Best and Worst Gigs of 2012

 

Having enjoyed or endured over 200 artists this year in the name of, well, music, there’s obviously a handful that stand above – and below – the rest.

Related: 2012 in Pictures, Top 5 Albums of  2012

5 of the The Best…

5. Jackson Firebird – The Retreat, 7th June 2012
Jackson Firebird

Jackson Firebird

A midweek night at a Brunswick hotel doesn’t immediately scream “2013 Glastonbury Headliners”, but as Mildura duo Jackson Firebird tore up the stage at The Retreat, their debut album Cock Rockin’ was launched in spectacular style.

Drummer Dale Hudak steals the show, moving between the drums, the upturned recycling bin, to the top of the amp stack and through mid air.

Live is what these guys are about – amazing energy dripping from their two man brand of self-described cock rock. Though in reality, this is anything but Nickelback. It’s raw, exciting, loud and vibrant. The crowd at the retreat are well up for this, and it’s one of the great album launches 2012 has seen from the Warner signed fellas.”

4. Radiohead – Rod Laver Arena, 16th November 2012
Radiohead @ Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne, 16th November 2012)

Radiohead

Now admittedly, most music writers probably had one of the Radiohead shows in their top 5 gigs of the year before they’d even taken to the stage, but I went along not really knowing what to expect.

Yes I’d like them to write more ‘songs’. Yes I’m over sycophantic writers fawning over Thom Yorke‘s every burp, but perhaps, just perhaps, after seeing them live 8 years on from the last time I’ll concede that they might actually be right.

With a near perfect mix of well formed songs and more avante garde ideas, the spectacular stage setup, wall to wall percussion and captivating front man, Radiohead earnt their inevitably glowing reviews.

Newer tunes from The King of Limbs shone, the show had moments of manic madness (Myxamitosis) and beautifully scaled back reflective offerings (Pyramid Song).

Without doubt though the highlight was the looped and layered 2 man offering of Give Up The Ghost, with Thom and Johnny silencing the crowd for just under 5 minutes. Incredible.

3. Jack White – Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay 27th July 2012
Jack White

Jack White

Armed with the best album of 2012, Jack White hit the Supertop stage at Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass festival on the back of some indifferent reviews from his Melbourne sideshow earlier in the week.

A packed in crowd – who had spent the day wading through the Belongil Fields mud – were treated to the highlight of the festival as Mr White, bathed in blue light throughout – played two distinct sets with two distinct bands.

Backed first by all-male (and impeccably dressed) outfit The Buzzards, he switched ahead of the brilliant Love Interruption to all-female band The Peacocks.

With a mix of songs from The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, as well as a healthy serving of songs from current release Blunderbuss, Jack White came, saw, and conquered Splendour in the Grass for 2012

 

2. PJ Harvey – The Regent Theatre, 17th January 2012
PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey

Let England Shake is a masterpiece, and unlike anything else released last year. As a complete piece of work though, how would it weave its way through her other work in a live setting?

Equally important was how the crowd would react at the magnificently opulent Regent Theatre, a venue more used to hosting overblown Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals than a 2 night stint by iconic songwriters.

It was nothing short of a triumph. Opening with the title track of the album, and delivering every song from it throughout the 90 minute set, this was the perfect setting for a show that sat somewhere between a concert and a recital.

There were some trips to the back catalogue - 1995′s To Bring You My Love gave us the haunting and sinister Down By The Water, which drew a fantastic response – but it was Let England Shake that was the centrepiece of the night.

The Words That Maketh Murder, All & Everyone and the title track sound even darker than on record, and This Glorious Land steals a show just overflowing with contenders.

 

1. The Black Keys – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, 31st October 2012
The Black Keys

The Black Keys

Now this might not be the ‘best’ gig of 2012. It might not have been in the top handful for many reviewers, but to me it was my favourite by a long, long way.

And the reasons for this are quite small, and 3 years old.

Having developed some sort of obsession with the duo from Akron, Ohio, I took my son along to his first gig not knowing what the night would bring. Would it be overwhelming tiredness, loud noise, crowds that would freak him out, or a first gig par excellence?

Needn’t have worried. From the second Patrick Carney hit the toms to signal the start of Howlin’ For You, I knew this was going to be a night to remember.

Tearing through song after song at breakneck speed, the highlight came when guitarist Dan Auerbach picked up a resonator and gave us Little Black Submarines. Removing his ear protectors, the young fella on my lap yelled “This is the quiet one!”. Priceless.

Closing the night with I Got Mine, this was not a night I – or the smaller version of me who by this stage was still air drumming on my shoulders – would ever forget.


Naturally, there were other crackers that missed out narrowly.

Arctic Monkeys and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds got on the board early, with January shows at the Palace and  Palais Theatre respectively showcasing what the Sheffield lads and talented Gallagher brother are capable of.

Norwegian electronic folk Röyksopp blew minds with their incredible sound and light show at the Palace, Missy Higgins made us all feel like we were listening to her play in her lounge room in early December at the Palais Theatre, and Drunk Mums drenched us in beer, made our ears bleed, and generally stole the show at a demolition site gig promoting footwear (and they weren’t even headlining).

DZ Deathrays and Pond both gave us incredible Day 1 sets at Splendour in the Grass, and you know what? Aqua, New Kids on the Block and The Backstreet Boys all showed the various hoards of 80/90s revival and nostalgia acts that you don’t have to just dial in a performance at a local tatts pokies venue. Pop music, power ballads and bubblegum can be spectacular, high budget and high energy if you put in the effort.

Hey, you can even have a live band…

And the worst…

5. Zakk Wylde – The Forum Theatre, 28th February 2012
Zakk Wylde

Zakk Wylde

Armed with an artillery of black and white guitars, the shredder, and his Black Label Society were out here for Soundwave.

Having long maintained that even average gigs are made better at The Forum, my theory was tested heavily and it didn’t necessarily stand up.

He can play, but with a front of house mix doing him no favours, any nuances in playing and clarity in the growling vocals were lost amid a wall of noise.

Add to that a crowd who spent decent stretches of the show ducking out for drinks and ciggies, it was a gig low on atmosphere, low on sound quality, low on any interaction with the crowd, and high on volume.

4. Lady Gaga – Rod Laver Arena, 28th June 2012
Lady Gaga @ Rod Laver Arena (Melbourne 28th June 2012)

Lady Gaga

Playing a heap of shows at Rod Laver Arena, for huge money, it may surprise some of you that for all the tinsel and glitter, Lady Gaga‘s live performance is soulless, disjointed and at times head-scratchingly bad.

Still, style over substance though it may be, it seemed worthwhile to head along and check it out.

With large stretches of the show seemingly set aside for costume changes and castle-climbing, Ms Gaga never finds a continuous flow of songs that connect with the full house in front of her. Even her $700 paying ‘Monster Pit’ lacks energy and seems – save for a more bare bones performance in front of them – as disconnected as the rest of us from Planet G.O.A.T.

Impossible to fault the sets and costumes it may be, for all the window dressing brilliance of the Born This Way Ball however, it lacks soul, authenticity, cohesion and flow.

3. Sublime with Rome – The Palace, 9th April 2012
Sublime with Rome

Sublime with Rome

When bands lose a frontman, a few things can happen. They become New Order. They become AC/DC. They become, less successfully, INXS. Or in the case of 90s ska-punk band Sublime, they get a guitarist with a decent career already, endure some lawsuits and eventually change their name as a result.

The Sublime that showed up at the Palace Theatre retained just one member of the original band, and gave us a perplexing array of tunes, old and new, in the space of 90 minutes.

No on stage charisma from any of the members, patchy versions of songs we knew and plenty that we didn’t made for an entirely bewildering and sub par performance from a band who really should have a fork stuck in them. They’re done.

 

 

2. Lana del Rey – The Palace, 23rd July 2012
Lana del Rey @ The Palace (Melbourne 23rd July 2012)

Lana del Rey

The enigma of Lana del Rey finally made it to Australia ahead of Splendour in the Grass in July.

She’d cancelled hugely popular shows at the Toff in Town in March, and on the back of the hype had upgraded to the far bigger Palace complex.

The personification of image triumphing over substance, del Rey made her way to the stage and delivered Blue Jeans, her voice a long way from its recorded form.

Whilst she does cut through and connect with her audience – in the front row at least – by climbing down from the high stage, her voice isn’t strong enough, and clocking in at barely 50 minutes is a poor return on a punter’s $75 ticket.

Her set some days later further north however was a vast improvement, but tonight at the Palace Lizzie Grant took punters for a ride. And not a good one.

 

1. S Club – The Palace, 23rd May 2012
S Club

S Club

In recent memory has there been a gig as bad as S Club‘s effort at the Palace in May?

S Club you say? Don’t you mean S Club 7?”

Oh no. There were 3 members of the UK manufactured pop outfit on stage. No band. No stage setup. Just 3 money grabbing folk out to mime a large portion of their older hits.

When you’re upstaged by your support act - Big Brovaz – who lip-synced their way through their one hit and a few other tunes, you know you’ve got problems.

Their ‘medley’ delivered early sounded like a Grade 3 primary school dance performance, with the volume simply turned down between each song. No mixing and seemingly no preparation.

Those in the crowd who had paid north of $60 had every right to file a police report for robbery.

“There aint no party like an S Club party”…?

They got that right at least…


Happy 2013 to you all, a year of some more great music, great live gigs, and, hopefully, a Blurtour.

Related2012 in PicturesTop 5 Albums of  2012

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