While the harsh realities of Brexit, Trump, and five more years of Conservative rule continue to hit home, the unifying force of music at least provided some kind of escapist respite. Not least when it comes to watching live music, which despite worldwide austerity has not diminished one iota for an eager audience only too willing to immerse themselves at every given opportunity.
Its becoming increasingly important - essential even - for musicians to maintain a presence in the live market which accounts for the growing amount of shows many acts play every year. What that makes for is an exciting arena where barely a single evening passes by without an unmissable event of some sort happening in your town, your city, or somewhere nearby. The ever-increasing popularity of bands like Wolf Alice and Idles is largely down to their relentless activity as live bands having played well over 200 shows between them this year. Likewise, the resurgence of acts like Slowdive and LCD Soundsystem, culminating in two of 2017's best-loved albums, was largely due to both reasserting themselves through the power of live performance prior to releasing new material.
For me, 2017 has continued where its predecessor left off. From January to December I've taken in nearly 400 shows and 28 festivals involving almost 2000 sets, and here, after much deliberation, are the 10 which stand out from the crowd.
Arcade Fire @ Baths Hall
One of the most eagerly anticipated comebacks of 2017 saw Arcade Fire return with a new album, and after hearing its lead single 'Everything Now' on the first day of June, their same-titled long player was a mouth-watering prospect indeed. That the rest of the album didn't quite match its opening salvo wasn't relevant at this point, seven weeks before the record's arrival.
As a precursor to the album, the band announced a handful of low key dates including this one in the unlikely setting of Scunthorpe. Situated in rural Lincolnshire with a capacity set at just over a thousand, this would be as exclusive as it got to witnessing Win Butler and co's musical circus in the flesh. What's more, they didn't disappoint with an hour and a half long set that focused more on the band's back catalogue than the forthcoming new record they were promoting. With a stage set in the middle of the hall like a boxing ring which was accessible from all angles, Arcade Fire threw one of the summer's most prestigious parties. Sadly 24 hours later we'd all wake up to a new Tory government led by a Mini-Me version of Margaret Thatcher, but for one glorious evening, all thoughts of austerity and despair were extinguished from our minds.
Bloody Knives @ Rough Trade
Some things really are worth waiting for, and in the case of post-punk noise specialists Bloody Knives their first visit to the UK was one that will be remembered for a very long time. Ever since putting out their first album Burn It All Down back in 2010, they've been one of the most sought-after outfits on the shoegaze and noise rock scenes.
Playing a free show above a record shop on a Tuesday evening in March might not bring out the best in many a lesser outfit, but this Texan three-piece played a brutally visceral set as if their lives depended on it. Speaking to Rough Trade's sound engineer afterwards he said it was the most devastatingly loud set he'd ever worked on, while the band themselves seemed genuinely surprised so many had turned out to see them.
The good news is they're back in the UK next autumn to terrorize ears and sound desks in equal measures. You have been warned!
Confidence Man @ The Deaf Institute
It was around this time last year that a booking agent friend told me about a new band his agency would be working with in 2017. They'd only played a handful of shows back in their native Australia but had just signed to Heavenly Recordings over here on the back of their first single. That band was Confidence Man and the single was 'Boyfriend (Repeat)'. It might have sounded out of kilter alongside whatever else was in vogue at the time but after a couple of listens, it was clear this would provide the following summer's soundtrack.
Fast forward to May and three shows at Brighton's Great Escape, and the buzz surrounding Confidence Man had already spread like wildfire. Another three shows at Glastonbury two months later saw their fanbase rapidly increase even more so it was little surprise their first headline tour of the UK during the first week of December would sell out in advance. With several musicians and the whole of the band's record label in attendance, this show at Manchester's Deaf Institute turned into the unofficial Heavenly Christmas Party.
As for the show itself, they're pretty much the complete package. While all eyes are on the front pairing of Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, the veiled musicians behind them provide the perfect backbeat to a repertoire that's jam-packed full of big, party-fuelled pop tunes. Get Down!
Six By Seven @ The Maze
If ever a case of right place wrong time could be applied to music it would have to be about Six By Seven. Arguably one of the most innovative guitar bands of the past two decades and understandably tipped for great things at the turn of the century, that bands like Coldplay and Elbow went onto filling stadiums while Six By Seven continued to play intimate venues in their native city of Nottingham might seem a travesty in itself.
But then if they'd have crossed over to the mainstream in the same way as the aforementioned, who's to say it wouldn't have resulted in major label marketing strategists interfering with the band's ethos? Anyway, almost seventeen years after Six By Seven's original line up last shared a stage, they put their differences to one side and got back together for what was undoubtedly one of 2017's most sought-after tickets. Playing two sets here - one to commemorate the 17th birthday reissue of highly revered second album The Closer You Get and the other a band-selected "Best Of" encompassing the first four years of their existence - Chris Olley and co didn't so much roll back the years but reignite a level of interest in a band who've been criminally ignored for so long.
A simply magical evening.
Eyre Llew @ The Glee Club
There's nothing more satisfying than watching a band blossom out of humble beginnings into the gargantuan beast standing before us today. Take Eyre Llew for example, a three-piece borne out of years of playing in unsuccessful bands, spurred on by a combined love of ambient, post-rock, and classical music.
Despite having only played their first ever show just two years ago, they've steadily grown into one of the most dynamic live bands on the circuit. Yet at the turn of 2017, it seemed like all wasn't well in the camp. Lacklustre shows at Sheffield's Outlines and Derby's 2Q festivals suggested they'd reached something of a crossroads resulting in a complete overhaul of their live set. That it paid dividends would be something of an understatement, and over the second half of 2017 they've astounded audiences all around the world with one of the most beautifully orchestrated shows around.
However, November's album launch in their native city's Glee Club that really brought it home just how far they've come in such a short space of time. Here's to an even better 2018!
Idles @ The Adelphi
The undisputed band of 2017. It's almost unthinkable that this time last year Idles were barely known outside the city of Bristol. Even after plugging away for the best of a decade, they'd become something of an anomaly in the local scene there. So it's to their credit that they emerged in January with an album that captured the zeitgeist so impeccably. Brutalism lives up to its name in every conceivable way, inspired by social inequality and escapism in equal measures, it's a record that will be looked back on in future years as a landmark of its times similar to the first Clash record or More Specials.
However, it's the live show where most people experienced Idles for the first time and what incredible shows they were. Having first encountered them at Eurosonic in January and endeavouring to see them at pretty much every festival in between, they became something of a must-see attraction throughout the year. Every performance became an event with no two sets ever the same. Indeed picking a favourite Idles show for this year proved a nigh on impossible task, but August's low key show at Hull's Adelphi as part of the 53 Degrees North conference took some beating.
Supported by the excellent Life and False Advertising, it soon became apparent to everyone present this was one of those "I was there!" moments people talk about in years to come. The world is their oyster in 2018 and only a fool would bet against them owning that too. In the words of one of their songs, they may have always been poor, but we were certainly never bored.
Senseless Things @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
Back in the early 1990s, guitar bands of a left field persuasion would regularly set up camp in the higher echelons of the UK singles chart. One of those bands whose name appeared several times were Senseless Things, a four-piece from the suburbs of London. Fuelled by a shared love of bands like Husker Du, Buzzcocks, and The Replacements, they attracted a rabid army of devotees who'd follow them up and down the land whenever on tour. Which was pretty much twelve months a year. Every year. They put out four albums during their decade-long existence, eventually calling it a day in 1995 as Britpop swallowed everything in sight that wasn't bathed in nostalgia or a moth-eaten union jack.
So it was something of a surprise that they announced their return at the end of last year, particularly as all four individual members had gone on to achieve varying levels of success ever since. Fast forward to late March and it was almost like they'd never been away. A warm-up show at Hull Adelphi the weekend before lit the touch paper for what was to follow in the main event. And what an event it was. Playing a set encompassing the unsurpassable highlights of their back catalogue alongside the band's first (and hopefully not last) new recording for over 20 years 'Lost Honey', Senseless Things owned Shepherd's Bush for one glorious spring evening. The first of (too) many more to come? We sincerely hope so.
Slowdive @ The Arts Club
When Slowdive reformed in 2014 they made it clear from the outset there was unfinished business. Their reunion was anything but an exercise in nostalgia, and when their first album for 22 years arrived in March, it proved to be one of 2017's most distinguished and ultimately forward-thinking records.
Prior to its release, the band scheduled a bunch of low key warm-up shows and their hour and a half long set at Liverpool's tiny Arts Club venue was undoubtedly one of the finest of their career. Exhibiting sonic perfection from start to finish, their expertly selected mix of material from both back catalogue and forthcoming album was breathtaking in its execution while providing an insight into what was to follow. Which Slowdive delivered in every conceivable way.
Thee Oh Sees @ Rock City
The previous time I saw Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer was confronting a bunch of security guards at a holiday camp in North Wales. Playing the penultimate All Tomorrow's Parties event in Prestatyn, he'd (rightly) taken exception to the way fans were being manhandled, the tipping point being an assault on a female crowd surfer resulting in her being thrown out the venue and Dwyer threatening to stop the show until she was allowed back in and the security team started treating the audience with respect. The bouncers backed off, the fan allowed back in and the band resumed playing one of their most brutal sets to date.
I say "to date" because that was two years ago. Since then they've released three albums and acquired a second drummer, enhancing their sound to almost catatonic levels. At first the decision to play Nottingham's 2000+ capacity Rock City may have been an ambitious one for a band who've become something of an underground word-of-mouth phenomenon. However, all tickets soon sold out in advance, and their blistering textbook exercise in psychedelic garage rock turned the dancefloor into arm flailing moshpit of blood and sweat, ultimately creating one of the most memorable evenings that venue has housed in a very long time.
Wolf Alice @ The Venue
2017 will be remembered for many things and one of those must surely be the unstoppable ascent of Wolf Alice. Already assured of the award for the most hard working band in rock thanks to a relentless tour schedule that doesn't seem to have ceased since 2014, they came back with a flawless second album which delivered on every level, highlighting them as one of the most distinctive yet musically diverse bands on the planet right now.
This show at The Venue in Derby was the first of a week-long tour road testing material off their then-forthcoming second record, and from the moment 'Don't Delete The Kisses' introduced them to an awestruck crowd it became obvious Visions Of A Life was certain to be one of this year's finest. However, what this show also demonstrated was how much they'd developed as a live band. Confident, assured and determined, with each of the band's four members' personalities shining through, it felt like the last time we'd get to see them in a rooms of this size, a point reaffirmed November's sold out tour of 2000+ capacity venues. Arenas surely beckon, and deservedly so too.
While the aforementioned 10 stand out for reasons mentioned above, there were numerous other shows which caught the eye in what's been another incredible year for live music. The Killers headline performance at BBK Bilbao and subsequent world tour reiterated why they're still held in such high regard as one of the most formidable live acts in the world. Similarly, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's showstopping performance at Nottingham Rock City in November reminded us why people still care so much sixteen years after their debut while wetting the appetite for January's eighth record Wrong Creatures. The return of Liam Gallagher in June at Brixton's Electric venue might have raised eyebrows among those that saw him as a spent force after Beady Eye, but they were all proved wrong as he delivered an incredible, vocally flawless set of material old and new. Also rewinding back to the future as if they'd never been away were Nottingham shoegazers Amusement Parks On Fire, their hometown show last month at the Bodega setting the scene for what promises to be an exciting 2018. Elsewhere, Halifax trio The Orielles started the year emphatically at the Hebden Bridge Heavenly Weekender and ended it in similar style on their week-long UK tour, while Glaswegian outfit Spinning Coin rocked Sheffield's Picturehouse Social in November and look set to do so throughout next year.
Discuss: Which were your favourite live shows of 2017? Who are you most looking forward to seeing next year? Join the discussion over on our music forum.
Eyre Llew photo by Emma Ford Davis.