An unbelievable level of talent was on show at the 2018 Great Escape festival and some live shows stood out particularly, including Kojey Radical, Mahalia and Jimothy Lacoste. However, it is the big 02 Arena show that has taken the crown for me this year. Seeing King Kendrick rise out of the smoke on-stage before a light show and flame explosion, launching him into ‘DNA’, was something I’ll never forget and the show only reached higher and higher peaks.
Another first for me, a trip to the local Love Supreme festival to see Mr Jukes, Tom Misch, Zara McFarlane, Mavis Staples, Earth, Wind & Fire, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Level 42, James Taylor Quartet, Elvis Costello and more all in one blistering hot weekend. The weather was as good as the music and so much talent on the stages that I’ll never forget that weekend.
It took me some time to catch up with Elizabeth Bernholz’s alter ego Gazelle Twin in a live setting, what with her lack of home town performance dates, but she was worth every second of the wait. In a knock-out and characteristically unsettling visual spectacle, Bernholz stalked the stage and scanned the audience like some cretaceous avatar, in keeping with the sentiments of her latest album, Pastoral. The album’s message that Britain is a dangerously deluded, hubristic dinosaur comes across loud and clear, as did the brutal, unnerving live beats that provide the backdrop to Bernholz’s perfectly incongruous, almost angelic, soprano vocals. This was a show with more than just one toe in performance art. The Gazelle Twin image is every bit as important as the Gazelle Twin sound, and its latest incarnation, as faceless court jester meets football fan, meets St. George’s flag, meets a certain, highly corporate, ubiquitous soft drink, is as striking as it is disturbing. This is very much art in the context of its time, chewing and spewing the political landscape that it finds itself in. The end result was thrilling, haunting and yet strangely reassuring.
My favourite gig of the year goes to a show which saw one of the lowest attendances I had been to all year, the super smooth whispered Americana of the still unknown Sam Evian. Announcing himself to Brighton at this year’s The Great Escape festival, the New York-based band came back to play The Hope & Ruin with their second album in tow and gave one of the most audibly pleasing, captivating and damn right impressive shows I’ve seen in years. It reminded me of a similar situation when seeing Andy Shauf in an empty Prince Albert pub. The band’s musicianship was immense, the songs incredibly strong, and they somehow managed to sound like so many of the great rock acts from yesteryear but stay sounding totally unique. I cannot wait for the next time Sam Evian comes through our city to perform in front of a bigger audience.
When reflecting on shows I’ve seen this year something always brings me back to seeing Hinds at Concorde 2. There’s a level of fondness that comes back to me everytime I think of it. The band exude positive energy and carefree fun and are slowly becoming something of a cult item in the UK. After seeing them for the first time, I completely get it. Their live show is energetic and generally a very wholesome experience. Their music is simple, fun and relatable and the band’s love of being in a band overflows into the audience. It was a show that brought smiles all round and it still does to this day.
I’ve not covered as many live shows this year for Brightonsfinest, which is a shame when looking back and seeing how many amazing dates we’ve covered. I got to see some really cool stuff at the start of the year, and one that stands out for an honourable mention is the Brighton Festival show that saw Deerhoof working with the amazing Stargaze Orchestra, for a minimalist reworking of a Fugazi record.
However, while that was fodder for the head I think the guys who went after my feet have to win the prize. 12 Stone Toddler’s album launch at The Haunt in November was a real riot. Cementing the new line up of the band with a performance which included a longer set than they’d ever played before, they gave us a tour-de-force which drove home just how great their long awaited third album Idiolalia really is. After this triumphant party launching that wonderful beast of a record into the world, we’ll be eagerly watching Toddler in 2019, to see what tricks they’re still hiding up their sleeves.
2018 saw the usual mix of legends and newcomers appear across Brighton. At one end of the scale, Patti Smith’s Brighton Dome show was an absolute treat. All those years of poetic, powerful messages channelled into one unforgettable evening. A legend of a different sort, Jarvis Cocker’s surprise and intimate Patterns gig was one of those moments that you just can’t miss – his mixture of Pulp standards, solo classics and new ‘Jarv Is’ material made it a huge step up from the usual Britpop nostalgia. However, as a live moment, Shame at The Haunt is unbeatable. The explosion of a band grabbing their moment with both hands, in a venue that became woefully too small for them in the period between announcement and performance, the intensity of that night was unbelievable. To see them playing in front of a few thousand in London a few months later showed just what a dizzying ride they had enjoyed.
Truly one of Brighton’s finest, Black Honey have gone from strength to strength since their inception. 2018 was, without a doubt, their greatest ever year too with the release of their immense debut record and a very special show at Brighton’s Concorde 2. This gig was a celebration of the group between both the band and their adoring fans and a huge statement of just how far they’ve come as a band. From outings of their early, desert-rock-inspired singles ‘Madonna’ and ‘Spinning Wheel’, to their innovative takes on disco and funk with album cuts ‘Midnight’ and ‘Crowded City’, the band have become an incredibly well-rounded machine and their Concorde 2 show was testament to this.
The most highly anticipated show the city’s LGBTQ festival has possibly ever seen, it was as crazy as it was wonderful. Britters in a corset and suspenders, lip-syncing to her biggest hits, in front of an ‘up for it’ crowd, on a balmy summer’s evening after one of the best days in BN1’s calendar. So what if Southern Fail cocked up the end of the evening in the most spectacular fashion? Ms Spears had us partying on the beach for at least a few days afterwards, right?
Bristol’s band of the moment Idles, have captured the imagination in a way few have been able to do in recent times. In lead singer Joe Talbot they have a lightning rod for some of the most pressing and talked about malaises of these times; men’s vulnerabilities being at the top of the list, along with fear of immigrants, stoked nationalism, toxic masculinity, and class warfare. Celebration and communion are at the heart of Idles, in a way that Killing Joke epitomised at the height of their powers in the 80s; a kind of open-armed tribal-punk catharsis, that pulls zero punches. With a roaring, groove-based post-punk band behind him, Idles are one of the best live acts around, as they mesh up Swans, with Birthday Party and The Fall, and transport this to the 21st century. They were able to transcend splintering genres to sell out this gig in one day, and next year’s follow up at the Dome, also in almost no time at all. A remarkable band for these extraordinary times.