Summer of Gigs

I’ll be back to plugging eBooks next month but, before that, and as a prequel to my annual summer reading diary (the Easter review is here), a brief nod to the fantastic summer of gigs I’ve enjoyed. Generally the gigs I like most are the small ones, at venues like The Maze (where the great Slaid Cleaves returns in September) or The Jam Cafe, where I watched two Nottingham acts, Gallery 47 and Georgie Rose last week (bit chatty, mind). For more on Nottingham’s great music scene, visit the excellent new Music Nottingham news blog that my old mate Mike runs.

But the big gigs of the summer have all been in arenas. First, there was Neil Young and Crazy Horse playing what may their last UK tour (twelve years since they were here before, when I saw them in Sheffield) with an outstanding set at Birmingham Arena. My pal Terry and I stood near the front, where the sound was fantastic and the band were on fire. I’ve seen Neil several times and when he’s with Crazy Horse things go to a different level. They’re passionate, primordial rockers, as you can see in the clip above, where the four men gather in a tight unit, doing what only they can do. More casual Young fans complained about the extended endings to some song (less of them than in 2009 with a different band, actually) but that’s to misunderstand what Neil’s up to. He’s in how own zone (for the first time, a drug and alcohol free one) and we’re privileged to watch. Some of that zone involves extreme noise, as on Arc/Weld years ago. Get used to it.

Quadrophenia is my favourite Who album, the one I got for christmas in 1973 and I was keen to see the tour that Roger Daltrey put together playing the full album, with Pete Townsend on guitar (not quite the full Who, but who’s complaining?). Our review tickets fell through, however (while The Sheffield papers gave the band loads of pre-publicity, the band’s PR only came up with a sole review ticket between them). Then, at the last minute, a sick friend offered me her front block central tickets, so we got a close look at this terrific, faithful show. All right, it wasn’t the classic Who (for that, see the set of clips above, the only extent footage of the group’s legendary ‘Live At Leeds’ gig) but it was as good as you can hope, a faithful rendition of a great double album with excellent use of archive film (and nice tributes to the two dead members). Plus they did both ‘Baba O’Reilly’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ in the 40 minute encore. Thanks, Di!

The gig of the summer, however, had to be the one where tickets were going for north of a grand on eBay. By some miracle, I hit the presale button at just the right time and got four tickets for the small standing section at the opening of Leeds Arena, where Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played their first European arena show in donkey’s years (the 1999 reunion tour? Not sure.). I went with my brother Paul, who 32 years ago queued overnight for tickets to ‘The River’ tour, which we saw from row S of the stalls at Manchester Apollo. With us then was my oldest friend Mike, and the three of were also at Roundhey Park, the last time Bruce played Leeds, in 1985. So was Paul’s partner, Claire, who joined us tonight. As did (through a mutual friend) DJ Andy Kershaw, who did stage introductions in ’85 and turned out to have been in Manchester in 81 as well.

For over three hours Bruce and the band played a set that all but ignored his latest album but took us through the obscure by-ways of his career, including songs I’d never dreamt of hearing him do live (most are on YouTube). He opened with ‘Roulette’ for instance, first heard on one of those expensive bootlegs that Paul, Mike and I teamed up to buy in the early 80’s when we were all on the dole, or near enough. He did plenty of ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’, some rarely played songs from the fine ‘Lucky Town’ and, amongst the board requests (I wasn’t close enough to hand in mine, which was for ‘Girls In Their Summer Clothes’) he chose the song which he wrote as his set closer long before the first album came out, a ten minute ‘Thundercrack’. See the video above. My tenth Bruce show, and the best since ’85. He looked younger & fitter than when I last saw him, from the front enclosure at Glastonbury in 2009. Oh, and, just when we thought he’d finished with an acoustic rendition of ‘Secret Garden’ he segued it into his most quintessential song, ‘Thunder Road’. You could have heard a pin drop. Setlist here.

I only have one more arena show lined up, Sigur Ros in November (and since I’m not reviewing it for The Post, I probably won’t write about it) but there are plenty of shows to come on this blog, including a few jazz ones. Hugh Masekela at Lakeside (how did such a small venue get such a big act?) is sold out, but you can still get tickets for Stan Tracey in Derby and Guy Barker plus Paloma Faith at Nottingham’s Royal Centre. Then there’s the Scanner Joy Division show, the lovely Laura Cantrell at Glee and Glasvegas at Rock City. They’re just the ones I’m reviewing. Watch this space.

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