Top 20 Gigs of 2009

2009 has been an incredible year for rock music in general, regardless of which style you’re into. The year has been a particularly special one for live music, and to illustrate this I’ve devised an in-depth rundown of my favourite gigs of the last twelve months. Enjoy!

20. Cancer Bats (supported by The Plight and Take a Worm for a Walk Week), ABC2, Glasgow, 29.4.09.

Hindered by appalling sound quality and peculiar venue choice, it’s safe to say that Canada’s punk ‘n’ roll kings weren’t at their best, albeit for reasons beyond their control. However, any time Liam Cormier and co are in town a good time will be had by all. Anthems such as Hail Destroyer and Pray For Darkness were simply made to be performed live, and when you throw in an electrifying display of classic rock-core from The Plight, this was a very good gig despite its flaws.

19. This is Hell (supported by Dead Swans and The Blackout Argument), Ivory Blacks, Glasgow, 7.4.09.

For many in attendance, rising English hardcore kids Dead Swans were the main attraction at this show, and ultimately the numbers dwindled before the Long Island headliners hit the stage. I for one was underwhelmed by Dead Swans (admittedly I was in a minority possibly of one), but TIH were unfazed by the alarmingly meagre crowd and put in a typically pulsating, abrasive performance. A selection of tracks from most recent album Misfortunes, such as the outstanding Infected, were showcased in what was a true lesson in hardcore.

18. Imperial Never Say Die! Tour 2009 (Architects, Despised Icon, HORSE the Band, As Blood Runs Black, Oceano, Iwrestledabearonce, The Ghost Inside), The Arches, Glasgow, 2.11.09.

The third annual Never Say Die! Tour consisted of the weakest overall lineup to date, due to the somewhat tedious, unoriginal deathcore styles of the bands, with the exception of the headliners as well as great Californian noisecore crew HORSE the Band. Architects’ set was worth the wait by all means; fourth on the bill last year, the Brighton boys stepped up in style with a euphoric set based heavily on recent album Hollow Crown. Ending with a blistering rendition of Early Grave, Sam Carter and co ruled once again.

17. This Will Destroy You (supported by And So I Watch You From Afar), Ivory Blacks, Glasgow, 23.10.09.

I went to this show purely to check out Belfast progressive post-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar, and I left as a fan of both bands. ASIWYFA have a formidable live reputation and the lads justified this by tearing Ivory Blacks to shreds with their colossal yet intricate sound, as precise live as it is on record. While Texan post-rock heroes This Will Destroy You’s set was markedly less heavy than that of their support, it was no less engrossing. The journeys from beautiful lethargy to epic climaxes made for a heart-stopping atmosphere.

16. Blackhole (supported by The Plight and Throats), King Tut’s, Glasgow, 15.9.09.

There can’t have been more than 100 people at this show, a bit of a shock given the plethora of UK hardcore talent on display. Throats did nothing whatsoever to win me over as a fan, but The Plight were on particularly impressive form. These guys always know how to put on a brilliant show, and their blend of classic rock and all-out hardcore was unanimously well-received. The numbers had declined further for Blackhole’s set, but those who left missed a cracking display of powerful, Southern-rock tinged hardcore of the finest order.

15. DevilDriver (supported by Behemoth, Suicide Silence, Trigger the Bloodshed and Malefice), Garage, Glasgow, 20.10.09.

The great thing about this tour was how the styles of these five heavyweights are each rooted in death metal, yet each band appeals to a different demographic. Reading’s Malefice kicked off the show in brilliantly brutal fashion, but Trigger the Bloodshed and Suicide Silence were poor. The loyal fans of Polish legends Behemoth were out in force and left far from disappointed, but the night belonged to DevilDriver; frontman Dez Fafara had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and his bandmates flawlessly tore through a set full of vicious anthems.

14. Funeral for a Friend (supported by We Are the Ocean), QMU, Glasgow, 25.3.09.

It’s been another action-packed year for Matt Davies and friends, whose seemingly never-ending touring schedule continued in March. FFAF fans notoriously disagree on which is the band’s best work, but any fan of the band would have been more than satisfied with this gig. Despite having to contend with the fact that the QMU is by far the worst venue in Glasgow, the boys gave a stellar performance with a career-spanning set crafted to perfection. Highlights included Into Oblivion and the truly exceptional Escape Artists Never Die.

13. The Bronx (supported by Fucked Up and Rolo Tomassi), Garage, Glasgow, 27.2.09.

These three bands renowned for their live shows were all on terrific form. Rolo Tomassi proved once again that they are one of the best live bands in the UK (it’s not the last time you’ll read about them on this list), while Fucked Up were tremendous, a memorable moment being frontman Father Damian’s performance of an entire song from inside the gents’ toilets. The Bronx aren’t your typical hardcore band; their thoroughly enjoyable set felt more like a party than a gig, and vocalist Matt Caughthran was a more than capable ringleader.

12. Lamb of God (supported by Dimmu Borgir, Unearth and Five Finger Death Punch), 02 Academy, Glasgow, 15.2.09.

This year’s Metal Hammer tour brought together four contrasting types of metal, with varying results. 5FDP were dreadful, but thankfully their set was a distant memory when Unearth arrived, their frenetic metalcore display as mindblowing as always. Dimmu Borgir’s set was cut short due to technical issues, which in turn extended the duration of LOG’s incredible performance. Ferocious anthems such as Laid to Rest and Set to Fail seemed at home in such vast surroundings, confirming the band’s status as the new kings of heavy metal.

11. Architects (supported by Misery Signals and A Textbook Tragedy), Cathouse, Glasgow, 19.1.09.

This tour was the beginning of an absolutely unbelievable year for Architects, and this show was the defining moment that made me a true believer in the band. Misery Signals and A Textbook Tragedy both did a decent job as support, but the headliners were essentially the only reason why the Cathouse was almost dangerously overpopulated – and they delivered. Remarkably, album Hollow Crown was released a week later yet many in attendance already knew every last word of the new songs, the highlight being the thunderous Early Grave.

10. The Fall of Troy (supported by Thisfamiliarsmile), King Tut’s, Glasgow, 16.11.09.

I have been a huge fan of the progressive trio from Washington for around two and a half years, but this was the first time I had seen the band live, and the gig lived up to my high expectations. Vocalist/guitarist Thomas Erak is an immensely watchable figure onstage; a fantastically talented guitar player with tremendous stage presence, his relentless desire to improvise between songs resulted in moments to savour. I was slightly unsure of new album In the Unlikely Event, but when played live, new tracks such as Dirty Pillow Talk and Nature vs. Nurture suddenly seemed to make sense. The band unexpectedly closed with the thoroughly uplifting FCPREMIX, a fitting climax to a memorable show.

9. All That Remains (supported by The Haunted), Garage, Glasgow, 20.1.09.

The last time I saw ATR, at the Edinburgh Exchange in 2007, it was undoubtedly one of the best metal shows I’d been to. I therefore expected a similar standard this time around, and the Massachussetts metalcore masters were at the top of their game once again. I was sceptical of recent album Overcome, but fortunately the set leaned heavily towards the 2006 album The Fall of Ideals, the definitive metalcore album in my opinion. Phil Labonte is one of the most versatile metal vocalists there is, which he demonstrated perfectly on stunning performances of The Weak Willed and Become the Catalyst. His regular interaction with the crowd made for an all-encompassing atmosphere.

8. Gallows (supported by Every Time I Die and The Ghost of a Thousand), ABC, Glasgow, 8.5.09.

This was undeniably a mouth-watering lineup, and the show more than lived up to its billing. TGOAT’s rock ‘n’ roll-infused hardcore deservedly received a rapturous reception; Tom Lacey is surely one of the most charismatic frontmen around. An ETID gig that is weak in any way is simply unimaginable, and Keith Buckley and co provided a taster of new material which was unreleased at that stage, which blended seamlessly with classics such as Floater and Ebolarama. It really was special, however, to see a hardcore band such as Gallows headline a venue like this. The iconic Frank Carter covered just about every square metre of the room that he could, and tracks from recent album Grey Britain sounded absolutely immense.

7. The Ghost of a Thousand (supported by The Computers), King Tut’s, Glasgow, 3.7.09.

When probably the best hardcore band in the UK is playing at the best venue in Glasgow, the show is destined to be nothing less than awesome. This was indeed the case; TGOAT’s latest album New Hopes, New Demonstrations had been released a month prior to the tour, so this was Tom Lacey and co’s first opportunity to showcase an abundance of new material. The album is so instantly infectious that new tracks such as the phenomenally catchy Bright Lights and the fast-paced Running on Empty slotted in perfectly with older gems Bored of Math and Left for Dead. Lacey remained in the crowd for the majority of the show, and was joined by guitarist Andy Blyth for Black Art Number One, a chaotic conclusion.

6. Eastpak Antidote Tour 2009 (Alexisonfire, Anti-Flag, Four Year Strong, The Ghost of a Thousand), 02 Academy, Glasgow, 16.10.09.

Featuring a diverse array of punk bands that was bound to attract a wide range of music fans, the Eastpak tour was always going to be a fantastic event. This was the fourth time I had seen The Ghost of a Thousand and it was arguably the best performance I’ve ever seen them give, a remarkable feat given that they were the opening act in such vast surroundings. The less said about Anti-Flag and especially Four Year Strong the better, but Alexisonfire were unstoppable. Frontman George Pettit had the entire crowd on his side from the very start, and complemented by the unmistakable vocals of Dallas Green and Wade McNeil, AOF reigned supreme. Young Cardinals and the heart-wrenching Happiness by the Kilowatt stood out.

5. Rockstar Taste of Chaos 2009 (Killswitch Engage, In Flames, Every Time I Die, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster), 02 Academy, Glasgow, 27.11.09.

The fifth annual Taste of Chaos tour comprised its heaviest selection of bands to date, but it was a lineup that appealed to me far more than ever before. Maylene were a massive letdown, but the disappointment ended there as Every Time I Die burst onto the stage in typically abrasive fashion, tearing through a rip-roaring set, with Keith and Jordan Buckley on particularly fine form. I always maintain that In Flames are the most influential metal band of all time, and they certainly justified this with a truly colossal, career-spanning performance. Perhaps surprisingly, however, Killswitch were the band of the night, guitarist Adam D’s trademark tomfoolery acting as the ideal antidote to the metalcore anthems of a generation.

4. Biffy Clyro (supported by Manchester Orchestra), Barrowlands, Glasgow, 3.11.09.

Whenever Scotland’s greatest musical export returns to Glasgow it is always a special occasion, but this particular gig seemed even more of a welcome return for Biffy than usual. A week prior to the release of fifth album Only Revolutions, Simon Neil, Ben and James Johnson absolutely owned the Barrowlands, embarking on a set which took every last one of their adoring fans in attendance on a journey of emotions. Frontman Neil resembled a God-like figure throughout as the band played a diverse array of their finest anthems, everything from the high-octane Who’s Got a Match to the quirky tech-rock of Bodies in Flight, via the acoustic serenity of Machines. A completely flawless display that filled me with pride.

3. Evile (supported by Trigger the Bloodshed and Mutant), Cathouse, Glasgow, 20.4.09.

This outstanding gig transformed me from being someone with a casual interest in Evile into a loyal follower of the band. The Huddersfield-based outfit are the sole shining light in the UK’s  old-school thrash scene, and they proved their credentials by rocking the Cathouse to the core with a myriad of ferocious yet uplifting, rapid bursts of uncompromising thrash. Frontman Matt Drake whipped the crowd into frenzied chaos, backed by the accomplished trio of drummer Ben Carter, lead guitarist Ol Drake and bassist Mike Alexander. I was lucky enough to briefly chat with Mike after the show, and he was one of the most down-to-earth, friendly musicians I’ve ever met, so I was inevitably very saddened to hear of his untimely death due to a pulmonary embolism in October. He was a fantastic bassist and is sorely missed, and I am proud that I had the chance to watch him play so well at this mindblowing gig.

2. Mastodon (supported by Valient Thorr and Take a Worm for a Walk Week), ABC, Glasgow, 7.6.09.

One of the most enthralling bands on the planet both live and on record, Atlanta’s progressive metal champions returned to the ABC in June with a show which will undoubtedly live long in the memory. The momentous occasion came two months after the release of the titanic gods’ universally loved fifth album Crack the Skye (which I was lucky enough to get signed earlier that day, in a moment which left me totally star-struck), and the album was performed in its entirety, a move which only true greats can pull off. Frontman Troy Sanders’s stage presence was triumphantly domineering, his beast-like stance adding to the larger-than-life nature of some of the most intricate music ever written. Brann Dailor is the world’s greatest drummer in my book, and witnessing the man indulge in relentlessly seismic drum fills through a nine-track encore of classic material is just one part of perhaps the ultimate live metal experience.

1. Rolo Tomassi (supported by Grammatics and Pulled Apart By Horses), Captain’s Rest, Glasgow, 22.4.09.

Having already seen the brilliant Sheffield noisecore fivepiece twice supporting The Ghost of a Thousand and The Bronx, I knew roughly what to expect from this headlining show – or so I thought. I had been blown away by the band on those occasions, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to unfold in this tiny basement of a pub on this late April evening. Anticipation heightened and space to move vanished as the young mathcore mob appeared at long last, fronted by the gorgeous and charismatic Eva Spence, whose effortless ability to alternate between delicate singing and psychotic growling was stunning to witness, as she and her bandmates vigorously rattled through the finest cuts from debut album Hysterics, such as the eerily infectious Oh, Hello Ghost and the insane crescendo-laden Scabs. Keyboardist James Spence, brother of Eva, remained marvellously over-adrenalised throughout, and I can honestly say that Joe Nicholson is one of the most talented guitarists I have ever seen live. The heat was almost unbearable, and the band and the crowd were barely separate entities as the madness and intensity continued to ensue. Culminating in an inconceivably pulsating performance of 14-minute opus Fantasia, this was a truly exceptional gig that I doubt I’ll ever forget. I’ve already bought a ticket for the January tour, and if you live in the UK you’d be a fool not to do the same.

I hope you enjoyed reading this top 20 as much as I enjoyed writing it, and here’s hoping for an equally fantastic 2010. Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks for my list of the top 20 albums of the year!

     

About JJPorter

JJ is a 20-year-old student hailing from Scotland, who lives and breathes music. His favourite genres include a variety of styles of metal, as well as hardcore, punk, and just about everything in between. Contact JJPorter on Twitter or via Email.

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