I have been a bit busy throughout 2016, as if including supports and festival acts, I have witnessed over 100 bands live. Needless to say that is quite a few. Some were for my own enjoyment, and others were on behalf of various publications. Subsequently, my retinas are half frazzled from staring at my laptop, typing my fingers raw.

That’s not to say that I have any intention to see fewer during 2017. I was very lucky, as many of the shows were fantastic. So, here is the first part of Top 25 live concerts of 2016. Apologies for the fact that this segment is packed with acts who take a liking to smut.

25. FUN LOVIN’ CRIMINALS

(Portsmouth Summer Show, 1st May)

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Photo by Sam Taylor, of Loud Noises

Full article on the event is here, for anyone who wants to read 2000 words worth of self-pity as I’ve just noticed that I had just watched 5ive, and several X Factor acts, and had not suffered a nervous breakdown. What has happened to me?

Spotting a dance music Big Top across the field, bassist Brian Leiser ponders: “Does anyone know what’s happening in that tent over there?”. Frontman Huey Morgan proves that it is just as well that parents who had brought their children to see acts best known for their appearances on The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, had gone home: “Sex”. Huey, beer aloft, seeks to bring that “sex” to the main stage by proudly announcing several hundred times that “I’ve got supermodels on my d—” during their not so safe for work attempt at a ‘Hey Jude’-style chant-athon, ‘Big Night Out’.

Drummer Frank (who regularly drank from a mug having suffered from a “107 fever”) has a similarly inappropriate input before their biggest hit ‘Scooby Snacks’, ordering that we “make some fucking noise” for a brave young boy on stage who had pulled through suffering with meningitis. The crowd did indeed, as little James was enlisted to play cymbal throughout the song. But not before the “if any of you fucking bitches move, then I’ll execute every fucking last one of you” Pulp Fiction clip was used to introduce the song.

All mischief aside though, Fun Lovin’ Criminals sound fantastic and are definitely dynamic enough to live up to the playful energy of the rest of the day. This happens during a startlingly awesome solo by Huey during ‘Loco’. Huey seems a little less sure: “We’ve been playing that song for 18 years and we still haven’t got that bit right. But you clapped, so fuck it.” And well deserved it was. The clapping, not “fucking it”. That’s unless he was right all along about what was going on in that tent.

24. BOWLING FOR SOUP

(Southampton Guildhall, 13th February)

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Review written for PORTSMOUTH NEWS (who gave my review the fantastic headline “Bras, Mickey Mouse and fat thunder”). Supported by The Dollyrots, Lacey and MC LARS.

Guitarist Chris Burney sounds excited, but not for the reason one would normally make public: “Hey! The guy with the cute girl on your shoulders. Can we meet you after the show and smell your neck?” Expect no less from Texas pop-punks Bowling For Soup. After a ‘farewell tour’ just three years ago, they are back already. There must be something about the UK which Bowling For Soup just can’t say no to. Even the stage is built to resemble a British pub, albeit with additional flame-throwing beer kegs. Considering just how excitable the sold-out crowd are, the UK feels just the same way in return.

It might be their grand return, and there is of course a deafening and nostalgic buzz as they energetically blitz through hits ‘Girls All the Bad Guys Want’, ‘Punk Rock 101’ and ‘1985’, but this is no time for sentimentality. Apart from famously full-of-body Chris reflecting on how his “fat thunder” has been stolen by the waist growth of his bandmates.

Medleys of songs by Blink-182 and Green Day in a (successful) venture to shamelessly prove that pop-punk lives on. Never would one expect that a bassist wearing a bra on his head to resemble Mickey Mouse ears while performing the theme tune to Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, could be the hilarious defining moment of a great show.

Tonight, fun and filth collide, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

23. TWIN ATLANTIC

(Portsmouth Pyramid Centre, 14th October)

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Review written for PORTSMOUTH NEWS. Supported by Pulled Apart by Horses, and Fangclub.

In just ten minutes, the plug is pulled on alt-rockers Twin Atlantic’s show tonight, to sort out a crush in the audience, before restarting a song. Not that that seems to upset frontman Sam McTrusty: “You are the weirdest crowd. It’s really keeping me on my toes. I like it!” It is no wonder that he likes “weird”, having just opened tonight with a screaming track entitled ‘Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator’.

Sam continues: “It’s like an avant-garde paradiso exhibition. As if we have come to see you.” A bold statement, considering the band have been firing eighty techicolored lasers over the audience during  ‘Free’, and bathing the Pyramids in demonic crimson light during their fierce latest single ‘No Sleep’. They are definitely the centre of attention. 

In spite of that anger, they assign a short segment to acoustic tracks, including the solemn ‘Mothertongue’, which Sam performs alone. Drummer Craig Kneale signifies his return to the stage, smashing his cymbals on the final chord, as if to say that now the quiet part is over, they mean serious (and deafening) business.

The guitarist of support act Pulled Apart By Horses had already jumped from a tall stack of speakers, whilst their vocalist sang from the back of the crowd, so Twin Atlantic were pressured to be especially animated. They nailed it.

22. KUNT & THE GANG

(Southampton Firehouse, 4th November)

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Understandably, written only for my blog! Extended version available here

“After years of songs about wanking, I was ready to stop a few years ago. But then, my guardian angel came one night.” Kunt, lone member of Kunt and the Gang abrasively reminisces, until he reveals a puppet of the saviour that opened more doors – Jimmy Savile, who gets the biggest cheer that he’s had in years. Sadly, Kunt says that that wall has been hit once again, and after a thirteen-year reign of hilarious smut, Kunt and the Gang will be no more, following his farewell tour. Tonight at the sold-out Southampton Firehouse, Kunt stages his penultimate performance, nearing the end of The Final Kuntdown.

That is not to say that tonight is very ceremonious. The stage is bare besides Kunt and his MP3 player – his backing band tonight. Kunt shamelessly bobs up and down, with an additional odd mischievous wink at the audience. It’s ridiculous enough that half of the vocals during ‘Jimmy Savile and the Sexy Kids’ consist of Kunt holding a mic to the puppet, while pre-recorded vocals are reeled off by an iPod.It’s not like the outrageously noisy crowd care much. In fact, nobody seems to have a care in the world, as Kunt and the Gang functions to alienate fans from any judgement outdoors at the end of the day and let them scream whatever they please, with emphasis of course on the words of course. After hundreds of shows, even Kunt seems blown away during the audience’s practice session of singing next song ‘Fucksticks’: “That was really… fucking impressive.” 

Kunt had earlier quipped that a technical hitch during opener ‘Penis Extension’ was meant to “lower your expectations tonight”. It seems that he needn’t have bothered. However, the audience knew exactly what to expect – ninety-minutes of ditties laden with filth (with no bodily crevice going unmentioned) when it would probably take just one song to turn most people’s stomachs. And wombs. In fact after just one chorus of ‘The Abortion Song’, even Kunt himself might have felt the same way – “It’s only be thirty-eight seconds. Feels longer doesn’t it?”.

By the sounds of things, everyone here wouldn’t mind hearing exactly the same thing again. Upon leaving the stage after closer ‘The Wrong Ian Watkins’ – “See you in a couple of years when I’m skint!”. Perhaps Kunt wouldn’t mind doing it again. Same time in 2018?

21. JOE BLACK

(Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, 6th November)

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Review written for PORTSMOUTH NEWS.

At a piano, dark cabaret darling Joe Black alternates between an effeminate gossip and sudden growls, looking back on the start of the collapse of nightlife culture in Berlin during the early 1930s – “never bring a nihilist to a dinner party”. As if the sombre atmosphere isn’t uneasy enough, things get stranger when Black stops playing the piano, only to sarcastically argue with the wall beside him.

Believe it or not, that oddball alternation of misery and humour, is exactly what Black is aiming for – and it is hilariously charming.

Black’s 2016 stage show is billed as a tribute to the controversial German cabaret club Eldorado, which closed in 1933, and one has to wonder what on earth happened in there. Whatever that was, it’s probably not quite what Black offers tonight. He might have dressed as a woman under the name of Kitty Von Wigglefinger, though he might not have kept his fake fingernails on with clothes pegs. He also wouldn’t have hosted a quiz show, referred to as “Buzzfeed-style”, and he definitely wouldn’t have ended with a tragic rendition of Marlene Dietrich’s ‘Ruins Of Berlin’, leading into a Marilyn Manson track.

Either way, that is precisely what he delivers, and however ridiculous, it’s brilliantly entertaining.

20. FEEDER

(Portsmouth Pyramid Centre, 13th October)

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Review written for PORTSMOUTH NEWS.

Welsh rockers Feeder open their first visit to Portsmouth in four years in a surprisingly downbeat mood, bizarrely choosing to open with the gloomy new album closer ‘Another Day on Earth’. They continue with the much angrier Universe of Life. Though, as it is another track from their week-old ninth album, All Bright Electric, which many are unfamiliar with, there is an awkward stillness.

However, this dark attitude isn’t to last, and everything picks up when Feeder unleash their arsenal of singles – from the quick-paced ‘Lost and Found’ to breakthrough hit ‘Buck Rogers’, via early anthem ‘High’. Before a powerful, extended version of new track ‘Geezer’, frontman Grant Nicholas reflects upon how they hold Portsmouth dear: “We’ve had some great mosh pits here in the past. Don’t let us down.”

Nobody, not Feeder nor the fans, are let down.

As the main set finishes, everyone is singing encore mainstay ‘Just a Day’ before Feeder even return to the stage. Grant reveals that tonight is the final night of an ‘album chart week’, with sales counting towards their place in next week’s charts. “It would be nice to beat Craig David. Not that I have anything against Craig David”. His alternation between loud competition and friendliness defines tonight. With every quiet moment, is a humble, thankful grin from the band.

19. WEEZER

(O2 Academy Brixton, 5th April)

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Photo taken by Marc Broussley/Redferns

There may be a song on the setlist tonight about war, called ‘The British Are Coming’, but Weezer needn’t be too afraid of these Londoners. Having waited for them to return to the UK for more than five years, it takes only for a giant ‘W’-shaped light (still not illuminated) to be lowered at the back of the stage, to send a packed out O2 Academy Brixton, ballistic.

Tonight’s show follows the release of Weezer’s fourth self-titled album (destined forever to be referred to as The White Album) – something that has traditionally marked a new cycle for the band. In spite of this, they recognise exactly what fans want to hear, with all but four of the twenty songs tonight are singles from eras past and present. It’s undeniably a list destined to be matched on a best-of album one day. Weezer begin with their latest single and ode to fun on the beach ‘California Kids’, before making a temporary stop at the glorious self-pity of 1996’s ‘El Scorcho’, en route to the seminal pop-punk track where it all began – 1994’s ‘Buddy Holly’.

Most chatter comes from nervous sounding drummer Patrick Wilson, who frontman Rivers Cuomo, assigns duties to sing the second verse of ‘Pork and Beans’, only to sing ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet (“This is the sooouund, of my soul!”). The sound of frontman Rivers Cuomo’s at least sounded soulful, though it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself nearly as much as everybody else in the building.

The main set closes with a triumphant and somewhat brutal rendition (or as brutal a rendition as anything labeled ‘nerd rock’ can possibly be) of ‘Undone – The Sweater Song’. It is a defining moment, as at least twenty mad fans could be seen trying to tear apart (or “destroy”) a sweater in accordance to the lyrics. As it turns out, sweaters are harder to tear apart than one might think, but the crowd refused to give up until they are triumphantly waving sleeves in the air. Destruction has never been so ridiculous and playful.

With announcements by Rivers that a darker “Black Album” is on its way, one could be forgiven for feeling that tonight was an intense attempt to ceremoniously and spectacularly shed all joy they have left, before descending into doom and gloom. One can only wish them the best of luck if that is the case, as nobody leaving could possibly ever imagine Weezer in a truly dark place.

NXT needs to give more conceptual characters glory, to prove that they are strong either because of, or in spite of their novelty persona. Unfortunately, NXT of 2016, just won’t let it happen.

She might have taken down Bayley here, but as Bayley appears to be getting a push up the bill post-Survivor Series, Nia Jax’s run as a beast has abruptly faced a problem. All of a sudden, Jax became became one of the least important women in the Raw roster, and considering that it’s a character that needs to be pieced back together as though she had never been defeated, means that it will be quite a job. This PPV weekend did not help, and goes to show that more NXT trainees will face the same problem.

WWE’s big event weekend, staging NXT TakeOver: Toronto, and Survivor Series 2016, has been home to some incredible, memorable and inevitably controversial decisions. Obviously, the moment that everyone is discussing was Goldberg’s victory over Brock Lesnar. In ninety-seconds, Goldberg unleashed two Spears, a Jackhammer and a pin for the win, and it was over. The beastly Brock’s winning streak (he had not been defeated cleanly by pinfall in a 1-on-1 match since Wrestlemania 29, over three years ago) was over in an instant. For the better (finally making Lesnar mortal), or for worst (Brock Lesnar’s first loss in years wasn’t implemented to put newer talent ‘over’), it will never be forgotten.

However, the focus in this post is on a beast that is very quickly shrinking, and in danger of being forgotten – Nia Jax. While she might not be the most popular or most experienced figure in the Women’s Division, that is not to say that she should not be put to use as how she was originally portrayed. A monster.

WHAT WENT WRONG AT NXT TAKEOVER: TORONTO?

There were a lot of surprised reactions and a lot of skepticism when Alexa Bliss was promoted to the main roster, during the brand split, having not been given at least a small amount of time as the NXT Women’s Champion. As it turned out, there was little to worry about. *Very* little. The “five feet of fury” Bliss has everything required. She is amazing in the ring, and especially incredible on the microphone. Her character has no more depth and concept than wanting to be the best, and not being an especially nice person.

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However many losses that Alexa Bliss had in NXT, she could at least fall back on having the greatest death stare in WWE.

Nia Jax on the other hand, faced a bigger problem, because she was a far more conceptual character. This was portrayed relatively well in the run up to her match against Bayley at TakeOver: London, slightly deflated by Bayley’s victory, but inflated somewhat again by a short run of victories against jobbers upon her arrival in the main roster. Unfortunately, the NXT of 2016 no longer allows the kind of space and time required to create a solid conceptual character that can last into the wrestlers’ promotions.

NXT TakeOver: Toronto, however entertaining, showed throughout that this was precisely the problem. The women’s main event was a battle between the champion (already a veteran in the business) and in a nostalgic return, Mickie James. Similarly, it is worth mentioning that the main event was a match between the A-List stars Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura. Adding insult to injury, Samoa Joe won the belt for the second time.

So much for being constructed from up-and-coming talent – the “developmental territory”. It is difficult enough to give wrestlers space on the card as it is. Also, because they are not in the women’s main event, doesn’t mean that they can disappear. It was presumably for this reason that Nia Jax was promoted so early. If WWE wanted to cling on to what was left of her monstrous persona, she could not hang around on NXT, winning non-stop jobber matches, or losing.

HOW DID SURVIVOR SERIES MAKE MATTERS EVEN WORSE?

This goes to show that any persona that needs more time to be developed and protect, is becoming increasingly difficult to create in NXT. Unfortunately, WWE RAW has not been accommodating to this very well, whether it be comedic characters such as Tyler Breeze, or giants such as Nia Jax. Jax did start out well with a few victories against jobber acts. I have commented before about how well unique personas have been developed for the women on SmackDown over the past few weeks, as recently for the better, nobody stood out as the one ‘anti-Diva’ (as Paige once was). On the other hand, RAW might have been promoting the women to main event status, but it is still generic squabbling.

Above, we see her first of a few big show of strength last night, as she shoves Team SmackDown to the ground. However, this was sadly extinguished for Jax in what felt like the last time, when she was eliminated within ten minutes, having submitted to Becky Lynch (who was had just been on the receiving end of a Double DDT from Jax). Lynch might be the champion, but Jax needed a decent portrayal in a similar vein to the (albeit much bigger) Braun Strowman.

She has no excuses anymore, let alone be seen as a unique and strong character. For the time being, neither will anybody else who is positively conceptual who arrives via NXT, without a perfect score upon their arrival.

Yesterday, The Guardian posted a compilation of their music team’s advertisement earworms that the newspaper’s writers can never be forgotten, for better or for worse. I could not resist contributing an opinion of my own.

Enter: ‘Twenty Four Toasters from Scunthorpe’. This was an extremely irritating advertisement for Mobil and their ‘premier card’. What really does not help is not only how I can’t forget it, but how my family will not let me forget it. When this emerged on UK television in 1993, I was just three years old, so why should I care?

Well, the damage wasn’t done by remembering that era, but by how I used to sing along to it every time that it was on. My family, whether parents, grandparents or cousins, seem to take great pleasure in reminding me of this. With emphasis on the “BAH!” at the end, although my voice at the time functioned better as a dog whistle than it did human communication.

The music is derived from 1960s Gene Pitney hit ‘Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa’, which was a message to his now ex-partner, stating that he had found a new woman: “something happened to me, while I was driving home and I’m not the same anymore”. What was once a reluctant apology on the complexity and potential upset in romance, now sought to ram Mobil’s card scheme down everyone’s throats. If these were the words of Mobil’s nutcase and his abrasive screeching, erratic high kicks and overactive eyebrows, then that might also have made perfect sense. If his sanity had plummeted so low as to be so excited about toasters (to the point that he is going to buy twenty-four of them for his family), I doubt that anybody, whether Pitney or a ballistic businessman, could find their way home. Perhaps that is how he accumulated so many ‘premier points’. He’s been driving around the same roundabout for about the last week.

I don’t know that anybody has yet envisioned Pitney’s exploits with his new woman to be quite so wild. Diamond rings might make sense, and the double beds might not be too out of the question. However, drills and toasters might be a bit of an acquired and painful taste. Perhaps that is why the woman behind the till is so terrified.

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Uh-oh. This isn’t why night pay was invented…