Wednesday, 2 January, 2019 in Music

Top 5 Gigs of 2018 – Into Music’s Writers’ Choice

Kevin Williamson has his say…

For the first time ever, I reached a total of FIFTY gigs for the year so, narrowing it down to a top FIVE was pretty much impossible, but I made an attempt, although, so many great gigs missed out!

In countdown order.

# 5 Arcade Fire – Hydro, Glasgow

In the past I’ve found ‘in the round’ shows to be generally rather disappointing experiences. The idea seems sound, but the execution always had me feeling as if I’ve only seen half a show and wondering if someone else was getting a better deal on the other side. Not so with Arcade Fire’s boxing ring set up. Given there were about 8 of them on stage and constantly moving around there was plenty going on and had a touch of U2 Zoo Tv tour about some of the visuals.  As with their last album the new stuff from Everything Now sounded so much better live. A chance to get up real close and a brilliant show by the band including crowd walkabouts and a rather chaotic ending as they left the stage and walked to the dressing rooms through the crowd.

# 4 James – Corran Halls, Oban

I saw James four times this year from this intimate show in Oban to an arena show at the Hydro and two festival appearances.  The band’s ability to adapt to the different settings always makes for an interesting evening. The Oban show was part of mini tour that saw them visit UK venues and places that weren’t on their usual itinerary although quite how they chose Oban was a bit of a mystery, but I’m glad they did. With the new album Living In Extraordinary Times still to be released it was a chance to introduce the James crowd to some new tracks and revamp some old ones. With the decision made to close the bar during the performance it seemed to make everyone focus on the show and just enjoy the music and the band were on great form. It made the day trip up from Glasgow more than worth it.  I also attended the Q&A in the afternoon and got to ask a question so, all in all, it was a memorable day.

# 3 Therapy? – The Garage, Glasgow

With their Cleave album topping my album of the year chart after only a few listens, I was looking forward to hearing how the album sounded live and I wasn’t disappointed. With eight of the ten tracks played live combined with the majority of the great Troublegum album it was a night to savour. Razor sharp riffs, combined with intense lyrics, delivered by the slightly mad Andy Cairns.  Superb stuff.

# 2 U2 – O2 Arena , London (1st night)

One of the greatest live bands ever and a band who know how to play these soulless caverns.  Since the Zoo TV days they have an ability to make the biggest gigs seem intimate. With the stage set up identical to the Songs of Innocence tour of 2015 and promoting the sister album Songs of Experience, the band once again took the live experience to another level. Like 2015, a massive 100 foot long video cage divided the arena with the main stage at one end and the B stage at the other. Having played the Joshua Tree in full in 2017 they decided not to play any of those songs on this tour and this allowed some old favourites to return like Whose Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Zoo Station and Stay Faraway So Close, the highlight of the first night. They also played Acrobat on this tour which had never been played live before. Despite the massive screen and everything that goes along with it, some of the best moments were when the band just played without any add-ons and showed they are just a great rock ‘n’ roll band. They might be reaching the veteran stage but U2 live is still one of life’s great experiences.

# 1 Pearl Jam – O2 Arena, London (2nd night)

This was a whole story in itself.  I’d travelled down to London to take in the two Pearl Jam shows in June and conveniently Alice in Chains were playing Shepherds Bush the night before, so it was three gigs in three days with Seattle’s finest. At least, it was meant to be. After the high of the first Pearl Jam show it was announced on the afternoon of the second show that singer, Eddie Vedder, had lost his voice and that the gig was to be postponed. He had, in fairness, been struggling on some songs on the first night but this was a crushing blow and turned out to be the first time Pearl Jam had ever cancelled a show because of illness. I was gutted but there was nothing I could do and I did manage to take in the Manic Street Preachers at Festival Hall as a consolation, but it was no substitute for PJ.

So, we waited to see if and when it was going to be rescheduled. Official sources said ‘middle of July’. I prayed that wasn’t the case as a family holiday in Lanzarote was booked for that time. The date was released. 17 July. Three days from the end of my holiday. There was a lot of swearing. If it had been any other band I’d have just have rued my bad luck but Pearl Jam are a very special band to me and visits to the UK are not a regular occurrence. Combine this with a band who play a completely different set every night I just knew the re-arranged show was going to be something special to make up for the postponement. There was only one thing any sensible male could do. Ask the wife if I could fly back for the gig. I had researched the logistics and it was doable in about 30 odd hours assuming everything went according to plan.

She, of course, told me not to be so stupid which of course was the correct response. It was a mental idea, but I needed to ask the question. Still I was gutted I was going to miss out and I think my disappointment was plain to see as my wonderful wife relented a few days later and told me to book my flights. Never has one’s mood changed quite so quickly. I guess the thought of me moping about the pool in the run up to the show would have been too much to bear.

Operation Jam kicked in and a finely-honed plan was formed with little margin for error. What this idiot hadn’t factored in was burning the souls of his feet on the pavement the day before flying back for the gig.  Not even one foot but both. Stupidity of the highest order and I still don’t know what I was thinking. A hasty patch-up job on the feet and I readied myself for my trip.

An early start and taxi to airport for 11am flight to Gatwick. All went off without a hitch and the flight took off on time. I was on my way but still couldn’t quite believe what I was doing. My feet on the other hand were not happy and the most uncomfortable flight I’ve ever had and on reaching London a chemist was found to carry out some emergency repairs. A burst blister was not a pretty site and my walking was somewhat comical as I tried to find the less painful pressure points. Undeterred, I made my way to the O2 to meet up with fellow PJ fans for the show. As a fan club member we get early access so can get near the front and I was so grateful to get in and get a seat on the floor for a while. My feet were on fire.

Fast forward a couple of hours and Peal Jam hit the stage and clearly a band on a mission. Making their intentions clear by opening with Oceans which was last played in the UK in 1996. As a Pearl Jam fan, you never know what the set list is going to be but you have your favourites and ones you hope you can add to your collection. The sad geek in me has a spreadsheet of all the Pearl Jam songs I’ve seen them play. For the stattos, I’ve now seen them play 147 unique songs over 20 shows with 6 of those coming from this show.

From the moment the band hit the stage you just knew it was going to be a very special night. 34 songs spread over 3 hours with so many great moments. A stunning Corduroy complete with a brilliant band jam, a heartfelt apology from Vedder about the cancelled show before launching into Given To Fly, which just about did my feet in, followed by one of my top five favourite songs, In Hiding.  Even Flow saw the pit in overdrive before slowing things down with Daughter merging into the full version of It’s OK, a real rarity.  Other rarities getting an airing included Satan’s Bed, never before played in the UK, Fatal being played for only the 8th time, Around the Bend never played in the UK and only ever played 14 times before and Breath which was last played in the UK at Southend on Pearl Jam’s first ever UK tour in 1992. It was a night for the collectors.

There were, of course, the crowd pleasers for the more casual fan in Rearviewmirror, Jeremy and Alive. Something for everyone. I lasted down the front until Rearviewmirror before my feet finally cried enough and I had to retire injured to a little further back, before eventually leaning against a wall at the back of the arena for the final couple of songs. Ironically this meant I couldn’t depart the arena with any great haste after traditional set closer Yellow Ledbetter and therefore didn’t miss them returning to finish the night off with All Along the Watchtower which more than a few other people did. Despite my pain it was the fantastic night I knew it would be and why I had to be there to witness it.

My return journey saw me catching some sleep in St Pancras station before catching a 6am flight back to Lanzarote and after a 4,000 mile round-trip I arrived back at my hotel in just under 28 hours from when I had left the day before. I was done in but the buzz was still there and you couldn’t remove the big stupid smile from my face.

As a postscript to this trip and holiday, I ended up in hospital after my foot and leg became badly infected due to my burnt feet which took a fair bit of time to get over, but it was worth all the pain and suffering and I’m daft enough I’d do it all again…

…if the wife lets me.

Looking back at 2018, it was a brilliant year for gigs and many who would have made the top 5 any other year, missed out. Roger Waters at the Hydro, Fish at the Queens Hall, Shinedown at the Academy and The Decemberists, also at the Academy. My love of live music hasn’t diminished and I look forward to some more great shows in 2019.

Kevin Williamson

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