Part one if you need to catch up. This officially marks the end of list season. See you this time next year!
25. The Blurst of Times @ Factory Theatre, 25/10
Vibes aplenty, not a dud set among the batch and a true celebration of mostly-Australian awesomeness. What more can you say? This one we’ll hand to the legendary Dion Ford of Palms: “It was such a great day, not even Shania ‘I’m not easily impressed’ Twain could deny its excellence.”
24. The Bronx @ Metro Theatre, 20/6
If it’s a calendar year in Australia and The Bronx haven’t visited, did it actually happen? One of their final shows in support of 2013’s fourth album arrived with little more than their greatest hits and a spurt of energy that can only come with racing toward the finish line.
23. Ms. Lauryn Hill @ Sydney Opera House, 27/5
It’s turned into both a scarce rarity and a monumental risk – what to make of the illusive Fugee fifteen years and change removed from her seminal sole LP? As luck would have it, she remains a joyous, invigorated performer; backed by a sensational band and a rekindled spirit. To Zion!
22. Pixies @ Sydney Opera House, 23 and 26/5
Seeing The Breeders and a Deal-less Pixies within months of one another felt more or less like visiting your mum’s and then your dad’s after a divorce. They’re happier without one another and doing really well on their own. Life’s good. All we are saying is give Pixies a chance.
21. Cloud Nothings @ Oxford Art Factory, 10/12
Nearly two years on from their breathtaking Sydney debut, Dylan Baldi and co. proved that a three-legged dog is just as menacing. Cuts from Here and Nowhere Else thrived, but a propulsive “Wasted Days” finale – clocking in at just over sixteen minutes – sealed the deal. Rock & roll is fun.
20. The Dillinger Escape Plan @ Metro Theatre, 24/2
With a rare appearance from Glassjaw and Japanese sensations Dir En Grey, the Escape Plan tore Sydney a new one at their first headlining show in four years. Shit got as wild as you would hope, including a grand finale involving Greg Puciato figuratively hanging upside down from the rafters.
19. You Am I and Heavy Friends @ Vic on The Park, 1/1
That’s how you kick off a year, boys and girls. There’s Courtney Barnett jamming on Divinyls. There’s Phil Jamieson, climbing a speaker stack like it was 1998 and busting out “Cathy’s Clown.” There’s the Red fucking Wiggle, Murray Cook, playing Iggy Pop and Bruce Springsteen songs. So fucking rock.
18. The Bennies @ Beatdisc Records, 16/3
It was the Brady Bunch of tour weekenders – Luca Brasi and Postblue met The Bennies and Apart From This in a fatal-four-way overseen by local legends Oslow. Improv dub jams, pies to the face and enough juicy tunes to turn Parramatta’s little shop of rock into the ultimate hot-box.
17. Manchester Orchestra @ Metro Theatre, 15/11
There was a mixed reaction to Cope, Manchester Orchestra’s fourth studio album. When it comes to their live shows, however, it’s unanimous – they are unmissable. Especially if Kevin Devine is along for the ride. A borderline-religious “Where Have You Been” capped off a stellar performance. Forever and ever.
16. Kishi Bashi @ Newtown Social Club, 1/7
One man, one violin, a couple hundred admirers watching on from the front and figuratively surrounding him for over half the set. Warm, joyous intimacy. Tender, beautiful songs – some old favourites among the devotees, some fresh from Ishibashi’s excellent Lighght LP. This entire show felt like falling in love.
15. Kanye West @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, 12/9
The storm-in-a-teacup wheelchair debacle aside, this show was proof that Kanye stands as one of the single most charismatic performers in the world right now. He can command an entire audience for two hours entirely on his own, with little more than a backdrop and a catwalk. Make a circle.
14. Ben Folds and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra @ Sydney Opera House, 14/11
It’s about the closest thing that pensioners get to a rock concert, but Folds is still managing to keep his orchestral collaborations enticing for all ages and all levels of BF fandom. A stunning “Rock This Bitch” was the centrepiece, improvising an entire arrangement with jaw-dropping and hilarious results.
13. DZ Deathrays @ Rad, 30/5
If this completely sold-out Wollongong show showed us anything, it was that the risk of coming down to the leisure coast had paid off tenfold. Bodies flew, riffs fired up and the Brisbane boys effortlessly showcased why they’re such a dominant force in Australian music right now. Carn the Gong.
12. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu @ UNSW Roundhouse, 23/3
In a venue best known for hosting angsty, black-clad bro-bands, the amazing technicolour world of J-pop came to life with the debut visit of one if its most unique characters. From its bizarre interludes to KPP’s adorable attempts at speaking English, this was an entryway into a whole new universe.
11. Reggie Watts @ Sydney Opera House, 19/10
No two Reggie Watts shows are ever the same. You never know what will happen next. One minute, it’s an a-cappella croon about fish; the next it’s a 10-minute LCD Soundsystem homage. Wherever you end up, both the journey and the destination are unforgettable. Beyond comedy, beyond music, beyond improv.
10. Bruce Springsteen @ Allphones Arena, 19/2
Every last excess and indulgence was allowed at the arena rock show of both this year and the year before it. How does the Boss do it? Five guitarists – that’s how. Playing Darkness on the Edge of Town in full – that is fucking how. A three-hour show book-ended by show-stopping covers – The Easybeats’ “Friday on My Mind” at the top, Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” at the end – and filled to the brim with just about every E Street classic you could hope for. Y’all come back now, y’hear?
9. Deafheaven @ Oxford Art Factory, 9/1
After dropping the most intense, mystical metal album of 2013, it was only fitting that Deafheaven’s maiden voyage to Australia delivered the most intense, mystical metal show of 2014. Every movement was striking, every sound piercing, every song all-encompassing and breathtaking in their spectrum. Certainly not something that anyone present would be forgetting anytime soon.
8. Lemuria @ Hermann’s Bar, 1/2
Some nights, the stars align. This was one such night – the perfect line-up, the perfect group of friends, the perfect venue. Bringing Lemuria to Australia for the first time was such an exciting prospect for many people who had been charmed by their sweetly-harmonic yet hard-hitting mix of pop-punk and indie-rock over the years. Having the delightful Erica Freas, Pinch Hitter and Kissing Booth all on board made matters even greater, to the point where there was not a face to be seen within a 100-metre radius that wasn’t plastered with a smile. Let’s hope that those stars align again some day soon.
7. Dolly Parton @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, 18/2
There is one guarantee from a Dolly Parton show, and that’s fun. Few entertainers in the world today put on a show as fun as the immortal country star. It’s all glitter and rhinestones and gloriously camp sing-alongs, from “Jolene” to “Islands in the Stream” and a couple of bat-shit covers (“Yakety Sax,” “Shine” by Collective Soul) for good measure. It’s as ridiculous – and as fabulous – as you’d expect. This is Dolly’s world, you’re just living in it.
6. Future Islands @ Oxford Art Factory, 27/7
Ever since that Letterman performance, the weight of expectation has been heavy on the back of Future Islands. It’s not as if it’s anything they couldn’t handle, of course. By the time they arrived in Australia as a part of Splendour in the Grass, they were headed to completely sold-out headlining shows that cemented their reputation as the hottest band in the indie realm. The entire show was a dazzling showcase of what it means to truly believe in your music – it’s hard to find anyone who’ll deliver a performance the way that Samuel T. Herring does. Once that song from that Letterman performance came to life once again, all bets were off.
5. Violent Soho @ Manning Bar, 8, 10 and 11/7
What kind of year was it for Violent Soho? For starters, it was their tenth year together as a band; and also a year following the release of their exceptional Hungry Ghost LP. It was a year they went from hopeful underdogs to the most unstoppable force in the Australian rock climate. It was a year that saw them complete a national tour that completely sold out, even after adding multiple dates. A shift was signalled; and their ascension to the next level was justified. What more can you say about these wild, brawny shows than the band’s own joyful double-expletive – hell fuck yeah.
4. Billy Bragg @ Manning Bar, 18/3
It might have been a classier affair a few days before at the Opera House, but the Bard of Barking was back to basics with his airtight new backing band in tow at this rare club show. The two-hour-plus show found the time to be both tender (“Tank Park Salute,” “California Stars”) and triumphant (“Sexuality,” “To Have and Have Not”); as well as politically charged in the wake of the March in March (“All You Fascists Bound to Lose,” the glorious finale of “Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards”). No matter where Bragg and co. took the mood of the evening, the adoring crowd was there every step of the way. Viva la revolution.
3. Arcade Fire @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, 28/1
Six years separated visits from Arcade Fire, both tied in with appearances atop the bill of the Big Day Out. While last time around had the band in the relatively-intimate surrounds of the Enmore, the years between proverbial drinks were substantially kind to the Canadian collective – to the point where they were comfortably filling out an arena. With support from Diplo, of all fucking people. Yes, Arcade Fire have graduated to being one of the biggest bands in the world – both from a profile-based and numerical perspective. With this grandiose performance came a justification for their elevation – a career-spanning, glittery journey through chamber pop, indie rock, roller disco and INXS (because why not?). One hopes against hope that it’s not another six years before they return, but even if it is they’ll make it worth the wait. They always do.
2. St. Vincent @ Sydney Opera House, 25/5
2014’s Vivid Live line-up brought us a myriad of joyful performances from veterans, newcomers and locals alike. It really was the most magical time of year – each trek from the wharf at Circular Quay guaranteed a wonderful night was in store. The most stunning of them all came in the form of Annie Clark, pop music’s reigning, defending champion of the weird and the wonderful. Last in town for a similarly-unforgettable performance alongside David Byrne, Clark returned focus solely to her name on the back of an exceptional eponymous LP. The set, which saw Clark team with a sharply-choreographed backing band, spiralled and twirled around jagged indie-rock, lush balladry and slow-motion heartbreak. A truly beautiful cacophony that ran the emotional gauntlet and left all in attendance completely gobsmacked. Long live the queen.
1. The National @ Opera House Forecourt, 7/1
You could have taken any single moment of this show and held it up to justify why it was the greatest live experience of the year. Matt Berninger toppling over the crowd, crowdsurfing to “Mr. November.” The band churning out an intense, soul-swallowing “Afraid of Everyone.” A completely-unplugged, all-in “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” The list could go on and on. It was a matter of taking in the surrounds – the Opera House behind us, the Harbour Bridge to the east, the sun setting and night-time seeping in – and allowing it to blend into the truly beautiful music on offer from a band truly at their peak from both an artistic and a cultural standpoint. Nothing else could have come close to this show, purely on the basis that there was nothing else like it for the rest of the year.
25. Rachel Tinny, FasterLouder
24. Maria de Vera, Life Music Media
23. Wolter Peeters, Sydney Morning Herald
22. Daniel Boud, Boudist
21. Nick Lalak, Nick Lalak Photography
20. Christian Ross, The 59th Sound
19. Shanti Roy, Lost Through the Lens
18. Nick Lalak, Nick Lalak Photography
17. Nick Lalak, Nick Lalak Photography
16. Clare Hawley, theMusic
15. Mark Metcalfe, Billboard/Getty Images
14. Ashley Mar, The Brag
13. Provided by the venue
12. Aki Ishii, Tokyo Girls Update
11. Noah Kalina, Art Forum (photo not from show)
10. Bradley Hunter, The Daily Telegraph
9. Adam Davis-Powell, Demon Race Productions
8. Andrew Dominguez, Carless Distribution (photo not from show)
7. Richard Dobson, The Daily Telegraph
6. Katrina Clarke, The Brag
5. Toby Taylor, Toby Taylor Photography
4. Courtney Dabb, Push to Fire
3. David Youdell, Reverb Street Press
2. Mark Metcalfe, Zimbio/Getty Images
1. Yaya Stempler, FBi Radio