My Top Ten Concerts of All Time

Yet another musical interlude this week….

Reflecting on last week’s blog, I attempted to compile a list of my Top Ten concerts of all time – no mean feat, given 40+ years of attending gigs. And like any such list, if you ask me next year, or even next week, the choices would be different. So, here they are.

Image sourced from Songs Smiths

#1: Joy Division, Electric Ballroom, London, August 1979

Not the best gig I saw them play (that was at The Lyceum in February 1980, where they previewed “Love Will Tear Us Apart”), but my first live encounter with Joy Division. It’s now 40 years after the release of their debut album, “Unknown Pleasures” (one of the most influential albums from the post-punk era), but I can still recall the power of this particular performance. (It was also the first time I had seen any of the support acts – see poster, above – all of which have continued to be part of my chosen listening.)

#2: Talking Heads, Electric Ballroom, London, December 1979

The tail end of the “Fear of Music” tour (one of my favourite albums of the ’70s), and also one of their last performances as a 4-piece band. Captured for posterity via a mixing desk recording, the concert was also notable for an early performance by a relatively unknown U2, with additional support by the 2-piece OMD (plus Winston, the reel-to-reel tape recorder).

#3: Pixies, Mean Fiddler, London, April 1988

Incredible, visceral performance, and their first gig outside the USA. It felt like the cream of London’s independent music scene turned up, scarcely imagining they would witness a piece of rock history. Finishing with their version of David Lynch’s “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” from “Eraserhead” was a nice touch after the intensity of the previous hour. (A live version recorded a few weeks later on that same tour was released as part of their first EP.)

#4: New Order, Glastonbury, June 1987

My first (and last?) time at Glastonbury. Typical of an English summer, it had rained for days before the event, turning the festival site into a mud bath. There was even a temporary lake, where the anarcho-hippy-punks took pleasure in creating sculptures out of abandoned vehicles, and then setting fire to them, as a tribute to The Wicker Man… Into the midst of these night-time neo-pagan ceremonies appear New Order, at the height of their electronic powers, complete with laser show. Also captured on album (without the lasers).

#5: Elvis Costello, Glastonbury, June 1987

Glastonbury that year was also the setting for a captivating performance by Elvis Costello & The Attractions, who were at their peak after a 10-year run of (mostly) classic albums. After testing the patience of even his long-term fans with a lengthy solo set (including a particularly overwrought version of “I Want You”), Costello pulls off a major coup by whipping off the stage backcloth, revealing the waiting Attractions, and leading them into a storming version of “I Hope You’re Happy Now”, followed by a cover of Abba’s “Knowing Me, Knowing You”.

#6: Bjork, Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Hong Kong, February 1996

I’d seen The Sugarcubes in the wake of their minor hit, “Birthday”, but soon lost interest in their music after that. Bjork as a solo act was a whole different phenomenon. On this tour, she pushed the electronic side of her music, as featured on her second album “Post”. If there was any doubt about her status as a global star, towards the end of this concert she was joined on stage by Goldie who presented her with the Brit Award for Best International Female Artist, which she had won for the second time.

#7: Kraftwerk, Metro Nightclub, Melbourne, January 2003

Ahead of their first new album in 12 years (17 years, if you exclude “The Mix” re-workings), in January 2003 Kraftwerk began touring again, after a hiatus since the late ’90s. As part of the warm-up for their Australian summer festival shows, they made this one-off club appearance, complete with their new stage design. This tour led to the spectacular “Minimum-Maximum” live album and DVD.

#8: R.E.M, Hammersmith Palais, London, October 1985

Three albums into their career, and R.E.M were still treating audiences to a wealth of carefully curated cover versions, revealing their influences and their personal tastes. This concert was no different, including tributes to Marlene Dietrich, Aerosmith and Television (although I wish I’d also seen the previous night’s gig with covers of Tom Jones, Creedance Clearweater Revival and Golden Earring).

#9: Tindersticks, Corner Hotel, Melbourne, November 2002

Tindersticks are a sublime live experience, as evidenced on their numerous concert recordings. I’d managed to see them early on in their career while I was still living in London, so it was a pleasure to experience them in the relative intimacy of my local pub, the Corner Hotel in Richmond, on what was possibly their first Australian tour. (If anyone knows of a recording of this gig, please let me know….)

#10: Low, Corner Hotel, Melbourne, June 2006

Low were a band I stumbled on by accident, when I bought a copy of their first album shortly after I moved to Hong Kong at the end of 1994 – I didn’t have any music with me while my stuff was in transit (and I was having withdrawal symptoms), and the album sleeve looked intriguing. It’s still one of my favourites in their catalogue. I recall they played a stunning version of “Monkey”.

Next week: Startup Victoria – Best of the Startup State Pitch Night


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