February 11th, 2007
Last week JJ forwarded a message where an unimpressed Em queried the Observer’s 25 greatest gigs ever. She asked for top-10s in reply, and compiling mine turned into a nostalgic evening spent reminiscing. With added liner notes, and in no particular order, here they are:
- Leftfield – Liveism at Brixton, ’96. Famous as the gig that got Leftfield banned from Brixton. They opened their set with two minutes of noise that I can only describle as being like a thousand angry elephants trying to find the fundamental frequency of my liver, in order to crush it with sheer sonic force. Reportedly, chunks of masonry fell from the roof as the whole building stuggled to come to terms with Leftfield’s might. I’m not certain the hearing in my left ear ever fully recovered.
- Midi Circus – Brixton, June ’93. My dance music epiphany. With Underworld, Orbital, Eat Static and Aphex on the same bill, the fact that I was able to get my ticket on the day reflects just how early in the scene this was. Orbital, who I’d never heard of, set-about tearing-up the night with their brown album set (definitely the best). The segue from Lush to Remind was mind-boggling; a revelation. I saw them at least 20 times in the years that followed (many NYE’s; the Albert Hall, where Lara and I nearly got chucked out for lighting indoor sparklers; in-the-round at Brixton), but the shocking newness of Orbital that night made a huge impact on me musically.
- Daft Punk, Astoria ’97. Truly superb. They didn’t play numbers off the album so much as a continually shifting, transforming mashup of everything Daft Punk. Daft Alive ’97 captures some of this, but I’d kill for a complete copy of the show. Robot friend Neil, who was a repping the tour for promotors, Metropolis, at the time, reports that the show was different every single night. Magic. Probably the single gig I look back on most fondly.
- Plastikman, a wonderful sunny Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury ’95. Sandwiched between The Drum Club and System 7 (both big favourites of mine at the time), Hawtin took complete control. He played with the crowd, dropping the music mid-beat; tripping everyone up with his teasing cuts. Later he came on for a single number with System 7, playing his own, relentless remix of Alpha Wave. It was truly awesome. I had the pleasure of shaking his hand later that year at the Decadog: after his set he’d decided to hang around in the foyer to meet the fans. Nice.
- Nine inch nails, Newcastle Riverside ’91. Leaving the venue I distinctly remember how we were literally steaming with sweat. Trent Reznor went supersonic shortly thereafter, but on a small stage he had amazing intensity and energy.
- Chemical Brothers, Dig your Own Hole tour (’98?). Specifically, a supercharged 4-4 take of Setting Sun in the encore blew everyone away. I remember precisely where I was standing at the time, near a stack at the back on the right. "D-e-e-e-e-e-v-v-v-i-l-l-l-l…" And then Richie Hawtin mopped-up any survivors with a monster DE9 set.
- Underworld @ Glastonbury 2000, right before Leftfield on the Saturday night. It was a beautiful, mild evening and just as they started to play Jumbo, my favourite off Beaucoup Fish, it began to lightly rain. It didn’t matter – it was the perfect complement.
- MC Supernatural, Glastonbury 2000, the day after Underworld. He went for my achilles heel, and I was in tears at his superb ad-lib Star Wars battle-rapping: “Can you hear me R2?” (dj cuts-up like the droid )
- Wishmountain (Matt Herbert) – The Big Chill ’96. A DAT set where he added live percussion with household objects, e.g. a cheese grater as hi-hats; or throcking a toaster repeatedly for a kick-drum counterpoint. Great theatre.
Special Bonus: having worked as stage manager for a number of years, it would be wrong not to mention a few memorable gigs from my ULU days. One thing you learn fairly quickly in live music is to recognise when a band is objectively good – even if they’re not to your taste. Although virtually none of the bands that played ULU were up-my-street, there were a handful that were undeniably impressive:
- Rage against the machine. Continual stage diving madness. There were probably 1200 mad skate punks crammed into our 800 capacity venue. Tom Morello is the best guitarist I have ever seen.
- New Model Army. Fans: ‘okay, lets form a three-tier human pyramid in the middle of the venue’. Another sweat-sodden night
- The Spin Doctors (really!). Somehow low expectation is very fertile ground for memorable nights
Shouts, props, and genuine thanks to everyone reading who shared any of these moments with me. You know who you are.