The Zaw Towers Top 10 Gigs of All Time
Sometimes you go to a gig, and it's not just about the fact that it's someone you see performing. They either blow you away with their performance, something wonderful happens when you're there, or there's just a great atmosphere with the band and the crowd that you can't help having a warm glow and happy feeling inside. Here I'll try and narrow a fair number of concerts I've been to over the years and make a top 10 out of it, which as you can understand is quite a difficult task. However, if you wish to nominate your own 10, feel free to contact me and let me know about them - particularly if you were at the gig yourself!
1 - Pixies (Manchester G-Mex, Saturday 22nd June 1991)
It had been a lifetime ambition of mine to see my favourite band live, and unfortunately I'd already bought tickets for the Wonder Stuff at Walsall and was in a quandry when I found out this concert was the same day. I decided to just sell on the ticket for the Stuffies (as hard as it was) and bought my ticket for this instead. In hindsight probably the best decision I ever made in terms of gigs. Cud were supporting and they were also pretty good, but as for the Pixies - they were mindblowing. Not just content with churning out plenty of great songs from Trompe Le Monde, with Planet of Sound being particularly brilliant and scary, there was also room for B-sides like Into The White, and über classics like Debaser, Monkey Gone To Heaven, Dead, Isla de Encanta and then a really stirring version of Where Is My Mind, which never even now has lost its appeal. Of course during the likes of some songs I was that involved I just felt I wanted to be Black Francis and so was screaming the vocals out and singing along that way. That was fine for about the first half hour or so but then it became a bit more difficult. However the best bit was at the end - all the lights had been switched on and people started to leave, but knowing their antics I stayed around and piled towards the front. And sure enough, they started playing Tame as another encore, cue everyone running back to the front of the stage and pogoing like crazy. I had a sore throat for four days solid after that, but you know what? I didn't care. It was just brilliant.
2 - Morrissey (Manchester Evening News Arena, Saturday 22nd May 2004)
When a leading Morrissey website says that this was the best ever Morrissey gig then you know that it was an event which was to be a special place for many fans like me. Not only was it his 45th birthday on that day, but You Are The Quarry had been released to critical acclaim and so everyone was on a natural high. All Saturday afternoon my friend Chris and I spotted lots and lots of Moz diehards while we were out munching, and the general feeling was one of cameraderie and relaxed feeling. Franz Ferdinand fulfilled a lifetime ambition of being the same gig as the man, and to be fair they were also excellent, churning out plenty of tight and top tunes. But of course everyone wanted to see the man back in Manchester for the first time in almost twelve years, and he did not disappoint. Not only did you get plenty of YATQ stuff, including a superbly rousing version of Irish Blood English Heart, but you got some obscure B-sides like Hairdresser on Fire, Such a Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference, and my all time Moz favourite, Every Day Is Like Sunday (blended cleverly after Subway Train to just enhance the experience nicely). Not just that, but plenty of Smiths stuff _as well_ including Shoplifters of the World Unite, and to end things off on such a lovely note, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. And that light, that night, was Morrissey.
Live DVD: Who Put The M in Manchester? (Sanctuary SVE4010, DVD) - read my review!
3 - Pop Will Eat Itself (Birmingham Academy, Saturday 22nd January 2005)
When I'd heard that the incredible PWEI were to reform, there were plenty of happy smiles in the Towers I can tell you. I just simply had to get the ticket, book the hotel, and save the entire planet from my anger if I'd have missed out. And it didn't just feel like seeing the Poppies rock live again like they used to. It was such a family atmosphere of people who were fans and who had waited for years for this moment to happen. And it wasn't just any moment. It was the moment that the Poppies proved just why they were so ahead of their time. Their special blend of tunes came to the fore straight off, kicking things nicely with Wise Up! Sucker, Preaching to the Perverted, Kick To Kill (cue Clint yelling "aww f**k it" when it was going too slow for him and speeding everyone up), Not Now James We're Busy, and a storming version of Their Law which just proved to the Prodigy who really were the ones to kick ass with that tune. Everyone just bounced along merrily to that and having 2,000 of us, bouncing in unison, yelling "f**k them and their law" was special, it really was. Not to mention after that for the encore we got really old stuff like Beaver Patrol (yes, really, that had me in shock), Urban Futuristic and to end things on a high note a completely rocking version of Karmadrome that made everyone bounce and sweat. It wasn't just a return, it also ended up being an end as their final gigs, so to be there just to see them for one last time rock the house makes it even more special.
Live CD: Instant Live (Carling, 2-CD set) - the band recorded each gig of the tour and made them available to fans over the Carling Instant Live website for order - also available 15 minutes after the gig ended.
4 - Skunk Anansie (Manchester Academy 2, Saturday 20th January 1996)
The first time I saw Skunk Anansie, and argubaly the best. Myself and my friend Dan were fans pretty much from the outset, and the album Paranoid and Sunburnt got lots of regular play on the CD player, as you'd expect. One freezing night in Manchester and we were both braving the elements (especially as I had my SA t-shirt on in preparation) and then into the inferno of heat that was the Academy 2. And did they rock? Oh yes they bloody well did. It was a supercharged and intense set, full of album tracks and singles, and plenty of nice moments in between. Skin particularly was on top form vocally and it was a wonderfully tight set. The piece de resistance though had to be during the encore as the band unleashed into the anthemic Skunk Song, and all of a sudden you just felt the whole floor shake as about 1500 people pogoed, in complete unison, to it, chanting along with the chorus and generally giving everyone a feel good factor that was something that'll always remain with me. It just was fantastic, and even though I saw them another five times in the next year and a half, nothing ever topped this wonderful display of rocking.
5 - Kristin Hersh (London Kings Cross Scala, Tuesday 22nd November 2005)
Kristin was performing songs from her solo career only (the previous night was her Throwing Muses career) and aided with the McCarricks on violin, turned the Scala into a lovely intimate venue for the evening. It felt a bit weird being at the very top of what was an old and ancient cinema, but the acoustics alone made for a soft, gentle and intimate evening. It wasn't without its fun moments either: during Gazebo Tree Kristin accidentally forgot the words, and was prompted by the fans for the next line, and then later on her guitar string broke as she really went for it near the end of the song, proclaiming "This song is cursed!" in a real kooky way. One swift guitar change later and she was back on form, performing plenty of her reportoire that endeared me so much to her (and still does). Personal highlights for me included the likes of Sundrops, The Letter, Your Dirty Answer (in a different key and sounding even more angst-ridden than on the album) and then a wonderfully beautiful version of Your Ghost to really set the seal on just a warm friendly atmosphere that made it so special.
Live CD: A bootleg recording is available in FLAC format, which Kristin and her company Throwing Music don't seem to object to distributing. Check the forums on that site.
6 - Manic Street Preachers (Cardiff Millennium Stadium, Friday 31st December 1999 to Saturday January 1st 2000)
For me it was possibly the only time I'll ever do a concert at New Year, and despite it being during what was supposedly Millennium Eve (even though technically you could argue it was a year in advance) it was nonetheless good to get to see a band live that you've always wanted to see. Unfortunately due to ridiculous queues for the bar I didn't manage to see some of the support acts, a real shame that, but what made it all worthwhile was that the Manics were on the very top of the form. From the outset you could tell it was going to be a set for the casual fan and the diehard in abundance, with the likes of classics like Motorcycle Emptiness seamed wonderfully with the then new single Masses Against The Classes. The B-side to that, a cover of Rock and Roll Music, also got an airing and was particularly great fun. But the real killers were two album tracks full of emotion and power, such as Of Walking Abortion, Small Black Flowers (which was devoted to Richey) and last but not least an absolutely loud as hell rendition of Motown Junk, which lost nothing. It's a shame that in years to come the Manics live were a completely different and much less appealing proposition, but this is what we should remember them by.
Live DVD: Leaving The 20th Century (Sony BMG)
7 - The Stone Roses (Manchester Apollo, Saturday 23rd December 1995)
Seeing one of Manchester's finest bands of all time live? Check. Ian Brown actually in a decent singing voice and performing well? Check. John Squire's guitar melting out solos brilliantly? Check. And that was only the tip of a very big iceberg. It was truly one of those "I was there" moments that you can talk about and one that just was legendary. It seemed to take ages waiting inside for the band to finally make an appearance, but when they did - it was worth it. You got plenty of great stuff from Second Coming, not least an emotionally rousing Ten Storey Love Song, and a real Led Zeppelin-esque Love Spreads thrown in. But the loudest cheers of the night were for the classics over the years, particularly a full on She Bangs The Drums, a real crowd chant along feeling during Elephant Stone, and finishing with the coup de grace of I Am The Resurrection, and it just underlined the band's greatness in one fell swoop. There are some that say the night before just edged it, but if you went to that or this night, you were in no doubt that this was The Stone Roses at their finest. Shame it all fell downhill afterwards..
8 - Placebo (Liverpool Royal Court Theatre, Saturday 14th October 2000)
Seeing Placebo for about the fourth time was possibly the best time I ever saw them live. I think it was because it was quite a small venue in essence for the band, and that because Black Market Music had just been released, a great opportunity for me and my friend Chris to catch them playing the new stuff. And they didn't disappoint one iota. The set was tight, very tight indeed, and featured the likes of Taste In Men, a superbly droning version of Pure Morning, an emotionally draining Peeping Tom, and so on. What really was outstanding was the fact guitarist Stefan Olsdal was really going for it throughout the whole gig at an intensity that you don't often see. Oh, and did I mention Nancy Boy? That absolutely got everyone bouncing up and down and the whole place rocking around (thank heavens for the slightly rubberish floor underneath that was perfect for this task). Thankfully every time I've seen them live they've been consistently good, it was tough to pick one outstanding moment.
9 - Roy Harper (Manchester UMIST Underground, Friday 28th October 1994)
When one of your favourite artists plays in their home town - that's nice. When it's something that yourself and your father can go to and both enjoy, then that's something else. And the two of us braved the freezing weather and headed for the small but packed out UMIST Underground bar for two and three quarter hours of Roy's brilliance. His son Nick opened proceedings with a good set, but that wasn't all - he then joined Roy on some of his songs and made it a really brilliant occasion. Nothing could of course be as great as the album recordings on Stormcock, but Me and My Woman that night ran it pretty close, as did some of the other classics over the years such as When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease, and The Same All Rock both getting a good airing too. What was best of all was that it didn't feel a long gig, and the banter by Harper in between songs had us all smiling and laughing. The kettle was on, the sun had gone, but it certainly wasn't another day or just another gig. This one sticks with me.
10 - 808 State (Manchester Castlefield Arena, Friday 21st June 1996)
Six days after the IRA bomb had hit Manchester, this free gig as part of Manchester staging some games at the 1996 European Football Championships was in doubt for most of the week. But as the week turned around everyone realised it was the perfect opportunity to show that Manchester wasn't going to lie down. An estimated 10,000 people crammed into the Arena for what was to be not just a show of defiance, but a brilliant gig by the State as well. They made everywhere rocking with plenty of dance tunes to get everyone in the mood, and if that wasn't enough, played their three killer tracks back to back, namely In Yer Face, Cübik and Pacific State. That was rather brilliant to say the least, but the fact that in between tracks the band were saying how much it meant to them to see the fans here, all dancing and being together and hugging, not caring about "those terrorist b*****ds" said it all for me. And not to mention the fact that it was just loud, brash and just so warm and wonderful all at the same time. A defining moment and it was v-signs and positively shining through.