Ranking the Coil Concerts – An Opinion Piece

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Ranking The Coil Concerts – An Opinion Piece

These are just my own opinions – no disrespect to anyone who may disagree. Please note that my judgments are solely based on available recordings. I cannot speak from concert experience nor on recordings which I do not have nor have seen/heard.

-Kiefer Gorena

Most Unique Setlists and Lineups / Historically Significant Performances

1983-08-04 A Manifestation of the Will – Club Magenta, London, England, UK

The first Coil gig ever, arguably the most historic one. The set itself is exclusive, albeit a little unremarkable on the lo-fi AUD recording we have.

1983-08-24 How to Destroy Angels/A Slow Fade to Transparency – Air Gallery, London, UK

John Balance and John Gosling, rather than contribute anything musically, put on a visual performance wherein they covered themselves in lotions, gave themselves enemas, and even engaged in watersports. This was the only gig where John did not contribute anything musically; it was also the only one where Marc Almond performed with the band. Nick Cave attended the show, but left once Gosling started pissing.

2000-04-02 Cornucopea – Royal Festival Hall, London, UK

Coil’s first gig of the new millennium and the first real live gig after almost 17 years. Features the longest versions of the “Time Machines” material, along with the exclusive song “Sipping Birdsong through Bedsprings.” Not really my personal cup of tea, but if you like drone/noise music, this is the Coil set for you!

2000-06-17 Sonar Festival – Barcelona, Spain

The second iteration of the “Time Machines” material, but with some unique twists. Those songs were played shorter than before, giving lead way for three new songs, “Amethyst Deceivers,” “The Universe is a Haunted House,” and “Elves.” “Amethyst Deceivers” of course went on to become the nearly-ubiquitous band favorite, undergoing at least two more significant versions. “Elves” is undoubtedly the highlight, being the first noisy, catastrophic closing number for any Coil set, so it’s a real shame the band never played it again. Lastly, this was William Breeze’s only Coil gig, and his viola greatly enhanced all of the songs.

2000-09-19 “Persistence is All” – Royal Festival Hall, London, England

Arguably the first gig where Coil truly developed its signature sound, and the first gig of the “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil”-era. Includes the debut performance and one of only two performances of “Titan Arch.”

2001-08-18 Convergence 7 – Irving Plaza, New York City, NY, USA

Coil’s only performance in America. The band left New York just a few days before 9/11 – there’s vacation footage of them, filmed by Ivan Pavlov, watching news coverage of the event on TV in Russia. This was also the only Coil gig with Martin Schellard, the guitarist for Thighpaulsandra’s solo band, and performers Danny McKernan and Matthew Gibson. The gig was universally acclaimed, despite sound problems plaguing the band throughout.

2002-04-27 Play Game On-Only Connect – The Barbican, London, UK

Following eight standard performances of the “Backwards / Remote Viewer” material, the band decided (or were forced) to mix things up a bit. The band ousted “Broccoli,” “Paranoid Inlay,” and “A.Y.O.R.” from the setlist, to be replaced with the debut of “An Unearthly Red,” in this exclusive form bearing an extended intro, nascent lyrics (which do not refer to George W. Bush or 9/11), and elements of “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil” in its last minute.

2002-07-26 Il Violino e la Selce – Corte Malatestiana, Fano, IT

This is the only transitionary gig Coil ever played. It combined three songs from the “Backwards / Remote Viewer” phase and four songs from the “Live Four” phase. Of the latter phase, Coil debuted “The Last Rites of Spring,” “Are You Shivering?” and “Ostia” at this gig. Furthermore, despite the fact Thighpaulsandra rejoined the band for the 2002-06-07 and 2002-07-13 gigs, having finished his touring stint with Spiritualized, he was absent from this gig, for unknown reasons. Cliff Stapleton also left. To compensate for the missing sound, John used live vocal loops for one of the first times ever, if not the first time. Peter also played some definite synth riffs and even combined elements of “The Last Rites of Spring” into “A.Y.O.R.”

2002-10-12 Megalithomania – Conway Hall, London, UK

To celebrate the Megalithomania Festival, Coil decided to play an exclusive, one-song ambient set, which became known as “The Universe is a Haunted House (Drip Drop),” or just “Drip Drop” in this listing. Massimo and Pierce also wore the black “Live Four” outfits for the first time. The previous week, John had disappeared and the rest of the band left Greece without him. He only managed to return home, dazed and confused, by relying on the kindness of strangers. John and Peter clashed over this and other bad behavior from John, and this gig officially marked the end of their 22-year-long relationship.

2002-10-29 Flex, Vienna, AT

This was the last gig of the “Live Four” phase, Massimo and Pierce’s last gig with Coil, and likely also Ossian Brown’s last (though Massimo and Pierce would still regularly attend Coil shows). Shortly thereafter, John, Peter, Massimo, and Pierce broke off their four-way relationship. At the Spoiler Workshop the next day, Peter mentioned that this gig may well have been Coil’s final show – frankly, it’s a miracle all the gigs following this one even took place.

2003-04-06 All Tomorrow’s Parties – Camber Sands, Camber, UK

After over five months filled with personal quarrels, rehab, and Ian Johnstone entering the picture, Coil returned with a nearly exclusive set of material (John would bail for the next three shows, forcing the band to create a new set, reusing “Triple Sons and the One You Bury” from this one). I can’t fathom why the band never touched any of this material again, for it’s some of the hottest Coil ever wrote. The rest of the band were worried John wouldn’t even show up, much less come up with anything lyrically, but somehow, he did. Many of his lyrical improvisations appeared in later songs.

2004-07-11 Il Violino E La Selce Festival – Jesi, IT

The most unique set of the “Black Antlers”-era. Before “All the Pretty Little Horses,” John says, “We’re truncating; we’re making short of the things tonight because we haven’t got enough time, unfortunately, to do the long versions that we wanted, so apologies for that.” Some songs in the set compliment this idea, like “Wraiths and Strays” and “Black Antlers,” while others, like “Tattooed Man,” contradict it. “Broccoli” was also omitted for the only time during this live phase. What’s truly of note, however, is the revival of two previous Coil songs – “Bang Bang,” played here an octave higher than normal with an exclusive extra verse, and “Amethyst Deceivers (Version 1).” Besides “Broccoli,” this is the only time Coil ever revived older songs into a newer set.

2004-10-23 “Stranded With Gifts” – Dublin Electronic Arts Festival – City Hall, Dublin, Ireland

Also arguably the most historic, this was Coil’s only show in Ireland, the only one with François Testory, the only one with the “Stranded With Gifts / Telesmatic Tree in the King Scale” material, and the last Coil show ever before John’s tragic death on November 13, 2004. Enough said.

Most Interesting Banter

2000-09-19 “Persistence is All” – Royal Festival Hall, London, England

John discusses how strange it feels to him replaying songs old and new and defames Stevo Pearce for reprinting Scatology and Horse Rotorvator under the Some Bizarre label without Coil’s permission, forcing them to make their own remasters of those albums and Love’s Secret Domain in 2001. He also dedicates “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil” to, among others, his friend Fritz, who committed suicide and whom received the dedication on “A Warning from the Sun” off of 1998’s Summer Solstice CD.

2002-03-30 Artooz Festival, John Lennon Municipal, Limoges, France and 2002-04-02 Vooruit, Gent, BE

At these two shows collectively, John explained the meaning behind every song in the “Backwards / Remote Viewer” set, with the exception of “Sick Mirrors,” which he would explain a bit later. I had no idea what “A.Y.O.R.” was really about until AUD#2 of the 2002-03-30 show surfaced!

2002-04-06 Teatro delle Celebrazioni, Bologna, IT

“Mr. Crowley and Dr. Ausley welcome you to the spectral health spa. Broken auras, ectoplasmic disorders, celestial lubrication provided…The miraculous image of sound washed ashore. The miraculous image of sound washed ashore. Beware, beware the black shadow of Cher. Beware, beware the black shadow of Cher. This one is dedicated to all those in prisons. Physical prisons or prisons of their own making…If the actor stops acting, does the film become real?…It’s the shaggy God story. I glimpsed behind my shower curtain last night in my hotel and I saw a very, very heavy thing. I saw the hairy mother of God.” John often repeated these poetic and cryptic lines in various incarnations through this live phase. He also gave a powerful, yet hilarious speech on the death of Queen Mother of England and his hope that Prince Charles recycled her, even if her shade continued to stalk the streets of London and suck the blood of London’s orphaned and lost children through her hypodermic needle teeth.

2002-04-12 Volksbühne, Berlin, Germany

John repeats a lot of the same phrases that he did at Teatro, along with a few new ones, like “Cherubim and seraphim are marching up the stairs” and “All horned animals, all,” but the main draws are his story about meeting Karlheinz Stockhausen at the 2002-06-07 Sonar gig and dubbing him an honorary member of Coil, his somewhat alliterative speech on ancestor worship and imaginary astral antlers before “Broccoli,” and his band introduction before “A.Y.O.R.,” where he sweetly saves Peter for last: “And here, we have an original wrecker of society: Throbbing Gristle’s, Psychic Television’s, my boyfriend for 22 years, Sleazy Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson,” ending with “And again, today, I am Angie Bowie.”

2002-07-13 “La Plaine de La Machine à Feu” – Dour Festival, Dour, Belgium

Some audience member references “Windowpane” and John apologizes for the fact they wouldn’t play the song that night. He also explains how “A.Y.O.R.” is sort-of a safe sex song and that “Backwards” was inspired by watching porno and masturbating on Trent Reznor’s leather sofa in his Nothing Studios in New Orleans.

2002-07-26 Il Violino e la Selce – Corte Malatestiana, Fano, IT

Definitely John at his most political and talkative, here, asking the Italian audience about Giuseppe Pelosi, the man who supposedly murdered Pier Palo Pasolini, and going on a conspiratorial tirade against George W. Bush and the American navy’s sonar harming sea life. He also discusses Pagan practices, a comet set to crash into and destroy Earth on February 1, 2017, and also gives an apology for reading the lyrics straight from the sheets during the debut performance of “Are You Shivering?”

2002-10-26 Centrum Filmowe, Lódz, Poland

John was clearly in a bad mood, that night, berating the audience for not clapping after “I Am Angie Bowie (Sine Waves)” and sarcastically referring to them as a “polite audience.” He decried photographers at the beginning of “The Last Rites of Spring,” launched into a strange rant about bootlegs and other things at the beginning of “Amethyst Deceivers,” and even namechecked Jim Morrison of The Doors during “Drip Drop.”

2003-04-06 All Tomorrow’s Parties – Camber Sands, Camber, UK

Many oft-quoted lines from John, such as “Excess makes the heart grow fonder” were first coined here. He asks the sound engineers to increase the room volume after the audience requests it, and then discusses how Victorian children would make jam from the red bits around yew berries, even telling the audience eating yew berries is a good trick to make your friends think you just poisoned yourself. An audience member quotes the line “There’s too much blood in my alcohol,” to which John responds he is totally sober, then another audience member calls him a liar, evincing just how well-known John’s alcoholism was at the time. John then mentions he has a diazepam up his bum, horse tranquilizers, and a tranquilized horse for later.

2004-06-03 Melkweg, Amsterdam, NL

Audience members question why John didn’t write all the lyrics to “Sex With Sun Ra” on his lyric sheets to which John comically responds “How dare you!” John laments his mother not phoning him for four years, discusses how David Tibet did not originally write “All the Pretty Little Horses,” explains how Val Doonican and his song “Chasing Butterflies” originally inspired “Teenage Lightning,” and points out the sound problems Tom faced on his marimba, preventing him from playing on the last two songs.

2004-07-25 Ocean, London, England

John tells a (likely exaggerated) story about the time his stepfather hung him by his clothes from a dam in Germany and a woman incessantly harasses him throughout the gig. First, she says, “Take your rags off!” to which John responds, “Take my rags off? Never!” Later on, she tells him to “going fucking die, yeah,” earning her boos and “fuck yous” from the rest of the audience. John quietly chuckles and says, “You don’t want me dead. I’m already dead. If you kill me, I’ll have to live forever.” Quite the chilling, prophetic exchange.

Best Sound Quality Recordings

1999-12-14 “20′ to 2000” – Volksbühne, Berlin, Germany

Forgettable performance or not, at least this recording sounds good.

2000-04-02 Cornucopea – Royal Festival Hall, London, UK (SBD #1a and 1c)

While incomplete without SBD #1c, SBD #1a is the first great live Coil audio recording. Excellent mixing, and better quality than the slightly compressed SBD #1b.

2002-10-05 Ydrogeios Club, Thessaloniki, Greece (SBD)

This was the first Coil gig to be recorded on a digital 24tk. recorder, and it sounds superb, despite a few pops, glitches, and edits.

2002-10-12 Megalithomania – Conway Hall, London, UK (SBD)

While the SBD is missing the speaker introduction, replaced by audience audio from the 2003-05-29 Mutek gig, of all places, this is a crystal clear SBD of a unique Coil gig.

2002-10-29 Flex, Vienna, AT (SBD)

Though currently still incomplete, this is still one of the better sounding desk recordings floating around.

2003-04-06 All Tomorrow’s Parties – Camber Sands, Camber, UK (SBD)

The sound mixing is a little shaky in some places (I suspect because the audience and John requested the sound mixers to add more room volume), but overall, most of this gig still sounds top notch.

2003-05-29 Mutek Festival ’03 – Montreal, Canada (SBD)

The second Coil gig ever recorded on a digital 24tk. recorder. It’s probably the only really flawless SBD recording, as far as I can tell. Numerous remixes/remasters of this recording have circulated.

2004-05-23 La Loco, Paris, France (SBD)

Like 2002-10-05, there are some glitches and edits, but this was the third and last digital 24tk. recording, and it certainly shows. The only sore spot is Tom’s marimba, which peaks every so often. Peter later used many of the multitrack stems to remix Black Antlers material. Uniquely, some of the backing audio tracks often take up one channel or the other on some songs, while other songs have dedicated stereo mixes, differing from the AUDs.

Best Videos / Visual Performances

Note: Of course, not every video properly captures the magic of Coil’s live shows, so this may not be a fair judgment, but sometimes, the tapers made some brilliant cinematography which I believe deserves praise.

2001-09-15 DK Gorbunova, Moscow, Russia (EDIT #3)

While plagued by several cuts to the backing video projection, this two-angle edit paints the most intimate visual performance from the “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil”-era ever put to film. The colors look somewhat saturated in this edit, and there’s no explanation for why the dominant color is orange, rather than blue, like in EDIT #2, but that only enhances the feeling that you’re watching colour-sound oblivion. DK Gorbunova had a massive stage, and John makes sure to take advantage, treating it as a big ol’ playground. Sepia-tone lighting enhances the cold, isolated feelings behind “Blood from the Air,” green light paints John as an unnatural monster during “I Am the Green Child” (rightfully so, given the content of the song), and the lights devolve into epileptic catastrophe during the signature ending number.

2002-04-07 Muffathalle, München, DE (AMT)

Tragically incomplete for unknown reasons, but the four songs that are present have extremely unique and memorable shots. The camera swirls throughout the stage during “Anarcadia: All Horned Animals,” captures John’s somewhat comical dance during “Sick Mirrors,” and prominently shows the audience members smiling and bobbing their heads to the music – a rarity indeed. The top quality of the cinematography only makes the fact that it’s incomplete hurt even more!

2002-06-07 New Forms III – Theater aan het Spui, Den Haag, NL (EDIT)

Peter’s edit of this show has a lot of problems, including syncing issues and weird cuts, but this is the best visual document of the show overall. “Amethyst Deceivers” especially is gorgeous. Great cinematography, mostly owed to draZen, captures Massimo and Pierce’s intimate and sexual performance to a tee, plus the backing videos projected onto Ossian Brown look fabulous.

2002-10-27 Palac Akropolis, Prague, CZ (AMT + EDIT)

The edit is naturally better, if a bit more obtuse than naturally so during “An Unearthly Red,” but only includes that song and “I Am Angie Bowie (Sine Waves).” It wasn’t until 2016 that one of the full AMTs surfaced, so that people could finally appreciate the gig in full. The projection work looks gorgeous and everyone goes off the lunatic fringe during “An Unearthly Red” – it’s almost worth watching just for that.

2002-10-29 Flex, Vienna, AT (EDIT)

Peter’s edit is absolutely wretched, due to a myriad of problems, including missing three songs and relying on crappy edited audio from Live Four, resulting in several sync and continuity issues, but you can’t argue with a 5-angle edit, some angles of which are clearly professional. Massimo and Pierce’s best choreography ever is committed to film from a vast array of perspectives – you can really feel the weight behind “I Don’t Want to Be the One” and “Bang Bang” especially.

2004-05-23 La Loco, Paris, France (SBD)

The last professionally recorded and edited Coil gig looks and sounds great, even if there is a lack of decent choreography; what else would you expect?

2004-05-31 Wave Gotik Treffen, Leipzig, Germany (AMT #2)

Massimo really had a hand for cinematography. This video of his is up-close and personal. John’s wild dances are amusing, yet wickedly hypnotic, and it’s fun seeing Tom Edwards’ silhouette against the backing projection.

Best Performances

2001-05-30 Luchtbal, Antwerp, Belgium

The band’s best instrumental performance of the era, but John’s second best vocal to boot, making this the co-best performance overall of the era. Every individual song has something to offer: the bursting vocal and synthesized evocations on “Higher Beings Command,” John’s first implementation of the vocoder on “Amethyst Deceivers,” his measured vocals on the excellent debut of “What Kind of Animal Are You?” the additional instrumentation and Peter’s backing vocals on “Blood from the Air” (in its best iteration here), the longest live version of “I Am the Green Child” at over 10 minutes, and the title song bearing my favorite line/reference from any performance of the song: “Stay young and beautiful / It’s your duty to be beautiful!” which is from the 1933 Abe Lyman song, makes this whole gig very special. The only sore spot is a lack of banter from John. He was very quiet, not even delivering his usual ruminations between songs.

2001-06-03 Wave Gotik Treffen, Leipzig, Germany

John’s best vocal performance of the “Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil”-era, with some of his wildest screaming ever. Perhaps he was driven by the fact that the band had invited Pierce Wyss to participate at the gig. Ossian Brown also played at this show and his additional synth tones really propelled the sound, compared to the NYC and Moscow shows where he is absent. The title track is definitely the best part and is in its best version, here, sounding like a pile-driver to the ears. “MAKE IT FUCKING LOUDER!” Following the song, Thighpaulsandra (I’m guessing) launched into an exclusive synth jam that lasted for minutes, giving some exclusivity to this powerful performance as well. I used to think it was my favorite of the era, but Luchtbal has won me over with its superior instrumentation.

2002-04-06 Teatro delle Celebrazioni, Bologna, IT

Admittedly, this is the obligatory “Backwards / Remote Viewer” gig choice, and it’s the one you would most expect, given its inclusion on Live Three, but I’d still say it’s second best. John actually sings worth a damn on all of the songs, whereas at all the other gigs from around this time, he commonly mumbled over his lyrics or did not give 100% in his delivery. In fact, this gig has the best version of “Slur” ever, if only because it was the only time John sang it particularly well (the thunder booms also enhance it). His exclusive lyrics and vocal delivery on “Sick Mirrors,” debuted here, are also unmatched by any other version, and it’s very interesting to hear it seg-way right into “A.Y.O.R.” (again, in its best version, here). “A Cold Cell” has a pretty good vocal improvisation at the end, “Paranoid Inlay,” while you can’t hear the hurdy-gurdy very well, does have excellent vocal delivery, and “Backwards,” even in this still nascent form, is quite a beast.

2002-06-07 New Forms III – Theater aan het Spui, Den Haag, NL

The best gig of the “Backwards / Remote Viewer” phase. Thighpaulsandra had rejoined the band by this point and his additional instrumentation dramatically enhanced Coil’s sound, despite Mike York’s bagpipes and other instruments now being absent. It was likely that the rest of the band were getting a bit sick of the material, by this point, so they probably didn’t want Thighpaulsandra to “learn” every song. So, the set became a tight 4 (or 5, depending on how you look at it) song affair. Quality over quantity. Intrigingly, the backing audio track was mixed relatively low in both the live sound and on the SBD recording, allowing the overlaid instrumentals and vocals to truly flourish this time. A stellar early version of “The Gimp (Sometimes),” written “The Gimp/Sometimes” to match the Hate People Like Us compilation if you like, follows “Anarcadia: All Horned Animals” seamlessly, wherein John launches into a raving lyrical improvisation. “Amethyst Deceivers” has beautiful piano, though John’s vocals do waver a bit. “Broccoli” is the least remarkable. Thighpaulsandra’s synths add a unique flair to it, but the song is hampered by John’s vicious, peaking vocals. Nonetheless, whatever qualms one could have with the music immediately evaporate in the face of an extended, 20-minute behemoth of a performance of “Backwards,” one of Coil’s crowning achievements. While Pierce and Massimo kiss, spit fake blood on each other, and give each other reach arounds, John calls homosexual love the norm and the “normal” the “perverse.” I have always interpreted this song as John autobiographically describing how he came to terms with his own homosexuality, in the face of a family and a culture which shunned such behavior. Sooner than usual, the song devolves into the “noise” section, wherein Massimo and Pierce wrap themselves lovingly around John, who stands up and reaffirms his dominance over the pair, and by extension, his own sexuality, as the music kicks back up. “I feel loved! / But it’s backwards! / I feel loved!” he shouts over and over again. John no longer cares that homosexuality is “backwards,” when all that matters is that John feels loved, which supersedes everything else. The song becomes an anthem, a triumph, as does the whole performance. There’s nothing else like it!

2002-07-13 Dour Festival – “La Plaine de La Machine à Feu,” Dour, Belgium

It’s hard not to be a little biased, since this is still a relatively new surfaced show, and the one poor quality video we have paints the proceedings as rather visually boring (despite Peter smiling into the camera a few times) and aurally lo-fi, but if you have a little patience, an urgent and strong performance shines through. John goes off on a rare maniacal performance, shrieking at the top of his lungs at several opportunities. Maybe not so appropriate for “Amethyst Deceivers,” but John and the rest of the band make up for it by singing unique vocal melodies and launching into an exclusive jam at the end respectively. For this particular phase, you won’t find any more energy from John, and it would be a few months before the beast would fully reemerge. “Anarcadia: All Horned Animals,” in extended form for the second occasion of two, greatly benefits from Thighpaulsandra’s shiny, ritualistic synths that almost always perfectly sync to the backing audio track, which he’d later reuse on subsequent songs and phases, and like at the previous show, the phaser on Cliff’s hurdy-gurdy keeps the song chugging along. There isn’t much to say about “A.Y.O.R.” except for the fact that it’s an above-average performance, but unfortunately the pace is broken as sound problems apparently plague Peter from starting “Backwards” right away, so John randomly says some of his phrases to fill the time until the song can begin. The only missing components from this show are the backing video projections on either a screen behind the band or on the band themselves. One can only see brief flashes here and there; perhaps there were technical issues and/or the band could not take all of their equipment with them to this show. Massimo and Pierce’s choreography also takes a backseat. Though they look rather limited by the small stage, they do little more than look sick on “A.Y.O.R.” and present their asses to the audience on “Backwards” – a significant downstep from the previous show, where they contorted and stretched their bodies and were all over each other during “Backwards.” At least John makes up for it by bounding all over the stage and even mounting Massimo at one point. Ultimately, this is definitely one performance where the draw is merely the music and little else, but what a performance it is.

2002-10-12 Megalithomania – Conway Hall, London, UK

Even though there is little to compare this set to, as every shortened version of “Drip Drop” really cannot do it justice, there’s no denying that this show is a fan-favorite for many, and rightfully so, because it’s an enigmatic and esoteric performance that begs for multiple listens. John’s wounded vocals filter in and out of the channels; sometimes he’s but a mere whisper, while other times he assumes control over the whole sound. “Where’s my unlucky rabbit?” Perhaps these references to the stuffed rabbit John tore apart onstage portended to the eventual classic song “Unhappy Rabbits.” Thighpaulsandra’s synths sound as crisp as chips and add dark density to the song. An achingly beautiful performance.

2002-10-25 St. John’s Church, Gdansk, Poland

This one bears an intimacy many of the other “Live Four” shows lack. Coil clearly took their commitment to church-goers and venue managers alike seriously, censoring their garb, set, and behavior so as not to offend anyone and be shut down. It seems John took his vocals equally as seriously, barely speaking between songs. Nowhere else will you hear him wail on “The Last Rites of Spring” like such a crazed animal, nor envelope the whole soundscape with his preaching on “Amethyst Deceivers.” This gig is certainly the best nine-song set of the “Live Four” phase by far.

2002-10-26 Centrum Filmowe, Lódz, Poland

This one took some time to grow on me. If the previous show, St. John’s Church, featured a calculated, deep-thought performance, this one reflects the other side of the coin. John, apparently high on Psilocybin mushrooms, is quite unhinged, here, berating the audience for their lack of applause, mumbling throughout the songs, launching into strange rants and tirades, etc., resulting in Coil’s most hit-and-miss show. John stumbles terribly on songs like “Windowpane” and “Ostia,” while he shines “I Am Angie Bowie (Sine Waves)” and “An Unearthly Red” to a sterling sheen. I know not if the other band members were also high on shrooms, but they succeed in matching John’s intensity throughout the show, making the material sound particularly fresh, which is somewhat unusual for this phase. Best performances of “The Last Rites of Spring,” “I Don’t Want to Be the One,” and “An Unearthly Red.”

2002-10-29 Flex, Vienna, AT

Some of the “Live Four” shows start to sound the same over repeated listens. Sure, you get the odd unique bit of banter from John and of course “Drip Drop” and “Bang Bang” sound different every time because they were played without any dedicated backing audio tracks, but after a while the material rarely feels especially tight, similar to some of the later “Backwards / Remote Viewer” shows. Usually, the “Live Four” material sounds more ambient, resulting in a looser overall feel. You can chalk a lot of that up to the personal strain on the band at the time, as John’s addiction to alcohol and significant intake of other drugs took its toll on the band, to the point where Flex might have been Coil’s last gig ever. But suddenly, for the last gig of the era, all the planets aligned, and Coil turned in a vicious and excellent performance that beats everything else. John was surprisingly on point for every song, finally starting to sing at an appropriate measure on “Ostia,” delivering devastating screams on “A Warning from the Sun” and “I Don’t Want to Be the One,” and revealing his vulnerability on a powerful “Bang Bang,” while Peter shined in his mixing on “Windowpane,” Thighpaulsandra with his synth notes on “Bang Bang,” and Ossian with his synth hisses on “The Last Rites of Spring” and “Amethyst Deceivers.” Even Massimo delivered his Pasolini poem with greater fervor and directness, as opposed to soft disinterest often heard previously. This is also Massimo and Pierce’s best choreography with Coil ever – a wonderful sendoff to the ghost boys. A monumental performance that definitely earned the right to dominate 2003’s Live Four album…Funny how we still do not have “An Unearthly Red”!

2003-04-06 All Tomorrow’s Parties – Camber Sands, Camber, UK

Like with Megalithomania, with the exclusive setlist, it’s difficult to compare this material to other Coil material in terms of performance, but there was undoubtedly lightning captured in a bottle here. Peter and Thighpaulsandra had worried whether John would be able to come up with anything lyrically at all, meaning he gave almost everything off the top of his head rather than off of lyric sheets, and considering John had always relied on them, his performance is a miracle. Nervous textures in his vocals enhance the disturbing moods of the songs at the best of times – certainly “Snow Falls Into Military Temples” is one of the greatest ambient tracks Coil ever recorded, “A Slip in the Marylebone Road” one of the most enigmatic, and “Triple Sons and the One You Bury” one of the most heavy-hitting – while at other times sadly his vocals falter a bit and the song suffers. This mainly just affects “The Dreamer is Still Asleep – The Somnambulist in an Ambulance,” as the line “Somnambulist in an ambulance” repeated a thousand times gets a little old. Tom also returned to play with Coil almost a year and a half after his last show with them, 2001-09-15 Moscow. It doesn’t sound like they gave him much rehearsal time, as most of his marimba riffs sound like they’re made up on the spot, but where they fit perfectly with the music, they’re exceptional. Definitely some of his best work here. You don’t really need me to tell you how great this performance is; it’s a fan favorite for a reason.

2003-06-21 Casa da Música Festival, Porto, Portugal

The last three gigs in 2003 certainly lack a lot of love that the others revel in, and to be fair, I think there’s a good reason for that: John was easily half the magick all by himself, and without him, a core element is simply missing from the music and show. Nevertheless, these gigs certainly deserve more attention, and of them, this one is definitely the best. Peter, Thighpaulsandra, and Ossian really sound like they know what they’re doing here. For 2003-05-29 Mutek, it was hard to tell how much was actual performance and how much was the computer, and as for 2003-07-12 Supersonic Festival, badly compressed recordings bury a lot of the spirit of Tom’s marimba and the overall nuances. Here, the familiar riffs of “Triple Sons and the One You Bury” and “The First Five Minutes After Death” bear riffs tuned up, which makes for surprisingly great enhancements. “Snow Falls Into Military Temples” is given one more go in evolved form, and it’s actually quite effective, if a little simple. The other songs all sound like how you’d expect, though. This was also Ossian’s last show with Coil – thank you for all your hard work, man.

2004-05-23 La Loco, Paris, France

This was the only time the all-star lineup of Thighpaulsandra, Tom, Cliff, and Mike were all present at a Coil gig. The music sounds immaculate and amazingly intricate because of it – you can’t say that about any of the other “Black Antlers” shows! Though Tom was always present (except for the last two songs at the 2004-06-03 Melkweg) show, Cliff only appeared at two other gigs (2004-07-11 Jesi and 2004-07-25 Ocean respectively) and Mike never played with them again. Every member, even when just improvising, never detracted from the rest of the music. Peter and Thighpaulsandra, of course, were brilliant as always. “Teenage Lightning” might very well be Coil’s finest moment live, especially the climax five minutes or so in. The only missing component was John’s vocals. Sadly, he was very drunk and stumbled/mumbled over many of his lyrics throughout the whole show, hurting a lot of the multitrack stems Peter later used on song remixes. Had his performance been totally on point, this would be the best show Coil ever played BY FAR.

2004-07-25 Ocean, London, England

Approximately 500 people attended this show, and numerous people on the Coil Facebook group have lauded its brilliance as a performance. Sadly, it’s the worst-recorded gig of the “Black Antlers”-era, but that doesn’t stop a magnificent performance from shining through. Pretty much every song is in top form, here, but the last three songs are where the gig really shines. Tom applied an effect to his marimba throughout the show that raised its octave and made all of his riffs sound much more fantastical and dream-like, while John sang worth a damn following the largely mumbled Jesi show. “Sex With Sun Ra” really improves thematically from this effect, but it absolutely makes “All the Pretty Little Horses” – no version of the song by Coil or any other band even remotely touches this flawless gem. “Tattooed Man” has lyrics later incorporated on “Unhappy Rabbits” on this version only, which is pretty cool too. Again, though, the gig becomes legendary once “Edgeways” starts up, the only time in the set it ever followed “Teenage Lightning” instead of “All the Pretty Little Horses,” which I think was a necessary swap. A flawless performance breaks through any lo-fi recording of the gig we have. John’s screaming is constantly recut and played over the rest of the music, giving the song the most maddening feel it has ever had. The song seg-ways right into “Wraiths and Strays,” again, in top form and perhaps unbeatable. “Black Antlers” manages to be insanely hypnotic and captivating, despite it only appearing in poor quality. This is my personal number one request for a properly recording / SBD to surface. If one ever does, I swear, this one will become a universal fan favorite by all. Hopefully we’ll hear it someday.

2004-10-23 “Stranded With Gifts” – Dublin Electronic Arts Festival – City Hall, Dublin, Ireland

Do I even need to explain this one? I suppose I don’t often hear people laud John for improvising particularly telling lyrics during “The Beginning is Always the End” – “And by the stroke of luck, dissolved in a fit / That’s the way it is, that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is / I had a stroke of luck, dissolved in a fit / That is the way it is, the way it is, the way it is.” The demented waltz instrumentation and incorporation of two backing video projections during “Tom’s Radio Weston” is also pretty cool. But yeah, everything else, I’m pretty sure you already know. Brilliant, sad, beautiful, and heartfelt show. What a way to go out.

Top 7 Overall Shows/Recordings

In no particular order. Factoring in every aspect of the shows I previously ranked, here are the very best Coil shows. Everything about these gigs has already been said.

2001-05-30 Luchtbal, Antwerp, Belgium

2002-06-07 New Forms III – Theater aan het Spui, Den Haag, NL

2002-10-12 Megalithomania – Conway Hall, London, UK

2002-10-29 Flex, Vienna, AT

2003-04-06 All Tomorrow’s Parties – Camber Sands, Camber, UK

2004-07-25 Ocean, London, England

2004-10-23 “Stranded With Gifts” – Dublin Electronic Arts Festival – City Hall, Dublin, Ireland

Other Performance Reviews

Here’s a further look at some gigs which I either only briefly touched upon just now or not at all.

Coming soon…