I went to see quite a lot of live music in 2011, mostly in the later months, culminating in a glorious six days in December when I saw the Vaccines one night, then Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Primal Scream, the Farm and Pete Wylie performing Clash songs the next, then New Order’s comeback two days later, and the Lemonheads two days after that. They were all great gigs.
Paul Simonon, by the way, is still the most searched for term that lands people on my blog, due to an entirely gratuitous posting of pictures of him and his two sons. Nearly thirty years after my sister Emma and I stalked him through Gatwick airport (we’d been on the same flight back from the USA) I finally got to meet him backstage at the Justice Tonight gig. I said something to him about his recent exploits with Greenpeace, and he squeezed my arm, and said ‘thank you’ (OMG as I may have texted several people straight afterwards). At the gig he played bass on a few numbers and then sang Guns of Brixton. He is still unbelievably cool.
If you don’t know about the Greenpeace story, basically he got a job working incognito on a Greenpeace boat as a cook, protesting against oil-drilling in the Arctic, and then they all ended up in jail in Greenland for two weeks. I really think he needs to come to Parliament and tell us all about it.
Other highlights of the Justice Tonight gig were Pete Wylie taking vocals on “Stay Free”, a singalong to “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”, and just seeing Mick Jones grinning his way through the entire two-and-a-half hour set. But it was all great, just a real buzz all night. I was pretty much pushed to the front by some lads in the crowd, so got a brilliant view. They’ve done about six dates so far, and I really hope they do more. It’s not just a great night out, it’s a great cause too, and, as Pete Wylie waxed lyrical, not just about justice for the 96 from Hillsborough but justice wherever’s there’s injustice to be righted. A theme for 2012.
As for the other gigs that week, the Vaccines were excellent. I don’t understand the animosity towards them in some quarters. They’re a perfect punky pop band, with a bit of edge, a bit of attitude. They are rumoured to be a bit posh, but they’re not James Blunt. I think they’re going to be massive in 2012 and there’s a bit of a danger, which you can see a hint of in a song like “All in White” that they could go stadium-y but I think they’ll steer clear of that. Most of the songs are three minute gems, which actually works a bit against them in the live format because you sort of need a few songs that go on a bit and wig out (to use the technical term).
New Order – what can I say? This was my 18th New Order gig. I can’t remember when number 17 was, except that it was a long, long time ago. The first time was at Kilburn National Ballroom in 1982 and since then it’s been Brixton (the Ace and the Academy); Liverpool Royal Court (a gig for the surcharged Liverpool councillors, with the Fall and the Smiths); the Royal Festival Hall (a benefit for the miners); the GMEX 10th anniversary of punk; the Hacienda (filming for a music show that was presented by the then unheard of Mariella Frostrup); Womad… I can’t remember them all.
They’ve always attracted bad live reviews, and I’ve never understood why. It’s just a brilliant mesh of sound, that builds and builds, and no, you don’t really notice Hooky not being there. You miss him as a stage presence but his replacement plays the same bass lines in much the same way as far as I could tell. Bernard walked off stage at the end saying “I hope you enjoyed it, even without Freddie Mercury”… (Peter Hook said New Order without him was like Queen without Freddie Mercury).
I am firmly of the view that Bernard Sumner is one of the great musical geniuses of all time, and with the most perfect haircut too. He’s now a much better singer than he was in the early days of New Order. I wish he’d go back and re-record the vocals on some of the early stuff, songs like “Age of Consent” when it was all a bit squeaky. Favourite tracks of the night were “1963”, “Temptation” and, strangely, an industrial Factory Floor-ish version of “586”. (Obviously Factory Floor-ish in the sense that that’s where FF got it from. As Bernard Butler said on 6 Music the other night, playing “Confusion” as one of his chosen tracks, New Order were so far ahead of their time that their genius went unrecognised. “Confusion” – the many versions thereof – would have been massive hits on the rave scene if they’d been released a few years later).
If we’re talking crushes from the days of my youth – and we are – then the third man in that holy trio was always Evan Dando. So on the following Monday I was sitting in my office in Parliament and it dawned on me that it was a one line whip and the Lemonheads were playing down the road… Five minutes on Twitter secured a ticket and there I was, just in time for them to take the stage. The gig was one of those playing the hit album things which are so popular now. (A few months earlier we had tickets to see Dinosaur Jr perform Bug and the Flaming Lips do the Soft Bulletin at Alexandra Palace. Various mishaps meant that we arrived for the last 30 seconds of feedback from J Mascis, and the Flaming Lips were quite frankly dreadful. Horrible prog rock. Where did it all go wrong?)
Anyway, the Lemonheads did all of “It’s a Shame about Ray”, and then Evan Dando did some solo acoustic stuff and then they did a selection of other Lemonheads tracks and some more acoustic stuff. It was interesting that the crowd was obviously mostly fans of the later stuff, from “Big Gay Heart” onwards, stuff which I find a bit too whimsical… The two lads next to me were singing their hearts out until the band launched into “Stove”, which left them baffled. There wasn’t enough of the earlier noisier stuff, and I wish they’d rediscover that sound… Evan Dando is a great guitarist in the Neil Young mould when he wants to be. He also sang brilliantly, especially on a cover of one of my favourite Gram Parsons’ songs, “How Much I Lied”. I somewhat got the impression though that he wasn’t really into it. It was a very good show by a talented performer rather than an inspired performance…
Just to add, that same day in Parliament I also bumped into my favourite actor, David Morrissey. What a week….