It’s probably high time I stopped introducing the best concert round up with complaints as to how every big band always avoids Budapest vs remarks as to how some bands actually don’t and the year wasn’t so bad after all, and I promise to do just that. Next year. As for this one, let’s tick the second box and get on with it.
The Big Guns. This was the year we had Massive Attack back in Budapest, and of course they have a very special place in my heart as my very first Sziget headliner, which along with first love, first hangover, first paycheck or first time you see your team win the title is something you never forget. Also, make whatever you want of exactly these four experiences being lined up here. Beyond the concert itself there was also the minor controversy of the fake Banksy (because, uhm, Robert Del Naja IS Banksy as we all know and/or hope it), which later turned out to be just by a Hungarian low-cost version dubbed Basky (affiliated to the magnificent Two-Tailed Dog Party). I do realize none if this has actual relevance to the quality of the concert, so frankly it’s here with the purpose of disqualifying me from any objective input on it. The objective input on Arcade Fire is that I am very pleased they came and I saw them, but they’re perhaps too baroque for my tastes- so much seems to happen onstage at once that halfway into the performance I became a bit immune to grandeur. I’ll put that on the list of possible titles for an autobiography no one would be interested to read.
What I Did Instead of Watching Argentina Burn. Arcade Fire and Massive Attack both played on the same week in June (what a time to be alive in Budapest that was), which week also included a Nick Cave concert and Argentina’s unfortunate World Cup outing against Croatia on the very same day. Which I did not know would be unfortunate, of course, and with a heavy heart I opted against both Nick and the game, and went to Queens of the Stone Age gig instead. This turned out to be the best possible choice given the circumstances (the Nick Cave show was marred by scarce attendance and an unfortunate accident involving a fan), as Josh Homme attained the perfect degree of inebriation to be both splendidly entertaining and completely fuming with the fan (can you call him one?) who held up a banner referencing the infamous photographer kicking incident.
The Away Games. There are of course wiser and healthier options to moaning that some band you really love does not include Budapest in their tour schedule, such as going and seeing them somewhere else. The tradition thus begun with Nick Cave in Belgrade in 2017 was continued this year with ALT-J at Vienna’s Stadthalle in February, and Interpol at Berlin’s Tempodrom in November. As I am again disqualified from objective critique (I am after all the person who claims Interpol plays the best Sziget concert fundamentally each time they show up and then there’s the year they were first, and ALT-J second), I will keep myself contained and mention the generally useful and relevant fact that German(ic) concert organisation is absolutely flawless up to the point when you pay six euros for a vile beer and spend an eternity to return your eco-cup, followed by another eternity queuing at the wardrobe and witnessing a person nearing a complete meltdown while comparing your number with all the possible numbers available on the racks and exlaiming: Scheiss, es ist nicht da! Note to self: try summer concerts. Most shocking development: Paul Banks seemed almost upbeat during the Berlin performance.
The Safe Bets. Editors never fail to include Budapest on their itinerary (they seem almost to replicate the country’s peerless devotion to Depeche Mode on a more subdued indie level), nevertheless I will have to mention the small complaint of Barba Negra’s pretty nasty security staff. Which is of course not the band’s fault (their first show in the venue had actually been excellent), but I would say that the original Akvárium setting would have suited them much better in vibe. I was also not totally sold on their most recent album at the time of the show, but in the meantime it has confidently crept into my heavy rotation playlist, and even if it is not necessarily revolutionary, I still consider it criminally undervalued on the year end best of lists. Anna Calvi’s album did however rightfully make it to these lists, and A38 is a perfect match for her show, so for once I had really no reason to complain- put into perspective, even the wardrobe queue of A38 is scarily efficient.
The Totally Timely Club Concert. Surprise surprise, this one also happened on A38, and pretty early on in the year- February’s concert offer often seems to counterbalance its wretchedness as the second most horrible month of the year (in 2019, it already has both Neneh Cherry on A38 and Tommy Cash in Dürer Kert on offer). Having somewhat lost my train of thought here let me mention that this was King Krule, sold out in one hour, packed with super excited youth and the feeling that the future is bright and everything is still (and perhaps forever will be) possible.
The Surprise Package. I actually had a hard time picking one concert for this category, but finally decided that it should go to Ghostpoet on account of his show having been the one that went beyond what I had expected from it, in spite (or to some extent, because of) an unfortunate quarrel with some ladies in the front row, my comments on the matter then eliciting a rather mind boggling online outburst which comes to show that although we happen to be in the same place, we don’t always go to the same concert.
Finally, in the newly introduced Recycled Classic category I must give a nod to Goran Bregović, whom I had seen for the umpteenth time, but for the first time in my home town. As a side-note– he happens to have been my first World Music Stage headliner on Sziget in the same year Massive played the Main Stage and is thus also a member of my Pantheon of Important Firsts, a first somehow made even more poignant by the fact that the World Music Stage will cease to exist in its current form from 2019 onward.