Annual Bishara Live Music Wrap-up 2016

Another year, another bunch of music gigs. The previous two roundups averaged 20 gigs a year, but I came up a little short this year at 17 (that I could account for). My idea going into January was to enact more quality control into my events by weeding out some of the old timers who just go through the motions in favor of younger, more vibrant acts. Not sure I succeeded (ahem, Stevie Wonder, RHCP), but I did see at least one pretty awesome younger act in The Wild Feathers.

So without further ado, from Las Vegas to London, here they are in chronological order:

Jason Isbell  – Kentish Town Forum, Jan 22 (paid face value: £22.20)

This was the third year running that I caught a Jason Isbell show, and the fifth gig overall in those three years. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jason is one of the best live acts performing today, and one of the most talented songwriters in the world. And for just 22 pounds? Fuggedaboutit. The only small downside — albeit one that did not impact me — was that the venue was moved from the larger Shepherd’s Bush Empire to the Kentish Town Forum, so people were scrambling to find a place just to stand with a view.

Lindi Ortega – Islington Assembly Hall, Feb 4 (cannot remember cost, but it was about £14)

My second time seeing this Canadian-Latina Nashville transplant with a monster voice perform in London. She was just as awesome as she was two years before that (or was it three?). She can absolutely hold her own as a songwriter too — which is what saddened me somewhat when I saw her Instagram post discussing her struggle to fix a broken vintage Gibson acoustic guitar because she couldn’t really afford to.

Dave Stewart – book reading and gig  at Hospital Club, March 7 (Cost: about £20 with a free copy of Dave’s autobiography thrown in. I was kindly invited to this event by a friend who is a member of the club)

Wonderful 2-3 hours of the ex-Eurythmics icon reading chapters of his book interspersed with moments of him playing guitar, telling stories, and sharing demo tracks — including an isolated version of Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo on “There Must Be An Angel (playing with my heart).” According to Dave, Wonder kept them waiting for hours in a Santa Monica recording studio, until they had finally had enough and went back to their West Hollywood hotel at 2am — only to get a call saying Stevie was ready and waiting for them back in SM. Back in the car then….

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Koko in Camden, March 14 (Cost: Ticket purchased at door for face value of about £20)

Someone asked me if I felt like a traitor for seeing Chris with his CRB band, now that I am firmly camped in Team Rich in the battle of the ex-Black Crows Robinson brother’s sibling rivalry. Well I didn’t, really. Unlike Rich, Chris’s solo work is far more jam bandy — with some bluesy efforts dragging on for over 15 minutes. I don’t think I stuck around for the entire gig, but it was a solid musical evening.

Glen Hansard – (London Palladium, March 16) face value of about £55

The Palladium, which sits across the corner from my workplace in Soho, converted into a fully-fledged music venue this year. So on every commute to work I can see who’s playing that night or months ahead. I was super psyched to see Hansard for the first time, as I’d been an avid follower of his YouTube performances — which ranged from busking in Dublin to putting on the most insane Van Morrison covers, with chips of his vintage Takamine guitar flying into the stands. He laid it all out there that night.

The Wild Feathers – Doug Weston’s Troubador, Los Angeles, April  6 (paid: $40 through a third party site; I think face value was $22)

Well, this was probably the only gig that fit the bill of ‘rising young band’ on my list this year, which is rather uninspiring. But the Feathers were tremendous — and I was finally able to see a gig at the legendary LA venue where the Eagles and many others got their starts.

Guns N Roses – T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, April 8 (paid $372.50 each, face was much lower, probably $250 or so)

Speaking of the Troubadour, Axle and crew threw a surprise gig at the West Hollywood venue with a capacity of just 500. Axle jumped off the stage and broke his leg, which meant that he was confined to a chair during the Vegas gigs. Granted, the chair was the famous ‘throne’ that Dave Grohl used with the Foo Fighters the previous year. BUT it was a great performance and I finally get to say I’ve seen G N’ R with Slash now, which is really what everyone paid for. Sebastian Bach of Skid Row also made an appearance. Take me down to Nostalgia City.–igFq_u/?taken-by=motez56

The Lumineers – Brixton Academy, April 24  (paid £40 through a tout at the door; face value about £25)

Hey! Ho! This crew from Denver were terrific. The crowd, however, would not STFU – which is always annoying at a gig. Weird situation when they played Hey Ho — their most famous song by miles — about a third of the way through the gig, then asked everyone to put their cameras away. Which no one did. Ho, hey.

Chris Cornell – Royal Albert Hall, May 5 (paid face value, I think about £60)

Cornell, the lead singer of grunge rockers Sound Garden, has an angelic voice and plays a mean acoustic guitar. I loved this gig, one of my favorites of the year. The apex came when he covered Zeppelin’s ‘Thank You’ and prefaced by saying he was getting really nervous about it because he knew that Jimmy Page has a box at the Albert Hall. Cue spotlight on Jimmy Page at the box!

Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin – Union Chapel, June 15 (paid face value of £40)

Beautiful harmonies that night. Earle I was familiar with, as he is somewhat of a Nashville legend. He struck it big in the 80s as a country-ish John Cougar Mellencamp, only to flame out in a haze of substance abuse. Colvin I was not familiar with, but by the end of the night, I had downloaded their album onto my Spotify alt-country playlist. This song was probably the highlight. Just sublime stuff.

Prince Tribute Concert featuring Mark Ronson, CeeLo Green and The Time Hammersmith Apollo, June 25 (paid face value of about £50 but cannot find exact number)

Upside: Unintentionally walked right into a VIP area with all you can drink open bar. Downside: In order to go to the loo and get back into the VIP, you had to do some major sneaking around (I got caught twice, then came back through one entrance with an old guy who was clueless). Further downside: The performances were somewhat blah. The Time were awesome, but CeeLo had the audacity to play some of his own solo stuff — and not even the hits. Just crap from his new album. And then Ronson just deejayed some Prince, some MJ, and a bunch of whatever else he felt like. By then we were so trashed, however, that it didn’t matter.

Rodrigo Y Gabriela London Palladium, July 5 (paid face value, i think about £45)

One of those situations where I was walking to work and changed my plans that evening because I had always wanted to see R Y G. Two former Mexican lovers who play heavy-metal inspired Spanish guitar rock. Fascinating stuff. One twist: They called on the fans to come to the front of the stage, no matter where they were sitting — which obviously annoyed the security who sent everyone back. It was annoying – and a stupid thing for artists to do without clearing it with staff. Eventually security backed off, however.

Stevie Wonder Hyde Park, July 10 (paid £50 from a tout, face value was £60)

I was super lucky find one scalper who had any tickets at all for this — let alone 6, and at less than face value! But once we got in, we nearly fell asleep. Stevie was not up to scratch this time. The performance was more soporific than spectacular — with Wonder playing the mellow Songs From the Key of Life album in its entirety. Low point was the band walking off the stage for a 30 minute break, with no DJ or any music at all to keep us moving in between. Left shortly after the second half to watch the end of the Euro 2016 Final. Way more interesting. (Winner: Most disappointing show this year)

Ben Harper Brixton Academy, October 26 (all access backstage passes: priceless)

One of the real highlights of the year. I’d never been to a show and hung out ‘all access’ backstage before. But I did, courtesy of an awesome friend who was invited by Harper’s inner circle. So I watched about half the gig from the side of the stage, which is cool in that you see the band and the crow’d reaction — but the sound is mostly just feedback. Highlight was hanging out with Ben and his lovely wife and the rest of the band backstage, where a birthday cake awaited him. He’s a top man, as they say in London.

Wilco Brixton Academy, November 19 (kindly invited by a friend. face value was £30)

Last minute invite that provided great entertainment for the night. Went looking for a place to drink with friends after, and wound up at an Eritrean hole in the wall of Brixton high street dancing to African music with all the cabbies.

Applewood Road Union Chapel, Nov 21 (kindly put on guest list by a friend of one of the band members)

Lovely trio consisting of two Americans who live in Nashville and one Aussie who lives in London. Each of the three played solo sets before they convened for the Applewood Road session. Nice stuff, and this REM cover was probably the highlight.

Red Hot Chili Peppers O2, Dec 5 (paid £90 through viagogo; face was about £85 with fees)

Final gig of the year. I saw the Chilis two years ago in Puerto Rico, where they overcharged and underdelivered. It wasn’t quite as egregious this time around, but hey, if you’re going to charge so much money for tickets, you just have to play longer than 1 hour and 40 mins in this day and age. The problem was compounded by the strict, airport-level security for general admission, which forced us to miss the first 20 mins of the gig. That kind of sucked, actually.

Well, there you have it. Thanks for checking in — and please do share stories from your own gigs in the past year. Have a wonderful New Year everyone!

2 Responses to Annual Bishara Live Music Wrap-up 2016

  1. radlettblue says:

    I like the Kentish Town Forum – it’s an intimate venue. I recall the days when it was the Town & Country Club & I saw Graham Parker. Going to see Still Little Fingers there in the spring. I would not go to a gig in Hyde Park – poor sound, too many tourists & beer-throwing bozos. Right about some bands taking the pi$$ by charging high ticket prices & going through the motions.

    • Wow, Graham Parker at Kentish Town! Yes, I went off Hyde Park for a while, but they have a very strong lineup this summer, including Tom Petty one night, Kings of Leon another, Green Day … and Phil Collins. They charge 70+fees just to get in though… major piss take.

      But cheers for the feedback, and have a great holiday season!

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