2016 in review: Top gigs and albums of the year

My Top 10 gigs of 2016

band-of-horses

10. Band of Horses – Forum – 24 July

Rounding out my list is one from my 16 in 2016 hopefuls. Always a favourite, Band of Horses played a super fun show with a wicked set list.

9. Matt Corby – Palais – May

I expected this show to be good, but was really surprised at how entrancing the tunes were. It was a strange, but consequently very memorable, show. Corby was simultaneously engaging (that voice) but entirely switched off from the crowd.

8. Jordie Lane – Gaso – 18 March

Every show Jordie does is tops. This one stood out as the first showcasing his awesome Gassellland songs and the ditching of the hat – a new era 😛

7. Lianne La Havas – Howler – 8 December

This show was just Lianne and a guitar and it was perfect. She is such a charismatic performer, loves the crowd and engages like few others can.

brian-wilson

6. Brian Wilson – 3 April

This show was great for the sheer brilliance of its set list. Brian left his performance peak behind him a long, long time ago, but with a huge band and fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine at his side, a performance of 38 (!) classics was still damn impressive. Pop music has a lot to thank him for.

coldplay

5. Coldplay – Etihad – 9 December

It has to land in the list, but putting it any higher is just unfair given what monumental amounts of money went into this show. Coldplay are the stadium band of this generation and there was so much going on in this performance – runways, hidden stages, confetti explosions, fireworks, lasers, a glowing crowd… oh, and a few tunskis – it’s impossible to forget it.

4. Montaigne – Corner – 13 October

I could possibly throw Montaigne into the list twice, she’s that good live (and the twitchy-light-fest of ‘In the Dark’ at Howler was super rad), but I’ll stick with the best I saw her in 2016. Riding high on her debut and Aria noms, this was a set brimming with confidence, stellar dance moves and that amazing voice. Montaigne will be one of those “remember when she still played club shows…” kind of acts.

3. Kate Miller-Heidke and TSO – Odeon Theatre – 18 January

An interstate sojourn for a gig  right back at the start of the year. The entirety of this gig was great, but I could rate it so highly on Kate’s performance of ‘Where?’ from The Rabbits alone. Wow. Always fun and engaging, Kate’s songs lend themselves super well to an orchestra and the TSO did them serious justice.

bon-iver

2. Bon Iver – Sydney Opera House – 29 May

A year ago I put together a list of 16 acts I wanted to see in 2016, which included two or three big calls. One of them – Bon Iver – actually happened and I was damn stoked about it. Not only that, it was my first concert at the Sydney Opera House. The show was experimental, clever and beautiful, a kind unlike anything else I’ve seen.

leon-bridges

1. Leon Bridges – Forum – 19 July

Every now and then there’s a show where everything aligns – the atmosphere and act colliding in a performance that just stands out from the rest. Leon Bridges is all kinds of performer: soulful, playful, magnetic, classy. His band is divine and his songs are so, so much fun. And all of that culminated at Melbourne’s finest venue for my favourite gig this year.

My Top 10 albums of 2016

10

10. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

09

9. M83 – Junk

08

8. Aurora – All My Demons Greeting Me As Friends

07

7. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

06

6. Ngaiire – Blastoma

05

5. Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math

04

4. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious?

03

3. Emma Louise – Supercry

02

2. Montaigne – Glorious Heights

01

1. Jordie Lane – Glassellland

Modest Mouse @ Margaret Court Arena, 23 March 2016

I loved this Modest Mouse gig because it was brimming with questions:

  • “What was Isaac mumbling?”
  • “When did Tom grow that stellar beard?”
  • “Is this song really ‘This Devil’s Workday’?”
  • “Does their roadie double as a bonus horn player?”
  • “Are they going to play ‘Float On’? Because I hear they didn’t play that in Sydney, and it’s a damn good song, and if they don’t bloody well pl… Oh wait, here it is.”

The last time I saw Modest Mouse was nine years ago at the now deceased Palace nightclub in St Kilda. That gig stands as one of my all time favourites, with premieres of We Were Dead material weighing down the setlist, a full scale mosh pit, and one funny tantrum from Brock when asked to play something from before 2003.

Last night in Melbourne was an entirely different affair. This was a big room (a remodelled arena event), the crowd didn’t mosh but appreciated things more subduedly, and the set delivered a hefty swag of the older Modest Mouse tracks.

Brock was talkative and funny, albeit mostly incoherent, and demonstrated how he’s one of the most expressive singers around with faces often screamy and scary and plenty of flailing guita. And the band were tight, frequently swapping out instruments for a wildly diverse set.

Modest Mouse are a rare breed and this was one damn cool performance.

Set list

  1. Ocean Breathes Salty
  2. Be Brave
  3. Tiny Cities Made of Ashes
  4. Lampshades on Fire
  5. Fire It Up
  6. Dark Center of the Universe
  7. King Rat
  8. This Devil’s Workday
  9. Baby Blue Sedan
  10. The Best Room
  11. Dashboard
  12. Gravity Rides Everything
  13. Cowboy Dan
  14. Wicked Campaign
  15. Black Cadillacs
  16. Shit in Your Cut
  17. Float On
  18. Paper Thin Walls
  19. The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box
  20. The Good Times Are Killing Me

Falls Festival @ Mt Duneed Estate (Victoria), 28-31 December 2015

Falls Festival managed to pull off what was previously thought impossible. With fires still threatening the Otways, there was no chance the Erskine Falls sight in Lorne would proceed. But Falls have friends and favours, it appears.

My Duneed Estate, just outside of Geelong, was the replacement sight. It’s used more commonly for A Day on the Green but for this week, it would be overrun by the young and munted. At first I thought the replacement site would be a disaster, but I soon ate my words.

The sight was actually larger than Lorne, with a hill that seemed to climb on forever (not as steep as Lorne, but noticeably longer back). As for most other factors, the organisers had, in some feat of super natural ability, replicated the festival in 2 days! The stage setups, bars, food vendors, shelters – the whole deal – had not been compromised by the last minute shift. It was a bloody stellar effort.

Of course, then there was the relentless heat, ants of wrath, expensive drinks and droves of dickheads…

Musically, the lineup went ahead unchanged – from trippin to rockin, classics new and old, ska, stoner, dance, indie – Falls, as per usual, had it all. And through the music, the aforementioned negatives seemed to be forgiven.

Boogie Nights. Well, that happened.

Day 2 featured early local fare, including The Bennies, whose stoner party rock had revellers dancing in the afternoon sun, before the smooth soul of the ultra-dapper Leon Bridges set a completely new tone. Falls were on the mark booking Bridges at this stage and I can now highly recommend him.

Halsey and Paul Kelly held the late afternoon slots. The former was a surprise, holding a formidable stage presence and evoking the most genuinely huge crowd reaction I’ve heard at Falls following her song ‘Ghost’. Then Paul Kelly’s Merri Soul Sessions brought the class, with Clairy Brown and Vika and Linda Bull killing it on lead vocals throughout the set.

01 falls halsey

It really started to heat up on Day 3, with the site’s lack of shade taking its toll on the afternoon crowds (where did they all go to hide?). Alpine had a tough slot early arvo, but produced an energy that was somewhat hard to believe. Likewise, the energy held on the main stage with Courtney Barnett, who shook off any ideas of subtle, with guitar thrashing and hair flailing.

Gary Clark Jr was the epitome of cool, pulling in more and more listeners as he went on and displaying a legendary talent on the guitar. Afterwards, Ngaiire was keeping things cool up in the tent, with a stripped back soul session that demonstrated her own impressive vocal talents.

Sandwiched between Rufus (who are proof that if you make something shiny enough you’ll excite the majority) and Disclosure, Bloc Party’s indie rock needed to pull out all stops to keep the party vibe. For the most part they succeeded, with favourites like ‘Ratchet’ and ‘Helicopter’ right on target.

03 falls bloc party

New year’s eve started off beautifully with a swag of local acts. Little May kept things cool in the top tent, demonstrating a distinctly Australian folk rock, before Meg Mac and Holy Holy impressed on the main stage, with the heat meaning the latter struggled to pull a sizeable crowd despite deserving one.

The rock theme continued throughout the afternoon, first with Londoners The Maccabees releasing a solid performance despite the heat they of all people would be struggling through. Harts overlapped in the top tent, absolutely nailing it. That guy is going to be a superstar. Finally, Birds of Tokyo brought the anthems to the main stage and arms to the air, probably as much in reaction to the drop in temperature as to their tunes.

04 falls sunset hands

Elliphant accompanied the sunset of Falls’ last day, delivering a strange Sweden meets Jamaica kind of rap. Her banter may have been at times comical, but she knew how to rev people up and had a great time.

05 falls elliphant

Finally, midnight was counted down by Foals, who delivered a varied set with quieter lulls and elated highs. Yannis Philippakis owned the set as he literally stood on top of the crowd, while the band produced a stellar guitar jam to lead into 2016.

02 falls sunset backstage

The Basics @ Melbourne Festival – Foxtel Festival Hub, 14 October 2015

This was The Basics of new and old – politically driven in the lyrics of their new material, while continuing to wear their musical influences on their sleeve.

The set list was effectively divided between recent Basics songs and not-so-recent cover versions; everything from Split Enz, The Everly Brothers and Eric Bogle, with the crowd given the opportunity to offer up sheet music to any tune they liked (one offer resulting in some classic Farnsy).

The set thrived on good times, grooves and goofs, as always, with added passion in Kris’ fervent singing on tracks like ‘Time Poor’ and ‘Lucky Country’.

And having tried an in-the-round gig in January before this event, the trio proved the format’s merits: it was a far more inclusive experience for the crowd, both visually and in the general vibe.

With another hiatus on the horizon, this was a great Basics experience to add to the list, with Melbourne Festival’s Hub offering a unique and strictly limited musical environment.

Augie March & The Drones @ The Croxton, 2 October 2015

Having not played in a few months, and with their last tour consisting of Australia’s finer venues, it had been a while between spilled drinks on sticky floors for Augie March. The far subtler of the pair of headliners, Augie led with a mixture of their last three albums, as always the musicality the strength rather than any physical energy. ‘Brundisium’, ‘Song in the Key of Chance’ and ‘The Night is a Blackbird’ – all from Strange Bird – were twists in Augie’s ever changing setlist, while newie ‘Definitive History’ was a fantastically wordy conclusion.

The Drones were less still, less reserved and less sober than Augie. Off the back of their Wait Long by the River album shows, they were well and truly ready to christen the Croxton with their poetic, guttural, heavy supremacy. A double of ‘Shark Fin Blues’ and ‘Baby’ straight out of the gate set the tone for the next hour – a rampage of rock and eerie harmonies, big guitar and thunderous drums. The creep of ‘Locust’ and momentum of ‘Minotaur’ were additional highlights, but the closing cover and Drones staple ‘River of Tears’ was the most poignant moment of all.

And how did the venue fair? The Croxton’s new bandroom is an interesting addition to the Melbourne scene. Without knowing any numbers I can only make assumptions, but it looks to hold a fair lot more than its similar peers (vibe-wise), such as the Corner Hotel bandroom. And there’s no pole in the centre. The capacity bodes well for future lineups, although while standing up front is fine, a lack of any changes to levelling means the further back you are the less you’ll witness visually. It plays the pub well though, so that is hardly going to concern many.

In any case, the fact that Melbourne is opening a venue like this instead of closing one is the biggest winner of all.

Eves the Behavior @ Northcote Social Club, 13 September 2015

If this was her first headline show, then Eves the Behavior is going to be huge. Electronic beats backed a voice that was one moment dark and moody and the next gloriously soaring – a range her contemporaries would be envious of.

With little released material to her name, this still managed to become a full set without ever the feeling of filler. There was variety amongst the tracks and strategy in positioning the more popular numbers, including 2015 radio staples ‘TV’ and ‘Electrical’, as well as a tailored rendition of ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’.

In a twist on the usual “now for my solo”, Eves left the stage only to reappear alone at the back of the venue for one late number, shifting focus as much musically as she had physically. A simple quirk to the set, but clever nonetheless.

Eves’ vocal range, mood bending genre and variety of content are her definite strengths. This first headline performance was sold out for good reason and bodes extremely well for what comes next.

Mark Ronson @ Margartet Court Arena, 29 July 2015

A show like this doesn’t come together very often, which is why snagging a ticket to Mark Ronson was a really, really good idea. The English producer’s fourth LP, Uptown Special, is phenomenally fun and its translation to the live arena worked beautifully.

Picking highlights from a set like Ronson’s is easy, with the show leaving countless talking points in its wake. The set up and production were brilliant – the band positioned behind elevated screens featuring footage, lyrics, lights and more; with the screens themselves creating a multi-teared podium with Ronson top and centre.

Then there was the lineup of guests, which took the spectacle to the next level. Australian artists like Ella Thompson, Daniel Merriweather and Kevin Parker provided a homely touch, while the international contingent impressed with Theophilus London, Keyone Starr, Kyle Falconer and my personal favourite, Andrew Wyatt.

There were plenty more takeaways, too: like how sincere Ronson came across, how sparkly some of those jackets were, and how keen and plain awesome the horns dudes were throughout.

With all the guests in tow, the set felt like a greatest hits of modern indie dance classics, with Ronson’s tracks complemented by a few of the artists’ own (Merriweather’s ‘Change’, London’s ‘Tribe’ and Wyatt’s ‘Animal’). The set was owned by the last two tracks, though. ‘Valerie’ was a tribute to Amy Winehouse, with the band rocking to Winehouse’s recorded vocal, before ‘Uptown Funk’ had everyone in hysterics with Theophilus London and Keyone Starr leading the vocal duties perfectly.

Mark (1) 29.7.15

Setlist

Feel Right
Ooh Wee
Bang Bang Bang (feat. Ella Thompson)
The Bike Song (feat. Kyle Falconer)
Everyday (feat. Kyle Falconer)
Tribe (feat. Theophilus London)
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (feat. Daniel Merriweather)
Change (feat. Daniel Merriweather)
I Can’t Lose (feat. Keyone Starr)
Summer Breaking (feat. Kevin Parker)
Daffodils (feat. Kevin Parker and Kirin J Callinan)
Leaving Los Feliz (feat. Kevin Parker)
Animal (feat. Andrew Wyatt)
Heavy and Rolling (feat. Andrew Wyatt)
Somebody To Love Me (feat. Andrew Wyatt)
Valerie
Uptown Funk (feat. Everyone)