There are several things that happen at Bristol In Stereo when Advent kicks in:
- We get nostalgic about the great gigs that have graced our venues this year.
- We try to think of any seasonally-themed music that doesn’t make us feel borderline murderous.
- We rather enjoy making lists.
Here are the twenty shows that we have known and loved the most in the year that’s almost gone, with some of the fine words and striking images that we’ve shared along the way:
20 // Mogwai
Colston Hall | 3rd February
Words: Gabriel Palmer
Photo: Hannah Rooke
“Every band member had a hero moment during this set. Cheerfully enigmatic front man (of sorts) Stuart Braithwaite’s was the opening riff to ‘Rano Pano’, a sort of ‘guitar army’ take on an old nursery rhyme melody, and multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns’ guitar on the titular track from Every Country’s Sun was truly arresting. Material from the new album is also where bassist Dom Aitchison’s moment to shine came, with the amusingly named ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’ showcasing some tastefully-restrained playing during the quieter first couple of minutes.
That the group are willing to dedicate half of their set to this latest album after releasing eight others is surely a testament to the trust in their own musicianship, and based on this show, I would trust them with just about anything else as well.”
19 // Slaves
O2 Academy | 20th November
Words: Simon Moyse
Photo: Jeff Oram
“Isaac prefaced ‘Fuck the Hi-Hat’ with the great story of how Slaves ended up as a two-piece because nobody wanted to play with them. A couple of fans were called up on stage to perform the dance to ‘Cut and Run’, and once again demonstrated that while punk rockers can dance like they don’t caaaaare with the best of them, they refuse to conform to choreography, even if it does come from their heroes – bravo!
An acoustic version of ‘Photo Opportunity’ was surprisingly effective, and in the spirit of 2018 punk, was closed out with a little kiss between the pair. Then, just as it seemed like the show was drawing to a close quietly, up started those grinding early bars of ‘Beauty Quest’, and guitarist Laurie Vincent was bouncing all over the stage like a demented space hopper. Closing, as usual, with ‘The Hunter’, this was yet another triumph of a Slaves show.”
18 // Raye
Thekla | 5th November
Words: Shannon Newman
Photo: Michael Brumby
“Music can often act as an outlet, a way in which one can express and communicate strong personal emotions. That is certainly true for singer-songwriter, Raye who laid herself bare during her sold-out show at Thekla.
“Despite the enviable career the twenty-one-year-old has had so far, at times Raye seemed in disbelief of what she had achieved and showed so much gratitude to her fans. This humble attitude – along with the venue – altered the connection between Raye and her audience. It felt intimate and relaxed; Raye was in awe of her audience just as much as they were in awe of her.
“This natural and equal connection was emphasised when Raye took to the piano and showcased her more emotional and heartfelt style. Firstly, she performed ‘Sober’, an emotional ballad about an unhealthy relationship. However it was an unreleased track, ‘Ice Cream’ that stole the night.”
17 // Nicholson Heal
Exchange | 7th September
Words: Amy Grace
Photo: Duncan Cruickshank
After a two-month wait, Nicholson Heal’s album (re-)launch was finally here. The first attempt ended in a disastrous power cut, which meant they couldn’t perform. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Nicholson Heal were back and ready to perform a mesmerising calypso-stained set. The stage was lit with fairy lights along with abundant tropical plants by the monitors – a sweet set-up that was inviting and reminiscent of living in student halls (minus the damp).
The nostalgic ‘Worse Things’ was a cool side-to-side sway number, cemented with a colourful middle section, reminiscent of a hectic jam session. Nicholson retold an anecdote about the album and how it took its name ‘Big Jupe’. After being under anaesthetic for an appendix operation, he had turned to the nurse and uttered the words ‘big jupe’ clumsily. “We want to operate on you!” came the response from the irreverent crowd.
The night ended with ‘Lost At Sea’, a dancey and melodic number which was buoyant and classically Nicholson Heal – massive brass sections, tropical riffs, playful lyricism all topped off with a deafening jam. An overdue gig for sure, but memorable.
16 // The Magic Gang
O2 Academy | 1st October
Words: Georgia Marsh
Photo: Alesha Hickmans
“What sets The Magic Gang apart from their stellar supports is their more polished sound and raucously catchy sing-alongs. Geeky indie rock is on the menu this night, and the Brighton boys have enough sunshine in their pocket to make us forget that summer has already slipped away from us and the leaves are turning orange.
“There’s something so nostalgic, yet so fresh about these boys. Maybe it’s because this type of music takes me back to my pre-pubescent youth, but, more interestingly, it’s reassuring to see a band who appear completely comfortable in their own skin – and that’s the nucleus of their undeniable appeal. The Magic Gang’s songs are delightfully kitsch and could appear in a Richard Curtis indie-pop musical. From the downbeat drums of ‘Jasmine’ to the twinge of the riffs on ‘All This Way’, the gang know their way around a chorus, making you believe in a very real kind of puppy love. From up here, it’s coming up roses, baby.”
15 // Low
Trinity | 15th October
Words: Elfyn Griffith
Photo: Andy (Birmingham 81)
“Low begin their set with the first number of the new album, the distorted beauty of ‘Quorum’, before those harmonies start complimenting each other perfectly on ‘No Comprende’ from their 2015 album, Ones and Sixes, the pulse of Parker’s drumming and the strong combination of Sparhawk’s guitar and pliable bass of Steve Garrington gradually descending into a hypnotic chiming grunge of discord.
“It’s a night of superlatives, as the aural experience created by these fine musicians deserves it. We are immersed in stunning soundscapes that hint at despondency while uplifting the spirit at the same time. As Sparhawk says before the last number, ‘Disarray’, pulses to its conclusion, despite all that’s going on in the world right now, they offer a ‘glimpse into eternity and everything will be alright’. Now, seeing as he and Parker are Mormons, you could see this in a certain light. But above all else they are not morons. So, it resonates. As does their music.”
14 // Teleman
Thekla | 27th September
Words: Max Baker
Photo: Mar Reyes
“Tonight is the first night of the tour for Teleman, who released their third album, Family of Aliens at the start of the month. The record reflects the development of the band not only as songwriters, but also as a unit. The album title muses on the claustrophobic and oddball, yet kin-like relationship involved in being a band.
“It’s clear that Teleman enjoy a degree of cult status, many tracks receiving the knowing cheers that come from fans who’ve dedicated hours to their music. There’s a clear appreciation from the band, who repay the cheers with the three immortal words – ‘fucking Bristol, yes!’. This rapport with the crowd (they don’t feel the need to shout ‘we love you, Bristol’ every five minutes) is indicative of a well-drilled band who understand the need for connection as a pre-requisite to good pop music.”
13 // Superorganism
SWX | 15th October
Words: Max Baker
Photo: Jessica Bartolini
“As essential as their broad sonic palette, the visuals accompanying the band – best described as a trip through my old MSN conversations – turn their set into a combined onslaught. Rather than distracting, the care given to their stage show (one member is solely dedicated to producing visuals) creates an environment you can’t help but become engrossed in.
“Featuring glitter warpaint, white orb egg shakers and vocalists with pre-rehearsed dance moves, many aspects of Superorganism’s show would normally come across as gimmicks, but don’t. Later in the set, ‘Prawn Song’, a track with a title which sounds like something off a mid-noughties twee-pop album, bares its teeth and sets out a cornerstone of the band’s attitude. Comfortable in their own quirks, they’re a unit of individuals, content as outsiders but whose combined talents have their own gravity.”
12 // Sampha @ Love Saves The Day
Southville Park | 27th May
Words: Gabriel Palmer
Photo: Paul Lippiatt
“Any doubts I had about how Sampha’s material would translate into a festival setting were abolished instantly. His arrangements, vocal performance, band, light show and stage presence were truly befitting of a headline act. Not only were these technical aspects nailed, but his set dynamics, both sonically and emotionally, were expertly crafted. You could be clinging on to your loved ones through the stripped-back ‘Too Much’ only moments after lifting your arms in an enraptured trance to ‘Reverse Faults.’
“By the time this set was over, closing on the bewitching majesty of ‘Blood on Me,’ I simply had nothing left to give; and we carried ourselves out into the city with that same feeling of contented exhaustion that always comes after a quality festival.”
11 // Bad Sounds
SWX | 26th October
Words: Ffion Riordan-Jones
Photo: Jessica Bartolini
“It was time for the main event. As an almost menacing narrator filled the speakers, hyping up an already ‘hyped’ crowd, the ‘Get Better Theme’ led into a brass section welcoming the beginning of ‘Wages’. With matching red boiler suits accessorised with yellow beanies, the onslaught of leaping bodies onto the stage made it hard to determine whether Bad Sounds had dramatically expanded, or if an unknowing invasion had occurred. Fresher pieces, particularly ‘Another Man’ and ‘Banger’ allowed for much audience dancing.
“It was apparent just how much the band have undoubtedly grown. Not only have they grown in numbers with their fan base, but they have developed the craft of nailing a tight set whilst retaining the same enthusiasm as if it were their first time on stage. From Olivia powering from the drums to Charlie rollicking away, together, they all share a camaraderie that is joyous to behold.”
10 // Ålesund
St. John In The Wall | 13th October
Words: Jon Kean
Photo: Thom Wood
“The visual dynamic of Ålesund began with Torriset. Not only are we trained in the language of gigging to look for the mouthpiece of the band, but she dresses her own tones in equally-lavish, ear-catching keyboard ones. At this point, however, your next visual port of call was bassist, Paul Hopkins.
“Those accustomed to the bass player being the stock-still, concreted-in foundations of the band, giant and monolithic see something different in Ålesund. You expect the lead guitarist to be the one who looks like they’ve been wired to the mains. But Hopkins seemed to keep the band’s rhythm whilst dancing to the band’s tune, permanently blissed-out by being in his happy place. Who said blokes can’t multi-task?
“In comparison, guitarist Lloyd Star and drummer, Carlos Coronado Nieto may not have been a focal point visually, but each one provided a mighty quarter of a sonically-powerful collective. The band concluded with the new single, ‘Shift and Flux’ – well worth the wait. The song’s title, although more figurative in its relation to the song’s words, was a fine indicator as to how the track builds from what sounds like the first drops of rain into a torrential tempest at its peak.”
9 // Emma Ruth Rundle
Rough Trade | 4th November
Words: Harriet Taylor
Photo: Michael Brumby
“Finally, the star of the evening, Rundle took to the stage with Jaye Jayle as her backing band. Kicking things off with ‘Dead Set Eyes’, a steady beat set the ground for the claustrophobic intensity of Rundle’s lyrics – “in a city so loud, we will never be free” – before breaking through with massive cymbal crashes and guitar wails in the chorus. “What doesn’t kill you will just keep you alive,” is certainly the self-sustaining narrative of the music, feeling it could do both in this environment, heavy both in subject and sound.
“These heavy tumults carried through the crushing peaks of ‘Fever Dreams’, underscored by shimmering guitar patterns that threaded into a transfixing performance of ‘Apathy on the Indiana Border’. The great thing about the songs from On Dark Horses is how each and every song feels as vital as the last, and as such, appear to mesh seamlessly in any chosen order Rundle configures them live. Certainly Rundle is one of the most talented musicians of her ilk, if not the industry as a whole, and an unrivalled live performer.”
8 // Estrons
Louisiana | 8th November
Words: Ffion Riordan-Jones
Photo: Naomi Williams
“Lining the downstairs walls of The Louisiana are posters from the past. From a three-pound Muse gig to Florence and the Machine, the roster of now global stars that have toured as then emerging bands illustrates the significant weight The Louisana hold in the city’s music scene. It has a glowing sense of pride that represents the passion of both staff and punters alike.
“What was so apparent is how succinctly tight Estrons were. From the juddering bass to intense progressions on guitar, all elements were highlighted by Täli Källström’s powerful leadership. Enraged, fierce and at times empowered, what makes Källström utterly mesmerising to watch is her conviction to each subject. Whether it was the howling authority garnered during ‘I’m Not Your Girl’ or the brutish grit of ‘Jade’, the continual force was sufficient to blow out an arena, let alone an intimate show.
“The lasting feeling from the gig was how wildly under-rated Estrons are. Spending an hour in their presence felt like a true musical blessing. They are surely on the cusp of something huge. Looking to the future, Estrons will make it onto The Louisiana’s wall of glory.”
7 // Jorja Smith
O2 Academy | 5th October
Words: Oliver Evans
Photo: Hannah Rooke
“Opening with ‘Lost & Found’, she walked onstage casually as if just popping into a shop for a pint of milk. Then she opened her mouth and revealed the pipes we have come to know, holding some killer notes at multiple points. ‘Teenage Fantasy’ was exactly what we were all dreaming of, with every devoted fan in the crowd knowing every single word.
“Her purest moment came in the form of ‘Goodbyes’ where she sang, “you’re never coming back now, you belong to the stars and the clouds”. It was the perfect encapsulation of grief and letting go to remember the good times with a loved one. This song in particular struck a chord; considering she is only twenty years old these lines show that her young years have come with hard lessons. It only goes to highlight how intensely personal her material is.”
6 // Young Fathers
Trinity | 22nd March
Words: Stuart Tidy
Photo: Lee Ramsey
“To a positively buzzing crowd, Alloysious Massaquoi made his way to centre stage in his purple velvet top and pseudo-cowboy black hat. Quoting Cocoa Sugar track ‘Wow,’ he looked out into the crowd and slowly said, “What a time to be alive.” We were off. No-one in the venue had a chance to catch their breath from that point on.
“Throughout the evening, the crowd felt unified. We were packed in pretty tight, yet all the dancing and flailing produced no scuffles, but a communal excitement. When we were finally treated to ‘Get Up,’ people flung themselves around like demented rag dolls. The overall energy in the venue was electric, tangible, impossible to resist. One solitary individual stood by a pillar, merely moving his arm occasionally. We began to wonder if perhaps he had died.
“Following the recent trend of declaring the encore rather than ‘pretending to walk off,’ they closed the set with ‘Shame.’ As Young Fathers left the stage, a small group formed a circle and began dancing to the reggae which came over the speakers afterwards. It was one of the most unyielding and passion-filled performances I’ve ever seen; the emotional conviction in the lyrical delivery was enough to show many a seasoned campaigner how its done.”
5 // Ezra Furman
Colston Hall | 24th May
Words: Robyn Bainbridge
Photo: Jessica Bartolini
“Ezra Furman’s set began in a dramatic foray of classical music, white outfits, pearls and lianticipation. Assisted by the Boyfriends, he played us through Transangelic Exodus, the stage cast blue from the spotlights, now creeping in through Beth’s luminescent handiwork. Tracks such as ‘Driving to LA,’ ‘My Zero’ and ‘Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’ were smattered with older tracks, ‘Cherry Lane’ and ‘Anything can Happen.’ Then a rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ began, the stage drenched in an appropriate shade of magenta.
“Furman has a real affinity with his followers, as well as an unparalleled ability to convey sharp, desperate truths wrapped up in elegant knots of prose, and its these qualities which have earned him his deified status. At one point, he led with the words: “The odds against us all surviving to this day were high – audience and performer – so I’m glad you all made it” and then collapsed into ‘Ordinary Life’; the drumming ricocheted off the walls, the harmonies of the backing singers rose and evaporated into the higher rafters and Ezra’s distinct wails penetrated to the very back seats.”
4 // IDLES
SWX | 16th October
Words: Ffion Riordan-Jones
Photo: Andrzej Zajac
“Bursts of white strobes highlighted the pop-pink backdrop. Restlessness was immediately relinquished. The elongated, thick drones of ‘Colossus’ blared through. Joe Talbot’s demeanour is menacing. As he stalked across the stage, eyeballing the sweat-infused crowd, he demonstrated how he’s perfected how to command authority, as if he’s the new ringleader of punk itself. Although they have mastered what it takes to produce an enthralling show, the outfit’s haphazard anarchy is where the true awe lies. They’re raw. The compelling lyricism contrasted with the unravelling chaos. The passion running through every fibre of the outfit was paramount.
“Unity is merely one of many contemporary thematic issue IDLES so directly stand for, but, their solidarity couldn’t have become clearer as they orchestrated a stage invasion to enhance the rampant chaos. As ‘Exeter’ slung small town mentality into the IDLES hotpot of hatred, the overwhelming sense of inclusion was elating, as revellers and Bristol’s best critic, Big Jeff, joined in on the antics. Concluding the havoc with ‘Well Done’ and ‘Rottweiler’, those still standing looked as if they were stunned by the all-around cathartic experience.”
3 // Shame
Rough Trade | 12th January
Words: Ross Jones
Photo: Rowan Allen
“The palpable sense of excitement that surrounds Shame right now fills much more than the busy performance room of Rough Trade’s Bristol store tonight. With their first full-length, Songs of Praise being released today, you couldn’t ignore social media for all the posts, Tweets and shares the record was receiving. These were – even more impressively – not from advertising either, national newspapers making them front page news and fans far and wide expressing just how they feel about the record, an organic word-of-mouth excitement that doesn’t tend to be seen much in the fickle age of content overload. So when the five-piece take to the stage, the crowd are rightly eager – and so proceeds a show that blows away the cobwebs of lethargic December festivities and cements shame as one of the best guitar bands in Britain today.
“Shedding any sense of calm with the wonky and deliberate ‘Lampoon’, before closing out with the definitive ‘Gold Hole’, the sense that shame have really delivered not only a searing show, but also a high-quality record really comes to the fore. Songs of Praise is an album of varying emotion, and live, the band can take it and explore its deepest lows and most unshackling highs in the form where they really do deliver.”
2 // Dream Wife
Exchange | 20th March
Words: Zander Sharp
Photo: Rowan Allen
“This is ridiculous,” a guy near me said. He was obviously drunk, and his face was covered by David Brent facial hair and an apocalyptic scowl. We were standing at the back of the crowd. All the women had been summoned to the front, where something between a rugby scrum and a bacchanal seemed to be taking place.
“Brighton’s feminist-punk band, Dream Wife, were nearing the end of their set when Rakel Mjöll paused, foot up on a speaker like she was founding it, to summon “all the bad bitches” to the front. The extroverted women pushed to the front with glee. But when it became clear that the female members of the band planned on plucking out even the most camouflaged of bad bitches (the male drummer kept appropriately shtum all gig) the rest resigned themselves to the spotlight.
“It looked amazing up there. The women were dancing and chanting, free from all the bullshit they were used to at all their other gigs and, I suppose, just everyday life. Their view wasn’t blocked by men, they weren’t being jostled or harassed. The statement was blunt and effective.
“The guys lingered at the back like wallflowers at an awkward school disco. This bit wasn’t for us. Although a couple of guys seemed to sincerely ask themselves if they were ‘bad bitches’ when Rakel called the women to the front, it looked like the men at a Dream Wife show had got the memo. But not one long-haired guy, who looked like a drunk Jesus. After repeatedly invading the female space, drunk Jesus was eventually shouted down and kicked out.
“I saw Drunk Jesus sticking his lower lip out, hurt and confused that he didn’t have permission to do whatever he wanted. Predictably, he went to stand next to David Brent. Maybe there was a misunderstanding, and these two were bachelors who had come to search for a literal dream wife.”
1 // Phoebe Bridgers
Thekla | 20th August
Words: Melz Durston
Photo: Jessica Bartolini
“Understated and flawless, Phoebe Bridgers walks on stage, almost an echo of an elfin white witch, dressed in casual attire, high-rise denim, velvet blazer, boots and a t-shirt bearing the words Suck My Dick. It is this contradiction, of sorts, that sets her apart – and just as she carries herself with grace, she lets the words spill from her lips as untamed as a waterfall, as brave as she is coy. To describe her as a pint-sized pixie, with a voice of a fallen angel would appear vague, but it seems fitting, and so, let’s get on with the show.
“Something about Ms Bridgers can make you break into tiny shards of glass, her voice radiating like smoke inside a snow globe. And the most beautiful thing? She is just being herself. Effortlessly moving through a set list that seems to be thoughtfully stitched together with equal parts numb apathy coupled with intense honesty, this is where Phoebe’s talent truly lies: the ability she has to invest in each word and guitar chord with drenched despair and complete, impossible vulnerability. Yet, at the same time, she faces the darkness with a courage and reverence that hovers between self-assurance and healthy disregard for reactions (a clue that she really does lose herself within the music).
“Gillian Welch’s ‘Everything is Free’ was penned about the rife topic of music streaming (and ultimately, stealing) – reducing music to having less value than a dollar-priced hamburger – the opposite sort of creative pricelessness from what Phoebe Bridgers has always had down to a fine art, even as a thirteen-year-old. But then, growing up with musical input from the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Elliott Smith, it’s unsurprising that this innate synchronicity exists within this brilliant songwriter. Seconds before the band starts up with this song, Phoebe adds: “If there’s something that you want to hear, fucking sing it yourself.” In other words, don’t be fooled. Rise above and create the music you believe in. And someone’s bound to get a pretty song out of it.
“And she certainly does.”
We can’t take you back to Phoebe Bridgers’ chart-topping Thekla gig from August (or her excellent Rough Trade show in March) but you can see her 2018 KEXP session here: