As the summer rolls in we’re set for another season of music festivals. While festivals are a great place to see bands you wouldn’t have normally seen and to discover new acts I’ve always felt that the only real place to see your favourite bands play are at their own gigs. Nothing quite beats the atmosphere at a small venue created by an audience who are all there to see the headline act.
With this article I thought I’d say what my favourite live acts have been and who I recommend catching live as they pass through your town. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the following five bands.
First up is Tool. Seeing Tool is quite a unique experience. The band aren’t typical in the way that they take the stage at all, with singer Maynard James Keenan standing near the back of the stage, leaving a large open space at the front. Tool are notoriously publicity shy and prefer for their music to take centre stage. They’ve only made personal appearances in two of their eight music videos to date.
The same is certainly true of their live show. They use impressive lighting displays and a laser show for visuals and it really works. The band also use a large video screen that plays animations themed to the songs. The clips used aren’t tracked to the music at all, but on their most recent tour were taken from over six hours of footage and played differently each night. Tool’s guitarist, Adam Jones, creates all of the art and animations for the band and he does an amazing job.
The visual aspect of seeing Tool is almost as good as the fantastic music they play and I would certainly recommend seeing them as you won’t see another band like it.
Next vote for me is The Smashing Pumpkins. I would mainly recommend them as they play their songs so well but are not afraid to change things up and play entirely different versions from what is on the album. I’ve seen them four times now and every show has been entirely different. The band will breathe life into old songs by playing new and different version on each tour. Some songs are extended out into longer jams and you can see how Billy Corgan intended them to be before they were reduced in length for recording.
The Pumpkins are also an amazing band at changing the mood of the show and building it back up. At their loudest they rock as hard as any other band I’ve seen, but then in the same show can play mellow acoustic songs just as well. I think that the depth of their back catalogue helps them live as they have such a wealth of different songs to choose from. A great band live and one that can really pull of playing a large venue better than anyone I’ve seen.
Next band I recommend you go see if you haven’t already is Muse. They have won nine awards for best live act since 2001, and for good reason. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a band play with such energy and command a large audience so well. I’ve only seen them twice and the most recent time was a few years ago now, so I’m definitely going to catch them on their next tour. They’re kings of overblown rock at the moment and their songs lend themselves so well to the live environment. A definite must-see no mater what kind of rock you listen to.
Everyone that plays guitar needs to go and see Steve Vai play live. It was a tough choice to pick between the Steve Vai band and Dream Theater for my ‘musicianship’ slot but I think Dr Vai just edges it. Considerably more animated, interesting and lively to watch than Dream Theater, seeing Steve Vai live is like nothing else.
He always takes the most phenomenal musicians on the road with him and seeing his band play his music is quite amazing. The fact that Vai does it all with lasers on his fingers while playing a triple neck guitar makes it all the more mind boggling.
Vai is also of the few musicians I’ve seen that can pull off really heavy rock with crazy solos before bringing it down to the most subtle of ballads with a convincing degree of conviction. Don’t miss seeing Steve Vai as you will never see a show quite like it.
Quite often when you see a metal band play live they’re awful. It is a difficult genre to play well, the instruments must be played to perfection or you have a big mess of indistinguishable noise. Singers in heavy bands can sound really terrible live as well as they struggle to replicate what’s on the album and will often sound worse as the show goes on.
Not so for Gothenburg band In Flames. They play their material to perfection and Anders Frinden is the best metal vocalist I’ve seen live. Never missing a note, never dropping out he sounded like he could go on all day. Quite an achievement if you know In Flames’ material. Combine the excellent performance with pyrotechnics, fireworks, a huge lighting rig and an energetic band and you have a winning combination. An excellent band live and I can’t wait until I see them again later in the year.
I would recommend going to as many live shows as you can, even in genres of music you wouldn’t normally consider as you can end up seeing something really good that you may have missed otherwise. Certainly as a musician seeing a live band can give you so many ideas for your own playing and your own shows. I know I’ve stolen a lot of ideas from seeing bands live.
If you get the chance to see any of these bands live then I definitely recommend it, if you don’t see them then you’re really missing out on a great experience.