Before I start, I don’t usually enjoy writing in the first person, but for a list as personal as top 10 gigs, there’s not much choice. Anyway, the other day, there was a hashtag floating around Twitter calling for people to sum up their year in just five words. Not as easy as you would think. Alas, a few minutes of soul searching later and I realised there was only one answer.
#2015in5Words Gigs, gigs and more gigs.
— Niall Swan (@NiallMacSuain) December 18, 2015
In a year that saw me see 121 different bands(and over 150 gigs in total) in 98 days as part of a mini-project I gave myself called #100BandsIn100Days(Check out all 121 here) on top of all the gigs the other 267 days allowed me to see, narrowing it down to a top ten is a near impossibility. But sure feck it, be grand.
(10) Bad Sea at HWCH, October 1st
There’s nothing quite like the anticipation of seeing one of your favourite bands perform live. The rush for tickets, the long wait, the journey there and eventually that moment that she/he/they walk out on stage all add to what is normally an unforgettable experience.
However, occasionally it’s when you least expect it, that you experience some of the best gigs of your life. I’d listened to a little bit of Bad Sea prior to this show, I follow their lead singer Ciara Thompson on Twitter(she’s gas, follow her too) and was intrigued so thought I’d pop in before Saint Sister. To say I was blown away by Thompson’s vocals is a distinct understatement, you can read more of my thoughts on the gig here. A mixture of charm, comedy and extreme talent, Bad Sea are certainly ones to watch in 2016.
(9) The Eskies at Whelan’s, May 16th
Arguably the best live band in Ireland on their day, The Eskies produced a show of immense, non-stop quality as they launched their long-anticipated debut album ‘After The Sherry Went Around’ back in May.
I first saw The Eskies(well, an entirely different version of) back in 2006 in Eamonn Doran’s and even then, it was abundantly clear that Ian Bermingham was a natural frontman. This show in Whelan’s was the culmination of almost a decade’s hard work as he conducted the swarming audience every step of the way – singing, dancing, giving their sound man the finger – if he asked them to jump they’d have asked how high.
The Eskies put on a whole host of top class shows this year, notably those at Electric Picnic and Knockanstockan, but this Whelan’s show was something else, it was the beginning of something special. Up the parish!
(8) Sinéad White, HWCH, October 3rd
Holder of the(erm… as of yet unannounced) Headphone Jacks Irish Album of the Year award for her debut offering ‘Finally’ a Sinéad White show was always going to make the top ten in 2015. Having somehow failed to see Sinéad live until a support slot for Wyvern Lingo back in early June, I saw her on four or five further occasions before the year was out.
While she’s equally as adept at entertaining a crowd with a full band behind her, it’s when Sinéad performs solo that the true charm and endearment of her music really shines through. Sinéad will have played to far bigger audiences this year but it takes something special to make a room as large as The Academy feel as intimate as she did that night. A special talent. Review here.
(7) Villagers at The Olympia Theatre, May 20th
This show couldn’t have been better timed. With only two days to go before Ireland voted in the historic Marriage Referendum, Conor O’Brien and co took to the stage in the stunning surroundings of the Olympia Theatre. There’s not much I can say about this show. It was simply beautiful from start to finish.
Alas, I can’t get away that easily. I did actually have to write a full review of this show for GoldenPlec, so you can check that here out for a better idea of how much I struggled to vocalise my thoughts after this one.
(6) Bitch Falcon at Electric Picnic, September 5th
Bitch Falcon may not be everyone’s cup of tea. They’re unapologetically loud, brash and in your face, but beneath all the grunge and grunting, Lizzie Fitzpatrick and her bandmates have an unerring ability to write catchy melodies and powerful lyrics that’ll have you singing(well…shouting) along with a clinched fist raised high above your head.
Being well-received at a festival can often be a poisoned chalice. A barn-storming set at EP in 2014 at the Oxjam Tent saw Bitch Falcon being bumped up to the much larger Body & Soul Main Stage in 2015, alas at a much earlier hour. Alas, it mattered not as the trio blasted through a set that was probably heard all over Stradbally and beyond. Wolfstooth below was a particular highlight.
(5) The Staves at Electric Picnic Other Voices, September 5th
Much like the Bad Sea gig, I entered the beautiful church that is the Other Voices stage at Electric Picnic(which was home to a number of great gigs over the weekend from the likes of Gavin James, The Academic and Villagers) on the second day of the festival with minimal expectation having never seen The Staves before and having only listened to them briefly in the past.
However, it wasn’t long before the sisters’ impeccable harmonies and witty British inter-song banter had me rushing to find as much of their music as I could. This was a special show, the setting making it as intimate as if The Staves were playing in your own living room, despite the fact that it was situated smack bang in the middle of Ireland’s biggest festival.
(4) Natalie Prass at Body & Soul, June 21st
Natalie Prass possesses the ability to completely disarm her listeners with her slow-burning tunes that are blessed with the most soulful voice to make its way to these shores in quite some time. Some may feel that songs about heartache are becoming sickeningly prevalent in modern music but Prass delivers them with such style and class that she can be forgiven.
However, it’s not the ideal sound for a festival, one would think. But such is the calm, serene atmosphere at Body & Soul in Ballinlough Castle that songs like My Baby Don’t Understand Me and Birds Of Prey are the ideal accompaniment to lying in the grass with an ice cold(ok…lukewarm) Bulmers in hand. It was one of those shows that left a long-lasting grin on the faces of those who witnessed it.
(3) Saint Sister at HWCH, October 1st
I’m sure you’ve scrolled to the bottom of this post to see what my favourite gig of the year is already, so I guess admitting that I almost forgot seeing Saint Sister(Oh, Sister at the time) supporting Will Butler in Whelan’s back in April as a result of it being the best show I’ve ever seen won’t ruin the surprise. It was only after seeing an article a few months later about their name change that I remembered how good they had been and I became determined to catch them again.
The opportunity presented itself at Hard Working Class Heroes as they took to the stage just after Bad Sea in The Workman’s Club. It was the busiest I saw any venue that weekend, and deservedly so. Every note was pitch perfect. Every key stroke, every pluck of the harp, every harmony. All carefully crafted and immaculately performed. 2016 will be huge for Saint Sister.
(2) Sufjan Stevens at The Helix, August 28th
Prior to catching the genius that is Sufjan Stevens at the Helix in August, my top three shows of all time was dominated by Arcade Fire and their individual members. Only something truly outstanding could break into that trio and the Detroit native delivered that in the most simple and delicate of ways.
This gig was special for so many reasons, some of which I won’t go into. In fact you can read my full review here. But one moment in particular, Blue Bucket Of Gold, will go down as the greatest song I’ve seen performed live. It was terrible yet beautiful, happy yet sad, enthralling yet distracting. It was all things all at once. Sublime.
(1) Will Butler at Whelan’s, April 25th
Well, what can I say? They say that the best things in life are free, but, in all honesty, I could have paid any ungodly amount for a ticket to this show and it would still be the best I’ve ever seen. So, thank you Claire Beck for giving me that opportunity, I truly am indebted.
I remember writing on Instagram after posting a picture from this show about how little I envied my friend Anna having to review this show for GoldenPlec, and that feeling hasn’t changed. First things first, a member of the world’s most consistently good live band was always going to sell out Whelan’s, and a packed out Wheelie Bins is the ideal setting for an unforgettable gig.
I somehow squeezed my way right to the front and perched myself directly under the tuxedo-wearing Butler. From the moment he stepped on stage until the very last second of a fifteen minute, middle of the audience singalong, Butler and his band were relentlessly energetic.
Nope, I give up. I can’t portray how good it was. I’ll leave that to the man himself.
I hereby solemnly vow that I’ll play more shows in Ireland next time.
— Will Butler (@butlerwills) April 26, 2015