What Are The Five Best Gigs You’ve Ever Seen?

The new issue of NME – order a digital copy here – is all about the 100 gigs you should have been at. Here, Hamish Macbain picks out his own personal gig-going epiphanies

Just so you know, I was off on my holidays when this week’s issue of NME, featuring the 100 gigs you should have been at, was being put together. Not wishing to miss out on the fun – and also, admittedly, to plug just what a marvellous read it is – I have decided to write this here blog entry about some of my own personal favourite gigs ever.


Now, trust me, I’ve been to way more than my share of supposedly ‘legendary’ gigs that everyone goes on about, but were frankly more about fitting into a storyline than being actually moving in any way.

Witness Jay-Z at Glastonbury: yes, spectacularly good theatre, with the build up and all; yes, a monumental intro that stunned everyone into submission. “Important”? Well, yeah, if next year’s headliners – Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Blur – were anything to go by. Still exciting an hour and a bit in when he stood at the mouth of the stage while his DJ played ‘Umbrella’? Not for me, I’m afraid.

See also: Radiohead at South Park in Oxford, July 2001. Every review I read of this said it was A Triumph. It wasn’t. It was a tutorial in how not to play a live show. At the height of their ‘No Logo’ schtick, you had to queue up 45 minutes to get a drink token, which you then had to queue another 45 minutes to exchange for a drink.

I offered to get a round in, and missed Beck AND Supergrass. And then it rained in a biblical style, and they came on and played heavy on the glitchy electronic ‘Amnesiac’/‘Kid A’ business. Actually, maybe I’m wrong: they may well have busted out ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ but the sound was drifting around in the wind so much that no-one could tell.

Sorry, but I preferred The White Stripes at Reading 2004 to the Boston Arms. Not being contrary, I just did. Dunno why. The Strokes at Heaven? Not all that, they looked like nervous rabbits in the headlights, when everyone wanted arrogant rock’n’roll heroes.

And don’t get me started on those supposedly ‘glorious’ Libertines shows at the Forum (they played far better, and anyone who was there knows it) or any Muse show, ever.


But anyway, enough moaning: here are five that were simply undeniable, unforgettable, unsurpassable genius. In my eyes, of course. Maybe you hated them.

1. Arctic Monkeys at Reading Festival, 2005
Frankly, I’m astonished this didn’t make the 100 in the magazine (one of theirs did: buy it and find out!). This was their tip-of-the-iceberg performance. You know how when you read all those old writers going on about Led Zeppelin at the Filmore East and how “you could literally feel a generation being defined” or whatever? This was truly, genuinely, honestly one of those.

Mid afternoon on a Sunday, a cocky little Paul Weller lookalike swaggers on and gives it: “Don’t believe the hype, Reading – they haven’t hyped us enough.” His band slink into ‘Fake Tales…’, and EVERYONE bellows along to every word, in those long-lost days when people were only just realising about file-sharing.

Alex Turner didn’t sing a single line of ‘When The Sun Goes Down’. I’ve seen this band so many times since and loved it, but it’s to both their credit and detriment that, for me, their entire career has existed in the shadow of this performance. That day, they were heroes, hype-justifiers and The Future. It was simply impossible to deny.

2. Led Zeppelin at O2 Arena, 2007
Half an hour in, I finally tear myself away from the show, rushing to the bar so I don’t miss a thing. On the way, I end up in a three-way conversation with Liam Gallagher and Joe Elliott from Def Leppard about echo; I go to the toilet and Mick Jagger’s taking a leak; get to the bar and it turns out the guy who’s pushed in front of me is Macca, then I get back and Jimmy Page is playing the violin bow solo on ‘Dazed & Confused’. In a laser Pyramid. An unimaginable gawp-fest, which is not to say that the music was not awesome, too.

3. Kraftwerk at Royal Festival Hall, 2004
Yeah, they were probably playing Tetris up there, but it didn’t matter. These were their first shows in the UK for a long, long time – certainly the first since I was old enough to go – and the atmosphere was beyond reverential. The visuals swamped you, the music was as hypnotic as you’d expect. By the time you stepped outside, you felt like you’d been brainwashed.

4. Broadcast at KOKO, 2005
Admittedly, maybe it’s just in my mind following the tragic death of Trish Keenan, but as the night that I – a latecomer to the party who only was snared by their second album ‘Ha Ha Sound’ – truly discovered Broadcast, this is up there for me. Just a show where it all clicked into place and suddenly made sense: it was glassy and standoffish, but there were moments you caught them smiling at each other and the crowd gave it a human quality.

5. The Verve at Glastonbury, 2008
Yeah, the year that Jay-Z “made history”. Or as I like to remember it, “the year that Jay-Z’s set was trounced all over the next night by some returning heroes who barely even got a mention in any of the coverage, and who Michael Eavis didn’t even want there”.

I have watched the climax of this show on Youtube so many times it’s ridiculous. Watch the first two minutes, tell me it’s not everything that a rock’n’roll show should be.

But anyway, enough about mine. What are your five favourite gigs ever? The ones that were so good you feel sorry for everyone in the world who was not in attendance?

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