As this week has ended up focusing mostly around albums (understandably, given the situation in which we find ourselves), I thought today was an opportune day to mix things up a bit. It’s #ThrowbackThursday – or #TBT – so what better moment to think back over my live gig experiences? Much of this dates to pre-blog times, so I’m relying rather heavily on my ailing memory; it’s definitely put a smile on my face remembering the range of bands I’ve been lucky enough to see perform – for example, I’d completely forgotten I’d seen Placebo (that would’ve been unthinkable at the time).
So I’m going to go through some of my ‘best bits’ as I head back down my musical memory lane…
The night that got me addicted to standing for loud music: Stereophonics at Westpoint Arena, Exeter in November 2003. I’d got into the band two or three years earlier, during their Just Enough Education to Perform days; I’d heard some of their earlier songs on the radio before this, but I was in too deep with my Queen obsession to let any other bands in. Anyway, You Gotta Go There To Come Back came out, so a couple of friends and I decided we had to go & see them – even though it was a week night and we were all in the first term of our GCSE year (and had lessons the next day). Tim Burgess was supporting, which was exciting, but the buzz of the Phonics’ set was something else. I’d never been quite so deafened by music before and I bloody love it! What also stuck with me was the reaction of some of my classmates in Biology the next day – they seemed really shocked that I’d gone to a rock gig. For context, I was your classic school swot, but still… What kind of music did they think I was into?!
Favourite support act?
The role call of support acts I’ve seen over the years I think is pretty impressive. Some were complete unknowns who I’ve unfortunately forgotten (oops – sorry!), others I wish I could forget (*cough* Glasvegas *cough*), but by & large I’ve done rather well. Thank to the Phonics I’ve seen the likes of the Courteeners, The Enemy & The Dead 60s; The Maccabees were supporting Kasabian when I saw them back in 2014, Turin Brakes accompanied Travis on their The Man Who anniversary tour, and Kaiser Chiefs & Imelda May were on the bill before The Who at Wembley Stadium last year. Not to mention the amazing Manic Street Preachers supporting a Beatle! However, I’ve got to come back to my favourite Welsh band and thank them for introducing me to The Wind + The Wave. Their livestream gigs have become a constant for me these past few months, and if Dwight & Patty hadn’t supported Kelly Jones on his solo tour last year or the Phonics on the Kind tour (with full band) my musical life would be all the poorer for it.
Most surprising gig?
Only one contender for this, really. On something of a whim, I booked a ticket for The Script‘s Sunsets and Full Moons gig at the O2 in February; I’d only been to that arena for a show once before, and that was Prof Brian Cox & Robin Ince’s Universal in September 2019, so I was keen to visit more – it is only a short bus ride away from me, after all. Anyway, The Script. I’d booked a mere four days before the gig, so hurriedly tried to catch myself up on three albums’ worth of music so I wouldn’t be completely in the dark (my collection stopped short at #3) and then hoped for the best. In the days after the concert I did somehow manage to write a review, but to be honest I don’t know how I managed to find the words. The whole thing felt like some sort of religious experience (the good kind, not the creepy cult kind you see in films & TV); their buzzword for the night was ‘connection’ and somehow they managed it – that massive room felt like it had shrunk, allowing us to feel closer to the band than most of us were in reality, as well as part of a community with everyone else present. Since that night The Script have been ever-present for me, soundtracking commutes and providing comfort in these very strange times. All off the back of one show: that’s the power of live music.
There have been a few (including Robert Plant at the Royal Albert Hall and The Who – first at Wembley Arena, then the Stadium), but as it stands I don’t think I can nominate anyone other than Sir Paul McCartney himself. My family and I went to three big gigs at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff: 2009 was Oasis (June) and U2 (August), then the following June it was time for Macca. With an earlyish start and two support acts (The Joy Formidable & the Manics) it had a bit of a festival feel to it, and even sat at the end of the stadium opposite the stage the atmosphere was incredible. Plus I got major piano envy… There isn’t much more I can say! With a back catalogue like his, it’s a wonder we weren’t there for days – and even though he was in his late 60s then you got the feeling he actually could have kept playing for even longer than he did. Now that’s a true music legend!
I tend to react like this nearly every time I come out of a live show, with the adrenaline pumping and my ears just about to pack in, but on 7 March 2020 at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena this was the real deal. The best gig ever. We’re back to the Stereophonics, people! For starters, they are one of the best live acts out there – always have been, always will be. It was my second time seeing them within the space of about six weeks (and my fourth time seeing Kelly in less than a year), but something extra special really kicked in for me that night; my whole family were there (parents sat down, taller younger brother helping me stand my ground in the pit), the closest to the front I’d ever been for a Phonics show, and I genuinely didn’t know if they’d play Traffic or not. Massive drama! The relief when I realised that was their next song… Well, it got emotional.
And though I may cry a lot, I think it is still a pretty good sign of a phenomenal show – especially as I usually tend to reserve the tears for the theatre rather than a rock concert! Aside from the stabs of anxiety kicking in between sets when people around me needlessly pushed into me or decided I was there to be leaned on, it was pretty much the perfect night: The Wind + The Wave on fine form to warm us up, then basically my ideal Phonics setlist in the main event – and they even had a walkway down the middle of the arena with a B-stage at the end. Absolutely buzzing on the tram ride back to the hotel (though very much in need of a sit-down) and unable to get to sleep for quite some time. Within a fortnight everything had changed, as mass gatherings were banned & everyone began to work from home – making it even more special than it already was.
This is all presuming anything approaching normality will ever return, of course, but there are plenty of artists I’d love to finally tick off my list. Muse feels like a pretty glaring omission for me, so that needs correcting for definite, plus if Miles Kane & Alex Turner do decide to bring The Last Shadow Puppets back together again that’s also a must. I’d also really love to see Coldplay perform live; sneer at me all you like, but I love their music & how it’s evolved over the years – plus watching their A Head Full of Dreams documentary a few months ago, it looks like they put on a really fun & uplifting show. Last on my wish list is a biggie: Bruce Springsteen, the Boss himself. Preferably with the E Street Band, but I’m really not that fussy! Thank you, Blinded by the Light, for showcasing his music so wonderfully that it made me really listen to it properly and realise what it had to offer.
Time machine moment?
There’s an endless list of incredible moments in the history of live music, but I think I’d be lying to myself and to you if I picked anything other than Queen Live at Wembley Stadium 1986. Live Aid is perhaps a contender, as is the band’s 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show, but what Queen fan could argue with two hours of the band at such a special moment in their career? I rewatched the DVD in June on the date I should’ve been seeing Queen + Adam Lambert (my dad watching along at the same time in Somerset), and it’s just sheer class.