EMA, The Great Escape, Jam, Brighton, May
Playing her second Great Escape festival show in six hours, EMA (Erika Anderson to her mother) was boozed-up, boisterous and bolshie. She was bloody brilliant. Wearing ripped black jeans and covered in sweat with her long, bleached blonde hair stuck to her face, she oozed cool and attitude.
She brazenly spat out songs about loss, loathing and, er, viking ships, from her debut LP Past Life Martyred Saints, while stumbling into the crowd and getting in the faces of those in the front row. There was nothing ground-breaking about her heavily distorted barre chords, reverb and unrelentingly honest lyrics. Like all the best music, it was ultimately uncomplicated and anyone with a guitar could replicate it.
Pulling it off on stage with such style and panache, however, is a damn sight harder.
Josh T Pearson, Brighton Ballroom, March
In 2001, Texan Josh T Pearson was frighteningly mutton-chopped front man of Lift To Experience, a band which unleashed an almighty torrent of noise as he manically and devoutly predicted the end of the world on the classic cult album, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads. Then he disappeared.
He spent the next booze-laden decade losing his faith, questioning his sanity and wallowing in the misery of a short-lived marriage, before detailing every last fear, nightmare and hangover on his phenomenal debut solo release, The Last of the Country Gentlemen. It’s far from cheery stuff, but on stage, with just an acoustic guitar for company, his stripped down yet brutal outpourings of emotion were utterly mesmerizing.
With his long hair, unkempt beard and wide-eyed stares, there was more than a touch of the preacher about him as he played his heart out to eerie, reverential silence. Put him on your must-see list for 2012.
She brazenly spat out songs about loss, loathing and, er, viking ships, from her debut LP Past Life Martyred Saints, while stumbling into the crowd and getting in the faces of those in the front row
Erasure, Brighton Dome, November
If the Government really is committed to improving the general well-being of the nation, they should make Erasure tickets available on the NHS. Seriously, many might be fearful of admitting it, but a night with
Erasure banishes the blues better than a day in bed with a bottle of whisky and the DVD of Aston Villa’s Greatest Goals. Front man Andy Bell, resplendent in a garish, glittery red jacket, was the life and soul. Vocally he was booming, but the real joy was found in his gloriously camp antics. Never one to take himself too seriously, at times he pirouetted like a plastered ballerina, at others he shimmied across the stage like a poodle on ice.
For an hour-and-a-half he and sidekick Vince Clarke enthralled with all the hits – and it’s easy to forget how many pop belters they’ve produced. Sometimes music need do nothing more than cheer you up. Erasure are the undisputed masters of it.
The Crookes, Debaser, Stockholm, April
If Sheffield’s jangly pop poets The Crookes fail to put a grin on your face, the chances are it’s because you’ve been botoxed to buggery. They even made me forget I paid the equivalent of six quid for a bottle of London Pride and that absolutely none of women in Stockholm look like Lisbeth Salander.
This hour-long support set revealed a hint of The Housemartins, a smack-free sprinkling of The Libertines and a trace of The Smiths, while singer George Waite drew comparisons to Martin Rossiter from 90s indie fops Gene.
The pick of the set was Bright Young Things, an excitable four-minute jaunt through jagged 80s guitars complete with a melody which that stuck in the head for the next fortnight. The added bonus of having a frontman who can actually sing was that their tales of random characters, love and dreamy musings could be properly heard. “Who cares if they think that fragile youth’s too kitchen sink?” sang Waite. We certainly didn’t.
Suede (Play Dog Man Star) Brixton Academy, May
Forget the other 2,000 people here, this was Brett Anderson’s chance to make amends to me. By 2002 the Suede frontman had gone from penning devotion-inspiring Nineties classics such as Animal Nitrate and New Generation, to begrudgingly talking to me and six other student journalists about their shoddy last album, A New Morning.
It was my first lesson in the dangers of meeting your heroes. Anderson was curt, charmless and seemingly wasted from years of well documented drug abuse. To my mind, he had some making-up to do. And at Brixton in May, he did it with style. Despite not uttering a single word in between songs, he gave a masterclass in showmanship, prancing across the stage, clasping hands with the front row and standing arms aloft after every song.
We Are the Pigs and Heroine sounded as urgent as ever, the Wild Ones and The Two of Us were as achingly beautiful as in 1994, while the final orchestral flourishes of Still Life still sent shivers down the spine.
For an hour and a half, Suede reminded us all why they were one of the most important British bands of a generation. Anderson, consider yourself redeemed.
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