As I reminisce on the gigs I’ve been to throughout the year, a sudden realisation washes over me after a painful, head-scratching 10 minutes. Disappointingly, I can only count a meagre seven, in addition to two day-long festivals and one weekend festival. That’s a hugely unsatisfactory effort on my part, and I blame this entirely on being forced to spend my final uni days moping around a library, struggling through essays on existentialism and a dissertation on music and mental health (well, should’ve been – I actually spent most of my final year bingeing on Fargo and pretending Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was “research”). For this reason, alongside the fact that Exeter’s Cavern had been largely destroyed in a fire, I didn’t go to anywhere near as many as I wanted to. The shameful list of shows I actually attended in 2017 goes as follows, in chronological order:
- Fickle Friends @ Exeter Phoenix (Attended at the suggestion of a friend. Even after several G&Ts, it was distinctly average, with the weirdest support act I have ever laid eyes on.)
- Bear’s Den @ Exeter Lemon Grove (Amazing.)
- Redfaces @ Exeter Phoenix (My band were the support act. They’re actually getting pretty big now, and all of them were absolutely lovely. My four friends were the only audience members.)
- Laura Marling @ Exeter Lemon Grove (Last minute press pass. Beautiful.)
- Exefest @ Exeter University (Cascada, The Hoosiers, Wheatus… we left promptly after Example started a DJ set.)
- Poltimore Festival @ Poltimore House (An adorable local grassroots festival that gets bigger and better every year – Matthew and The Atlas headlined.)
- Isle of Wight Festival (Attended solely for Arcade Fire, who did not disappoint. Also featured the inimitable and fascinating Rod Stewart.)
- The National @ London Eventim Apollo (Battled with the flu to drive from Cardiff to London and back, almost didn’t make it through. Finished the night with Lemsip and a headache. So rock and roll.)
- This Is The Kit @ Cardiff Globe (Birthday. Sent from heavenly folky Bristol Gods.)
- Mutation @ Cardiff Globe (Really fun night with Laura, worst hangover I’ve had for years. I don’t think I fit into the raging metal vibe very well.)
Looking back, the show that sticks with me the most (in a self-aware attempt to shift my attention away from the National) has to be Bear’s Den, as one of the most intimate, special moments I can remember from the year – and probably at any gig I’ve ever been to. The end of their set saw the bespectacled, bearded fellows huddle in the middle of the crowd, playing an entirely unplugged performance of a track from their debut album, ‘Bad Blood’. It would’ve been rude to whisper during such a breathtaking, intimate and profound moment such as this, and I was absolutely blown away.
Most of my favourite music this year stemmed from getting my first real-life-full-time-actual-adult-job here at Stereoboard, which somehow, miraculously for me, involves spending all day writing about and discovering new bands, while listening to BBC 6 Music in the background all day. In doing so, I’ve stumbled across some amazing things. Here are just some of them.
- Sampha – ‘Process’
- Nadine Shah – ‘Holiday Destination’
- Alex Lahey – ‘Love You Like A Brother’
- Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – ‘Lotta Sea Lice’
- The War on Drugs – ‘A Deeper Understanding’
- Grizzly Bear – ‘Painted Ruins’
Since being here, I’ve also done a handful of reviews of varying opinions – one astounding, one fine, and one I didn’t like at all.
The National – ‘Sleep Well Beast’
The National are one of my favourite bands, and their latest record only skyrocketed this opinion further. It is triumphant, having reached number one status in the UK and received a Grammy nomination, and holds nothing back with a one-two punch of daring guitar solos by the Dessner brothers and Matt Berninger screaming his face off to Turtleneck, then hitting home with that graceful lyricism, gorgeous instrumentation and a style of storytelling that never ceases to amaze me on some of the softer songs. Each record sees the band develop further, honing their craft to perfection, and ‘Sleep Well Beast’ is no different.
OTHER COOL STUFF OF 2017
Campaign I Have Eternally Mixed Feelings About And Need To Voice (But Ultimately Dislike)
Arcade Fire – ‘Everything Now’
‘Everything Now’ is a particularly on the nose, self-aware critical commentary. Everything is monetised, capitalism is bad, massive corporations bring emptiness to everyone’s lives, and the current culture of immediate gratification will be the ruin of us all. Fine. This isn’t groundbreaking territory though – for years people have dissected and critiqued the way we live our lives through screens and massive corporations. So why make the point? And why make it in such an extravagant fashion?
Arcade Fire are not the type of band to create a fictional company to take over their marketing strategy, a fictional social media co-ordinator (who, when it all went to shit, released a fictional statement about taking his fiction too far, and got sacked from his fictional role), ridiculous, diva-esque demands and strict dress codes to their shows. On the flip side, it’s impossible to know whether any of these things hold any truth (#FakeNews), or if everything was calculated to go down as it did. The whole thing is bizarre, and it’s not the same band who wrote ‘Funeral’ or ‘Neon Bible’, which, incidentally, make similar points more eloquently. I’m not convinced the lack of depth on the album can be excused by such an obvious, and frankly embarrassing, conceptual point.
Mr Jukes – ‘God First’
Having recently re-listened to ‘So Long See you Tomorrow’, the final material from Bombay Bicycle Club before they parted ways on an indefinite hiatus, it’s clear to see the direction Jack Steadman, frontman, was desperate to go in, pulling the band towards sampling, more electronic sounds, and complex rhythms. On his solo (well, not so solo, given the number of collaborations including De La Soul, Horace Andy and Lianne La Havas to name a few) debut ‘God First’, Steadman takes the listener on a journey through modern jazz styles, old school RnB samples and breakbeats to meld genres into one awesome listening quest.
Musicians Doing Cute Non Musician Things
Orlando Weeks – ‘The Gritterman’
After announcing the end of bill-topping indie band The Maccabees (RIP) with huge farewell performances this summer, it is refreshing to see frontman Orlando Weeks injecting some adorable goodness into the world. His latest project, The Gritterman, is a children’s book-come-album-come-live-show about an ice cream man whose big dream is to help his community during the winter months by gritting the roads. Wholesome and heartwarming, perfect to get you in that Christmas spirit.
New Songs I Discovered and Can’t Stop Playing
- Pip Blom – Babies Are A Lie
- Hatchie – Sure
- NARCS – Raus!
- Allusondrugs – I’m Your Man
- Weaves – #53
- Alvvays – Not My Baby
- This Is The Kit – Hotter Colder
- Django Django – Tic Tac Toe
- Manchester Orchestra – The Gold
- Everything Everything – Night of the Long Knives
- Esper Scout – Compass
- Drahla – Form of Luxury
All in all, I leave 2017 with a desperate need to see more gigs, a desire to increase my band t shirt collection and with a heavy heart, as this has been an ultimately life changing year for me. What’s next?