Once again, it's approaching that time of year where reflection becomes the name of the game and lists are drawn up accordingly. After days of counting votes, debating the merits or lack of for each contender and then whittling the list down somewhat, Drowned In Sound has already arrived at its Top 100 albums of 2012. Agreed? Thought not, which is why music is such a dominant and all-encompassing force, drawing heartfelt opinions from even the most mild-mannered and passive of subjects. Nevertheless, listening to one's favourite record on repeat for the best part of twelve months is only the half of it. The personal experience mostly confined to the home or the headphones when on the move(or both). No, for me, the communal experience of a live performance whether in front of 100,000 screaming revellers at an outdoor festival or just a handful of hardy souls in the most intimate of venues is something which cannot be surpassed. Or replicated either, despite what the blurb on the front of numerous DVDs containing live footage of your favourite act(s) may say.
This year, having taken in sixty-nine separate events including eighteen festivals and witnessed a grand total of 400 live performances so far this year, condensing that little lot into a final top ten has involved several weeks of deliberation. Did The Cure's three-and-a-quarter hour marathon at Primavera in May have the same effect as their show-stopping highlight at Bestival last year? Have I seen The Horrors and Wild Beasts go through their respective Skying/Primary Colours & Smother/Two Dancers repertoires that many times I now actually know what's coming next before some of the people on stage do? Are nostalgia sets proving to be a more wholesome and fulfilling live experience than the thrill of seeing a new artist for the first time? All of the above and more were considered before arriving at my final list. Those who know me may find some of these predictable. Then again, there is a reason for that. However, let's start with the most recently attended show to make the final cut...
Foals @ The Venue, Derby. 03.12.12
Call me a latecomer to the party if you must but I'll gladly hold my hands up high and admit I wasn't particularly a fan of Antidotes. I'm still not as it happens bar the odd spat of brilliance such as 'Electric Bloom', and even here at this low key show in a former working men's club in Derby, 'Balloons' off of said record proved to be the weakest point of the set by far. However, the other hour and ten minutes simply highlighted why Foals have the potential to be the most important band in Britain next year. Choosing to road test new material in more intimate settings rather than the 2000+ capacity arenas they could so easily fill, only four new songs made the cut here from the thirteen played that evening. Of those, the DFA-do-Chic future funk of 'My Number' and atmospheric sprawler 'Providence' did enough to suggest album number three Holy Fire will be a worthy successor to Total Life Forever. Add the already monumental 'Inhaler' to the mix and it's plain to see why March 2013 can't come soon enough. The live footage below taken on a mobile phone camera probably doesn't do the band or the show justice, but what it does manage to do is create a sense of being present at an event rather than just a plain old rock concert. And this show was anything but a routine run-of-the-mill, run through the set chore.
The Twilight Sad / Childhood @ Stealth, Nottingham. 15.02.12
If there's one band that never seem to attain the widespread recognition they so richly deserve it's The Twilight Sad. Three mesmerising albums down the line, yet still without an accolade to their name. What's more, they've become an invincible and utterly devastating outfit in the flesh. Consistent from start to finish, their set at Nottingham's Stealth - a venue not always suited to the powerful noise rock elementary throughout The Twilight Sad's make-up - was arguably the first great show of 2012 as far as these eyes and ears are concerned. Hell, we even managed to create a moshpit at one point; an absolute far cry from the dubstep soundtracks omnipresent most weekends. What's more, it also marked the arrival of Childhood as ones to watch over the course of the year, something they've more than merited the numerous times I've watched them since.
The Lost Rivers @ The Windmill, Brixton. 24.03.12
Alright, so it's hardly the surprise of the century that The Lost Rivers have ended up on this list bearing in mind they've topped just about every other one chez Gourlay this year. From the moment Sin & Lostness first landed in my inbox as winter turned to spring it was hard to imagine anything else topping it this year. It therefore gives me great pleasure to say their live show doesn't disappoint either. Headlining Brixton's Windmill as part of a Northern Star Records showcase, their forty-minutes long set proving to be a brutal exercise in aggressive albeit controlled noise with a pulsating ebullience. Approximately sixty seconds into opener 'Your Looks' the floor shakes. Two songs later several glasses fall off the now vibrating bar. By the end, most of those present have lost their sense of hearing. It ends up being one of those shows people talk about for months later. You had to be there, honestly you did.
Sister Sledge @ Bestival. 08.09.12
For me, Bestival is the finest outdoor music festival currently hosted on the British isles. Forget Reading, Leeds or Glastonbury, Robin Hill Country Park is where it's at. One of the most endearing aspects of the Rob De Bank curated four-day weekend is its all-inclusive eclectic music policy. You've probably heard this said a million times before but there really is something for everyone here. What's more, it can often turn out to be someone least expected that ends up stealing the show and ultimately the whole weekend. New Order and Stevie Wonder both delivered dazzling headline sets all told, General Levy rocked the Bollywood tent on Friday afternoon and Sigur Ros put on an impressive Sunday teatime display despite Jonsi Birgisson's post-gig protestations otherwise. The real highlight of the weekend though came at approximately 2pm on the Saturday afternoon when Sister Sledge performed 'He's The Greatest Dancer' complete with assorted males from the audience showing off their badly choreographed moves. Indeed their entire set was an exercise in how to keep a festival audience entertained from beginning to end, rolling out hit after successive hit with consummate ease.
The Chapman Family @ The Chameleon, Nottingham. 14.06.12
So we've already touched on the point of recognition (or lack of) elsewhere in this piece, but some bands really should be a whole lot bigger than they actually are. Step forward The Chapman Family, whose consistently awe-inspiring, acutely intense live shows have never slackened since we first set eyes on them a good four years ago. Their last two shows in my home county of Nottinghamshire have seen them play a free show at Beeston's Greyhound public house to a room of fifty people and this devastating performance at the city's Chameleon venue to even fewer numbers. Combining material off their ridiculously ace yet alarmingly underrated Cruel Britannia EP with some of the choice cuts from last year's Burn This Town long player plus the odd as-yet unreleased newbie, those that were present will surely struggle to forget this night, if only for it being unlikely any of the clothes they had on that evening will have been worn again. Such was the heaving mass of blood and sweat generated by the handful at the front along with the band themselves. In a parallel universe they'd be packing arenas rather than middle-of-the-road dullards such as Coldplay. Sadly we're stuck in this one.
The Stone Roses @ Heaton Park, Salford. 29.06.12
We came expecting a car crash. We departed utterly spellbound. Forget all the stories of "lads" peeing into plastic cups, knickerless girls brazenly squatting beside them, queues the length of Fallowfield and occasionally out of tune vocals. This was the event everyone silently hoped it would be. The Second Coming even rather than the band's largely derided long player of the same name. That they only chose to air two songs from said record pretty much tells its own story. From the moment those first few notes to 'I Wanna Be Adored' cause several thousand neck hairs to stand on end to the glorious near-fifteen minute finale that was 'I Am The Resurrection', this was one comeback show that did live up to the hype.
Primal Scream @ Jersey Live. 02.09.12
Hands up those of you that yearn for the day Primal Scream might drop a few songs off Sonic Flower Groove into their set? OK, so I guess that puts me in a minority. Certainly there's been an accusation in recent years that the Scream have played it a little safe when it came to playing live. Sure, some of last summer's Screamadelica shows were memorable if mostly for rejuvenating a sense of lost youthfulness. But on the whole, many post-millennium performances have seemed to be more a case of a band coasting through the motions. Here on the Sunday evening at St Helier's Royal Showground was a different kettle of fish entirely. Revitalised and somewhat re-energised in the process, this was undoubtedly the most vibrant performance I've seen from Bobby Gillespie and co. since the XTRMNTR tour over a decade earlier. Brimming with a confidence that allows them to open with a new song and still have 10,000 festival goers eating out the palms of their hands, they're a revelation that must have had headliner Noel Gallagher quaking in his undersized boots at the prospect of trying to follow such a flawless set. There's no Sonic Flower Groove material (as if you needed to ask...) but we do get a career-spanning reminder of just why Primal Scream are still held in such high regard nearly thirty years after releasing their first record.
The Raveonettes @ SPOT Festival. 05.05.12
Some bands you never get tired of watching and one of those are The Raveonettes. Indeed, any one of the three shows of theirs I was fortunate enough to be present at this year could have crept its way into this list. Although their set at Sheffield's Queens Social Club last month with the equally excellent Holy Esque coupled with a blistering mid-afternoon slot at Mexico City's Corona Capital festival (more of that later) both living up to - if not exceeding - expectations, there could only be one winner. In May, DiS travelled to SPOT Festival in Aarhus where it was announced that core Raveonettes Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo would be performing debut EP Whip It On in its entirety with their original guitarist and drummer as a four-piece to commemorate the tenth anniversary of its release. In an all-seated amphitheatre. What came next were twenty-two minutes of complete pandemonium-fuelled mayhem. People lunging over seats; those that weren't ripped out; makeshift dancefloors emerging in the aisles; and a flawless eight-song set encompassing one of the finest records of the past decade.
A Place To Bury Strangers @ Hafenklang, Hamburg. 23.04.12
Hamburg is one of the finest cities in the world. No, really. It has everything. Culture, incredibly charming people, possibly the most luscious selection of food and alcoholic beverages anywhere in Europe, FC St Pauli and a vibrant music scene steeped in history. It kind of made sense then that a trip to the Millerntor Stadium would fortuitously coincide with one of A Place To Bury Strangers first European ventures in nearly two years. Situated across from Hamburg's fish market, the Hafenklang is one of those venues that looks like a throwback to the 1960s. Black decor encases the whole room, while the low stage and semi-carpeted dancefloor make for an intimate setting. Which is just as well considering the next hour courtesy of Brooklyn's finest purveyors of sonic annihilation. At times it seems like the whole room is engulfed in one hugely assembled moshpit. Strings get torn, pedals broken, mic stands break and ears bleed. But then why have it any other way?
The Vaccines @ Corona Capital, Mexico City. 14.10.12
As popular on Drowned In Sound as an outbreak of syphilis they may be, but the actual reality is The Vaccines have blossomed into one of the most exciting live bands on the planet. At times it's difficult to envisage why they're such figures of hate when in all honesty, their only crime is borrowing the best from the best, siphoning it through a pop filter and occasionally rendering it better. They've never claimed to be the saviours of anything, instead preferring to embark on seemingly relentless tour schedules while churning out new compositions at a prolific rate. Which makes this mid-afternoon performance in the Mexican sun even more incredible considering the band had already spent the majority of the year on the road in between finishing their second album Come Of Age. Prior to the set vocalist Justin Young told us he was worried whether anyone would watch them. An hour later he's understandably ecstatic having seen 20,000 Mexican fans sing near enough every word back for the duration of his band's set. If anyone needed further proof that The Vaccines are anything but an overnight flash in the pan, this was it. A lesson in how to arrive in the global arena in style.
And that completes your lot folks. Sure, there were several near misses. M83 and The Antlers both owning Latitude in different ways, Ian McCulloch accompanied by Ian Broudie turning Nottingham Rescue Rooms into a communal Bunnymen singalong last month. The Wedding Present at the same venue a week earlier too, and Dog Is Dead's album launch at the legendary Boat Club. Above all, it's been an excellent year for live music. Let's hope 2013 is just as good.
Discuss: Whose live performances stood out for you in 2012? Which artists are you most looking forward to seeing next year?