Every year I see some great shows – and 2017 offered up plenty. There were loads of great shows I missed (Paul McCartney – though I saw him in 1993 at least) and others that someone else will tell you was the best where I thought it was fucking absurd (Future Islands). Still, all up, a great year for gigs. Many terrific shows, a couple I had to travel for but several I saw almost on my doorstop, and many of them had a Once In A Lifetime/Been Waiting Forever feel about them. So – in order of when I saw them (and I’m only listing shows I reviewed) here are the Top 10 Gigs of 2017 for me.
Click on the link at the start of each entry here to read the full review of each gig.
1. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, TSB Bank Arena, Tuesday, January 17: I saved up for a ticket by selling some old shit on TradeMe (we’ve all done that, we all could that some more). And so I was determined to just enjoy this show – hoping it would be good, having seen Cave a couple of times already and one of his shows being one of The Best Gigs Ever. I did love it. More than I even expected. The new material worked very well live and plenty of old favourites. Just a great band to see in the live setting. By 5am the next morning I was up and itching to write something about it. It’s a hard habit to break, and part of enjoying something and processing it – for me – comes from having a natter on the computer about it I guess. Anyway, a great start to the year.
2. PJ Harvey, MFC, Wednesday, January 25: We weren’t going to miss this, another I bought tickets for despite playing my tiny party in the publicity machine to help promote the show. I just know I’m on the outer with most of those people who would rather give away freebies to “people of influence” and social media frauds. I’d seen PJ before (flew to Sydney in ’04) so I know how good she is – and I’d followed the reviews and setlists for this tour but it was amazing. Incredible night. Just over a week after the Nick Cave gig – and same thing: sitting there sure I was just going to enjoy it and then up at 5am again to try and write some words about it as a way of understanding it. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Easy.
3. James Taylor, Church Road Winery – Napier, Sunday February 5: Talking about James Taylor is a bit like telling a non-believer that Elton John was incredible in the 70s or that Paul Simon is one of the greatest singer/songwriters ever. They have their idea – based on boring old radio encounters – and they’re sticking to it. They’re sure these guys aren’t (or weren’t) great. Well Taylor is still in fine voice, and his guitar playing is sublime. He has one of the best road bands ever. And he was amazing to finally see live, I’d been so looking forward to this – was up early to buy the pre-sales. Special bonus on the night was a killer opening set by Tami Neilson and her terrific band. But James Taylor’s set was everything you’d want – and then some. Superb songs, brilliantly played, a bit of the misty-eyed nostalgia creeping in to frame it also. No shame.
4. Patti Smith, Hamer Hall – Melbourne, Sunday, April 16: I saw Patti Smith open for Bob Dylan in the late 90s and I wrote a wee piece in 2016 saying that it was one of my favourite opening sets, and that I’d love to see Smith perform Horses in her entirety in New Zealand; that someone should bring her here. A few days later I got an email from Patti Smith. (Of course I couldn’t quite be sure – but it did say that it was definitely her and to feel free to reply to what was her personal email address). She thanked me for the piece, one of her band members had alerted her to it. She thanked me for the years of fandom. And confirmed there’d be no New Zealand shows – but that if I was able to get to Melbourne or Sydney she’d front with two comps; there was the chance of an interview potentially or a backstage meet. So we exchanged a handful of emails and I chose Melbourne (having never been there) and Katy and I went for an Easter weekend. It was an amazing holiday – including getting the Phil Judd podcast and meeting that hero, culminating in seeing Patti Smith perform Horses. The album brought to life and Smith and band just brilliant. We had the comps – good seats – and backstage passes. I cringe at the backstage world but I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to meet Smith, given her gesture and the way she had reached out to me. So we filed in with the See And Be Seen Scenesters – and we waited. And waited. We met Lenny Kaye but Patti, we were told, wasn’t turning up. I think I was supposed to bump myself forward and announce that I’d travelled from New Zealand to meet her. But being a New Zealander I wasn’t about to do that. I knew from earlier in the week that some vocal troubles were going to kill the chance of an interview but an awkward meet-and-greet was probably still worth it to complete the story. Well, it wasn’t to be. No stress – the gig was what I cared about and it was the best. Next day, traveling back alone while Katy stayed on for a week of work, I got a message in the cab from Patti Smith. Did I want to catch up? Have lunch? Another ticket to the next night’s show? It was a sad email to send back to her personal email address that day…
5. Bill Frisell, Opera House, Wednesday, June 7: This might have been the first thing I reviewed for the year on an actual Review Comp – Jazz Festival. Had been waiting close to my whole life to see Frisell, a fan since I was a kid or teenager at least. And that fandom has only intensified over the last few releases, so while I got the feeling that some in the crowd were a little bored, or hadn’t quite researched to find out what they might hear (no overview of his career, this was a snapshot of where he was at right then – the way I think it should always be with the great jazzers) so I was in heaven, others perhaps felt they were in a type of purgatory. But I was just overjoyed to have the chance to see this legendary player and his amazing band.
6. The Comet Is Coming, Opera House, Saturday, June 10: I was pretty into seeing these guys, like their releases, heard good things about their shows but a Jazz Festival show can always go completely the other way. A jewellery rattling audience that’s been told to go along might not get it. Or the performers just might not deliver on the night. No such concerns here – this was just a wonderful celebration of groove and great, great energy. It was mesmerising. It was so much better than expected, and expectations were high enough.
7. Steve Gunn, Caroline, Friday, July 14: I had interviewed him and he was great to talk to and I love his records. He’s such a great guitarist. Good songwriter too, sure. This was a very disappointing gig, in the sense that it was a very small crowd. A shame. But Gunn was just amazing – as solo act. He also handled a drunk-dickhead heckler-mess better than I’ve ever seen. He did his best to point out the silliness on display without ever mocking the guy. A great respect was shown. By the artist at least. It capped off an incredible display of musicality and virtuosity. Those two aren’t always easy bedfellows of course.
8. Midnight Oil, Vector Arena – Auckland, Saturday, September 9: Winter is a long wait for good gigs. Midnight Oil was always going to be one of the great gigs of the year for me – the first tape I ever bought was a Midnight Oil. I can’t remember not being a fan. Love them. Never got to see them. What made this even sweeter is right when I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it, the travel, the ticket, all of it, a mate got on the blower and said he reckoned he owed me a 40th present from the previous year and so that was the ticket sussed. There’s free accommodation in Auckland with my brother and a cheap flight was got. So it was on. Great weekend too – saw Fazerdaze also (awesome show, a real talent) and recorded some podcasts, was even a guest on one. Did a DJ set at the Golden Dawn. Busy weekend. But it was all about the Oils and they were just the best. If the front half of the year hadn’t been so staked with great shows this would have easily been the gig of the year. And in some ways it still was for me. So lucky.
9. Paul Kelly, Opera House, Thursday, November 30: A lovely gesture: Adam McGrath of The Eastern (who I went on to record a great podcast with) cold-called me out of the blue; said he liked my writing, appreciated it, knew I was a big Paul Kelly fan – had read my embarrassing story – and wanted to offer me a comp to see the show since his band was the opening act. Amazing gesture, I was blown away. I have seen Kelly a few times, and always loved his music – but it had been a while. And I was eager to see this show, love the new album and most of what he’s done in recent years and this was just a brilliant showcase of all that is good about him. A towering figure in songwriting. A genius I think. And this was the best I’ve ever seen from him, which is no mean feat when he essentially played his brand new album in its entirety with the big, big hits scattered in and around. A great show. And I felt truly blessed. So lucky to see this, and hugely grateful. Again, I thought of just enjoying it, not “working” but as soon as I got home I wanted to write about it…as is my way…
10. Pseudo Echo, San Fran, Saturday, December 9: How funny that the last three shows on this list were from Australian artists. Look, I was never the biggest Pseudo Echo fan, or if I was it was for one month in 1988. I have the recordings, like them, and was curious about how this would go. I’m including it here not because it was a total slam-dunk more because it was a feel-good effort that stuck to the knitting, did what it said on the box, and didn’t mince words – it’s also only me mixing the metaphors, not the band. Okay, so the band was a bunch of young guys with branded keytars and electronic drums but the main man played his role. Sung those songs so well, did choice covers, didn’t outstay his welcome. I thought it was the right kind of slick, not too polished, not at all an embarrassment, a lot of fun. And well done in all respects.