Over the course of this past year, we’ve upped the impetus placed upon live happenings and more significantly on those situated in and around London: nights on end spent out and about have become increasingly exhausting, as we strive to conjure an increasingly exhaustive coverage. Consequently we can only hope these are wearying steps in the right direction as, at least from a subjective perspective, witnessing your revered artists recite their most estimable pieces – in full as did some of the below, or otherwise – is a substantial chunk of what it’s all about. Here we’ve more or less the twenty-five finest live things I had the thoroughly fortunate privilege of experiencing within the live arena this year. And, truth be known, I’m as shocked and appalled by some as anyone…
Dots & Dashes’ Shows of 2012
25. A Winged Victory For The Sullen, Cecil Sharp House.
The only heartwarming evening I recall of last January, Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran brought some prerequisite, and above all reedy orchestral solemnity to an otherwise altogether rather disastrous month. They played some dronal, open chords, we rejoiced, and the Earth has since circled the sun nigh on yet another year.
24. Primus, Royal Albert Hall.
Sketchy funk metal gurus Primus took to the Royal Albert Hall for two consecutive nights back in April, and they ripped its gizzards right out on their second stint. The unhinged brilliance of Green Naughahyde thundered into a vibrant shade of life, bouncers brawled over stolen trilbies, and the front few rows continually mauled themselves for a couple hours. Trey Parker himself couldn’t have depicted a more invigorating illustration of Yankee musical ruination.
23. The Luyas, Birthdays.
It may have been the most sparsely attended of all of estimable promotional tour de force Bird On The Wire’s 2012 shows, though it was irrefutably one of their finest. Jessie Stein was at her most beguiling, even beneath a spit of deep blood as Animator became animated to enliven fifty or so fortunates.
22. Mazzy Star, Field Day.
I’ve always been sceptical of the reformation and, frankly, a part of me sincerely hopes I always will be. Indeed moreover, there are few bands to have conjured a record so special that I’d want them to settle past scuffles in order to recite once more though to hear an assortment of bits and bobs from So Tonight That I Might See as the rains lashed down outside the tent provoked a tingly kinda rekindling of what turned out to be an unerring adulation after all.
21. CocoRosie, Royal Festival Hall.
The Casady sisters and their motley ensemble of beat boxers, hulusi charmers and assorted backing dancers brought their deranged roadshow to Antony’s Meltdown and stole the whole darn series. They looked like the upchucked glitters of a kaleidoscopic after a woozy one on the vertiginous wave swinger installed just outside the Southbank Centre over the summer months, and sounded illustrious as the starriest of silent nights.
20. Camille, Barbican Centre.
Camille’s ilo veyou was an uncompromisingly outré listen that, as a cohesive piece, never quite worked. Sometimes the live show only serves to contextualise that with which we’re already acquainted, and that was the precise effect her headlining turn at the brutalist heart of the Barbican Centre had on her most recent. Alluringly odd and beautifully composed, even the momentary gimmickry failed to detract from the extravagant je ne sais quoi of one of the Barbican’s best.
19. Suuns, Village Underground.
Montréal’s indefatigable indie pests are to return early on next year and when they project their Images Du Futur across 2013, you’ll bloody well know about it. They’re Canada’s dirtiest secret; its loaded weapon of mass destruction best enjoyed live and heavily loaded. A menacing show in the side room of Shoreditch’s cavernous Village Underground just this month was the perfect reintroduction to a sneering troupe who exude the repressed menace of the forgotten malevolent twin squirrelled away in the airing cupboard. Well, they look set to escape sooner rather than later, and even the mainstream shan’t be safe from infectious contamination.
18. Azari & III, Sónar.
The humid airs of Sónar stick to your being for weeks on end after the concluding Saturday, though no memory was harder to scrub off than that smeared all over by flamboyant NYC groove sharks Azari & III. It seems almost unfair that just the one band could contain two frontmen as effortlessly expressive as Starving Yet Full and Fritz Helder: the twosome are an inexpressible joy to behold, and subsequently rendered Reckless (With Your Love) the immovable my jam for the remainder of those summer months.
17. Dirty Three, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Warren Ellis’ nightly transmogrification into wretched lupine fiend, during which he confusedly howls at spotlights mistaken for moons with an ever increasing rabidity and kicks his Cuban heels above his bearded head, is a spectacle to behold in itself though when they shacked up in the already Oz-infested surrounds of Shepherd’s Bush to endow the O2 with more or less the majority of their superlative latest, Toward The Low Sun, the sound somehow bettered the vision. And indeed both live and on LP, the trio’s violently crooked improvisational vision proved consummately engrossing across the duration of 2012.
16. of Montreal, Koko.
The “stupid little blog” went to the elephantine alt. pop show (which was this time, alas, sheared of equine, and indeed any other animalistic involvement) and came away with its wires in a right old tizz. For an hour and a bit I even forgot how grotesquely megalomaniacal Kevin Barnes can be despite the ego being but mere metres away.
15. John Talabot, Bestival.
If you can’t make the live show work on home turf with all in attendance staunchly onside, then you most likely can’t work it anywhere. Though antithesising the hypothesis, it became most evident that we’d written Barça’s John Talabot off all too prematurely at his native Sónar, as he and his steadfast accomplice Pional came zipping back into prominence at the centre of Bestival’s Roller Disco. Oro y Sangre and golden hits and bloody irrepressible euphoria, even a lost lens cap couldn’t tarnish what, aided by the benefit of hindsight, transpired to be the weekend’s undisputed standout.
14. Savages, Rich Mix.
Make no mistake: Savages are a live band. It’s the arena in which they thrive and, slap bang central within the sterile arts centre ambience of Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix, they were the ruinous maelstrom with we the quivering wrecks. Magnetised. The whites of Jehnny Beth’s eyes are entities I’ll fear forever more, though shows during which they’re in many ways visible to most are surely now behind us…
13. Tyondai Braxton & London Sinfonietta, Queen Elizabeth Hall.
I once saw a Braxton-led Battles at the inaugural Field Day, and that afternoon Tyondai was irredeemably blighted by the groggiest of east London’s infinite sound systems. Then, nigh on precisely four years later, he truly blew a solo stint at Barça’s Sónar. His apparent negligence in the live setting was beginning to perplex and perturb in equal measure, given his nonpareil compositional proficiency when set against his almost every contemporary. Thus when he came to team up with the London Sinfonietta as part of the Southbank Centre’s annual Ether series, and subsequently came good, the night assumed a redemptive transparency both for we and, more pertinently, he. In airing Central Market in full and instrumented as was initially intended, Braxton both drew a line under his ’09 oeuvre, and simultaneously highlighted its intense complexity.
12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The Forum.
The impromptu appearance of Godspeed’s first full-length composed of completely original material in around a decade, ‘Allelujah Don’t Bend Ascend, upon a Boston merch desk midway through their US tour prompted not only an acute yearning to hear the thing, but with that to hear it live. And though they only contrived to play Mladic from it the evening upon which I caught them – my birthday, of all days – it was an enervatingly imperious way to herald in the ripe old age of 24. Truthfully, as eleven o’clock tolled, there was nowhere in London, or indeed elsewhere I’d rather have found myself.
11. Dirty Projectors, Roundhouse.
Another to be filed alongside the above: David Longstreth’s Swing Lo Magellan was not only one of the first aural efforts to have been squidged into our LPs of 2012 rundown, but their long-awaited live return to NW1 was a subtly sublime reintroduction to the melody makers’ immaculate live interpretations of some of the year’s most swoonsome off-kilt pop gumption.
10. Codeine, I’ll Be Your Mirror.
“A good friend is hard to find”, Stephen Immerwahr first crackled in that barbed drawl of his back in ’92 and, twenty years later, the sentiment couldn’t have resounded with a finer pertinence. For reasons I’ll never fully understand they that day neglected to play Barely Real keeper Hard To Find, and for reasons I still choke over disclosing fully the lyric really does for me emotionally. As did Codeine that day. It was the first, and with that the last opportunity I ever got to witness the sadcore overlords perform, and I wallowed as though there could feasibly be no tomorrow.
9. Charlotte Gainsbourg with Connan Mockasin, Somerset House.
From wallowing to revelling, finally catching Charlotte Gainsbourg was one thing, and one majestic thing at that. Though doing so within the resplendent environs of Somerset House, and with dear old Kiwi eccentric Connan Mockasin on backup elevated the finest night of the 2012 Summer Series to an intangibly upper echelon where it plateaued for a smidgen over an hour. Antiquated chanson française never sounded so contemporary nor seductive as it did when Gainsbourg took to reinterpreting francophone bits and the odd sporadic piece from the itself inherently odd ’86 LP, Charlotte For Ever though throughout, it was goddamn magnifique.
8. Beak> & Thought Forms, The Lexington.
An Invada love-in ignited by the head honcho of one of Britain’s most persistently innovative independent labels, Geoff Barrow and Beak> brought the introverted Kraut portent as label mates Thought Forms threw some sonorous brilliance over in our general direction prior to. More a discordant and ultimately ungodly divorce than the most harmonious of holy matrimonies, it was as though both a show and a showcase, and though the year’s eighth finest within the context of the former, no other joint venture came close. A marriage of unspeakably convenient mismatch, I don’t yet know enough words to fully articulate my admiration for Barrow. Portishead featured a superior six places this time twelve months ago, and with a slew of dates scheduled for 2013 (and hearsay already abounding of an ATP curation, too) we’ll most likely be reconvening with the Invada inspiration this time next.
7. Efterklang, Barbican Centre.
Piramida was one of those tremendously special LPs that only come along every once in a waned blue moon, just as the Barbican Centre is one of London’s despairingly few genuinely decent venues. Install Casper Clausen & co. within its clunky concrete innards, ensure they air their indisputable chef-d’œuvre in its entirety, and you’re therefore sure to make for one of the capital’s most magical of evenings. Musically, if nothing else.
6. Yeasayer, Latitude.
It was only in following quite literally in the footsteps of Lizzy Grant at July’s Latitude that it became quite so unmistakably apparent how indispensable a contemporary pop act the whimsically hybridising Brooklyn miscellany really are to the now. In the wake of the release and subsequently gruelling touring schedule to have trailed Odd Blood, it was just a joy to have them back with us, though that they stuck the metaphorical flag deep into the Word Arena and claimed the weekend all for their own made it an unmissable occasion. A seemingly unending night out with Elbow – clenched fists unremittingly flailing – couldn’t come close to the skyscraping anthemia contained within O.N.E. alone, though Henrietta too came into her own that early summer evening.
5. Chic, Camp Bestival.
Two weekends later, and we’d relocated from Southwold to East Lulworth for the second Camp Bestival experience of Dots & Dashes’ existence. A significantly more sedate, and thereby pleasurable alternative to its intoxicant-quaffing elder the weekend’s one true standout came from the one and only Nile Rodgers who, backed by the modern-day formation of Chic, got the elders reacquainted with his Midan disco touch whilst educating every minor in earshot. Exultation, ahead of the festival’s prerequisite Saturday evening shush for the chapel service.
4. MONO, Village Underground.
Like Tokyo’s post-rock equivalent to London’s now perennially rocky Arsenal Football Club, MONO have here rumbled in at fourth in a second successive list, their mammoth latest For My Parents clinching the very same spot in our Records of 2012 rundown. Live, it came to life as all albums should though, alas, few transpire so to do as the Village Underground quaked under the insurmountable grandiosity of it all. And as for Legend, well, it couldn’t have resonated with a more acute poignancy. Painstakingly exemplary.
3. Sharon Van Etten, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.
Anything but a dip in form, this one, even if our beloved SVE did scale the vertiginous heights of that list aforesaid. We caught Van Etten not once, nor twice, nor even thrice but five times across the duration of 2012 though appositely, it all came together for the most reticent of grand finales. It was her year, and upon that gelid December night west London was hers too as she peppered our insatiable appetite for this most understated and subdued of live shows with the one solitary sprinkle of unheard, and still as yet untitled new song. However throughout this and those late afternoon and later evening performances to have preceded it, she seasoned everything absolutely consummately as she continually cooked up what Mac DeMarco may deem the ineffably good.
2. Perfume Genius, The Great Escape.
Michael Hadreas is, without doubt, an artiste to revel in come one of those most desolate of Sundays. It was sort of strange, therefore, that at the very same edition of Latitude aforementioned he failed to enthral all that convincingly on that very day, whilst at The Great Escape earlier on in the summer he’d dumbfounded and astounded as Berlin did once do: he took my breath away. Put Your Back N 2 It is music for a lonesome Sabbath, yes, though it was also queerly enhanced – and exponentially so – by its staging before the altar of St. Mary’s, Brighton. I’m unsure as to whether I’ve ever before felt so concentratedly rapt by a live performance of any sort. “The hands of God were bigger than grandpa’s eyes”, he shivered to Dark Parts and though He and Hadreas may have somewhat contrasting opinions when it comes to the expression of mortal sexuality, they then made for one hell of a pairing.
1. Lana Del Rey, Sónar.
And so we come to another Nº.1 – a plinth upon which Lana Del Rey has so often been perched over these past twelve months. News of her Sónar 2012 showing, however, was about as discombobulating as she’s yet to get. What the heck was the perpetually stilettoed queen of prissy hysteria doing at what has arguably become the world’s leading International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art? Her so-called Hollywood sadcore is in few ways advanced, even if the approach she and her marketing team have taken toward achieving a what we can only presume to be fleeting omnipotence did in fact comprise many facets of the stereotypically faceless New Media mode, though really? Sónar? Thrust in amongst techno heavyweights (Hawtin, Modeselektor, etcetera) and rather more flimsy indie-disco arrivistes (Hot Chip, Metronomy, and so on) her appearance initially appeared too weird for words of any which lingo. Whether English, or American English, or Spanglish, or español, or català. Though moments into Blue Jeans, she had immediately ironed out the oddness to showcase that irrepressibly awkward enticement. It may have been a rhythmless take as opposed to, say, that ever invigorating RAC Remix though as the final strains of National Anthem oozed out over the compulsively obsessive, the festival’s proclivity for thoroughly forethought booking precision once more evinced itself. (Kraftwerk bring their 3D razzle-dazzle to 2013, so they’re again bang on.) And as it did just that, the one thought rose from the hazy fug of memory that is and was this year’s edition: maybe, just maybe, Del Rey may yet be OK.