2011: A Year in Gigs

In the final part of the triology, Jon Davies discusses some of the best – and worst – gigs in Liverpool over 2011…

I should start by pointing out that reviewing a year of shows will, inevitably, be biased. Firstly, I couldn’t be at every show, due to financial and quantum restraints. Plus, I didn’t want to be at every show. Furthermore, as a show putter-onner and being in bands, the memories of shows I was involved in may be more vivid, so in fact this is something of a personal account of what happened in 2011.

This year’s emphasis in gigs was on curation and a more conceptual approach to putting on events, thanks to a few promoters looking for new avenues of bringing international artists in; and reciprocally arts agencies and festivals looking for ways to draw in different audiences.

After the success of the a.P.a.t.T performance of In C at the Bluecoat, the group decided to keep the auxiliary orchestra alive by producing more events around town. The best to date at the World Museum, with a specially commissioned composition by Ex-Easter Island Head, around the Moai Hava statue from Easter Island itself. What followed was a testing performance (for audience and performer alike) of Philip Glass’ Music in Similar Motion in the Planetarium, but all in all it was a great day out and a brilliant opportunity for those who aren’t in bands to get involved in making music in the city.

Then came a couple of high-profile shows featuring two of New York’s best guitar composers. Firstly came Rhys Chatham performing Die Donnergotter and Guitar Trio in March, curated by Samizdat at the Bluecoat. What resulted was the most powerful display of volume this year, a pummeling kraut-esque symphony of splayed melodies culminating in 12 guitarists playing the same notes in unison, creating dense harmonic reverb in the ether. Powerful stuff.

This provided inspiration when creating another guitar orchestra some 8 months down the line, although a different beast entirely. Former Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong and I produced a setting of 9 guitars for his album Infinite Love as a response to Mercy’s night of repetition and meditation, premiering at Liverpool Music Week’s closing party. Unlike Chatham, this performance dealt not so much with volume as repeated Mozartian melodies in a 40-minute arc, and was for me by far the most memorable moment of my year.

Along with Andrew Ellis of Samizdat and Mercy, this year’s Abandon Normal Devices festival started with perhaps the most ‘hipster’ night to grace Liverpool. It’s rare to see line-ups like Forest Swords, Maria Minerva and Anat Ben David (of Chicks on Speed fame) succeed round here, as Liverpool’s music scene can tend to be a couple steps behind the blogs. Nevertheless, it was a great event where both the music and the art scene came out to witness three bewildering performances in their own ways, from the anonymity of Forest Swords, the shy ambivalence of a bedroom singer like Minerva and the surprising aggression in Ben David’s performance.

“Keep encouraging promoters to take risks, repaying their gamble by turning up at the odd gig from time to time”

There were of course, the big beasts of Sound City in the summer and Liverpool Music Week in the winter. Personal highlights included Chain & the Gang, local electronica act Capac, Beat Connection and Mugstar, and Twin Sister; the incredible energy of Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, and not forgetting the plethora of delights at the closing party for LMW.

Kuti’s performance was non-stop joy, and a great event co-hosted by Obscenic, who earlier in the year put on the best all-day festival (Fiesta Obscenic) at Wolstenholme Creative Space. Amid some less memorable folk acts came great performances from London afrobeat group United Vibrations, local acts Outfit, Stealing Sheep, Stig Noise, Chrik, We Came Out Like Tigers and Yorkshire troubadour Serious Sam Barrett.

Other highlights of the year were a litter of great lineups and some bands it was pleasantly surprising to see in Liverpool. My favourites included Mi Ami, Dustin Wong, Diva Dompe and Mother Earth at Mello Mello; Nathan Bell, Trouble With Books and Ex-Easter Island Head at Don’t Drop the Dumbells; Demdike Stare, Les Savy Fav at the Kazimier; and finally Birthmark at the Shipping Forecast.

The lion’s share of the best gigs went to Wolstenholme Creative Space. Over the past 12 months the gallery hosted national and international names such as Iceage, Foot Village, Trouble Books, Pine Hill Haints, Silent Front, Diet Pills, Ruins Alone, Nathan Bell, Closure and Pine Barrens supported by local acts including WCOLT, Monobrow, Stig Noise, Barberos, and Spitting Cobra.

Of course there are too many shows to mull over, not to mention those I didn’t get to; Hot Snakes being one. And I was inconsolable about missing two of Chicago Footwork’s finest, DJ Rashad and DJ Spinn. Contender for the worst gig is pretty easy. Aethenor’s performance at the Kazimier was on everybody’s lips the week following; it wasn’t just a boring performance, rather the art of how to alienate an audience and test their resolve to its limits. I had the honour of Sunn 0)))’s Stephen O’Malley throwing a chair at me whilst he was attempting in vain to use effects pedals wearing cowboy boots. Once the novelty wore off it was a matter of audience members traipsing off one by one until the crowd diminished from around 250 strong at the beginning of their set to a reported 4 remaining die-hards.

In summary, I don’t think you could argue about the quality on offer this year. What was noticeable was the willingness of promoters to have a go at something different, and by and large it paid off. The likes of Samizdat, Postmusic and Behindthewallofsleep deserve credit for at least attempting to mold a culture in our scene to give more experimental stuff a go, even if it isn’t to everyone’s taste. We’re slowly starting to catch up with London and Manchester with gigs that genuinely excite and are with the zeitgeist. All that’s left to do is keep encouraging promoters to take risks, repaying their gamble by turning up at the odd gig from time to time.

Jon Davies

Image courtesy Thom Isom

Posted on 31/12/2011 by thedoublenegative