Best gigs of 2011

Here’s a totally subjective list of the top five gigs I went to in 2011. Enjoy

5. Ball Park Music @ The Gaelic Club

In July I went to Sydney for two weeks of PR work experience, Thai food and gigs. I spent most of my trip realising just how much of a stereotypical Melburnian I am (wearing black, eating from lane ways and being obsessed with decent coffee don’t bode so well in Sydney) and sizing up our rival city’s live music scene.

Towards the end of my trip I got sick, but luckily one of the friends I made convinced me to see Ball Park Music launch It’s Nice to be Alive. Having written them off as just another sunny Brisbane band, I was completely blown away by their shambolic and fun live show. I’ve seen them since and  was not disappointed.

4. Harvest Festival @ Werribee Mansion 

Life Music Media

With the cancellation of Soundwave Counter Revolution many were expecting Harvest The Gathering to fail. However with a killer line-up and a relaxed atmosphere it showed how one day festivals should be done. Unless you wanted to eat, drink or use the bathrooms that is.

Much has been said about the queuing situation and the lack of beer and it did put a dampener on what would have been an amazing festival. But with bands like The National, The Flaming Lips, Mogwai and Portishead on the bill, the music made up for the terrible organisation.

3. Will Sheff @ The Toff

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of both Okkervil River and The Toff and Will Sheff’s solo show totally exceeded my expectations. With excellent support from Mike Noga and Jimmy Stewart there wasn’t a fault the entire night. Except for perhaps Mike Noga’s hangover.

The songs from I Am Very Far really shone without the layered instrumentation that bogs down the entire album, revealing the great tracks that lie underneath. We were also treated to some older tracks such as Happy Hearts and The President’s Dead, which has seem largely forgotton since its muse left the White House.

2. Pulp @ Festival Hall

The Vine

Reunion shows are often quick cash-grabs that leave the audience unsatisfied. But there was none of this to be had when Pulp played Festival Hall after almost fifteen years since their last Australia visit.

Their intelligent brand of britpop is just as relevant as ever and despite the lack of new material, the band played as though they still had something to prove.The set was largely made of their greatest hits with surprises such as Like a Friend and Party Hard thrown in for good measure and it was perfect. In fact this would have been the best gig of the year if it wasn’t for a certain festival in country Victoria.

1.Meredith Music Festival

Meredith Music Festival combines all the things a festival should have: no clashes, acts that play in a mixtape-esque order and a very, very relaxed BYO policy.

With bands ranging from the hilarious Viking hair metal of Barbarion to the 1920’s stylings of Frank Fairfield there was literally something for everyone provided their tastes extended beyond the top 40. The lack of clashes meant that there were no difficult decisions in picking bands to see and most importantly we got to see Grinderman go out on a high. While the secret act turned out to be DJs it was the only downer in an otherwise perfect weekend.

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Will Sheff @ The Toff 16/10/11

Okkervil River has always been about Will Sheff. Even on their latest release I Am Very Far, the biggest sound record of their career, the music seems to exist only to frame Sheff’s detailed and often dark lyrics. His solo show at The Toff on Saturday gave fans the chance to hear stripped back versions of the band’s songs and the result was absolutely incredible.

A few people turned up early to watch Jimmy Stewart. Although he may not be household name he has toured relentlessly (he once played 51 gigs in two months). Beginning with a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, his gravelly voice and songs that boarder the country end of the spectrum were a hit with the growing crowd, who remained silent for the entire set, a rare occurrence for a support band. Despite not being familiar with his work before the gig, I left it as a fan.

Mike Noga had the difficult task of opening for Sheff and like the last time I saw him the set came with its own unique charm in the form of a nasty hangover. He greeted the crowd by asking if anyone else was disappointed with the new Gillian Welsh album before launching into a set of dark indie folk. After three nights of playing drums for The Drones at The Corner he was visibly wrecked at spent most of the time in-between tracks rambling about various topics and telling the crowd how nervous he was because of their silence.

The crowd were silent for a reason though, with everyone paying him the attention of a headline act. The wager to guess all four acts referenced in  Piss On a Butterfly went down well, even though nobody could guess correctly. One of the biggest highlights of the set was Irish murder ballad Eileen, its dark subject matter unexpected after hearing Noga talk about his cats for the last five minutes. Not only did Mike Noga make the wait for Will Sheff bearable, he made it thoroughly enjoyable.

Launching straight into Rider , Will Sheff left little time for formalities. Using little more than an acoustic guitar and harmonica, the acoustic setting allowed for the songs’ strength to really shine through. The clever Plus Ones was a highlight of the set, as was B-side I Guess We Lost which I prefer to some of the tracks that eventually made it onto I Am Very Far.

The best part of acoustic gigs like this one is hearing fan favourites that are rarely played during fell-band sets. Happy Hearts was a surprise inclusion and sounded great despite the lack of Daniel Johnson. Nobody expected to hear The President’s Dead or Red live, the latter causing audible gasps among the audience.

Sheff switched to keyboard for a few songs which gave a different take on some of the songs. For Real lost none of its intensity without the full band, while his performance of Your Past Life Was A Blast improved on the studio version by removing all of the noise the plagues the album it comes from.

The biggest highlight of the set for me was A Stone. I discovered Black Sheep Boy as an angsty 16 year old that song in particular sound tracked many of my teenage years. Live it was incredible. Will Sheff has always sung like he is on the verge of a mental breakdown and thanks to the excellent sound of The Toff and the appriciative crowd, it was perfect.

That said, there were a few missteps. Using an iPhone to create a backing for The Valley was out of place, and seemed too much of a contrast to the rest of the set. Anyone else but Sheff would not have been able to pull it off. It was the final song, Our Life Is Not A Move Or Maybe that provided the set’s low point. Having heard some amazing acoustic version floating around the internet, I was particularly excited about hearing it. Instead Will Sheff played it on an electric guitar which didn’t quite mix with the rest of the set. That said, Will Sheff’s average is more than some musicians will achieve in a lifetime.

Overall it was an amazing gig that I am sure I’ll remember for years to come. The combination of the respectful crowd, intimacy of The Toff and the talents of all of the musicians involved made it something truly special.