Chris France’s (Very Biased) Top 10 Favourite Live Gigs of 2018
Chris France lists his Top 10 favourite live rock, punk and hardcore bands of 2018...
Chris France
Published 30 December 2018
Photo: Will Ireland; Spot Chris France in the bottom right-hand corner!

This is by no means a definitive list; I have not seen every single band live this year, as that would simply not be possible. I go out and see as many live acts as I can – just like on The Mosh Pit (with Chris France) (broadcasted on W!ZARD Radio Station every Thursday from 4pm GMT), these picks will be centred around rock, punk and hardcore music.

As the name of my radio show - The Mosh Pit (with Chris France) - would suggest, I am a big fan of moshing, audience participation, and the act hyping up the audience to the point where everyone is throwing everyone else around. I’m aware that this is not what everyone looks for in a live performance. So, as the title suggests, this is a very biased review.

#10 – At The Drive In

I was never around when At The Drive In first hit population; I more recently found out how much of a big deal they were and how important the release of ‘Relationship of Command’ was to so many people.

My first experience of them was seeing their announcement as the first headline of my favourite festival (2000 Trees) and wondering, “who the hell are these guys, and why are they headlining?”.

I came to the conclusion that if they had been picked to headline 2000 Trees, they were worth checking out. I got really into their latest album and comeback project ‘Interalia’. I’m not sure what die-hard fans think of the album, but I love it, and to my ears it was something fresh, different and punky in a way I had never heard. Before I knew it, I was listening to the album very regularly and was really excited to see them live. They didn’t disappoint! While the band themselves as well as their performance has aged, and they’re not quite as agile and unhinged on stage as they always used to be, Cedric Bixler still has the pipes he always had, and although not quite a #1 pick, their headlining performance at 2000 Trees was definitely deserving of a space on this list.

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#9 – Marmozets

I saw Marmozets for my second and third time this year, at The Junction in my home town of Cambridge, as well as at 2000 Trees. This followed the first time I saw them at Reading Festival in 2017.

They released their second album this year, 'Knowing What You Know Now' and, if I’m truly honest, I was a bit disappointed by it. Comparing with their first album 'The Weird And Wonderful' it felt a little on the tame side, as if they had gone into the studio and recorded the album by just doing exactly what their producer wanted them to do. It was less angry, more radio friendly and had lost the raw energy that roped me in with their debut. However I had already bought tickets for their Cambridge show, and I was prepared to give it a chance.

Their show reminded me what people, me included, tend to forget when a band releases an album you don’t like: they will still play their old stuff, it won’t disappear! And if their album was disappointing, their live performance was the complete opposite. Songs I didn’t like before I became a fan of once they were performed live, and Becca Macintyre has one of the best voices in the business and perfectly pairs heavy dirty riffs with a strong female lead.

Although I enjoyed their performance at 2000 Trees and Reading Festival also, Marmozets are enjoyed best at a busy sweaty indoor venue.

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#8 – Foo Fighters

I saw Foo Fighters for the first time this year so I decided to do it right - by going to see them twice.

The first time was part of a trip to Download Festival Paris and the second was just a few days later at the Olympic Stadium in London. From what I had previously gathered, The Foo’s are one of these bands that you just have to see... everyone knows them. And even if you hadn’t checkout their 2017 album 'Concrete and Gold', there were always going to be tracks that you knew.

The layout of their set was very similar in both shows, playing classic after classic. Foo Fighters are incredibly well practiced professional musicians and you’d be hard pressed to notice any mistakes in their set; Dave Grohl’s voice is persistently strong throughout the 3 hour performances and it really felt like a momentous occasion in both scenarios. My only critiques are that I’m not a big fan of their 40 min section on the middle of their set where they play famous rock covers... it feels a bit long and too drawn out.

Although it is very unlikely to happen to me ever, but I do yearn to see this band in a smaller more intimate venue, as playing these enormous stages gives the show a bit of an un-personal feel, but with that being said, these guys have been doing this for years and do really know what they are doing.

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#7 – Ho99o9

I was not expecting to enjoy this show nearly as much as I did but Ho99o9 was absolutely mad! It was boiling hot, in the middle of the day at 2000 Trees, and after tentatively listening to their sophomore album 'United States of Horror' I discovered something I never expected to be into: a dark mixture of Hip Hop, Grime and Bad Brains style Punk.

I had decided that going to go see them was a good idea; I arrived at their tent just as they were starting, and started pushing our way into the crowd. Before I knew it I was getting thrown around and throwing other people around in a way I had never experience before. The crowd was hot, sweaty and pumped up. Ho99o9 provided a loud, heavy performance with some of the highest energy from any performers I have ever seen. I still claim to this day that that was the most beat up I’ve ever been at a live show of any kind.

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#6 – Calva Louise

I’ve seen Calva Louise twice this year - the first in May supporting Strange Bones at a venue in London called 229 The Venue. It’s quite a small place and I was surprised to see them on the bill as they were a relatively poppy band to be supporting a big noisy screaming punk band. But as soon as they started playing, I could see why: their sound works great complementing so many other bands which has really helped them as they’ve been supporting loads of bands all across the county all year.

There is something amazing, quirky and catchy about their music. Debut album 'Rhinoceros' is coming out in February 1st 2019 and I really can’t wait.

The second time I saw them was when they came to Cambridge supporting Hunter and The Bear at The Portland Arms. They blew me away! Since I had gotten into them more since I last saw them, it really helped me appreciate their live performance. They have an awesome live demeanour that is really playful and just enjoyable to watch. I managed to get talking to them after the show and was pleased to learn that all three of them are absolutely lovely and really passionate... and care about their art! They’re starting to be picked up by places all over the place, and they deserve everything that’s coming to them!

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#5 – Black Peaks

Black Peaks are really going places. They’re incredible writers and have worked out what makes a song interesting. I’ve given them the courtesy of nicknaming them "The Muse of Hardcore Music" which I assure you is a compliment! What I mean by that I see Black Peaks as a group of well trained, well-practiced talented musicians who are taking a genre and doing something different with it. Some really incredible work is being done from all sides, with Drums and Bass but especially stand-out work being done on Vocals and Guitar, with some really melodic yet complex licks on the guitar creating their iconic sound as well as just a beautifully forged well-balanced mix of clean vocals and guttural screams.

I’ve seen Black Peaks twice this year; for the first time at 2000 Trees where, to be honest, I spent most of their set throwing up next to the stage, but when I saw them at Reading Festival I had the true Black Peaks experience and saw their whole set. Their singer Will Gardner really knows how to interact with a crowd and really speak to them, and the whole thing felt really intimate, personal and emotional while still delivering these just massive heavy tracks.

Debut album 'Statues' is great, but their latest release, the sophomore 'All That Divides, is genuinely one of the best albums of this year and their track from it: 'Fate I and II', my friend Jordan Powell affectionately calls “Black Peaks’ Bohemian Rhapsody”, and is well worth checking out. I can not wait to see them live again supporting Enter Shikari in January 2019.

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#4 – Nothing But Thieves

Man, if you don’t know who Nothing But Thieves are you’re not going to be able to avoid then for too much longer. They are on track to be as big as Muse, Nirvana, or even The Beatles, these guys are amazing.

They have this style that doesn’t quite fit the confines of any specific genre, that takes notes from things like The Pixies and Jeff Buckley, but has this own funky unique twist to it.

They really do have the live performance to back it up as well, and this year at Reading Festival was no exception, delivering a high-energy packed-out performance and playing their new song 'Forever and Ever More' for the first time.

They have the best songs to get the crowds going. There is some seriously notable performances from the whole band. Connor's soulful voice is something really unique and special; it works so well against some really original-sounding music coming from guitarists Dom Craik and Joe Langridge-Brown, Bassist Phil Blake and Drummer James Price. They played a show at Ally Pally a few weeks back and I was gutted to not be able to go, but that is still a real testament to how much they’ve grown since the first time I saw them first 4 years ago as the opening act for Twin Atlantic.

I sound like such an arrogant hipster...

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#3 – The Blinders

The Blinders are another band that I’ve seen twice this year, but what helps push them higher up the list is that I can’t decide which one of their performances was better; they were both good for different reasons.

The first time I saw them was at Reading Festiva; it was raining pretty heavily and not a lot of people wanted to brave the weather. So it was just me, and about 7 or 8 other die hard, wet, Blinders fans moshing around in the mud together while a crowed like 40 others stood and watched, while the wonderfully weird and eerie sounds of The Blinders held us in a trance.

The second time I saw them this year was in Cambridge on tour for their fantastic debut album, 'Columbia'. From the beginning till the end the performance really blew me away. The whole thing feels very dramatic, keeping the talking to a minimum and letting the music give its message. The atmosphere they make with their music is truly incredible. Their show really felt like it had a clear beginning, middle and end, as if the performance told a story.

The Blinders are probably the favourite band that I’ve discovered this year, and are a must see live band. See if you can see me bobbing around in the crowd in the video below...

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#2 – Strange Bones

I don’t shut up about Strange Bones. I drag friends to concerts of theirs whenever I can get the opportunity because I think that seeing them live is enough to re-ignite someone’s passion for watching live music, they’re that good.

While their style definitely takes influence from a few notable places from old-school street punk, like The Cramps and UK Subs, to things like The Prodigy and Ho99o9, what they make is just unforgettable in music, art and live ahows. The Bentham brothers, Bobby, Jack, Will and Spud mix their talents for both art and music really well. In true DIY punk spirit, they make all of their own merch, make their own artwork and make some mental music; everything about Strange Bones feels high energy fast and heavy.

Seeing them live is like Christmas; everything you want from a live show, brutal sweaty moshpits, everything loud, crowd-surfing, a performance that has everything turned up to 11 in every possible way.

I’ve seen them twice this year, once in Cambridge, where by some lucky chance my band God Hates Astronauts, were opening for them, and I saw them again in London at 229 The Venue with Calva Louise (number 6) both times delivering the best show I had ever seen out of either venue. Playing with them really was a special moment for me, and they are top lads making great music, that I want everyone to hear.

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#1 – IDLES

I first got into Idles just last Summer, 2017, and fell in love with their album 'Brutalism'. It delivers these hard-hitting messages in this really unique punk music; this crude poetry is messy and strange and yet somehow uniquely human. Idles carry this message of acceptance and unity to people without it sounding preachy.

It’s Punk with Purpose.

It’s funny, it’s educated, it’s wonderful. Their aophomore album 'Joy As An Act Of Resistance' was no exception, coming out earlier this year.

I’m gonna sound really cringey saying this, but this album changed me.

It’s got this strong caring message of hope, singer Joe Talbot is clearly a man who’s gone through some thing, and I find it beautiful that Idles can so gracefully perform these strong gut-renching emotional extremes, of joy, grief, loss, acceptance and love. A message that has reached many including this amazing collection of fans online called AF Gang. They make up this massive amazing community of Idles fans who are good people who just want to lookout for their fellow men.

After a whole year of waiting for an opportunity I finally saw Idles in Leeds and it was well worth the wait.

Idles’ songs are incredible live, and performed with such energy. Some really strange sounds come from Bobo and Lee’s guitar playing which gives them their iconic sound. The drums by John Beavis are fast and normally double time which makes for a mental crowd, the Bass by Dev drives everything forward, and lastly Joe on vocals is harsh and rough but with some beautiful elegantly written poetic lyrics.

Idles have been heralded as the “Band Britain Needs”, like batman… and I honestly think that is just the best description for them. Go see them live, you won’t regret it.

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2018 has been my favourite year for live music and I hope it only gets better from here. There is so much good music around right now and it’s just the best time to be a fan.

Click here to listen to the latest episode of The Mosh Pit (with Chris France), on demand on W!ZARD Repeats.

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