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Jonathan Geddes's review of the year

CASTING an eye over Scotland's gigs in 2013, you have to start with the opening of the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.

Early impressions are favourable, given that it not only looks impressive but that it is also possible to see a band there and hear them properly, something that happened too rarely at the SECC. With its arrival came some truly heavyweight acts though, ironically, it was one of the lesser names performing there that left the most vivid impression.

Vampire Weekend's November 15 gig not only confirmed the quality of this year's Modern Vampires of the City record but also showcased a group growing in confidence, successfully melding old and new songs alike. A pity, then, that it was not even remotely close to capacity, a status that blighted quite a few Hydro shows.

Fuller crowds were on hand for the Arctic Monkeys and Queens of the Stone Age that same month. Both those gigs were triumphs - the Monkeys, after some faltering steps in the past, are now well suited to such large scale venues with a bit of showmanship here, a bit of wry banter there, while Josh Homme's Queens of the Stone Age served up little razzmatazz but simply pounded the audience into submission. It was extremely loud, and relentlessly captivating.

The final choice of arena gigs is Peter Gabriel's October appearance, where he ran through So in its entirety. Even when resorting to the currently fashionable trick of performing a popular record in full, Gabriel retained his eccentricities, from opening with a new, unfinished song to embarking on dance routines throughout, and his band sounded utterly superb.

Gabriel wasn't the only elder statesmen to impress - Nick Cave was in predictably fine form, both on record and at the Barrowland on Hallowe'en, while the Specials songs sounded even more relevant than ever before when they visited the same venue.

There were many delights in smaller venues. Hector Bizerk, the Scottish hip-hop outfit, have often been championed in these pages, but their show in Glasgow's Stereo in September, launching new album Nobody Seen Nothing, was a terrific performance by a group with killer tunes and, crucially, things to say. A regular plethora of local acts also shone at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut's regular mini-festivals, New Year's Revolution and Summer Nights.

Away from local acts, this year's Celtic Connections brought the retro rock n' roll of JD McPherson to Glasgow, with a suitably sharp set that got the Oran Mor audience moving like it was 1958. Rooted in the past, his high-energy set gave somewhat familiar beats a new lick of paint.

The much heralded Savages lived up to the hype, a fine spring gig at the SWG3 in Glasgow followed by an incendiary performance at the Classic Grand on November 10. The sight of singer Jehnny Beth perched on a crowd barrier, lording over all she surveyed while bodies thrashed away to Hit Me, was a ringing endorsement for both post-punk and for the delights of smaller, more intimate shows.

If Savages will likely prove too spiky for mainstream success then the likes of Haim and Chvrches comfortably proved it's easy to capture the ears of both indie fans and pure pop devotees, aided by regular gigging. This was just as well, as the pop market was in an uninteresting state for many of its live shows, a theory that gained momentum with the rise of Tom Odell, whose Tuts' gig possessed all the excitement of grey wallpaper, and then confirmed when Jessie J's relentlessly unoriginal box of tricks arrived this past October.

Far more entertaining was Rita Ora, who provided a peppy set at the O2 Academy, dropping in energetic club bangers with a grasp of old school pop fun, rather than the over-earnest self-belief lessons preached by Jessie and some of her other contemporaries. US rapper Macklemore also stood up well in a live capacity, and proved lyrical pop with a message can still succeed, even if his vast amount of onstage chat could be trimmed.

On the topic of fun, it was heartening to see Franz Ferdinand back on the scene, and apparently enjoying themselves. Not only was their newest album suitably impressive, they appear to have rediscovered their enjoyment of gigging, as proved by a sweaty August appearance at the QMU.

On the flipside, one of the biggest letdowns this year was the usually excitable Two Door Cinema Club chugging through the motions at the Barrowland, looking like a group who needed a holiday.

Due for a deserved break are Frightened Rabbit, who started the year with a Barrowland gig and ended it at the O2 Academy. Fourth album Pedestrian Verse gave them a mainstream push, and their Academy appearance delivered a raucous crowd, good songs delivered triumphantly and lashings of emotion. It got the blood pumping and stirred passions, like all great gigs should.

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