Best Concerts Ever: Full Top Ten

I’m being nagged for my top 10 favourite gigs. This is, of course, just shows that I’ve been to. I caught footage of mid-70s Led Zep on TV the other day, so I’m pretty sure better shows have been played.


Wembley Arena, May 1996

(Review here)

The highlight of all highlights begins as the Pumpkins play another untitled track with incredible tribal percussion that threatens to cause the roof to cave in. The deep rumbling basslines resonate around the room, booming up through the floorboards. The sound is clear and pristine tonight, perfect conditions for a little experimentalism. Jimmy Chamberlain shows his true ingenuity as a drummer by holding the steady, complicated rhythms together as Billy and James churn out guitar lines in a vaguely Eastern-sounding fashion. The sound swells and holds for a full eight minutes before dying down to the percussion-based theme, and then something extraordinary happens.

Reading Festival, 1994

Saturday’s headliners Primal Scream were oddly disappointing – even if they had Dave Gahan as a guest star – because there was just no possible way they could have beaten the back-to-back double act that was Radiohead and the Manics. Two bands I personally rooted for, as much for their good-natured personalities as their music, and they never sounded better. I always felt afterwards that Richie had used this as a test run: see if they could survive without him before doing his disappearing act. I remember the surprisingly gorgeous James Dean Bradfield – a regular at the PR agency where I was doing an internship that summer – saying, “I gotta go play in front of 50,000 people” with a mixture of pride and terror to which I could only smile and wish him luck. They pulled off the challenge admirably. Radiohead were their consistent, excellent best.



Fleadh Festival, 1994

This was a festival I wouldn’t have had any interest in, bar my summer job at the agency that promoted it. Therefore, it was a huge surprise to find out how much fun it was. I was bloody surprised when Crowded House turned out to be one of the finest acts I’d ever seen. About a hundred tribal drummers accompanied them on the stage the end (you can only begin to imagine what that was like!)

Afterwards, we all piled back to the legendary Columbia Hotel, singing “Weather With You” as we went. I remember the bar shut at three a.m., but luckily it didn’t stay closed for too long. I remember being incredibly grossed out by Shane MacGowan’s teeth. I’d spent most of the previous 12 hours in the company of Bronagh Gallagher, who was totally my best friend for the day but we never exchanged contact details. I completely forgot about her until she showed up in Pulp Fiction – one of those OMG I KNOW HER! incidents – and while we waited for the bar to reopen, Mary Coughlan was singing quietly along to an acoustic guitar. It was one of the most magical experiences of my life.


This doesn’t even begin to convey it


Astoria, June 1996

Rhys Fulber had decided to quit the band at this point, and wanted to go out with a bang. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about the show, other than the intensity and tightness of the performance. One of the best.



Astoria 2, Sept 1996

(See full review)

He croons, he swaggers, he struts, he screams, and he also has the rather endearing habit of selecting various female members of the audience to play tonsil tennis with between – and even during – the next onslaught of aural bliss.

Dome, Brighton c.1993



By this time, The Wonder Stuff had built up a fair repertoire of songs to sing, so their gigs were over two hours in length. I remember actually wanting them to leave the stage because I’d lost my voice and my hands were sore from the applause. It has to be said, though, that that gig was f***ing incredible by any possible standard.

Any date, ever

Oh, f*** it, I don’t know what date it was. They all merge into one. I might have seen them maybe 15-20 times live, and they were unwaveringly brilliant. According to Wikipedia:

“Musicians who have cited Tim Smith’s work as a major influence include Mike Vennart of Oceansize, Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr Bungle, Tool, Korn, Thom Yorke of Radiohead. During the 1980s, Cardiacs were a professed influence or inspiration for Marillion, It Bites and British psychedelic acts such as Ring; during the 1990s, they inspired Blur, The Wildhearts, The Scaramanga Six and The Monsoon Bassoon. Cardiacs-influenced acts emerging since 2000 have included Clearlake, The Darkness and Kaiser Chiefs. Other musicians with a professed Cardiacs influence apparently include Dog Fashion Disco, System of a Down, They Might Be Giants, The Adicts, Estradasphere, Sikth, The Blood Brothers, Bus Station Loonies, Toy Dolls, Nomeansno, Uz Jsme Doma, Battles, Jellyfish, Melvins, Hella, This Heat, Primus, Kino, The Mars Volta, Pixies, The Young Knives, Clor, Talking Heads, Ott, Oingo Boingo, Flipron, The Smashing Pumpkins, Super Furry Animals and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum”



Water Rats, 1994

They just weren’t the same without Terry Bickers, but any incarnation of Levitation was better than no incarnation. Looks like only the Bickers incarnation recordings survive. To be fair, the only thing (the adorable) Steve Ludwin ever did wrong was not be Terry Bickers.



9.RADIOHEAD (supporting Frank & Walters)
Brighton Centre East Wing, 1992

Nobody’s ever heard of the support act, so like everyone else, we ignore them and start talking over the top of them. Part-way through one of the songs, Thom Yorke yells “f*** you!”. Nobody’s sure if that’s part of the song or not. One by one, every member of the audience falls into enraptured silence. This is the best band we’ve (ever) seen. After that, our conversations ran:
“Are you coming to see Kingmaker?”
“I don’t know. Who’s supporting?”
“I’m there.”



Astoria 2, c. 2000

I remember thinking, “this is what it’s all about” – that primal rage and emotion that goes beyond anything that anyone can put into words. I remember going up to Katie-Jane Garside afterwards and thanking her. I probably hugged her. This was one defining moment that showed me that music could still have power if you looked hard enough.


One comment on “Best Concerts Ever: Full Top Ten

  1. Pingback: 20 Years of Radiohead « Reinspired

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