Scotsman critics’ choice: 12 of our favourite gigs of 2015

THE Scotsman’s music journalists pick their gig highlights of the year, tipping their hats to Blur, Nick Cave, Errors and – yes – Lionel Richie
FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks)FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks)
FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks)

Blur at Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow

“Although Blur remain an exhilarating live band, they have toned down the feral chaos with age. There were other signs of maturity. The core quartet were joined by four slick backing singers who came into their own on the indie gospel singalong Tender. Even the archetypal Britpop knees-up Parklife has aged well, thanks to its witty metropolitan commentary.” – Fiona Shepherd

Nick Cave at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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“Cave was incorrigible and irresistible throughout, theatrically casting aside the sheet music as each song was passionately dispatched.

Given the slightest provocation, he would eyeball the front rows, communing with his flock in positively Pentecostal fashion.” – FS

FFS (Franz Ferdinand & Sparks) at Glasgow School of Art

“Franz provide Ron and Russell Mael with the kind of wired rock accompaniment they haven’t enjoyed in years, while the sexagenarian cult legends push their younger companions into more winningly preposterous shapes than they’re used to.

Russell’s extraordinary falsetto, blessedly undimmed with age, blends naturally with Alex Kapranos’ velveteen croon. Together they create an irresistible brew of Berlin Via Vegas electro-rock cabaret; camp, clever and contagious.” – Paul Whitelaw

Lionel Richie at SSE Hydro, Glasgow

“As you’d expect, there were plenty of mums-charming chocolate-box ballads deployed – Ballerina Girl, Truly and Three Times A Lady in the first half alone, later a version of Endless Love during which the audience were invited to sing Diana Ross’s part. But Richie has a proper showman’s way of keeping things breezy and cheerful even amid all the tearjerkers, between his hammy wisecracking and wiry, camp dancing with his expertly-drilled and similarly highly-strung five-piece backing band.” – Malcolm Jack

Ronnie Spector at Royal Concert Hall

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“There was not a bum note in this lovingly conceived and executed show, weaving the story of The Ronettes through the set, accompanied by some ace archive footage and photos and, occasionally, Spector’s devilish throaty laugh.

She was in fine raspy voice on the doo-wop dream of So Young, the cutesy Chapel Of Love and evergreen Walking In the Rain, even better when mining the heartache of Is This What I Get For Loving You Baby? and the exquisite pop melodrama of I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine, dedicated to her late sister and fellow Ronette Estelle.” – FS

Underworld at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

“This is sophisticated dance music from seasoned musicians – rewarding headphone listening but really quite special as a communal encounter, a seamless, hypnotic entreaty which is still utterly ravishing 20 years on. Attuned to the ebb and flow of the music, the crowd saluted the slightest change in tempo or direction on the journey from the perfect Pink Floydian chillout number Tongue to getting lost in the irresistible pulse of Cowgirl and Rez.” – FS

Patti Smith at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

““Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Has any debut album ever marked its territory with a greater opening line than that?

Forty years after its original release, Patti Smith’s Horses remains a proto-punk classic. Any concerns that this anniversary tour would be a tired nostalgic exercise were obliterated as soon as Smith arrived and blasphemed defiantly. She had the crowd at “Jesus”.” – PW

The Prodigy & Public Enemy at SSE Hydro, Glasgow

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“I’ve attended countless stadium gigs in my time, but this was undoubtedly the loudest. That alone is worthy of praise.

“The righteous, politicised indignation of Public Enemy hasn’t faltered over the years, nor has their desire to entertain a crowd... Unlike their co-headliners, Liam Howlett’s wild bunch are revolutionary in a purely nihilistic, hedonistic sense: political by proxy. Even after all these years, their live show is an utterly relentless assault, hilarious and hysterical in its deranged, unstoppable Ramones-like intensity.” – PW

Gruff Rhys at Glasgow School of Art

“Resembling a hip, dishevelled history teacher, Rhys held his audience spellbound throughout this lo-fi cavalcade of music, myth and – oh yes – pantomime. It was funnier than many actual comedy shows... the man is a visionary, an unsung original.” – PW

Errors at Glasgow School of Art

“Atmospheric walk-ons don’t come much more proggy than through billowing clouds of dry ice onto a stage decorated with tropical plants while jungle noises play over the PA. But any questions of pretension were quickly pricked by biblically bearded vocalist and guitar/keys player Stephen Livingstone’s funnily awkward patter. “Do you remember us?” he greeted the crowd, referring to how long it’s been since the band last played their hometown. “We used to be a band called Errors.”” – MJ

Hot Chip at Glasgow School of Art

“Now 15 years and six albums into a consistently fruitful career, Hot Chip’s synth-powered sound – a kind of haven for ex-ravers in search of floor-fillers with more heart and substance – continues to mature with personality and style.

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The opening night of a warm-up tour of intimate venues, this was a tightly drilled, summer festivals-ready show that stretched The Art School to capacity, its small stage barely able to contain all seven members and their masses of gear.” – MJ

Idlewild with the RSNO at Paisley Abbey

““We were 18 years old when we wrote that,” reflected Idlewild singer Roddy Woomble following a stately medley of two of their furious early singles A Film for the Future and Captain, the latter decorated tonight with Hitchcockian horror film strings. “I don’t think we thought we’d ever end up playing it with the national orchestra of Scotland,” he added.

Neither can any long-term fans who have followed this Edinburgh indie-rock band since their noisy, scrappy early days in the late 1990s, when shows would invariably end with Woomble rolling about on the floor, yowling. But after years of growth and maturation in their sound and stature up to their recent first new album in six years, Everything Ever Written, this one-off show in the grand surround of Paisley Abbey as part of The Spree festival felt entirely befitting of Idlewild’s burgeoning national treasure status.” – MJ