2011: Gigs of the Year

And so beginneth the first in a series of top 2011 lists, starting with my favourite live performances of the year. All images were taken at the Glastonbury Festival by me, and you can see all my other festy snaps here, and I’ve also thrown in some YouTube links – I mean, all those guys with their cameraphones out at gigs weren’t just recording their crummy footage for nothing, right?

1. Janelle Monáe (Glastonbury)

Though on sparkling form at her Roundhouse show earlier on in the year, that was marred by overcooked sound levels. No such problem here, in easily the slickest and downright most entertaining performance I’ve seen this year. With the ArchOrchestra on top form, Monáe, polished but still filled with soul and bundles of energy, effortlessly rattled through her set with a bonus note-perfect cover of ‘I Want You Back’ to boot. My crowd-surf super-lucky photo-op (which was exhibited at The Guardian offices in London, dontcha know) was just the icing on the cake.

2. Guitar Wolf (Islington Academy)

Legendary leather-clad riotous rockers Guitar Wolf touched their space battleship down in London for a non-stop tour de force leading to puddles of sweat, an audience member attempting a guitar solo, a human pyramid and, when the lights came on and the power was pulled by venue management, an acoustic finale out of necessity as Guitar Wolf battled on regardless. Factor in support from London-based psychedelic noise merchants Bo Ningen and you have one hell of a show.

3. Pulp (Wireless)

For their first announced comeback show, tickets for Pulp’s headlining day at the Wireless festival were rather bafflingly not sold out. But other people’s loss I guess, as Cocker and chums delivered a stonking set filled with their biggest hits and plenty of fan favourites. And Pulp are arguably even more necessary today than at the height of their Britpop popularity.

4. Foo Fighters (Roundhouse)

I am no great Foo Fighters fan, more a casual appreciator, but there was no question that their iTunes festival gig was something almighty. From Dave Grohl appearing behind the audience on top of the bar for a guitar battle, and then later getting an unruly attendee thrown out for picking a fight, to special guest appearances from Lemmy and Queen’s Roger Taylor and Brian May, it was two-and-a-half hours plus of rock excellence.

5. Darwin Deez (Glastonbury)

Darwin and his fellow Deezers know how to put a performance together. Not content with playing their already wonderful tunes, they drop instruments for impeccably choreographed dance interludes to a jukebox jamboree. Not to mention a side order of sweet rapping. Fun fun fun.

6. Mono and Holy Ground Orchestra (Koko)

First time I saw Japanese epic rock instrumental group Mono, they were supported by the astonishing World’s End Girlfriend who somewhat stole the show. But in the European debut of their orchestral accompaniment set, they really came into their own. A beautiful and memorable evening.

7. DeVotchKa (Glastonbury, Wireless)

Perhaps best known for their big Little Miss Sunshine-featured themes, live DeVotchKa have no problem rocking with the best of them, with pounding gypsy-infused stomps amongst the more sensitive sections. Plus, a bit of theremin action, a great big horn, and even a banana maraca.

8. Portishead (ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror)

Though ATP’s inaugural I’ll Be Your Mirror festival was hardly without teething problems, they sure had a doozy of a curator for their first effort. If Beth Gibbons’ voice sounds hauntingly flawless on record, live it’s astonishing. So glad to have finally seen them live.

9. Grinderman (ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror)

For snarling sweaty rock that’s raw, ready and rough around the edges, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds side project deliver in buckets. Shame to hear they may be pulling the plug on Grinderman for the time being, but great to see them run riot in Alexandra Palace.

10. Grace Jones (Wireless)

With multiple hat-and-accessory changes on top of an already revealing outfit (for 63 years old, she still cuts a striking figure), Grace Jones is also a great entertainer. Witness her closing number as she rocks a hula hoop for the whole of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ and then continues to keep it spinning as she introduces all the band members and still keeps it going as she leaves the stage. Very not bad.

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