It’s hard to critically discuss the impact a gig has on you. The moment is so subjective. You can’t re-assess the atmosphere once you’re sat at home on the sofa the morning after the show before, reflecting in front of Something For The Weekend. Even if you bought the bottled atmosphere (like that japester at the Stone Roses Heaton Park shows), it wouldn’t be the same.
The best bands I’ve ever seen live have all earned their place in the canon for different reasons. There was Green Day at the Ambassador Theatre, Dublin 2004. I’d been in France for a summer, and my friends had queued up to buy tickets while I was away. They rang me excitedly on my French host family’s phone, explaining quickly that there hadn’t been time to inform me, but that they’d bought me a ticket anyway. The gig was magic. Messy, loud, sweaty and rough – when smoking was still allowed in venues. We left covered in grime and with bruises on our ribs, and sat waiting for the night bus, feeling like the band had just played for us.
Robyn at MELT Festival 2008 made an old industrial park feel like Studio 54. Meanwhile, Goran Bregovic’s Wedding and Funeral Orchestra took me completely by surprise at Sziget Festival 2005. I had no prior knowledge of the band, but was drawn towards the stage, entranced. When I got home, I bought the album immediately. I asked some NME writers to wax lyrical about their live faves.
Matt Wilkinson, Radar Editor
Libertines, Liverpool Stanley Theatre, October 5 2002
The band spent much of their set snogging people in the front row and handing out spliffs, though they never once actually acknowledged us from the mics – not even to say “thank you” after songs. Instead, they had their sound guy play this backing track of old men laughing and babies crying over the PA during every break, while the band stood there in silence eyeballing the crowd. Which was really cool (if a little odd). I’d travelled for seven hours to see them (from my home town in Cornwall – can’t remember why I didn’t just bother going to Exeter the week before, but hey) and was so enthused and hyped-up after their set – which was easily the most exhilarating thing my tiny 16-year-old mind had ever seen – that I decided I had to meet the band after it.
With not much effort I evaded the single security guy standing guard and found myself standing awkwardly backstage in a dingy dressing room with only Rough Trade A&R James Endeacott, Carl and Pete for company – all three staring at me as I spluttered something about the gig being the best thing since the big bang. I remember Pete had two sandwich bags in his hand – one full of Libertines badges to give to kids like me, and one with some kind of white power in it to give to… I wonder who? I still have the ticket from that gig somewhere – for some reason it says it was for a Belinda Carlisle show though, which I can only put down to good old Scouse humour.
Luke Lewis, Editor NME.COM
Arcade Fire at The O2, December 2010
I’d seen them play live a few years earlier on the ‘Neon Bible’ tour and been really disappointed, but they’d undergone this jaw-dropping transformation – so much more confident, and finally able to convey the sense of scale they have on record. I think they’d found a new sound man too, which must have helped. I was standing near the back, but utterly transfixed by the whole thing. Also: shout-out for Haim, who are the most entertaining best live band I’ve seen since.
Pete Cashmore, Writer
The Charlatans, Birmingham Burberry’s, March 1990
The club was so packed that many of us were forced to sit on stage at the band’s feet. During ‘Indian Rope’ I got off with the girl sat next to me. Rachel Holgate, I will never forget you. Still waiting for the call.
Jamie Fullerton, Features Editor
Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Playing with Ikara Colt and The Parkinsons, Cardiff Barfly, around 2002-ish
First time I was in NME – the corner of my G-Shock watch on the edge of a picture for a review Steven Wells wrote. I remember Swells stood front row making a big thing of making notes in front of Eighties Matchbox, who threw their mic stand near him and it brushed his shoulder. I think the line he wrote was “The mic stand whacked me full on the shoulder”, or something like that.
Ben Cardew, Writer
Kraftwerk, 2004 at Brixton Academy
The fact that Kraftwerk were even in operation in 2004, let along playing my local venue, would have probably been enough in itself to make it my best gig ever. But the fact that they teased out new versions of all their greatest hits in robotic perfection on a thundering, yet crystal clear, Brixton sound system, then sent on the actual robots to do the encore was nothing short of wonder.
What’s about you lot, then? What’s the best band you’ve ever seen live? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter using the hashtag #bestbandihaveseenlive.