My 2019 in concerts

Music played a very important part of my life over 2019 – here’s a look at the year, concert by concert

Rosalía – June 29, Rock Werchter (BE) 

La Rosalía

Rosalía was pretty much the soundtrack to the first couple of months of 2019. Her second album, El Mal Querer, packed a punch infused with the spirit – and some of the less obvious features – of flamenco, done in a way I hadn’t ever seen before. It also was the soundtrack of my birthday trip to Lanzarote, which turned out to be the last hurrah of the 9+ year relationship I was in.

Her set was worth the hour spent waiting in the Barn section of the festival, and I’m glad that I got to see her tour this album, since her latest releases do not quite have the same effect on me.

Ian Bostridge and Brad Mehldau – March 5, Philharmonie (LU)

When he heard about the breakup, my friend Guillaume did his best to keep me busy. One of his first attempts to take my mind off things was to invite me to this concert which he had comps too. There, I was introduced to two of his friends who were there with him. “So you’re from Malta?” one of them said, going on to tell me she knew someone from Malta. Specifically, my ex. The ex I was trying to take my mind off. I did not enjoy the concert. The music was weird, and not in the way I like it. But Steffi and I kept in touch, and as the year progressed, our friendship grew over chats and outings – a welcome lifesaver in what was a turbulent time for both of us.

Clara Luciani – August 23, Metz (FR)

In March, a friend of mine posted the video for Luciani’s La Baie, a transmanche upgrade of Metronomy’s The Bay, and I was immediately taken by the French singer-songwriter’s sophisticated, sometimes upbeat poppy brand of chanson – a much-needed jolt of positivity to a system that is generally drawn towards melancholy, and a reminder that I actually like to dance, and that dancing – especially if it’s with my 3-year-old nephew in an impromptu disco party after a family meal – is a very good way to spend your time.

The concert was a happy accident – being based in Luxembourg, I had been on the lookout for any dates she would be playing in the vicinity, but her site did not reveal anything promising. Then my friend told me – does Clara Luciani interest you? She was playing a free concert in nearby Metz. As we Maltese say, c’est bon parce que c’est bon; c’est bon parce que c’est gratuit.

 Mumford and Sons – 8 May, 2019, Rockhal (LU) (did not go)

This was one of four concerts that I had booked with my ex, back when she wasn’t my ex. I like Mumford and Sons, but not enough to go to one of their expensive concerts on my own. So I sold both our tickets (it turns out she couldn’t make it) and went to Edinburgh instead. Up until then, I had been getting used to my new, unattached life, and I was slowly getting to a good point in my life. Until a devastating piece of news derailed me and set me back months, possibly to a lower point than immediately after the breakup. In Edinburgh, I started to take more conscious steps to control my separation-related anxiety; spending time with my cousin was also very good for me.

Foals – 17 May, den Atelier (LU)

One of the Four Concerts. I found myself a place for optimal viewing and listening, just ahead of the soundcheck. Then, barely minutes into the first song, I could feel the swell of the mosh pit opening up, and I decided I would just throw myself in instead of watching passively. It was a wild, fun gig, and possibly the only time my leather belt was drenched in sweat. 

Kate Tempest –  May 26, 2019, Food For Your Senses Funeral Feast

Kate Tempest was one of the first artists I saw play in Luxembourg back in 2014, managing to rap her way into turning a passive audience into a raving crowd in a relatively short set. Then Brexit happened. Her set this time round reflected the mood of the times, and Tempest used her words to try and make sense of a world that seemed to be hell-bent on destroying itself; angry words, sometimes, but also compassionate, kind. Her music stilled my heart and mind, and I wanted to sit with that feeling instead of plastering it over with the next acts in the festival, so that’s where I left. 

Elbow – June 27, Rock Werchter

I love Elbow, and their being billed on the RW19 lineup was one of the selling points of this year’s edition (I’m usually only really interested in Werchter’s lineup every other year). I bought my tickets to the festival on my own, and was planning to go there on my own, until I managed to convince my good friend Victor it would be a good idea to join me for his first major festival. It was indeed a good idea – friendship in general makes everything better, particularly music festivals. One thing about Elbow’s music is that it has a habit of feeling like a hug from an old friend, and their set was a massive bear hug to a friend that really needed it and didn’t know it.

Florence and the Machine – June 29, Rock Werchter

The last time I’d seen Florence and the Machine was at Werchter, and even though I really like their music, I remember being quite underwhelmed that time, so this time round the expectations were low. It might have been the low expectations, but the whole set felt magical, an explosion of emotion and energy that stood out from the rest of the acts of the festival. And really believing the dog days are over, that was priceless.

Mumford & Sons – June 29, Rock Werchter

We moved closer to the stage right after Florence’s set was over. Mumford and Sons dropped the really cringey wannabe rocker look from the last time I’d seen them, and instead gave the crowd an earnest, energetic rendering of their hits, which are really good for shouting your lungs out at festivals to. And even though both “and” bands were groups I’d shared and seen several times with my ex, particularly since they had come to prominence around the time we started going out together, I was relieved to have created new positive connotations to their music.

Muse – June 30, Rock Werchter

Probably the only show on the list that’s on here purely on its merit as a show. Muse brought along their full stadium show to the concert, and calling it over the top would be an understatement. The album they were touring was galaxies better than their previous effort, and I finally got to rock out to Newborn’s metal riff, a song that had been off the set list on the three other times I’d seen them.

Me – October 11, Ratelach Open Stage (LU)

If there’s any silver lining to emotional turmoil for a creative type it’s that it can be very inspiring. I registered for this open mic night to force myself to finish some songs I had written and test them out on unsuspecting audiences around Luxembourg before I recorded them. The project is still in very early stages, but I hope 2020 will be characterised by the music I make as much as the music I listen to.

Elbow – November 7, Milan (IT)

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If something’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. Two of my closest friends, Dean and Liam, had tried in vain to get me to like Elbow before I had my Damascene moment at Glastonbury in 2011. Despite being bigger fans than I ever was, my two friends had never been to see them live, and I was keen to rectify this gross injustice. We had also been friends for over 20 years, but we’d never been on a guys’ trip together, and we were also keen on rectifying this other injustice. So, when we saw that the first leg of their European tour would be in Milan – handily halfway between Luxembourg and Malta, we managed to agree to go for it. Elbow’s songs have a tendency to touch on topics like friendship, and this element wasn’t lost on us as we swayed together along to Lippy Kids. It was also lovely to meet two of my former bandmates, Karl and Manuel, who surprised us by also turning up for the concert. We’re hoping to have further trips together in the future, marked by music and food, but if this trip turns out to be the only one of its kind, it would have been perfect.

Carmen Consoli – December 7, Rovereto (IT)

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The cantantessa’s music generally springs from melancholy but transcends it. She’s musically and lyrically sophisticated, and I’ve often described her music as giving me a sense of nostalgia for a Catania that I have never known if not in her songs. Over the last months of 2019, I found myself listening to her music to the point of exclusivity, and when I found out about this one-off concert with her band in Rovereto I thought it would be fitting to ride the wave of this obsession and perhaps give it some closure. I combined it with a trip to Venice – the closest airport I could fly to directly from Luxembourg, as well as being a city I had long wanted to visit during the winter. Carmen started off the concert by warning us that she’d lost her voice at an Irene Grandi a few days prior and that she hoped she’d be able to last the whole concert, and then dove straight into L’ultimo bacio, the most haunting of her songs. For a few songs, we could see that she was struggling, and each note she sang felt like a triumph over the body, until midway it seemed her voice was back to normal. Having listened through her greatest hits collection, I knew all the songs and sang along (badly) to most of them.

There is no backstory to this concert, no exorcism of related trauma or other associations. The concert was a celebration of music, and my trip to get there a pilgrimage for music’s sake. 2019 has shown me is that it’s an effort worth making.

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