My year in live music – 2014

Happy 2014 with music

It was another packed live music schedule in 2014 for me. All up, almost 30 dates, including three festivals and a multitude of artists. Here is my top five, a summary of the next best, and the full list of gigs attended.

No.1 Elbow

Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW, 26 October

A simple equation here: one of my favourite bands of all time plays one of my favourite venues of all time. How could it fail to impress me? Answer: it didn’t. In fact it brought me close to tears a number of times. This show was breathtaking. I’ve seen Elbow in every conceivable setting, from small club to festival, but the majestic Sydney Opera House could be the ideal venue for one of Britain’s best musical exports. The pace of the show was perfect, Charge kicking things off just enough to get toes tapping, with The Bones Of You doing much the same. The Night Will Always Win showcased Guy Garvey’s stunning vocals like never before, highlighting a central core of down-tempo loveliness to melt the toughest of hearts. The Birds acted as the first stanza of a build-up to a tremendous crescendo, including Grounds For Divorce and, of course, another unforgettable encore of One Day Like This.

I cannot put into words the brilliance of this show. It’s an absolute lifetime highlight, a memory that will always burn bright and never be a fading ember.

No.2 Austin City Limits

Zilker Park, Austin TX, 11-12 October

I wrote at the time about my affection for this weekend. Austin City Limits proved to be one of the best music festivals I’ve ever attended. I saw so many bands I couldn’t list them all here, but highlights included Poliça from side of stage (thanks Craig), a blissful Broken Bells set, the best Phantogram performance I’ve witnessed with Sarah Barthel sexier than ever, an introduction to the insanely infection Avett Brothers, running from Skrillex to Eminem and struggling to believe I was on planet Earth, A supercharged Lorde set and, of course, another flawless Pearl Jam show to close an epic weekend. There was more, but all you need to know was this festival was the dog’s nuts. Even the security staff were cool, the beer was amazing, and Austin’s convoy of fabulous food trucks kept the energy levels tip-top.

No.3 Gladiator and Sydney Symphony

Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW, 3 April

Ever since seeing a documentary about John Williams conducting a live performance of E.T‘s score for the movie’s 25th anniversary, I’ve always wanted to watch a film with the soundtrack performed live while I view. This was my opportunity, and it was a quite magical experience. Gladiator is a flick I hold dear to my heart, and in large part owed to the sublime score crafted by Hans Zimmer. To hear it – and indeed see it – played out before my eyes while the film loomed over the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was an emotional experience. The detail of every scene popped that little but more as a result, every intricate note  and the finale, which always makes me tear up,  had me a blubbering mess. I was touched deeply by this one, and reminded once again of the special place music has in my soul.

No.4 Lady Gaga

Allphones Arena, Sydney NSW, 31 August

Not since my teens have I really touched the uber-pop stadium artists, but a birthday surprise for my better half took me back into that territory. It was a place I enjoyed as a kid, seeing Madonna several times at Wembley Stadium among others. Lady Gaga was every bit as impressive and memorable, but perhaps more talented in the music stakes. Madonna writes a great tune, performs it brilliantly, but is a flawed singer. Gaga, on the other hand, has sensational vocal chops and the theatre she creates is enormous. The dance floor crowd, which included us, was afforded the opportunity to roam around and under the stage to view from multiple angles, and the air of happiness and hope Gaga created was wonderful. Do What You Want was a hip-grinding riot while Gypsy was an utterly uplifting and triumphant finale, and the band, as most in this genre tend to be, was a collection of absolutely superb musicians. This show as an unexpected joy to behold in every way.

No.5 Asgeir

Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW, 23 July

We fell in love with Asgeir Trausti thanks to a guy in a bar in Iceland in 2012. We watched a YouTube clip of him and were beguiled by his unique voice and songwriting. Upon the English release of his album In The Silence, the rest of the world cottoned on to his unwavering talent. Seeing him perform in English was a treat. He has the voice of an angel, silencing the normal hubbub of the Metro Theatre. It was mesmerising, beautiful, heart-breaking, absorbing. A flawless performance by a man that is somehow still just 22 years of age.

Three more of the best

Highasakite at Oxford Art Factory was a delight, highlighted by some awesome wardrobe choices and an undeniably cool frontwoman in the gorgeous Ingrid Helene Håvik. Biffy Clyro blew the roof of The Factory Theatre and a topless Simon Neil gave the ladies enough heart palpitations to light up the New York power grid while perspiring to the extent that it’s a wonder a flood warning wasn’t issued by the local authorities. His energy levels are ridiculous. Howling Bells performance at Oxford Art Factory was something of a nostalgic trip back to my early days in Sydney. Waikiki was the band then, but Juanita and Joel Stein have matured significantly since then and created a new sound that was played out with gusto back in their hometown, from where they’ve been missing for some time having relocated to the UK. Come back again soon, please.

The full list

(Sydney venues unless otherwise stated)

January

6 – Bonobo – Metro Theatre

17 – Chi Udaka – Seymour Centre

26 – Big Day Out – Sydney Olympic Park (acts seen: The Naked And Famous, The Hives, Primus, The Lumineers, Arcade Fire, Pearl Jam)

February

2 – Laneway – Sydney College Of Arts (acts seen: Vance Joy, Frightened Rabbit, Run The Jewels, Daughter, Haim, Lorde, CHVRCHES, The Jezabels)

24 – Biffy Clyro – The Factory Theatre

March

5 – Phoenix – Hordern Pavilion

9 – Flying Lotus – Sydney Opera House

12 – Kate Miller-Heidke – Syemour Centre

April

3 – Gladiator and Sydney Symphony – Sydney Opera House

17 – Morcheeba – Metro Theatre

May

3 – Russian Circle – Manning Bar

13 – The Naked And Famous – Metro Theatre

25 – St Vincent – Sydney Opera House

July

19 – The Preatures – Metro Theatre

23 – Asgeir – Metro Theatre

24 – Phantogram – Metro Theatre

28 – Tune Yards – Oxford Arts Factory

August

31 – Lady Gaga – AllPhones Arena

September

5 – Biffy Clyro – Enmore Theatre

12 – Howling Bells – Oxford Art Factory

13 – Sci-Fi Classics – Sydney Opera House

18 – Highasakite – Oxford Art Factory

19 – Saskwatch – Manning Bar

October

11-12 – Austin City Limits, Zilker Park, Austin TX, USA (acts seen: Poliça, Interpol, Phantogram, The Avett Brothers, Lorde, Eminem, Skrillex, Broken Bells, Pearl Jam)

17 – Trombone Shorty And Orelans Avenue, The Belmont, Austin TX, USA

26 – Elbow – Sydney Opera House

30 – Cibo Matto – Oxford Art Factory

November

7 – The Les Murray Band – SBS Courtyard

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