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.

1. SMASHING PUMPKINS/FILTER

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.

2. RADIOHEAD/MANICS
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.

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Albums that actually changed my life

Unknown David Bowie compilation
First heard: Age 3

I must have been about three. Lying in the back of the car, half-asleep, listening to Ziggy-era Bowie through the back speakers. I particularly remember Aladdin Sane and Starman, and I think those are the ones that have shaped me musically the most. The other bands I was exposed to at the time were Queen and Abba, so ever since, the music I have loved has been a combination of clever minor-key concept album noodling, punchy rock hooks and hard, funky disco. Not much of a surprise I became a NIN fan, then.

Pink Floyd – The Wall
First heard: Age 10

I liked a lot of cool music as a kid, along with some truly terrible music, but until the age of 10, everything I loved was informed by what my parents or sister were listening to. Then my sister played me Pink Floyd’s Wall album, and something just clicked. I dimly recalled Another Brick In The Wall Part 2, which had been the Christmas number one when I was three. Hearing the album in its entirety, though, shed a very different light on the track. It had mystified me – still does – why the song had been so popular, with its puerile shouty “we don’t need no education” refrain, but put into the context of preceding track The Happiest Days of Our Lives (the song doesn’t really work without it), it suddenly revealed a new concept to me: angst.

It seems funny to me now to think of myself as a child, debating the meanings of Syd Barrett songs with my rebellious best friend, Jym. We were absolutely obsessed – making our own Floyd-themed t-shirts, picking up sheet music to learn it on the piano, and just lying out in the sun in his back garden listening to Relics and Meddle. Jym would take mushrooms and smoke pot, but I could enter an altered state just meditating on the music. He got expelled from school a year or two later. I never saw him again.

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