Gig Observations of 2015: Editor’s Picks and Thoughts on the Live Music Industry

By on Tuesday, 22nd December 2015 at 11:00 am
 

Rather than choose my top 5 gigs of 2015 as I have done in previous years, I decided this time around, I needed to take a different tack, and for an important reason. I haven’t gone to that many shows this year. It wasn’t for lack of choice or opportunity, just various mitigating circumstances preventing me from what I wanted to do. Choosing shows, then, would be unfair to every band or act I missed because I couldn’t get their gig, through no fault of their own.

Instead, I’ve decided for 2015 I’d give an overview of how I view gigs now in this ever-changing music industry. In case you have somehow missed this development, please note: a significant portion of an artist’s income is now from touring profits. This makes it all the important to support your favourite bands when they come to your time, buy gig tickets and buy merch too if you can, as generally speaking, more of what they sell at the merch table is going directly into their pockets, and therefore towards their future music-making prospects, than other retailers you might be buying the same stuff from. If that isn’t possible, offer to buy the band drinks. Or bring them food and other tour provisions if the venue will allow it (check first). They’ll appreciate it. I once brought bananas to Peter, Bjorn and John at a 9:30 Club show (now that I think about it, I have no idea how I got them past security) because John asked for them on Twitter.

One of my favourite gigs in 2015 was outside America. While it’s true that you would think I’d automatically have fonder memories of shows away from home while on holiday, it turns out that it’s the people I met at the shows that made the most difference. I would be making a terrible sweeping generalisation if I said all security in America’s clubs are gruff, mean and unreasonable (they’re not), the clubs where I have faced ridiculous behaviour stick out as places I avoid. But when people at a venue go out of their way to be nice to me, I remember.

The Staves at Dublin Olympia, 6 May 2015

Case in point: Robbie, a bouncer at Dublin’s Olympia, really didn’t have to be nice to me when I showed up to cover The Staves there in May. I was press like all the others in the pit. Yet he pointed out where I could leave my things during the show so I would not have to lug them around while taking photos, the dangerous bits of the pit where I might slip and fall, and how I might be able to access the venue wifi. I wasn’t herded like cattle or yelled at, which is an all too regular occurrence. I mean, seriously, which kind of bouncer would you prefer to deal with, when you’re there to do an important job? I had arrived early to scope out the pit and introduce myself so there wouldn’t be any issues, and there were none the entire night. In fact, we got into a very nice conversation about some mutual friends of ours (Kodaline and The Coronas) and he told me a story about the Script‘s early days performing there. Getting to hear such a story, in a location now forever famous thanks to the 2007 R.E.M. live album, was an unforgettable experience during my first visit to Ireland. I will always treasure the memories of that night.

2015 was also the year that Girls Against was founded, in reaction to more outspoken young girls bringing to public attention groping that has been taking place in crowds at shows. Massive props to Drenge, Peace and Slaves in particular for speaking out against and condemning such behaviour at shows. To me, this is the sort of anti-violence action (I’m not going to use “feminist”, I intensely dislike that word because that seems to indicate boys are immune to such vile acts) that is beneficial and is more effective than, say, the words of a popster. Maybe that’s just me.

Ride at 9:30 Club, 17 September 2015

Going back to my own personal live experiences year, another great night was somehow achieved with flying colours by, well, flying down the street. Ride, who had not played in North America for a very long time, had a great show at the 9:30 Club in September. Having heard that their ’90s contemporaries Jesus and the Mary Chain were complete bores, I was steeling myself for a similar experience. Not so. The show was a reminder to me – and all – that despite the inevitable ageing of rock stars, the music is still incredible, and most bands even when they past middle age are still excellent, excellent shouts. Perhaps they might not need as much of your money as the younger, fledgling bands, but they are certainly worth the money to go see and have a night out where you can support your local economy and nightlife.

My friend and I had to split before Ride’s encore, however, to go down the block and see my Welsh friends Until the Ribbon Breaks play at DC9. I’ve had a soft spot for Pete Lawrie and co. after seeing them win over crowds at SXSW 2014 and then smash it while closing the Music Wales night this year in Austin. To go from a 1,200-capacity, state of the art, two-floor club with massive balcony to a 200-capacity upstairs room really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? Both shows were packed but both were also full of incredible energy. It reminded me it doesn’t really matter how big (or small) a crowd is, as long as the artist up on stage is giving it his/her/their all. That’s their art, and it’s our responsibility as fans to make sure they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Until the Ribbon Breaks at DC9, 17 September 2015

I would be remiss if I did not mention all the lovely people, bands, and artists I met in East Anglia for Norwich Sound and Vision. (All my coverage of the 3-day festival and accompanying conference can be found here.) It was my first time in that region of England and I was absolutely charmed by the city and by the kindness extended by everyone there. I highly recommend the experience to anyone wanting something to put on their calendar that’s much more relaxed where you actually feel human and you’re not running town to gigs and meetings like a crazy person! (Professionals: we all know what that’s like, right?) A special thank you to Adrian, Jenny and Dex for putting on such a remarkable event, and a very special thank you to Mark for tipping me off about it.

A final word. After the horrific events in Paris on the 13th of November (I wrote about this a bit back here), we have to keep going. I know it’s hard. I’m still shaken up by what’s happened, because some of the music fans we lost were friends and colleagues of friends. In 2016, more so than any other year in the past, I hope for more peace, love and understanding. Let’s commit ourselves to this. Through music we can stand together. And stay strong.

Peace out.

After the cut: the full list of all the gigs, in reverse chronological order, that I’ve been to in 2015.

* Cold Fronts (Chrome Pony and Heyrocco supporting) – 05.11.15 – Black Cat Backstage, Washington, DC

* Little May – 24.10.15 – DC9, Washington, DC – my There Goes the Fear review
* Norwich Sound and Vision – 08-10.10.15 – Norwich, England
* Broken Hands in-store – 05.10.15 – Rough Trade East, London, England
* East India Youth (The Harpoons supporting) – 03.10.15 – The Tin at the Coal Vaults, Coventry, England

* the Nightowls (Falls supporting) – 20.09.15 – the Hamilton, Washington, DC
* Until the Ribbon Breaks (Lightwaves and Sir EU supporting) – 17.09.15 – DC9, Washington, DC
* Ride (DIIV supporting) – 17.09.15 – 9:30 Club, Washington, DC – my There Goes the Fear review

* Life in Film (Broke Royals supporting) – 25.08.15 – Rock ‘n’ Roll Hotel, Washington, DC

* Laura Marling (Marika Hackman and Johnny Flynn supporting) – 31.07.15 – 9:30 Club, Washington, DC

* Until the Ribbon Breaks (Flash Frequency supporting) – 11.06.15 – Black Cat Backstage, Washington, DC

* the Great Escape – 14-16.05.15 – Brighton, England
* Stornoway (Her Name is Calla supporting) – 08.05.15 – Leadmill, Sheffield, England
* BAD//DREEMS and Francisco the Man (Beat the Bandit supporting) – 07.05.15 – Frog and Parrot, Sheffield, England
* the Staves (Little Hours supporting) – 06.05.15 – Olympia, Dublin, Ireland
* Public Service Broadcasting (Smoke Fairies supporting) – 05.05.15 – Button Factory, Dublin, Ireland
* Live at Leeds – 02.05.15 – Leeds, England

* Kodaline (Gavin James supporting) – 23.04.15 – 9:30 Club, Washington, DC
* Young Buffalo (Polyon supporting) – 06.04.15 – Black Cat Backstage, Washington, DC

* South by Southwest – 17-21.03.15 – Austin, TX

* Emmy the Great (Louis Weeks supporting) – 17.02.15 – DC9, Washington, DC

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We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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