We’re almost a month into 2023, the part of the year where you have to scribble out the date and re-write it. I’m still unpacking 2022 in all of its overwhelm and glory. Last year was the first year since 2019 where we weren’t subject to national government mandated lockdowns. Nothing was quite the same as it was pre-pandemic, but we regained a freedom that many of us weren’t sure would ever return.
2019 feels like a lifetime ago. I’d turned 18 that year and was enjoying my gap year – speckling my hectic work schedule with concerts, gigs and festivals as much as I could. I can’t believe there was a time where we’d climb on top of a stranger’s shoulders in an enormous crowd at some festival with no fear of contracting a deadly virus. I can’t believe that there was a time before TikTok music marketing. I remember thinking covid “wasn’t that big a deal” until I saw an email informing me they had cancelled a show I was excited to see.
In 2022, despite the still very much present risk of Coronavirus, we could once again pile into enormous crowds and tiny venues to enjoy one of the most joyful experiences afforded to us – live music.
The return of live music has been a welcome relief to myself and many others. There’s something so addictive about being a part of a crowd, seeing and feeling the show play out in front of your eyes, wrapped up in the community of friends and strangers in the pit. Of course, it’s undeniable that the pandemic has changed the music industry in some ways, but it’s been the greatest comfort of mine in the last year to return to the familiarity of that ‘live music feeling’.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some incredible shows over the years, and I thought it would be fun to share my personal rating of some of the best gigs and concerts I’ve ever seen, considering all the many forms live music has taken in the last few years. From intimate sets to breathtaking festivals to weird live-stream concerts, these are the shows that have left a lasting impression on me and will always be some of my most special and treasured memories.
Disclaimer: this list is in no particular order. It was too difficult trying to rank them against each other.
My best friend pulled off the most angelic birthday present for me last year, and took me to see my favourite band of all time, Ball Park Music. Weirdly enough, this could have been the second time I’ve seen them live (they were on the lineup for the aforementioned One Night Stand), but I don’t remember the first time. I cannot explain the absolute euphoria I felt at that show – just because their music means so much to me and I finally got to see them perform tracks I’d dreamt about seeing live for years. They spared no expense and played every song (except Caramel) that I’d ever want to hear from them. The energy crash I had after this show had me in tears, because it was just such a joyful experience.
I got the splendid opportunity to see Pacific Avenue for the first time in February of last year, immediately after the government let us stand up and dance at gigs again. It was my first gig after lockdown ended, and they’re one of my favourite bands, so it was a great way to start the year.
It’s very important to preface that I haven’t actually seen Nick Cave live, per se. In 2020, he put on a ticketed live-stream concert – “Nick Cave Alone At Alexandra Palace”. I wore a t-shirt from that event yesterday, and was thinking about how phenomenal it was to have the chance to see one of the most inspiring artists perform, if only through a screen. It was a very interesting experience, being so in love with what I was watching, but being aware that it wasn’t the same as a traditional live show – bittersweet for sure. Hopefully, I’ll get to see him in person one day, but I won’t forget the mid-pandemic ways of a livestream concert.
Flume was my first experience in the pit, and I’m very much at peace with that. Way back in 2013, Triple J hosted a free, all-ages festival in my hometown, and a baby one-EP flume was there. I was 11, on my brother’s shoulders, but having the absolute time of my life. Unfortunately, this one experience led to a lifetime of asking myself “will I eat this week, or will I buy this concert ticket?”
One of my dear friends took me to see a maya gig last year, and it was one of the most energetic gigs I’ve seen. Her band was great, her stage presence was awesome, the show itself was well-crafted and honestly, I just had a great time. Never underestimate the venue, the company you keep, and the pre-show tunes as part of the concert experience.
As of NYE, I have seen Allday live twice. The first time was at a festival in 2019. He’d just put ‘Starry Night Over The Phone’ out, and to this day that’s my favourite record of his. To be specific, I wanted so badly to hear Lungs live. He disappointed me there, but outside of that, it was a fantastic show and a huge crowd and he played all the classics. A few weeks ago, I saw him again at a mini festival, and unlike the 2019 show, I was right up the front of the pit. He held my hand (I have rather reluctantly washed it since), played all the classics, did a few songs from his last album, and once again, did not play Lungs.
I have lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen The Rubens play live. I am not that big a fan of their music, this has happened by incident. I have only once purposely and specifically bought tickets to see them, that time that they randomly played a pub gig in my hometown, and even then, I was mostly there for the opener. I can, however, say that they’re always a great show, all of their songs are so well suited to a live performance and the crowds are always so lively and friendly. I’ll gladly see them again, if only to continue the bit.
In 2021, prior to lockdown, my friend and I were given the opportunity to go on The Set at ABC studios in Sydney, where they were filming a show headlined by the legend Paul Kelly. Obviously, this experience differs from a concert, because it was orchestrated and scripted to be edited into a television programme, but it’s on this list precisely because of that detail. They re-filmed almost every song from Paul, Eves Karydas and Ziggy Ramo multiple times, so we got to see a concert, but we were under directions given by some of my most respected journalistic heroes at ABC and, oh yeah, about a metre away from PAUL KELLY!
As aforementioned, I saw Ziggy Ramo for the first time on the set of The Set. For those who aren’t familiar with Ziggy’s discography, he’s an aboriginal Australian who writes music focused mostly on issues of race and mental health in Australia. He is very well articulated and grounds his performances in education, historical and political discussion. I saw him again in February and was given the chance to photograph the event he was playing. He was just as impactful and moving as he was the first time, and I found myself once again holding back tears with an overwhelming sense of pride and respect.
Sometimes you see a band where you only know one song, but the three minutes it takes for them to play that song are the best three minutes you’ll have for a year afterward. This was the case with Broods and Methyl Ethel. Of course, I left with a handful of other songs that I now love, but I had my three minutes of absolute joy.
I know people who’ve been lucky enough to see Spacey 6 or 7 times, so this is not the best flex in the world – but Spacey Jane was the last live show I saw before covid rolled on in. The mosh was rougher than I thought it would be, but nothing has topped the energy of that crowd since. I bought tickets for their Wollongong show for 30 dollars, a few months before they released Booster Seat. I had been listening to their music for a while before moving to Wollongong, so it was beyond exciting for me. They played Papava as the encore, which is my favourite of their tracks. It’s unlikely that they’ll play it at many gigs in the future given the two very successful records they’ve released since, so of course I’m psyched that I got to see them when I did.
I bring this up all the time now that he’s a bit more famous, but at the start of 2019, I went to see a Leon Bridges concert somewhere in Sydney. It was a fairly small crowd, not intimate as such, but not huge either. If you’re not familiar with Leon Bridges (you should be), he’s a Jazz & RnB legend,and most of his music is rather upbeat, funky and romantic. I remember there being a lot of couples in that crowd.
While Leon put on a fantastic show, the opener did it for me. Noah Kahan is an American indie folk singer, and he’d had a few songs out I loved. He’s never put out a happy song, though. It made no sense at all for Kahan to be the opening act for this show. But I’m so glad he was. He was funny, and self deprecating, and although I must have been one of the few in the room that knew who he was, his stage presence and relationship with the audience felt so intimate and so personal. The record he put out last year is phenomenal and I’m so glad that he’s receiving the recognition he deserves.
Overall, live music has played a really important role in my life and I’m so grateful and glad to have experiences that make me so happy. I am now thinking that perhaps I wrote this list a tad pre-emptively, given that I’m seeing Phoebe Bridgers next month and that alone will probably wipe out this entire list.