Five Epic London Comeback Gigs

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 112 months ago
Five Epic London Comeback Gigs

A comeback that never was. Photo by Conrad Chua, in the Londonist Flickr pool.

After 35 years eschewing the limelight, woozy quinquagenarian nymph Kate Bush has re-emerged in Hammersmith to ecstatic reviews. With dancers moonlighting as fish skeletons, a hovering dry ice machine and Bush herself singing from a flotation tank (although no Wuthering Heights, sorry folks), Before the Dawn has instantly been hailed as one of the great comebacks. Here are five more comebacks (or reunions if you prefer) that took place on the London stage, and set tongues wagging.

Brian Wilson: Pet Sounds, 2002

Having composed two of pop's greatest albums in the late 1960s — Pet Sounds and SMiLE (the latter of which was only properly released in 2011) — Beach Boy Brian Wilson broke down in an ugly mess of drug and birthday cake abuse. The singer-songwriter made various (often shaky) stage appearances between the 70s and 90s, but it wasn't until the noughties that Wilson really regained his confidence. In January 2002, he performed the whole of Pet Sounds at the Royal Festival Hall — and despite some unhinged banter along the way ("We have some angels onstage and the angels will come out and sing with me"), the gig heralded a triumphant return. Wilson came back to the RFH two years later to perform SMiLE in its entirety — another acclaimed show.

Led Zeppelin: Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert, 2007

Apparently Led Zeppelin's first gig was underneath a record store on Gerrard Street in London. For their 2007 comeback concert — a tribute to music exec Ahmet Ertegün — the city was the same, but the venue decidedly more epic i.e. a packed out O2 (around 20 million people tried for tickets, 16,000 scored them). On 10 December, Page, Plant et al brought down the house with renditions of Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven. Unafraid to belt out the classic, this one-off show was always going to earn near-mythical status. It helped raise £26 million for Oxford University scholarships, too.

My Bloody Valentine, 2008

When they rocked up (quite literally) at the Roundhouse in 2008, shoegazers My Bloody Valentine hadn't done a UK tour for 16 years. Fans concerned that MBV may have lost some of their deafeningly-dreamy chutzpah in the interim needn't have worried. The group rattled off a mesmerising set of songs from their first two albums Isn't Anything and Loveless, and the success of these Roundhouse gigs may well have egged them on to release their third album in 2013. Those who waved away the free earplugs offered at the door have been suffering from tinnitus ever since.

Michael Jackson: This Is It, 2009

Yes, we realise lots of these great comebacks took place at the O2, but that's sort of inevitable, when you consider the magnitude of the fan bases. Of course, Michael Jackson's This Is It — a string of shows due to take place at the O2 in July 2009 — never actually happened. Jackson was due to perform a staggering 50 times (and earn himself the equivalent of that in millions of dollars), but just weeks before opening, he died following a cardiac arrest. Surely this was the biggest scheduled show in London's history that never was? According to newspapers at the time, Jackson's family blamed London for his death. Oh, well done London.

Monty Python Live (Mostly), 2014

The only show on this list that comes close to the trippy stage values of Before the Dawn is the Python's shindig at the O2 earlier this year. Silly walkers galore, an ersatz Chinatown and hordes of Spam-adoring Finns saw to that. For a show of such magnitude, it was wonderful to see some unabashed corpsing from Cleese and Co — and strangely comforting that not every single sketch worked (just like the good old days). Kate Bush may be the comeback of the decade but her show doesn't end with a sing-a-long to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

What's the best comeback/reunion gig you saw in London? Post your comments below.

Last Updated 28 August 2014