Review: Fuji Rock Festival 2018

Naeba Ski Resort, Japan, July 27-29, 2018

The Japanese invented Instant noodles, square watermelons and the Nintendo 64, but those things are nothing compared to their ultimate creation: Fuji Rock Festival. It’s a festival utopia… a festival that isn’t a fashion parade or about getting the most Instagram likes… just people listening to great music in stunning surroundings.

Nestled amongst the forests, creeks and mountains of Naeba ski resort in Niigata Prefecture (no snow as it’s the middle of Summer—speaking of which,  we were in Japan during their hottest day ever and nearly melted), this year’s festival had a hip-hop flavour with N*E*R*D, Kendrick Lamar and Post Malone on the line-up.

The big attraction though was Bob Dylan, performing his 101st show (!!!) in Japan. You’d think after that many concerts the Japanese would know how bad he is live and stay away in droves, but more about Bob and his crap live show later.

My wife and I had planned a trip around the festival and after a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and Tokyo we set off on the bullet train on Friday morning to arrive in time to see Years & Years take to the main Green Stage. At every festival there’s a band that exceeds your expectations and at Fuji Rock it was Years & Years. Singer Olly Alexander is a captivating frontman with a voice that hints at Justin Timberlake and eighties Michael Jackson. Their synthy dance pop songs are ludicrously catchy—the type you feel like you’ve known forever even when you’re hearing them for the first time.

Next up is Mac DeMarco. An Australian festival favourite, I’ve been out of the loop so I’m keen to catch-up and see what he’s all about. Every westerner at Fuji Rock seems to be in the Red Marquee as he emerges to the Star Wars opening theme. DeMarco’s live schtick is hard to describe… I guess you could call it manic slacker-dude playing dad-rock-meets-jangle-pop (he jokingly calls it “jizz jazz”). The super chill ‘Salad Days’ and ‘On the Level’ are highlights, but the most memorable song is the last one: a cover of sixties Japanese pop song ‘Sukiyaki’ (the only Japanese song to top the US charts), complete with cameo from a maraca-shaking, beer-swigging, cigarette-smoking Post Malone.

The first headliner of the festival is N*E*R*D, fronted by the seemingly ageless Pharrell Williams. Poor Pharrell is fighting a losing battle with his voice from the get go, and big parts of the set felt more like a live mix-tape of songs he’s produced and collaborated on over the years (the likes of ‘Drop it Like it’s Hot’, ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’), but they keep the energy levels high to close out the Green Stage.

Last for us on Day 1 is Post Malone, performing on the White Stage with just a DJ for company. ‘Better Now’ comes early in the set and gets a huge reaction, but with little else happening on stage the show largely rises and falls on Malone’s interactions with the crowd. A ‘shoey’ out of a random punter’s shoe gets a mixed response—applause from the Australians in the crowd, total confusion from nearly everyone else. Later, before ‘I Fall Apart’, a song about his ex, he gets the crowd to chant “fuck that bitch”, which just feels awkward in 2018. Malone isn’t a brilliant live performer, but he’s not a terrible one either and I’m fascinated by a bloke that gets ‘always tired’ tattooed on his face

Day 2 began with ex-Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr. Now that Morrissey has become a massive racist, Marr has become the de facto ‘good one’ from the Smiths. He has an early afternoon slot on the White Stage and plays a set of mostly solo songs before finishing with the Smiths’ ‘How Soon is Now?’ and ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Ia big Smiths fanthought it was great. My wifewho absolutely hates the Smithsthought it was boring. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all Johnny. I thought you were great.

I wanted to see Superorganism but one look at an overflowing Red Marquee and I knew it wasn’t going to happen, so instead we headed to the Green Stage to see Japanese band “マキシマム ザ ホルモン”(the program and video screens didn’t have an English translation so we had no idea who we were about to see). They turned out to be Japanese nu-metal / metalcore band, Maximum the Hormone. Not the type of thing I’d usually listen to, but it was actually heaps of fun and perfect for the mid-arvo slot. No idea what they were saying, but it was cool with the female drummer’s sunny pop vocals contrasting with the more hardcore-punk style of the two main vocalists.

Dubstep isn’t my thing either, but with half an hour to kill we waited around to see Skrillex. There was so much light and sound emanating out from the stage that it looked and sounded like a UFO crash-landing in the Naeba forest. I’d stop short of saying it was “good”, but it was impressive. Having said that (and I know I’m getting a bit “old man pointing at cloud” here…) how much of it was pre-programmed by a computer vs him actually doing anything? No idea, but it kept me entertained until it was time to go and see MGMT.

As much as I love them (Oracular Spectacular might be the album of the 2000s), MGMT don’t have a reputation for being very good live. With their very first song interrupted by screeching feedback and confused pauses, I start to think the reputation might be justified. But thankfully they get it together in time for a triumphant ‘Time to Pretend’, during which they actually did a good impersonation of a decent live band. All in all, after a shaky start, they were pretty good, although it was interesting to see the Japanese fans seemed far more excited to hear ‘Little Dark Ages’ than by ‘Electric Feel’ which gets gets hardly recognition. But anyway at this point I am also grateful to be undercover in the Red Marquee as a typhoon (seriously…) hits the festival.

Back on the Green Stage, I expected Day 2’s headliner Kendrick Lamar to be the standout performance of the festival, but in the end he was just… pretty good? Lamar is a blisteringly intense live rapper, and the dancers, pyrotechnics and kung-fu interludes are cool, but it’s just a smidgen too slick and too choreographed. It didn’t help we seemed to be standing in a spot where the sound seemed to ear-splittingly distort at times, so I should probably reserve judgement until next time. ‘King Kunta’ was epic though, and I am still furious that Rubens song beat it to #1 in the Hottest 100.

The passing typhoon had moved out to sea by Day 3, leaving behind just a few showers as we arrived to see Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals on the Green Stage. I’d been told by a few people that Paak is a ‘must see’, and they are absolutely right. Paak is a super-talented and charismatic performer who spends half the set singing from behind the drum-kit and the other half with a microphone in hand, fusing together hip-hop, funk, soul sounds. Playing mostly songs from latest album Malibu, it’s one of the stand-out performers of the weekend. Nevermind Kendrick, Anderson Paak is where it’s at.

Paak makes way for the next Green Stage act, Jack Johnson. Ten years ago I haaaaated Jack Johnson. Boring music for boring people I said, and even had this INSANE rule that I wouldn’t date anyone who likes him (no idea why I was single for so long hey?). The irony being my wife loves him. Anyway I have to admit he’s crept into the odd Sunday morning Spotify playlist in our household and seeing him live at Fuji Rock I finally ‘get’ him—it’s pleasant music to sit down on the grass and chill out to. And sometimes that’s what you want from music.

And now we come to the Day 3 headliner, Bob Dylan. I saw Dylan back in 2007 and he was terrible. He’s still terrible. His voice departed him sometime during the Reagan administration, leaving behind a raspy spoken-word mumble in its place. Granted, he sounds slightly better than last time I saw him, but only in the same way it’s ‘slightly better’ to be punched in the face once instead of twice. During the 90-minute set he says nothing, and doesn’t touch the guitar once. Instead, he alternates between sitting and standing behind the piano, tinkering away to barely decipherable versions of his songs, many of them re-arranged beyond recognition. It is not a good sign when it takes half the song to even realise he’s playing ‘Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright’ or ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’. No one expects crystal-clear vocals or Springsteen-like energy from a 77-year old Dylan, but some vague acknowledgement people are paying money to see him would be nice. He might be a legend, but this is just a sad waste of time. 

I need something to wake me up from the Dylan-coma, and Vampire Weekend are just what the doctor ordered. They walk on stage to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’, immediately blowing away the Dylan cobwebs. The New York indie-rockers sound like Paul Simon’s Graceland with better guitar as they run through a hit-friendly taking in their biggest songs to date. Indie anthem ‘A-Punk’ is an obvious highlight, as too is a cameo from Danielle from Haim who joins for the last two songs, one of them a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.  It’s unpolished and a bit rusty, but it’s a fun end to an enjoyable set as we rush off to catch CHRVCHES who are about to start on the White Stage.

The Scottish synth-pop group are the last act out on our Fuji Rock itinerary (The festival goes until 5AM each night but who the hell stays up until then? Not me, even if it means missing Sunday morning’s Avalanches DJ set), and have much of the Vampire Weekend crowd trying to squeeze in to see them. I’ve wanted to see CHRVCHES ever since their first album in 2014 so it’s good to finally see them. Two things stand out: one, Lauren Mayberry is very, very short,  and two, her voice is absolutely flawless. Every song sounds like an exact facsimile of the recorded versions. CHVRCHES sure know how to write a perfect pop song, and their catchy brand of synth-pop on songs like ‘Get Out’, ‘Gun’ and ‘Recover’ is the perfect way to end the weekend.

The next day we’re off to Osaka for the last few days of our Japan trip, taking with us memories of the best festival ever. The music was great, obviously (Years & Years and Anderson Paak were the standouts), but it was the atmosphere that made it—super relaxed with well-mannered festival-goers. It’s telling that the only annoying people in the crowd were westerners who had brought their shitty manners with them to Japan. It’s going to be hard to go to an Australian music festival ever again…

Fuji Rock Best & Worst

Best Act: Years & Years, Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals
Worst Act: Bob Dylan
Best Song: MGMT – Time to Pretend
Worst Song: Anything Bob Dylan performed
Best Cover: Mac DeMarco feat. Post Malone – Sukiyaki
Coolest Cameo: Danielle Haim with Vampire Weekend

Concert Review: The Killers

Hisense Arena, Melbourne, May 6, 2018

You need to be a big band to fill an arena for a concert. To fill it two nights in a row you need to be huge. Three sell out nights… well, you have to be absolutely massive, especially if you’re a rock band in 2018. But that’s exactly what the Killers did over the weekend, filling out Melbourne’s 10,000 capacity Hisense Arena three nights in a row as part of their Wonderful, Wonderful world tour. 

As the crowd of mostly thirty-somethings file into the venue (having endured the tight security that’s seemingly now part of seeing a major concert in Melbourne), Jack Ladder & the Dreamlanders kick off proceedings with a  short set of Nick Cave or The National sounding songs that don’t cut through the crowd chatter at all. It just isn’t the right sound for a night like this.

Next up is Alex Cameron (who incidentally co-write five songs on Wonderful, Wonderful), with a sunnier indie-sound and cheeky faux-ego that is a much better fit. The crowd in particular like Cameron’s “saxophonist and business partner” Roy Molloy (more about him later). They only play five or so songs, but it’s enough that I make a mental note to listen to them later on.

Some party tunes to prime the crowd between Cameron and the main event would have been nice but instead we wait for half an hour before the Killers emerge, with Pink Floyd-ish instrumentals segueing into the brooding ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’. It isn’t the most obvious song for a band like the Killers to open with, but it works, building anticipation and hinting something big is about to happen.

The party starts for real with the next song, ‘The Man’. The Vegas Strip comes to Melbourne as confetti rains down and front-man Brandon Flowers struts around in front of enormous triangular video screens emblazoned with neon cowboys.

It’s all very impressive. This is a no expense spared production, with lasers, pyrotechnics and wall-to-wall video screens filled with images of everything from the Nevada desert to  geometric hearts and even boxer Mike Tyson.

As for the band, Flowers is a magnetic front-man with an incandescent smile and endless stamina marking him out as the rockstar love child of the Energizer bunny and a Vegas showman.

He fist pumps and prances around the stage all night, but it isn’t enough for some around me in GA who seem motionless and disinterested, even during  songs like ‘Somebody Told Me’. It’s no fault of the band. If the Killers playing a Hot Fuss classic isn’t enough to make you at least tap your foot, well sorry but I don’t know what to tell you..

The set has a real ‘Greatest Hits’ feel to it, with 14 singles from across all five studio albums featured. Obviously the new album is well represented, with five songs, but I’m particularly happy to hear a few older favourites of mine: ‘The Way it Was’ from Battle Born and ‘Read My Mind’ and ‘For Reasons Unknown’ from Sam’s Town (still their best album if you ask me).

During the latter a teenage fan from the crowd is invited up on stage to drum. It’s good fun and the crowd love it although I’m going to be selfish here and say I wish they’d got him up for another song instead of one of my favourites.

The main set comes to end with ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’ and a giant “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” singalong as red, white and blue streamers fall down onto the crowd.

A few minutes later Flowers returns to the stage in a gold metallic suit and aviators (it’s like a mashup of George Michael and the Tin Man) for an encore that begins with ‘The Calling’ from Wonderful, Wonderful, a song that recalls the better parts of Queen’s Hot Space.

A cover of Men at Work’s ‘Who Can it be Now?’ is next, with Alex Cameron again returning to stage along with a now shirtless Molloy on saxophone, who for some reason increasingly reminds me of this video. It’s kind of fun, but for a band with much better covers (such as this or this), it does feel out of place in the encore.

Any doubts about the song choice are immediately obliterated the moment ‘When We Were Young’ begins. A pyrotechnic waterfall provides the backdrop as the crowd scream out the words before the arena lights up with lasers for—what else—‘Mr Brightside’. That one even manages to jolt the most comatose punters around me into life.

Flowers disappears into the night (it’s all a bit ‘Elvis has left the building’), leaving the last word to drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr (the only other original band member touring these days), who delivers a volley of drumsticks into the crowd—or as he calls them, “flowers”, this being the “third date” with Melbourne. All that’s left then is the now-traditional closing message: “oh… and remember to tell all your friends”.

With that, the house lights come up, a floor ankle-deep in confetti and streamers the only thing left behind from one of the greatest arena rock acts in the 21st century.

Setlist

Wonderful Wonderful
The Man
Somebody Told Me
Spaceman
The Way It Was
Shot at the Night
Run for Cover
I Can’t Stay
Smile Like You Mean It
For Reasons Unknown
Human
Tyson vs. Douglas
A Dustland Fairytale
Be Still
Runaways
Read My Mind
All These Things That I’ve Done
The Calling
Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work cover)
When You Were Young
Mr. Brightside

Concert Review: Johnny Marr

The Forum Theater, Melbourne, July 22, 2015

When bands break up in acrimonious circumstances, it leaves the members in a bit of a bind when they play solo shows. Are they meant to shun their old band’s discography or are they meant to please Joe Public and play nothing but the hits? Bore the crowds and please the critics, or please the crowds and lose critical respect?

Fortunately though, at Melbourne’s Forum Theater last Wednesday night, ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr (also known as “Johnny Fuckin’ Marr” if you read the huge writing on the front of his shirts at the merchandise desk) showed an adoring crowd that he is neither stuck in the past nor afraid of embracing it.

I saw Marr playing guitar for Modest Mouse at a festival years ago (as well as being in the Smiths, he’s also been a member of Modest Mouse, the Cribs and the Pretenders – what a CV!), but I’ve been waiting ever since then to see him at his own show. I had to wait a little big longer still after this concert as part of the Playland tour had to be rescheduled after it was postponed in January due to illness in Marr’s family.

Johnny Marr
Guitar God

The support slot was filled by Melbourne shoe-gazers, Flyying Colours. In all honesty I hadn’t heard of them before Wednesday and I’ve missed too many support acts lately, but I’m so glad I made the effort to see these guys. They produced an absolutely huge wall of sound that recalled the Verve’s early songs or Leeds band, the Music. I’ve made a mental note to pencil them in alongside the DMA’s as young Aussie bands channeling the sounds of early nineties England.

Good as they may have been, there was only one man the crowd was there to see, and shortly afterwards a mop-haired, red-shirted Manc with a Fender Jaguar slung around his neck took to the stage. What followed next was a blistering hour and a half of Marr showing off his guitar god credentials across a set comprising songs from his latest album, Playland, half-a-dozen  Smiths songs, Electronic’s ‘Getting Away With it’ (from Marr’s band with New Order’s Bernand Sumner) and a cover of the Clash version of ‘I Fought the Law’.

Marr’s Playland album is a winner (seriously – if you like the Smiths, give it a spin), and the songs from it are the perfect showcase for Marr’s infamous jangly guitar sound. But unsurprisingly it is the Smiths songs that get the biggest response, with the venue erupting from ‘Panic’ through to ‘How Soon is Now?’ with a detour along the way for ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’.

Who would have imagined that it could be so joyous being part of a crowd singing about getting run over and killed by a double decker bus?

Setlist

Playland
Panic (The Smiths cover)
The Right Thing Right
Easy Money
25 Hours
New Town Velocity
The Headmaster Ritual (The Smiths cover)
Back in the Box
Spiral Cities
Generate! Generate!
Bigmouth Strikes Again (The Smiths cover)
Candidate
Getting Away with It (Electronic cover)
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (The Smiths cover)
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want (The Smiths cover)
Dynamo
I Feel You (Depeche Mode cover)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths cover)

Concert Review: Big Day Out 2014 Review (Gold Coast)

Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast, January 19, 2014

Despite going to six of the last seven Big Day Outs, I’ve always gone reluctantly. It probably makes me sound like some kind of music festival elitist, but frankly there’s always been too many bogans for my liking. It’s only been the presence of ‘must see’ acts like Neil Young or Noel Gallagher that have twisted my arm and made me go.

This year it was Blur who were responsible for reeling me in, enticing me with the promise of being able to sing ‘Tender’ with 10,000 other people. Of course, as we know now they would withdraw from the festival in November, removing the main reason I bought a ticket. It didn’t bode well, although being a big Oasis fan the addition of Beady Eye to the lineup made up for some of the disappointment.

Metricon Stadium
Change of venue has revitalised tired Big Day Out

But even without Blur, Big Day Out 2014 was one to remember. The move to Metricon Stadium has been the shot in the arm that the Gold Coast edition of the festival needed. Those ugly Gold Coast showgrounds are a distant memory, replaced by a spacious and modern venue with easy access, ample shade and the holy grail of festivals amenities … clean toilets. Better still, this year’s crowd seemed generally more mature and better behaved. I suppose it’s hard to wear an Australian Flag cape and start a fight circle to Arcade Fire?

My Big Day Out starts at noon as Bluejuice take to the main Blue stage. It’s absolutely boiling, and they have their work cut out playing this early in front of a small crowd. I’ve never listened to a Bluejuice album (and I probably never will), but I surprise myself with how much I enjoy it. It’s fabulously camp, with the group decked out in absurd gold leotards and cavorting across the stage in front of a ‘Bluejuice 4 Gay Marriage’ backdrop. They finish with ‘Broken Leg’, by which time Jake Stone has stripped down to a horrific G-String and been joined on-stage by Art vs Science who have appeared out of nowhere.

Bluejuice
Art vs Science vs Bluejuice?

After taking a moment to check out the merchandise tents and the other stages (briefly catching some of Loon Lake in the process), I head back into the main arena to catch New Zealand’s the Naked and the Famous. I’m sitting high up in the grandstands, but the sound is clear. I’m too far back to really ‘connect’ with the music, but their brand of synth-pop is infectious and from up in the stands the crowd look like ants as they rush towards the stage as the band play their two big hits, ‘Punching in a Dream’ and ‘Young Blood’.

Next up on the Orange stage are Tame Impala, with their fuzzy, psychedelic tunes. Tracks like ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and ‘Desire Be, Desire Go’ have such an irresistible groove to them and show exactly why they group is so well vaunted by the likes of Paul McCartney. They sound amazing and during ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’ you could close your eyes and just as easily be back in the sixties listening to Cream. Not so much a negative – more of an observation – but Kevin Parker’s stage banter is strange. He is just so unbelievably shy and introverted that he sounds a little awkward. Best let the music do the talking, probably.

The Hives
Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist turned things up to 11

In their native Sweden it rarely gets above zero in January, so it is all the more amazing when the Hives turn up on stage clad in Mariachi suits. Heatstroke can’t be far off, but you wouldn’t know it as their frantic rock and roll comes at the crowd like machine gun fire. Front man Pelle Almqvist’s energy is infectious, and songs like ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ and ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’ whip the crowd into an absolute frenzy. They finish up with ‘Tick Tick Boom’, during which Almqvist asks the crowd to sit down before getting them to jump up and explode into life as the chorus hits one last time.

Next up are Beady Eye. This is the sixth time I’ve Oasis or their various spin-offs, but even as a ‘mad fer it’ fan I’m a little underwhelmed. Liam sounds the best he has for years, and he still has the classic stage presence – knees bent, arms behind his back, neck craning up to the microphone. The problem is Beady Eye’s songs just aren’t well known here and even the likes of ‘The Roller’ or ‘Four Letter Word’ don’t get much of a response. Only a pair of Oasis songs (‘Rock N’ Roll Star’ and ‘Morning Glory’) breathes some life into their set, and even Liam seems a bit frustrated. “You know this one, right?” he snarls during their cover of the Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’.

Liam Gallagher
Liam Gallagher’s new buzz cut was a talking point

Beady Eye have barely left the stage before Blur’s ‘Song 2’ starts blasting out of the speakers. Wait! What’s this?! Have Damon Albarn & co decided to turn up after all? No, no, it’s just Arcade Fire’s intro music. They’ve bought a 10-piece band with them for a ‘Greatest Hits’-type set that borrows from their four albums to date, and they look and sound majestic. There is so much happening on stage, with bobble-heads and bongo-players bathed in beams of light bouncing off mirrors. They underline their festival credentials with an explosion of glitter into the night sky during a euphoric ‘Here Comes the Night’ before a rousing ‘Wake Up’ closes their set. They are an absolute treat and a highlight of the day.

From there I rush over to Boiler Room to catch the rest of Flume’s set. I still don’t really know what DJs do up there – obviously they mix tunes together, but do they decide what to mix in advance? are they spinning records? I don’t know – but it sounds good. I’m standing at the back stone cold sober but the place is absolutely pumping and I’m a little disappointed that I’m not up in amongst it all. Just a few days later he will make #5 on the Triple J Hottest 100 with ‘Drop the Game’, his collaboration with Chet Faker. He’s come a long way for a guy who was producing songs in his bedroom two years ago.

Arcade Fire
Here comes the night …

From there it’s time to grab a cappuccino (no booze for me today – what am I, an adult?) and return back into the stadium one last time for Pearl Jam’s headlining set. I’ve missed most of the first half but arrive to catch the encore which includes a gorgeous cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Mother’ and a selection of hits including ‘Betterman’ (dedicated to surfer Mark Occhilupo who is watching from back stage with Mick Fanning), ‘Even Flow’ and ‘Alive’. Seeing them live makes me realise that I probably do underestimate just how important their place is in the history of rock and roll. They’re one of the all time greats, and they end their set with their searing version of Neil Young’s ‘Keep on Rocking in the Free World’.

And with that, my 2014 Big Day Out comes to an end. It’s been my most enjoyable Big Day Out to date, made even better by the slick new venue which has me back home in Brisbane just after 11pm. It’s been a great day and I’ve enjoyed every second. Who needs Blur anyway?

Looking Back: Best and Worst Concerts

After somehow securing tickets to see the Rolling Stones in March (OK I’ll admit it, my efforts failed, and I’m only going thanks to my quick-clicking girlfriend), I started thinking about all the concerts I’ve seen over the years.

From the first concert I ever went to way back in 2002 – the Brisbane-leg of the Long Way to the Top show featuring the likes of Billy Thorpe and Ross Wilson – through to today, I’ve been lucky enough to go to close to 100 concerts or festivals.

The overwhelming majority of these gigs were pretty damn good.That makes sense, really. After-all, just as I don’t go and watch movies I think will be dreadful, I usually only go and see concerts that I’m likely to enjoy.

But this post isn’t about those shows that were just ‘pretty damn good’. It’s not even about the myriad that stood out as being great. It’s about those that stood out as being bloody amazing, as well as those shows that were disappointing or downright terrible (at this point I’d like to say hello to Bob Dylan).

Five of the Best:

5. The Stone Roses, Riverstage, Brisbane, 2013

It wasn’t long ago that the chances of the Stone Roses ever reforming seemed about on par with those of Elvis Presley headlining the Woodford Folk Festival. The King has yet to grace Woodford, but in 2012 the Roses shocked fans by announcing they were getting back together for a world tour. Seeing them live at the Riverstage was just surreal, and not even some sound problems early in the set and an agitated-looking Ian Brown could take away from the moment. For 90 minutes it was 1989 again and the Riverstage was Brisbane’s own Spike Island.

The Stone Roses
A Stone Roses reunion had seemed about as likely as the Beatles reforming …

4. Noel Gallagher & His High Flying Birds, Enmore Theater, Sydney, 2012

As raging Oasis-fans, some friends and I made plans to see Noel Gallagher twice on his most recent tour to Australia – at Big Day Out in the Gold Coast and two nights later in Sydney at the Enmore Theatre. I had walked away from the Gold Coast show with the guitar pick Noel used to play ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. I didn’t think anything could top that. The Sydney show did. Split between High Flying Birds solo material and Oasis classics, the crowd became a rousing choir of 4,000 voices, singing along with every word. Magic.

3. The Killers, Studio Coast, Tokyo, 2013

This one was unforgettable even before the first note had been played. Having failed in our efforts to get tickets, my travelling-partner and I somehow ended up on the guest list after a million-to-one chance encounter with Ronnie Vannucci Jr’s mother at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine. The icing on top was the Japanese crowd who exploded into action with the first song of the night, pumping their fists in the air in perfect unison to the strains of ‘Mr Brightside’ and continuing until the last note of the show-closing ‘When We Were Young’.

The Killers
The Japanese crowd took the Killers show to another level

2. Arctic Monkeys, The Arena, Brisbane, 2006

It can’t have lasted much more than 45 minutes – a 15-song, 45-minute rock and roll tornado that whipped the Arena into an absolute frenzy. I remember the house-lights coming on and seeing my mate emerging from the parting crowd, absolutely drenched in sweat like he’d just got out of a swimming pool. Another friend had been knocked to the ground. There was nothing rough or violent – just a crowd heaving with excitement for an intoxicating new sound.

= 1. Bruce Springsteen & E-Street Band 2013, Brisbane Entertainment Centre
= 1. Bruce Springsteen & E-Street Band 2003, Brisbane Entertainment Centre

I know I know, this is meant to be top five concerts and I’ve cheated by mentioning the Boss twice in equal first place. It’s well deserved, though. What makes him so good? Well you see the best live acts play for everyone in the venue, from the rich baby-boomers down at the front to the skin-flints in Row Z. Springsteen does that, but he does more than that. The Boss smashes down the fourth wall. He isn’t playing for anyone. He’s playing with everyone. All 15,000 of us.

Bruce Springsteen
The Boss – hands down the best live band on the planet

Honourable Mentions: Dizzee Rascal in the Boiler Room at Big Day Out in ’08. Any concert with Neil Finn or Paul Kelly. John Fogerty supported by Don McLean at the Entertainment Centre a few years ago. Neil Young for his guitar-string murdering rendition of the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’.

Five of the Worst: 

‘Worst’ is a little harder to judge than ‘best’. In selecting these bottom five, I’ve tried to find the balance between expectations, reputation, and the performance itself.

5. Oasis, Virgin Festival, Toronto Island Park, 2008

This was not Oasis’ fault! Some fellow Gallagher-lovers and I had flown all the way to Toronto to see Oasis headline Virgin Festival. Liam & Noel didn’t disappoint, and the crowd was absolutely mad fer it … until the band abruptly stopped during ‘Morning Glory’. I had caught a glimpse of Noel hobbling off, clutching his back in pain… word soon spread that the crowd that someone had run on stage and assaulted him mid-song. Less than a year later our favourite band had broken up. We would never see them live again.

Oasis
Noel at Virgin Festival Toronto… before the assault

4. Silverchair, Big Day Out, Gold Coast Showgrounds, 2008

I enjoyed seeing Silverchair on the Great Divide Tour with Powderfinger in ’07, but something must have changed over the next six months. By the time the Gold Coast Big Day Out came around, Daniel Johns had acquired a fake – and frankly irritating – American accent. Long, boring renditions of songs from Young Modern, combined with Johns’ bizarre gangsta-style stage-talk (“reppin’ my dogs”) drew mostly boos from a hot and weary audience.

3. Guns N’ Roses, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 2008

Axl Rose and arrogance is nothing new. Maybe he could get away with turning up on stage hours late or punching people in the head when Guns N’ Roses were the biggest band on the planet – but those days are long-gone. You can’t be a rock and roll prima donna when you’re playing ordinary songs from Chinese Democracy with ten unknown session musicians alongside you. It wasn’t all bad though, Axl at his best can still rock and songs like ‘Paradise City’ can still knock your socks off – but coming on stage hours later on a Tuesday night just isn’t cool.

Guns N' Roses
GNR had it’s moments… they were watered down by Axl’s self-indulgence

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Day Out, Gold Coast Showgrounds, 2013

This might have been an awesome show for all I know. Unfortunately though, the sound was so bad that it was impossible to tell, even from relatively close proximity. It wasn’t a venue issue – The Killers had played immediately before them and sounded pristine from the same distance out. To get an idea of how bad it sounded, take an old, worn-out cassette tape of Chili Peppers songs. Pop it into a cheap, 1980s-vintage cassette player. Wrap it up in a towel, press play, turn it up to 11, and place it thirty metres away. You have now created the Red Hot Chili Peppers show at Big Day Out 2013.

1. Bob Dylan, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 2007

Dylan has never been famous for his voice, but by 2007 it had deteriorated to the point where it was almost uncomfortable to listen to. His rapsy, grating voice, combined with new unrecognisable arrangements of his songs made for an evening trying to decipher what he was actually playing. I didn’t even know he’d played ‘All Along the Watchtower’ until I read about it in the newspaper the next day. Many of his contemporaries have still got it – for Bob though, the time to give it up has long passed.

Dishonourable Mentions: An excruciatingly long set from support act Bobby Flynn at the Zoo a few years ago which almost put me to sleep by the time the Whitlams came on stage.

Concert Review: The Killers, Studio Coast, Tokyo

Studio Coast, Tokyo, October 9, 2013

What does it mean when you are in a city of 25 million people, can’t get tickets to a concert, but then miraculously run into the one person that’s willing to put you on the guest list for free? Divine intervention? No. Sheer coincidence? Brain says yes, but I’m not so sure. Fate? Maybe.

Either way, that is exactly how my partner and I ended up seeing the Killers play at Tokyo’s Studio Coast venue earlier this month. We had left Australia for Japan eager to catch one of the band’s two Tokyo shows, but had given up after finding the Japanese-language ticket vending machines an insurmountable barrier for a pair of monolingual Aussies.

The Killers
Put your hands up if you’re having a good time

After our unsuccessful efforts, we put the Killers show into the ‘too hard basket’ and made plans to instead watch the Yomiuri Giants game after an afternoon visiting the Meji Shrine in Shibuya. At the shrine we decided it would be a nice memento to get a photo of the pair of us, and so my partner picked out a woman who seemed fit for the job (there’s an unwritten criteria in this situation… do they look like a lunatic? will they steal my camera? do they look like they’ll understand me?).

Not only was she not a lunatic, didn’t nick our camera, and did understand us, she was also the mother of Ronnie Vannucci Jr – the drummer for the Killers.  Obviously at first we had no idea, but we soon got talking and learned she had gone to school in Brisbane and gone on to work for Ansett before spending most of her life in Las Vegas.A couple of Las Vegas / Bris Vegas jokes later and she told us who she was and asked if we wanted to see the Killers that night? She took our names, told us that we would be on the guest list, and then disappeared, leaving us a bit stunned to say the least.

The Killers
He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus at all really

Still a bit skeptical about it all (you’ve got to admit it did seem like a million-to-one long shot), we nonetheless made our way to the Studio Coast venue at around 5:30. And yes, I did say 5:30. You see, the Japanese do concerts a little differently. When they say that doors open at 6 and the show starts at 7, they mean that the doors open at 6 (as in, literally 6:00pm and zero seconds) and the show starts at 7 (well, plus the few minutes it takes to coax lazy Western bands onto the stage…).

We lined up at a door that seemed to be the ‘guest list’ entry (who knows really – everything was in Japanese) and waited. Sure enough, at 6pm sharp the doors open, and the fans began to file into the venue through the main entrance. Meanwhile at the guest list entry (or whatever it was), our moment of truth came. Sure enough, Ronnie Vannucci’s mother had struck true to her word and we were on the guest list. We went inside and were directed through a door that said ‘Staff Only’ up into a small balcony off to the right of the venue.

There was no support act – pre-gig entertainment instead coming from the sounds of Tom Petty and Jackson Browne wafting out into the abyss from the PA system. The mostly Japanese crowd waited patiently, occasionally breaking out in polite applause in anticipation of the show. Killers T-shirts were dotted through-out the audience, as was the occasional curious westerner.

The Killers
When it’s not hosting bands like the Killers, Studio Coast serves as a nightclub called AgeHa

A touch after 7pm the Killers came on, and suddenly this chilled-out, previously reserved crowd absolutely exploded. To the strains of ‘Mr Brightside’ every single audience member suddenly started pumping their firsts into the air like pistons, demonstrating a level of choreography not seen since Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’ video clip. It was something else – and they continued, unabated until the final note.

This was the third time I had seen the Killers, and the band delivered the goods yet again. After a decade in the game, Brandon Flowers has his front-man act down to a fine art, projecting a perfect facsimile of his studio voice alongside a stage presence that hints at Springsteen. The rest of the band are musically very effective, but also largely anonymous, mostly staying out of the spotlight and concentrating on sewing the sonic tapestry required for Flowers to do his thing.

The night’s setlist is not too far removed from that which Australian audiences (including myself) were treated to earlier this year at Big Day Out. A heavy emphasis on hits was punctuated by a trio of tracks from their latest album, Battle Born. The liberal dose of hits is no surprise given the imminent release of the group’s Direct Hits best of package, and fans lapped up the opportunity to enjoy the likes of ‘Somebody Told Me’ and ‘When We Were Young’ in all their glory.

The Killers
Mr Brightside himself

While the show itself was as great as the other times I’ve seen the Killers, what took this one into the atmosphere was the raw energy emanating out from the Japanese crowd. They absolutely lapped up Flowers’ efforts at Japanese, and went into overdrive during ‘Read My Mind’. During that song Flowers called up a fan onto the stage dressed in a Gachapin ‘onesie’ and danced and sung with him. Killers tragics will of course recall Gachapin as the Japanese cartoon character featured in the video clip for the same song.

With their greatest hits record just weeks away from release, the Killers showed Tokyo exactly how good the first decade of their career has been. For their part, the Japanese fans showed the Killers – and this impressed Westerner – how energetic and enthusiastic they are about live music. Australia – you’ve got a tough act to match!

Setlist

Mr. Brightside
Spaceman
The Way It Was
Smile Like You Mean It
Bling (Confession of a King)
Shadowplay
Human
Somebody Told Me
For Reasons Unknown
From Here On Out
A Dustland Fairytale
Read My Mind
Runaways
All These Things That I’ve Done
Jenny Was a Friend of Mine
When You Were Young