WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Presumably Morrissey thought returning the year after some decidedly mixed return shows at the Vivid Live Festival might be pushing the market a bit so he skipped Sydney.
The problem was playing at Wollongong to about three people and a bunch of gladioli does not a successful tour make. If he’s right that we hate it when our friends becomes successful, it’s also true we’re not really that keen when our idols threaten to become self-parodies.
Less concerned about pushing the market was Madonna who hadn’t toured here in so long her fans had become born again (concert) virgins.
Almost all of her shows began hours late, sometimes finishing well after midnight to semi-empty rooms as people with jobs, babysitters, a need to sleep or a limited tolerance for selfish artists left well before the end.
Her excuse? The shows were complex, the turnarounds were tight, the moon was in its seventh house. It didn’t really matter.
Anohni’s show for Vivid Live was many things – visually arresting, vocally elaborate, sonically varied – but sensible? As in making sense? Not so much. Images of models and the elderly, intimations of the apocalypse, the sound of electronica meets Greenwich Village cabaret via art house opera, and the show’s star hidden behind a veil and dark hood.
It was a striking show that lacked personal connection ultimately. But what did it mean?
A Prince tour was a complete surprise, not least because he was almost at Sydney airport’s arrivals hall before we were even told he was coming.
But if Prince came with almost no warning, left with virtually no sense of farewell and died soon after, it wasn’t his death that marked the shows he played. Alone at the piano, he was intimate, intense and brilliant. The tickets cost a bomb but thousands who didn’t get it would have paid twice as much, especially when the reviews came out.
More conventional surprises were to be found too. One came in the form of a sartorially-sharp and vocally-ace Leon Bridges, who arrived early in the year as a quirky revivalist of the Sam Cooke-style and left after his second tour eight months later as a proper star.
Another was the way that the reformed New Order were much better than just ok (which is all most expected) and were actually inventive and enjoyable when they teamed up with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
And a final one was how Peter Garrett, never the main writer in Midnight Oil, returned to stages around the country, after more than a decade as a politician and public figure, as a songwriter as well as singer, band leader and nominee in the bizarre category of best adult alternative at the 2016 ARIA Awards.
The four Crowded House shows at the Opera House were wonderful nights of camaraderie, connection and the ineffable appeal of beautifully crafted pop music.
But through little fault of the band, the shows were mired in a mess of exploitation when tickets sold out within seconds of going on sale, only for a decent number of them to immediately turn up on a resale site run by the ticket seller, Ticketmaster, for up to eight-times their original price.
Sold out shows and scalpers are never pleasant and it’s increasingly clear that automated programs run by organised figures are able to acquire tickets before any individuals.
But what really stuck in the craw was that while neither band nor fans gained any benefit from the exorbitantly priced resales, that wasn’t the case for the cosy internal arrangement of a tour promoter (Live Nation), which sold the ticket originally, and it’s ticketing arm (Ticketmaster), which took a cut from both buyer and seller on the re-sale site, making money from something which looked like, smelt like and profited like sanctioned scalping.
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – playing alternate shows as Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings Machine - gave us the shows of the year with the kind of all-encompassing emotional/musical/historical/poetical performances which sustain fan fervour for the decade we usually wait between shows.
On the border of jazz and avant garde and a safe place for rock fans to dip into both jazz and avante garde, Kamasi Washington was straining at the leash, mostly on a fabulous scale.
Elsewhere, Coldplay made pop shows of a grand scale still feel human, A$AP Rocky was both nihilist and entertainer in the year's best imported hip-hop, Jason Isbell was everything you’d want in a country and country rock romantic and Courtney Barnett was everything you’d expect in a power-and-brains package.
It was also the year in which Holy Holy moved from promising band to watch (at the Oxford Art Factory in January) to grandly romantic band built for success (Metro in November), and Kirin J Callinan was both outré and excellent as the most unlikely support act for a mainstream, family-friend band (Crowded House) ever.