1. The Blow, supporting Jens Lekman, Deaf Institute, Manchester, August
One of the most intense but engaging performances I had seen for a long time (and now one of my favourite gigs ever, not just of this year). Khaela Maricich spent the gig, dressed in what looked like a cross between a nightie and gym wear, discussing her sexuality and telling a rambling, unlikely story about collaborating with, then getting dumped by, Lindsay Lohan that seemed to leave most of the audience completely bemused. Live, she's a one woman band who makes amazingly catchy, hard to stand still to dance-pop. I've been unable to get True Affection out of my head since the start of August.
2. Trash Kit, supporting Grass Widow, Trof Northern Quarter, Manchester, October
Trash Kit are probably my dream band — a violin playing three piece punk band who make tight, taut, clean pop songs, almost always in under two minutes, where all the parts fit together perfectly with no unnecessary clutter. At their previous Manchester gig, in summer 2009, they were held up on the motorway and frustratingly only got to do a handful of songs, but what I saw gave the impression that they would be my new favourite band, and it was well worth the wait to see them again. I also love headliners Grass Widow, another all-female trio. They were great too, but somehow sounded slightly sprawling after the short, sharp assault of Trash Kit.
3. The Fall, All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Pavement, Butlins, Minehead, May
Most of my favourite gigs are by either bands I've heard very little of before, or people I love but expect to be terrible live, who then turn out to be the best thing ever (Neil Young epitomises this phenomenon of an artist being better than you could ever have dared to hope). I first saw (heard/jumped up and down to) the Fall in my heavily pregnant mother's womb. Despite having lived in Manchester for the past five years, it took until the eve of my 23rd birthday to repeat the experience, having been waiting for the right occasion for a number of reasons: their gigs are always really expensive, they generally play in horrible venues and they are notoriously bad live. So I would never have expected the Fall to be by far the best band at All Tomorrow's Parties. I thought they'd be obnoxious, noisy and abrasive, but I soon realised THE FALL ARE A BRILLIANT POP BAND, storming through song after song of keyboard hook driven tunes. An unexpectedly amiable Mark E Smith even returned for two encores. The most animated crowd I saw at ATP, and the most fun I had all weekend — dancing and jumping up and down as part of a sweaty mass.
4. Jens Lekman, Sandbar, Manchester, August
Jens Lekman is my favourite pop star in the whole world, and I arranged my summer (which included a pilgrimage to Jens' hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden) so I would be in Manchester to see his unmissable double bill with the Blow at the Deaf Institute. After the gig, Jens decided the audience should join him for a drink, so we headed en masse to Sandbar across the road. The manager initiated a lock-in and promised a free drink each. Jens carried on where he'd left off at the gig and played some of his loveliest songs acoustic in a corner whilst we sat around him and joined in at appropriate moments. Several people lined up for a few moments of conversation with Jens, topics ranging from how nice Sweden is and Jens being notoriously unlucky in love to the merits of maths/physics and fanzines, all of which he took with a smile. I gave him a copy of the food special of The Shrieking Violet as a souvenir of his trip to Manchester and he seemed touched. He examined it, sniffed it because he 'loves the smell of Xerox machines' and said he would treasure it as he loves fanzines but no-one makes them in Sweden anymore.
5. La La Vasquez, Trof Northern Quarter, Manchester, March
Another female three piece — there is a theme developing — who make stripped down, rattling punk music for your feet and heart rather than your head. Over the past year and a half, I've discovered I really like Trof NQ as a gig venue, and a high proportion of the best gigs I've been to have been there.
6. Hotpants Romance, Valentines Day Prom, Islington Mill, Salford, February
There are so many reasons why doing anything to acknowledge Valentines Day is a terrible idea. Apart from the obvious — sexual tension, social awkwardness, pursuing highly unsuitable people etc — it's in February, possibly the most depressing time of the year, when it's cold and dark outside. Punk trio Hotpants Romance, undoubtedly the most fun band in Manchester, gave a reason to leave the house, for a confetti strewn and balloon decorated afternoon prom — what school leaving discos would be like in a dream world. And they played in Hotpants, in February.
7. Pavement, All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Pavement, Butlins, Minehead, May
Given that they're one of my favourite bands, seeing Pavement was always going to be an anti-climax no matter how good they were (apart from the chance to sing along to Shady Lane, loudly and untunefully, obviously). Stephen Malkmus, who's a bit on the smug side onstage, isn't a particularly likeable frontman, but it was touching when Bob Nastanovich's wife joined him onstage for a dance and Steve West invited the crowd to a stonemasonry demonstration. And it was worth being wedged in a crowd so packed it was almost impossible to move when they finished with Debris Slide.
8. Best Coast, Deaf Institute, Manchester, May
When look back at 2010 and think about music I will think of Best Coast and how they were one of those bands who came along and perfectly summed up all my feelings at that time, specifically the line 'I hate sleeping alone'. By the time of the gig, Best Coast were all I had listened to solidly for months courtesy of a mix tape from my friend Dom. And I can still listen to that tape without getting bored.
9. The Raincoats, All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Pavement, Butlins, Minehead, May
The band who appeared to have the most fun onstage at ATP (despite playing in a nightmarishly claustrophobic, windowless, carpeted room with a low ceiling that may be a bingo hall or casino or something the rest of the year round) — like your cool, violin playing middle aged aunty having a party onstage with her girlfriends. You had to smile.
10. Former Bullies and Boy or Bison, The Kittywake boat, Wigan, August
Between them, Boy or Bison and Former Bullies have played at most of the best gigs I have been to in Manchester this year. When they played together on a boat I thought it would be the perfect chance to fulfil two long-held ambitions: visit Wigan and see the pier, and go on a barge. Unfortunately, I had assumed the barge would be stationary and it hadn't quite clicked that the barge would be moving, on a four hour cruise, and wouldn't be back in Wigan until the last bus and train back to Manchester had long departed. It was a very surreal experience, gently gliding along the Liverpool-Leeds canal keeping half an eye on the scenery outside and half an eye on the bands. The bands carried on playing at the front of the boat whilst it stopped and started, waiting for the water levels to rise as we climbed over locks. I had to get a taxi back to Manchester as it was a week night and I had work the next day, at a cost of £40, making it the most expensive gig I've ever been to. The taxi driver chatted the whole drive back about how much he hated living in Wigan.
Former Bullies aren't on spotify but go on their myspace and listen to the song Planetarium.
Here are all the songs that are on spotify together in one place, like a mixtape: http://open.spotify.com/user/natalieroseviolet/playlist/4Xo2RokVXTZqMr36gdlUZ4
Other gigs I enjoyed include Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra in the Kings Arms, Salford at Sounds from the Other City and Monkeys in Love and Nuzzle Muzzle at Fuel in Withingon.