Rick saw lots in 2017 – here’s the best five…
5. Dave Warner at Caravan Club 22 April
I’ve only ever stood at a Warner show. At beer barns like the Charles Hotel in Perth or the old fave, the Shents so it was quite disarming to take a seat at the marvellous (and sadly, now closed down) Caravan Club, Oakleigh in Melbourne’s outer-east and ready ourselves for Warner. I’m talking the real Dave Warner. The show was spot on. Even though he was without his trusty keyboard (en-route from Sydney an un-named airline did not treat it kindly) he was on song. He had a new album, When to flog, I mean show-off, and that he did. In fact this album was the centrepiece of the concert and deserved to be heard live. We relished the night. Songs like Snapchat could be filed in his bulging file of ribald toons. Facebook (which hadn’t grabbed me on first listen) stood up in this setting. Especially when the song turns on its head and he sings directly to the crowd, “I’m not on Facebook and here are my friends”. There was much camaraderie in this packed room and Warner soaked it up. Who wouldn’t be moved by Old Guitars or Lonely Sailor, such is their evocative power. A standout of the night and in my opinion the best Warner song since his reign in the late 70s/early 80s was We Want a Kid. A snarling satirical stab at a mindless middle class lost in its self-involved material mindset. Wit drips from every line. And truth. The new stuff sat comfortably with his impressive catalogue and the hits just kept coming. Sitting down for a Warner show was well worth it.
4. Marlon Williams at Howler 20 November
Marlon is yer quintessential rock’n’roll star. He has the looks, the moves, the songs and man does he have the voice. At one point he bent down to pick something up, taking him out of general view of a packed room. When he stood again a spontaneous sigh emanated from the audience (women) delighted to see him again. I kid you not. He has a new album out in February so we heard stuff from that (sounds great) as well as his last album (a ripper) and a few well-chosen covers. This gave the night an eclectic feel as he genre-hopped all over the place. From the ominous brooding almost whispered Dark Child to new songs like Vampire Again, Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore and Make Way for Love. With a tight as band (they have toured the world extensively through 2017) Marlon moved and grooved from country to soul to RnB effortlessly. His voice compares to the Big O and Raul Malo of The Mavericks. Definitely the most stunning instrument on stage. He mostly played plugged in acoustic guitar but at one point he took up an electric guitar. He said, “I don’t really play this much so forgive me.” Then he let rip a short riff that was loud and powerful. He looked straight at the adoring audience and said, “Man does that feel good.” During the encore he brought the opening act back on to sing Love Me Tender. It veered from a rickety baritone to Marlon taking control of then song, then into a Byrds like harmony singalong. Marlon sauntered off leaving an audience, females and males, swooning for him.
3. Old Crow Medicine Show covering Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde / Valerie June at The Forum 1 October
When this show was announced I couldn’t believe my luck. We had seen Old Crow years ago at Mossvale in South Gippsland. They are as good a live act as you can see. This time round they would perform Blonde on Blonde from go to whoa! An Americana, kinda Bluegrass, noisey country outfit tackling Bob’s finest. This I had to see. It was either going to be one of the great mistakes or it would fly. Supporting Old Crow was Valerie June. She released her second album this year to universal acclaim. I’m a fan. Like a big fan. And the tickets were a birthday present from our kids (who are, you know, switched on and beautiful man).
Valerie had to fight through sound issues that would have reduced a lesser artist to a tantrum. She soldiered on and we went with her. Valerie is an incredible sight with a spectacular mess of dreads on top her head and falling from her shoulders, in a sequined jump suit and cool-as 60’s sunnies. Her voice is captivating; swinging fluently between a deep soulful twang to a fragile delicateness and an ethereal tremolo wrapped in a chalky raspiness. As if the songs where constructed and arranged based on her voice rather than a piano or guitar. She smoulders and roars, whispers and warbles with what some have described as a “Tennessee twang”. She has described her music as “organic moonshine roots music”. Alls I know is she has the songs and she delivered. Her set included Somebody to Love, Love You Once Made, Astral Plane and the jackpot, Got Soul. Then it was time for Old Crow.
This wasn’t just very good. This was incredible. No one could play Blonde on Blonde better than Dylan but I reckon I saw a band who could perform it better. If concerts centre on performance, taking into account instrumentation, arrangements, voices, songs, costumes and the stage itself then this band nailed it. They came on like a marching band and lined up at the lip of the stage and started into Rainy Day Woman. That was as much warming up as this very receptive crowd needed to bellow the chorus, “Everybody must get stoned.” And it just got better from there.
Having a seminal album as the core didn’t hurt but what really impressed was the way these songs were reimagined and the array of country instruments used. Across the show we got to hear banjo, dobro, pedal steel, accordion, guitjo, guitars, harmonica, mandolin, stand-up bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, whistle, fiddle (and at times many fiddles – during Obviously 5 Believers it became a fiddle fest) and kazoo.
The show passed the purist test. That is, don’t fuck up Visions, Just like a Woman and Sad Eyed Lady. Just like a Woman was one of many highlights. Visions was sung with more clarity than you could ever hope from Bob. The night just kept moving, bridged by a couple of shaggy dog stories (the one about not meeting Dylan was hilarious) and a dizzying exchange of instruments after each song. There was a rambunctious feel to the show. When they got to Absolutely Sweet Marie the audience wanted to be part of the show. The last line of each verse almost became a rallying call, “where are you tonight Sweet Marie?” This is a song Dylan has only played spasmodically since 1966 but Old Crow gave it a life of its own.
Lead singer, Ketch Secor’s ebullient nature, as well as the bond between band members just added to the enjoyment. This concert was both a nostalgic dance (as the largely over 50 years old audience reflected on the album and possibly life moments) and a production worthy of Broadway. Following the show we had a nightcap at the whiskey bar next door alongside members of the band. A cool way to end a top night out.
2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium 4 February
Springsteen is the best concert going around. Has been since the early 70s. Countless musical acts, many more famous and successful than him have emulated his conception of a rock concert. He’s toured Australia three times in the last five years. We have been spoiled considering prior to 2013 he had toured Australia three times in 40 years. Yes, I’ve seen his concerts every time he’s toured. Yes, that was plural. This year I again attended the two concerts in Melbourne. I like the setting. As a concert setting it’s much better than the MCG or Docklands, two venues it would be hard to persuade me to see a rock concert at again.
Of the two show this was my fave (but I am splitting hairs). Maybe it was because we were so close to the stage and we weren’t packed in like sardines. Certainly the highlight of the two shows happened on this night. Springsteen performed My City of Ruins, which is one of his best compositions. Previously he has turned its metaphor first to the disrepair of Ashbury Park in New Jersey then more famously as a response to the attack on the Twin Towers (9/11). This night he turned the song on Trump and when he sang “rise up, come on, rise up” you became one with the sentiment that this world is better and something more than whatever horrors Trump may inflict on it. I was spellbound by its power.
Bruce performed Out in the Street on our side of the stage. When he sung “I’ll be waiting for you” and “meet me out in the street” he looked directly at me. It was almost like he was saying, “C’mon Rick let’s go have a beer.” This Hard Land, another fave got its first outing of this tour and that was cool. There are so many highlights in a Springsteen show. The encore was almost a show in itself, filled with bum shaking, face mugging and non-stop dancing. It was so wild my FitBit got puffed out counting my steps.
The wonder of Springsteen shows is just how much play and fun can be packed into three hours. He isn’t afraid to take you into a pensive moment (New York City Serenade, with strings) or focus your anger (Death to my Hometown and Bandlands). Then he’ll have you forgetting your troubles with Cadillac Ranch and Glory Days. The show is a ramble of joyous singalongs and rocking out. With the best band in rock’n’roll. And one of rock’s best lyrists adding heft to even the slightest tune. Hungry Heart or Dancing in the Dark, two of his biggest hits, are about leaving yer family for no particular reason and being so lost (“I’m just tired and bored with myself”) you don’t know what to do. Bruce gives these two (sad) songs juice and rhythm that’ll get even the saddest sack middle aged male up and shaking ya thang. That is what makes his concerts so damn good. The fun and play you can see him having and that he shares unconditionally. If ever a concert reminded you that whatever else is going on “it aint no sin to be glad you’re alive” this is it.
1. Paul McCartney at AAMI Park 5 December
The biggest day of December occurred 20 days before the one that is covered in tinfoil and razzmatazz. A 76-year-old man with a four-piece guitar driven backing band shredded the night and laid waste to every other concert of the year.
Over three hours and about 40 songs Macca showed us why The Beatles are the best band rock’n’roll has produced. He took us on a magical mystery tour through the garden of mellifluous delights, stopping occasionally to reminisce about when John and he gave The Rolling Stones their first chart topping song or to sing a long forgotten Quarrymen tune. Mid way through the show we had been gifted eight Beatles classics from Hard Day’s Night to Lady Madonna and including Blackbird (McCartney’s US Civil Rights protest song). My ears were saturated by such a rich assortment of melodies. And we still had 20 more songs coming!
It was hard to comprehend the genius of this music as it rolled over you. Only Brian Wilson (and maybe Simon and Garfunkel) can compete with such an offering of melodies. McCartney was in top form, even if his ageing voice found it difficult at times to find the register of songs written 50 years ago. He showed off his guitar playing to remind us that Harrison and Lennon weren’t the only guitar slingers in the band. Including an extended Hendrix riff to end Roll with It that would have impressed the head-bangers set.
The show was already in overdrive and then he ramped it up. The run home was jaw dripping, 11 songs in a row, from Eleanor Rigby to Hey Jude had hit and highlight tumbling over each other. A beautiful and emotional rendition of Something in honour of George Harrison was just one highlight. A Day in the Life (with the sublime entendre, “I’d love to turn you on”) flowed into Give Peace a Chance. Let it Be was four minutes of philosophical contemplation, his whispered plea leading your thoughts through every misstep you’ve taken in your life. Live and Let Die’s orchestration replaced by fireworks! Boom. And then Hey Jude. Masterful on every level, in every way. Not an unnecessary note or instrument. We were drained emotionally and staggered intellectually.
The most poignant moment of a concert overflowing with moments for me was Here Today, his song and tribute to John Lennon. I didn’t know the song. It was so direct and sentimental (in a good way). It spoke plaintively to the honesty of two people who knew each other so well, achieved so much and yet couldn’t find the path back to what was the awakening of their special bond. Didn’t get the chance. In that song/performance I could feel the weight McCartney still carries for his loss and the tangle of what sadly will remain unresolved.
The night finished with an eight-song encore that gifted us more Beatles delights. Helter Skelter reminded us how loud and fast and dangerous the Fab Four could sound if they wanted to. But Yesterday and Mull of Kintyre reminded us of Macca’s true musical heart. He is a sentimental fool. A beautiful, lovable, harmonious sentimental fool. And he gave his heart to us this night as he does every night he performs. Whatever I was expecting (and I was expecting a lot) Paul McCartney delivered and then kept on giving. He reminded us that The Beatles weren’t a fluke. Hell no. They are the best band popular music has produced in the last 60 years, maybe the last century. His concert is living testament to the stature of their music.