “Good summer this.” Cheers, Shazza.


What are your favourite gigs of the year?!

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