December 28th 2016
2016 has been a relatively quiet year for me on the gig front. Now that I’m comfortably past the mid-point of my twenties and beyond the wide-eyed enthusiasm and boundless energy of youth, I often struggle to find the motivation to make the standard 2-3 hour round-trip up to London and back – especially since I’ve been to literally hundreds of shows over the last seven years, and seen the vast majority of my favourite bands on numerous occasions already. The unrestrained excitement I felt in my late teens and early twenties now battles a lethargic sense of routine, and I sometimes even find myself wearily checking the time at gigs, eager for the night to reach an end so I can head home and get to bed. The experience is still enjoyable, but these days it takes something truly special to inspire me, recapture the magic and ultimately justify the excursion. Financial restrictions are also a significant factor; as ticket prices seem to climb while my disposable income becomes increasingly limited, going to every show that interests me is simply no longer affordable anyway, and the overall result is that I’m becoming much more selective about which to attend. Nevertheless, I’m fortunate enough to have been present for plenty of incredible concerts this year, some of which actually rank among the greatest I’ve ever witnessed – the following are my ten favourites of 2016.
10. Motion City Soundtrack
O2 Forum Kentish Town, London – 19th August
After calling time on a career spanning almost twenty years, the criminally overlooked Motion City Soundtrack embarked on a final world tour during the summer which fortunately featured several UK appearances, including this excellent performance in London. As expected it was a bittersweet affair, but an enjoyable last opportunity to see the group play their collection of alternative rock gems such as This Is For Real, Everything Is Alright, Her Words Destroyed My Planet and A Lifeless Ordinary.
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London – 15th December
Part of another farewell tour, this show had a fun party vibe as a crowd largely in their twenties and thirties congregated to celebrate a band iconic to their generation and the mid-2000s emo scene. Yellowcard didn’t disappoint, playing a two-hour set full of classic hits including a number of tracks from revered seminal album Ocean Avenue, closing out the night in style with the ever-popular title track.
8. Frank Turner
G Live, Guildford – 12th December
It’s impossible to have a bad time watching Frank Turner and this show was just as uplifting and cheerful as always, with the crowd more than happy to comply with the folk-punk champion’s demands for jumping, dancing and singing throughout the evening – and even an unconventional wall of hugs at one point. The mood was buoyed further by a strong setlist; I Still Believe, Photosynthesis, The Next Storm, The Way I Tend To Be and Get Better were all included, as well as my personal highlight, a euphoric singalong to The Ballad Of Me And My Friends.
7. Tonight Alive
Pyramids Centre, Portsmouth – 23rd February
After excessive alcohol consumption obliterated any memories of the London show, I decided on adventuring down to the south coast the following week for another shot at seeing the Aussie pop-rockers and was rewarded with a great evening characterised by a warm, intimate feel. Thankfully the band’s painfully disappointing new album Limitless was still a few weeks away at that point, so only a handful of their weaker new songs were scattered amongst the far superior older material such as Amelia, The Other Side, Don’t Wish, The Edge and Wasting Away. I’ve seen Tonight Alive over a dozen times now – more than any other band – but this particular instance was definitely one of the best.
6. The Offspring
Eventim Apollo, London – 22nd June
Although they’re one of my favourite bands, I’d only seen The Offspring once before – way back in 2011 at Reading Festival – so when they announced UK dates on their 2016 world tour I jumped at the chance to see them again after five years of waiting. The Californian skate-punk relics blasted through a brilliant set of their greatest hits, triggering an outpouring of nostalgia and contagiously rejuvenating zest within the audience, proving their worth as a formidable live act despite their advancing age.
5. Milk Teeth
Barfly, London – 12th May
One of the best and brightest new bands around, Milk Teeth first grabbed my attention in early 2016 via the intriguing buzz and glowing praise surrounding them, backing up their reputation with a thoroughly impressive showing as the opening support act for Tonight Alive’s aforementioned Portsmouth gig. I bought their debut album Vile Child immediately after getting home that night, and seized the opportunity to see them again when they announced their own tour soon after. Their show at the Barfly in London was magnificent, inciting a rapturous reaction that the crowded sweatbox could barely contain; it was a powerful statement of intent, marking another confident stride forward for the promising young band.
Boileroom, Guildford – 1st March
Spirited punk prospects Creeper have taken the rock world by storm in 2016, demonstrating outstanding musicianship and songwriting ability wrapped up in a dark, enthralling aesthetic. The band have quickly built a rabid cult following – instantly recognisable by the already-iconic Callous Heart back patches – and an unstoppable hype-train heading towards the release of their upcoming debut album. My first live encounter with Creeper came in March, when the revolution descended upon Guildford’s Boileroom; I was totally absorbed on the night by the alluring excitement surrounding the band, and the mood was validated by a fittingly strong performance.
3. Breaking Benjamin
Koko, London – 27th May
Most had long since given up hope that Breaking Benjamin would ever appear outside of North America, however the powerhouse hard-rockers surprised and delighted fans with the news that they would finally be coming to Europe in 2016. Preceding a slot at Download Festival, the band played their first-ever UK show in May at a sold-out Koko, delivering a fantastic set of their greatest hits including So Cold, I Will Not Bow, Failure, Breath, and notably successful signature song The Diary Of Jane on a jubilant night for the relentlessly ecstatic crowd.
2. Bring Me The Horizon
Royal Albert Hall, London – 22nd April
Surpassing even the amazing one-off Wembley Arena show from the end of the Sempiternal cycle in 2014, this was an otherworldly evening with a discernible sense of occasion aided by the cavernous scale and illustrious prestige of the Royal Albert Hall. The rich, haunting orchestral symphonies contributed a stunning new dynamic to the music, elevating the sound and style of the songs to unprecedented heights and creating a powerfully captivating and memorable experience that the band will likely struggle to ever reproduce. This gig was one of the greatest I’ve ever been to, a truly exceptional once-in-a-lifetime event and in most other years would comfortably take the number one spot on this list.
1. Funeral For A Friend
O2 Forum Kentish Town, London – 20th & 21st May
(As these shows felt like a single two-part event spread across two evenings, I’m including them together.) Featuring the legendary albums Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation and Hours – two of my all-time favourites – played in their entirety, these were the final farewell performances from the Welsh post-hardcore heroes and an exhilarating celebration of one of the best and most important British bands of the 21st century. The level of emotion was stratospheric – particularly throughout the second night, reaching a peak at the end when the full sellout crowd continued to sing History back at the band with overwhelming passion and volume, prompting joyfully uncontainable smiles and a flood of tears all around the room. I’m thrilled to have seen wonderful rarities Novella,Your Revolution Is A Joke and Into Oblivion played live one last time, as well as beloved regulars Juneau, Escape Artists Never Die, All The Rage, Sixteen and Roses For The Dead; these were completely amazing shows, some of the absolute best I’ve ever been to, and unquestionably my top gigs of 2016.