And so to continue our High Fidelty Top 5 theme, here's some of my favourite gigs over the last few months.....
1. Joan Baez, The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall: Still the same voice she had when she was younger. So luminous and serene to watch. She plays songs from her new, Steve Earle-produced album, Day After Tomorrow but it's her back catalogue that elicits the biggest cheers from the adoring Glasgow crowd (one punter shouts "Joan, do you know how beautiful you are?"). Farewell Angelina sounds as beautiful as ever, she fucks up Diamonds And Rusts (no longer singing it Bob Dylan), moving too slowly over the fretwork but jokes about it in her own imitable way. She also sings shivering version of traditional celtic folk track, "Mary Hamilton" - poignant and a cover of Christmas In Washington ' invoking the spirit of one of America's alternative founding fathers, Woody Guthrie - sang on the same stage seven months before by Steve Earle himself and performed better. Not that Baez's cover is bad, just different.
2. Swervedriver, King Tuts: I am still trying to recover the full use of my ears following this gig. Thinking no other band could be louder than My Bloody Valentine, i foolishly stood to close to the speakers.....Playing only the second of two dates in Britain, the Adam Franklin-led, reformed rockers' gig was drenched in glorious reverberation and scuzzy noise. They broke curfew (rebels!). Did they need to reform? Probably not but a rare opportunity to watch a band left in the shoegazing shadow of MBV.
3. Mercury Rev, Connect Festival: Sigh. I'm lazy so i'm just gonna post my uhm, "professional" (haha) review. Bands like Mercury Rev are always a good excuse for music journalists to flex their well-honed vocabulary stock (or use a thesaurus) and tonight’s show lends itself to all manner of beautiful words. Their first show in Scotland since 2005’s gig at the Barrowlands and it was highly anticipated. The atmosphere was intimate as most people seemed to opt for Kasabian. More fool them. You couldn’t get a more beautiful setting to watch them play. Their music is made in the isolated Catskill Mountains area of New York and seems like its home at Inverary Castle. New song “Snowflake In A Hot World” opens tonight’s proceedings – a driving, powerful mini-epic which swoons seamlessly into the majestic opening of “Holes” and its gentle pulsating piano. It sways into the crowd and hangs blissfully over them. A muscular version of “Opus 40” follows and prompts a chorus from the crowd. “Tides Of The Moon” from 2001’s “All Is Dream” album showcases Jonathan Donahue’s distinctive voice – it sounds incredibly exposed and vulnerable. They throw in another new song, “People Are So Unpredictable” – an explosive, electro number and the grand ‘The Dark Is Rising’ is perfectly complimented by the light show as Donahue emerges like a spectre from the smoke. A swift encore sees a beautifully pared-down rendition of “Goddess On A Hiway.” Jonathan Donahue is as magnetic as ever but can only keep up the mysterious façade for so long before he breaks into a huge smile. At one point he crawls along the stage hiding behind his monitors casting a twinkling eye over the crowd and smiling mischievously while Grasshopper makes his guitar sound like everything except a guitar. Mercury Rev were, are, out of this world. It’s a well-balanced set list and the new songs are received well by the crowd and judging by the smiles on their faces it won’t be long until they are back.
4. Tom Waits, Edinburgh Playhouse: a rare opportunity to see him and an expensive endeavour. But worth it. The venue was awful - the guys next to me spent the entire gig with their knees under the chin as the seats were so close together but anyway.......Waits is such a true performer which i think is quite rare these days. He puts on a show. Despite arriving onstage a half hour, the crowd forgive him. but they'd probably forgive him anything. You know, cos he's Tom Waits. Wearing his trademark porkpie hat, he's part fairground hawker, part philospher, part leprachaun - he stands on a circular platform centre stage (naturally), he leaps into opening song Lucinda, the dust he creates from stomping his feet emphasising the rawness and rhythm. A myriad of instruments back him including upright bass, electric bass, cornet, clarinet, organ, piano, keyboard, guitar, banjo, mandolin, drums, percussion, boxes, saxophone divided among four musicians. for an artist with a back catalogue spanning over 35 years, creating a setlist could potentially be recipe for disaster - but Waits doesn't rely on some sense of nostalgia, playing material spread over his entire career. About half way through the show, his band leaves the stage and he takes to the piano himself with his bassist for company and tells tired old jokes about preying mantis' but it doesn't matter. He plays tender versions of Innocent When You Dream, Invitation To The Blues and Picture In A Frame. He also plays harmonica driven Get Behind The Mule, Way Down In The Hole, Dirt In The Ground and the bluesy finale, Make It Rain. Nothing can ever prepare you for hearing Waits' voice live ´no matter how many times you listen to the records or no matter how many "he's an acquired taste"'s you get - it's so full of violence and beauty.
Having said all this and i LOVE Waits, you always get the sense he is playing a joke on you. Which is probably true as Waits is cleverer on his worst days than most people are on their best.....It doesn't detract from him though - it just foregrounds the fact that he is a performer. A trobadour. His characters are exactly that, characters. Sketches of average people struggling in seedy American backwater towns or big cities.
5. ok, i was maybe kinda struggling for a fifth, i was gonna write about Silver Apples(another gig where my ears were still ringing a week after) but i opted for another Connect Festival highlight. The Gutter Twins - Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli - two of alt.rocks most interesting frontman). A tiny crowd assembled as most opted to watch Goldfrapp shimmy around in pink spandex or something. Lanegan is, of course, something of a medical marvel and not just because of car accidents - but it's always interesting to watch the love-child of Hellboy and Tom Waits, if only to see if he manages to stay on the stage for the entirety of the show. Greg Dulli is somehow better at disguising his fucked-upness......Their debut album, Saturnalia, is one of the best of the past year, steeped in gothic darkness with country-esque twists. They rattle quickly through the set but it is nonetheless one of the tightest, most immediate of the weekend. And Lanegan doesn't fall of the stage.