As with my 2011 albums retrospective this isn’t a definitive top 10 list – I’ve excluded Marillion and Magnum on the grounds that they’d combine to make up the full top 10 if I didn’t! I’ve also not included any of the wonderful High Voltage sets in the list. Links to my original reviews are handily provided as we go, apart from the first couple for which such things don’t exist - so, in no particular order, 10 of the best gigs of 2011, as witnessed by yours truly, were:
Deep Purple (The 02, 30 November) - Going down the nostalgia route (but doing it oh so well), performing essentially a ‘greatest hits’ set, with accompaniment from a 38-piece Orchestra, the Purps were in fine form. Three fifths of the hailed Mark II era remain, but it was the newer members – Steve Morse (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards), who really stole the show – both within the songs and with their own solo spots. Much as I love keyboards, I’m not hugely keen on keyboard solos, but I’ll make an exception in Mr. Airey’s case! The orchestra were also excellent – the ‘classical meets rock’ thang doesn’t always work but these guys played as if they were rock musicians and it really added to the excitement of the proceedings. I’ve seen a lot of comments along the lines of Ian Gillan’s voice not being a patch on what it used to be, but he sounded fantastic to these ears, so he must have been truly untouchable in his prime if that is the case.
Cheap Trick (who were one of my 2010 highlights – I just wasn’t blogging about such things in them long ago days!) had the support slot and made more than a few converts, I’m sure, with their hour-long set. Personally I could have lived without the covers that littered the early part of the set, but closer Gonna Raise Hell more than made up for that! It was nice to hear The Flame as well, given it rarely gets an airing when they headline. (10/10)
Yes (Hammersmith Apollo, 17 November) – Just as Fly From Here was my surprise (almost) album of the year, the accompanying gig was also an unexpected revelation. A very healthy dose of the new album was played (always a plus in my book – when an album’s that good at least!), but that still left plenty of time for older tracks both obvious (Starship Trooper, I’ve Seen All Good People, Roundabout) and more obscure (including a couple from the Drama album, which seems a dead cert for my wishlist!). With half of Asia (the band...obviously!) in the line-up again these days it seems more than likely that I’ll be following this incarnation of the band for as long as it lasts. (9/10)
James Taylor (The 02, 15 July) – I waited a long time to see Taylor live and it was absolutely worth it. An evening full of sparkling repartee, great performances and excellent songs – what more could you ask for? Still can’t work out for the life of me why the marketing refers to an evening with ‘the quintessential James Taylor’ though – I presume the phrase ‘singer-songwriter’ was omitted accidentally?
Neil Diamond (The 02, 09 July) – Now in his 70s but showing no sign of slowing down Diamond is one of the premiere entertainers of any era. Don’t let the musical snobs convince you otherwise without giving him a fair hearing for yourself – he’s had his share of misses over the years, but he deserves every ounce of his legendary status. Even knowing this I was stunned by how good (and lively!) this show was.
Paul Simon (Hammersmith Apollo, 29 June) – While not in the best of health (the gig was delayed a day due to illness) and not a showy performer by any stretch of the imagination, this was another evening spent in the company of a true legend. I love it when an artist has a new album out and they manage to play all the best tracks from it.
Neal Morse (Tutus, 16 June) – One of the more intimate (yes it does just mean ‘small’) gigs of the year, and also one of the best – and certainly the most emotional. All of the solo artists I’ve mentioned in this list have surrounded themselves with supporting bands chock full of great players (still can’t fathom why Steve Winwood failed to manage this), but Morse’s band may well have been the best of the lot. A massive CD/DVD set from this tour has been released, but given I’ve still not managed to get around to watching a single second of the similar Transatlantic boxed set, I’ll sadly have to pass on it I fear!
Journey (Wembley Arena, 04 June) – Headlining a triple bill, in which Styx set a high standard of excellence from the beginning and Foreigner played a truly crowd-pleasing set, these monsters of AOR played a blinder that proved they were at the top of the bill for a reason (and not just because of a little song with the initials DSB!). The ‘net consensus’ for the rest of the tour was that Journey’s sound was poor and Foreigner were the band of the night, but for me, at least, that wasn’t the case at Wembley.
Richard Marx (Royal Albert Hall, 31 May) – This gig was my punt of the year – I really didn’t know quite what to expect beforehand – and I was well-rewarded for taking it. Marx is another of those artists who it is all too easy to write off because of the misfortune of having one too many big hit ballads, but has great versatility and style. Special thanks to Tom from the melodic rock forums for pointing me in the direction of Marx’s superb 2009 album Emotional Remains as well.
Toto (Hammersmith Apollo, 26 June) – Now tied with Marillion as the band I’ve seen the most times (a fairly paltry 8) and still in my top 3 bands of all time, these guys never disappoint – in any configuration. I’m at the point where I really couldn’t care less who’s singing with them as long as they’re playing together, but Joseph Williams was far better than I’d imagined he would be. And having both David Paich and Steve Porcaro on stage was enough to make me giddy with joy throughout!
Jimi Jamison (Rock City Nottingham, 21 October) – The then ex-Survivor vocalist (not long after this he made the surprise announcement that he was returning to front Survivor for a third stint) made only his second UK appearance for this gig, and treated us to a bunch of Survivor classics and a sprinkling of tunes from the rest of his long career (yes, of course the Baywatch theme was in there!).
Of course, while Jamo was the headliner, there were several other acts on the night – I won’t go over them all again, but special mention must be given to opening band Serpentine, who definitely win the ‘best support slot of the year’ award from me.
As for Magnum, my reviews for the Liverpool and Carlisle gigs should say it all. And Marillion...well, after the three amazing gigs in Port Zélande (the Holidays in Eden night plus the A-Z and glowstick battles) in March they only went and did the same themed evenings about twice as brilliantly in Leamington in May and their Christmas gig at London’s Forum was about as good an end of year treat as could be hoped for, so...they’re still my favourite band. What a shock.
2012 will likely only suffer in comparison to last year then, but I’ll keep going to as many gigs as possible just in case I’m wrong...