The Best Gigs of 2008

He came, he rapped and he conquered Glastonbury – but Jay-Z wasn't the only music act to rock our world this year. The Independent's music writers choose their top five live performances, ones they will never forget


White Denim, Dingwalls, London (November)

Austin, Texas-based White Denim were one of the hits at their hometown's SXSW festival this year, and their debut album Workout Holiday alerted many more to their muscular, turbulent sound, which revives the psych-rock power-trio format of Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, for a world also informed by garage-punk, grunge and math-rock. The Dingwalls show was an incendiary set awash in wah-wah guitar, dizzying basslines and the kind of powerful, polyrhythmic drumming that recalls such giants as Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell, all delivered with stunning force and conviction.
Andy Gill

Blondie, Latitude Festival, Suffolk (July)
Previous comeback gigs had been leaden – but this time Debbie Harry looked time-travel gorgeous, funny and committed, and was playing exhilarating, idealistic singles and proving to a tent crammed full with dancers just how good pop can be. Thousands outside in the lashing rain turned their backs on Nick Cave's main-stage headliners Grinderman to join in. Blondie had rediscovered their spirit. Nick Hasted

Africa Express, Liverpool Olympia (March)
At seven hours long, and with its mass of intercontinental stars performing together in vibrant semi-improvised workouts, this defied all the rules of a gig. A stunning line-up had the likes of Damon Albarn, Franz Ferdinand, The Magic Numbers and Reverend and the Makers sharing a stage with Rachid Taha, Amadou and Mariam, Tony Allen and more of Africa's biggest stars. Watching Franz as they were joined first by Baaba Maal, then Bassekou Kouyate and the rapper Kano for an energetic Afrobeat-driven "Take Me Out" was to witness one of many unforgettable moments of that night that could never be recreated. Elisa Bray

Raphael Saadiq Jazz Café, London (November)
Any discerning soulhead who harks back to the days of R&B trio Tony! Toni! Toné! will have been following the multi-talented Raphael Saadiq since he went solo in the mid-1990s, launched Lucy Pearl and later served gems to everyone from rapper Q-Tip to Joss Stone. This gig captured his illustrious career in the space of two hours – he got lost in the dulcet sounds of his bass guitar, left the crowd to sing along, and was the quintessential showman; engaging, charming, altogether phenomenal. It didn't hurt that I was at the very front. Matilda Egere-Cooper

Jay-Z Glastonbury (June)
Jay-Z found himself playing the most controversial gig of the year after purists objected to a hip-hop artist headlining Glastonbury, a festival with a deep-rooted tradition of rock music. Some of the crowd were fans, most were curious, but when Jay-Z strolled on to the Pyramid stage to "Wonderwall", a cheeky nod to the elder Gallagher's outrage at Jay-Z headlining, everyone went berserk. I'd lost my friends but stayed on my own to watch the spectacular show, and rather worryingly "bounce" along with the crowd. The atmosphere was thrilling and it felt like you were witnessing something that people would talk about for years to come. Gillian Orr

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