IT wouldn’t be hyperbole to state that many people in the live music business held grave fears for the future of the industry during the darkest days of the pandemic.
Gig schedules for months on end simply read “cancelled” or “postponed”.
Thousands of livelihoods evaporated for everyone from artists, to support crews to venue bookers, and many left the industry permanently.
In terms of the recovery, there were many false dawns. Socially-distanced seated shows never sufficed and the subsequent Delta and Omicron waves continued to cripple the supposed comeback year of 2021.
In 2022 music fans finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
In March the troubled Under The Southern Stars at Maitland Showground became the first music festival in Australia since early 2020 to host international talent, when US acts Cheap Trick and Stone Temple Pilots and British post-grunge band Bush performed.
The Hunter’s biggest annual festival, Groovin’ The Moo, bounced back in April with international bands Wolf Alice (UK) and Milky Chance (GER) and the unseasonal cold spring and summer was heated up by the return of the big winery shows led by Crowded House, Ireland’s The Corrs and Las Vegas legends, The Killers.
Still, the music industry isn’t completely back to normal. This That and Scene & Heard cancelled their 2022 festivals due to financial factors brought on by rising insurance, a weaker economy and glut of competition.
Ticket sales are also slower across the board compared to pre-COVID times.
Despite the gloom, live music found a way and continued to thrill. Perhaps more than ever.
Here we revisit 10 of the best concerts in the Hunter in 2022.
1. THE KILLERS, HOPE ESTATE, DECEMBER 17
YOU’D be hard pressed to find a more spectacular show to draw the curtain on 2022.
The Killers were simply brilliant. This was a masterclass in stadium rock, and how to transform a 20,000-person arena into a singing and heaving mass.
The Las Vegas new-wave revivalists had Hope Estate’s mostly 30-something crowd singing along from the minute the gun-fire guitar riff of When You Were Young blasted across Hunter wine country.
The near-two-hour set was filled with anthem after anthem as charismatic frontman Brandon Flowers tore through Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine, Smile Like You Mean It and Read My Mind.
He was the consummate rock’n’roll frontman mixed with a heavy dose of Las Vegas pizzazz.
We wrote: “Flowers might be 41, but he was as energetic as ever, running around the stage in his black suit and leaping up onto the platform above the crowd like he was Tom Cruise jumping up on Oprah Winfrey’s couch.”
It’s difficult to remember a louder singalong than what Hope Estate generated for the closing Mr Brightside.
“You know God made Saturday nights for rock’n’roll,” Flowers told the audience. He made a believer out of the most cynical.
2. MIDNIGHT OIL, NEWCASTLE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE, FEBRUARY 23
BEFORE stepping inside the Newcastle Entertainment Centre everyone knew this was going to be a special night.
There was heavy anticipation in the air. For more than 40 years Midnight Oil have earned a reputation through blood, sweat and unapologetic conviction as one of Australia’s best ever live acts.
In their farewell Newcastle show, Peter Garrett & co reached their own high bar and surpassed it.
We wrote: “It was blistering. It was typically infused with forthright progressive politics. Most of all, it was a bloody good rock’n’roll show, orchestrated by a band who over more than 40 years have built a reputation as an electrifying live act.”
Despite this being The Oils’ moment, they were generous as ever in using their platform to promote the next generation.
Talented singer-songwriters Leah Flanagan and Liz Stringer joined on backing vocals and took many of their songs, and in particular King Of The Mountain, to fresh harmonic heights.
There were no teary farewells when The Oils left the stage after their 23-song set. But what they did leave us with was an unshakeable belief in the power and passion of rock’n’roll.
3. NICK CAVE & WARREN ELLIS, CIVIC THEATRE, DECEMBER 14
THERE’S plenty of great entertainers, but watching a true artist at work is a far more elusive experience.
Nick Cave is a performance artist. He doesn’t merely play his songs, he sacrifices a slice of his soul on stage as if performing an exorcism for the front row.
Last week’s performance at the Civic Theatre with his long-time Bad Seeds and Grinderman collaborator, Warren Ellis, was an evening of strange contrasts.
Cave was warm and personal, and even funny, but his beautifully-mournful lyrics spoke to his personal grief and existential fear. This was coupled with Ellis’ chilling electronic soundscape and three-part harmonies of backing singers Janet Ramus, Wendi Rose and T Jae Cole.
While the set was dominated by Cave’s most recent albums Ghosteen (2019) and Carnage (2021), his power to engage the audience ensured the new material sat nicely with old favourites The Ship Song and Into My Arms.
“For pure theatrics Hand Of God was magnificent,” we wrote. “Ellis’ throbbing synths created the tension before Cave stepped into the crowd like a southern preacher pressing the flesh with a faithful congregation, who chanted “hand of God” as if in a trance.
“Many thought the pandemic would have eliminated this sort of audience interaction, but human touch and connection have seemingly grown more essential to Cave.”
4. CROWDED HOUSE, BIMBADGEN, NOVEMBER 12
CROWDED House could be forgiven for thinking some higher power didn’t want this concert to happen.
Firstly it was postponed from April after Neil Finn caught COVID at Bluesfest and then a spectacular lightning storm threatened to wash out the sold-out Hunter Valley show when the weather turned nasty during the support set from Boy & Bear.
However, Crowded House and Bimbadgen persevered and we were rewarded with a triumphant singalong that included a treasure trove of classics like When You Come, It’s Only Natural, Split Enz cover I Got You, Weather With You and Don’t Dream It’s Over.
The inclusion of Finn’s sons Liam and Elroy and producer Mitchell Froom added new purpose and enthusiasm to Crowded House’s sound.
But, as ever, Neil Finn’s complicated melodies were the magic ingredient baked into Crowded House’s success.
We wrote: “As a vocalist, Neil Finn was superb. Unlike many other artists of his vintage his voice showed no signs of ageing as it trapezed the various complicated, yet timeless, melodies.”
5. THE WOMBATS, BAR ON THE HILL, DECEMBER 9
THE Wombats might be from Liverpool, England, but they’re practically Aussies.
They tour here enough and obviously love the joint, and the feelings are mutual.
There was a decidedly festive vibe in the air when The Wombats made their Newcastle debut outside the Bar On The Hill. A crowd of 2500 packed into the University of Newcastle’s Callaghan campus to belt out The Wombats extensive’ indie-pop hits like Dance To Joy Division, Greek Tragedy and Lemon To A Knife Fight.
A hectic year of touring had The Wombats firing on all cylinders. Many of their triple j hits enjoyed an extra level of intensity in a live setting.
We wrote: “The Wombats have always been a cute and cuddly indie band that’s consistently released decent tunes.
“But it’s not until you catch Matthew Murphy (vocals, guitar, keys), Tord Overland Knudsen (bass) and Dan Haggis (drums) live that you gain a full appreciation of their ability as pop songsmiths.”
6. GANG OF YOUTHS, NEWCASTLE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE, AUGUST 5
OF the modern crop of Australian rock bands angling for “stadium band status” Gang Of Youths are the front-runner.
Their anthemic brand of indie-rock, which channels the muscular thrust of Bruce Springsteen with the sensitivity of Coldplay, was always focused on arenas even when they were cutting their teeth at the Cambridge Hotel in 2015.
This was a triumphant homecoming for Newcastle-raised Gang Of Youths drummer Donnie Borzestowski, who lives in London with the rest of the band.
It took several songs for Gang Of Youths to find their stride, but it came through their most anthemic tracks What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out? and Let Me Down Easy.
Gang Of Youths’ earnestness, for some, can be off-putting. What can never be doubted though is frontman David Le’aupepe’s charisma. It was on full display inside the Broadmeadow shed.
“Le’aupepe is a fascinating performer,” we wrote. “He talks like he should be playing rugby league or wrestling crocs, but sings with a soothing baritone and dances like a man who’s won Lotto.
“His working-class banter was tailored perfectly to the audience as he referenced Knights premierships and other NRL grand final moments.”
7. CAITLIN HARNETT & THE PONY BOYS, CAMBRIDGE HOTEL, MAY 19
NEWTOWN Americana band Caitlin Harnett & The Pony Boys are one of those acts that always leave you guessing.
Like many of their cowboy rock forefathers, they can be shambolic. They can be a little rough around the edges. But what you can be assured of is great fun.
Frontwoman Caitlin Harnett typifies this sense of adventure. For her, performing on stage seems like an excuse to drink and party with her closest friends.
We wrote: “Much of the fertile scene of Americana or alt-country songwriters in Australia are focused on the serious and insular. Harnett is certainly comfortable in that space too, as evident from her fragile performance on Don’t Give Up On Me.
“But Harnett also wants to make you smile. She doesn’t want you to cry in your beer, but rather slam it down and boogie.”
And the small crowd was definitely dancing. For the encore, members of the audience were invited on stage to boogie for their crowd favourite All My Friends Are Dancers. There were smiles aplenty.
8. HOLY HOLY, CIVIC THEATRE, JUNE 4
IF you’re someone who always arrives at gigs early to watch the support acts you were duly rewarded here.
Holy Holy’s maiden performance at the Civic Theatre was arguably the strongest three-act bill this year.
Newcastle’s Dirty Pink Jeans opened the night with a wonderfully ramshackle set of garage rock.
The audience was then served a hard left turn as Melbourne-based South Sudanese-Australian rapper Piath Mathiang, aka Queen P, bounced out with a high-energy set of old-school hip-hop beats and twerking.
Even before the main event reached the stage the audience was euphoric, but Holy Holy reached another level.
We wrote: “The transformation that’s occurred in Holy Holy’s music from When The Storms Would Come to last year’s ARIA-nominated fourth album Hello My Beautiful World has been immense.
“While they once combined indie-folk and classic rock influences, today Holy Holy have morphed into a synth-pop beast, making use of samples, dance beats, synths and more complicated melodies.”
9. JOHNNY HUNTER, THE GAL, JULY 7
THERE’S something special about being in a small audience watching a band who have the potential to be a major attraction.
In terms of 2022, Sydney post-punk Johnny Hunter were that band.
Two weeks prior to this show Johnny Hunter had released their debut album Want, which is filled with tense and theatrical rock, heavily influenced by Joy Division and The Cure.
After building plenty of hype in the Sydney music scene, this was Newcastle’s first chance to catch Johnny Hunter in full flight.
We wrote: “The Gal might have been sparsely-filled, but in the mind of Johnny Hunter frontman Nick Hutt he could have been performing in front of Wembley Stadium. He gave everything.
“Wearing his trademark red lipstick, mascara and a black pin-striped suit over a white singlet, Hutt commanded the audience like a puppet master, theatrically flexing and pouting.”
The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly the punk blast of 1995. Hutt walked through the crowd and urged the audience to crouch down with him before he “and the band exploded into a wall of guitars, so did the audience in an eruption of energetic dancing”.
10. KEITH URBAN, NEWCASTLE ENTERTAINMENT CENTRE, DECEMBER 12
PLENTY of people have mocked Keith Urban’s country-pop music and hairstyles (myself included), but what cannot be denied is the man is a bona fide entertainer.
Newcastle Entertainment Centre was packed to the rafters for Mr Nicole Kidman’s rescheduled Speed Of Now Tour and he guaranteed most of them would be returning.
This wasn’t a country show. This was a fully-fledged arena rock and pop show comparable with anything a major international artist can deliver.
We wrote: “For two hours Urban strutted, sang and tore up the Broadmeadow venue in a scintillating performance, which proved the 55-year-old is fitter than some men half his age.
“Say what you want about Urban’s radio-friendly pop-country sound, the man is a genuine showman.
“He had the packed audience eating out of the palm of his hand.”
PHOTOGRAPHER PAUL DEAR’S TOP 5 GIGS
1. Holy Holy, Civic Theatre, June 4
The flawless beauty of Holy Holy’s show at the Civic Theatre was overwhelming, the joy Queen P brought to the stage was infectious and James Drinkwater’s pub rock theatrics immensely entertaining.
2. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Civic Theatre, December 14
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis were mesmerising. Imagine being present in a scene from a movie that’s the result of a mash-up between a Southern Revivalist Church meeting and a rock opera.
3. Gang of Youths, Newcastle Entertainment Centre, August 5
I loved the emotional intensity of Gang of Youths’ performance and seeing Gretta Ray, who has an amazing voice, reborn as a pop princess was brilliant. I also appreciated Gretta allowing unrestricted access to photograph her performance.
4. Fanny Lumsden, Lizotte’s, July 14
Edwina Lumsden is an extraordinary Australian singer-songwriter. Her exceptional talent is matched by her captivating stage presence.
5. The Wombats, Bar On The Hill, December 9
The perfect summer evening of new millennium indie pop-rock. The show had a mini-festival vibe, the audience wanted to sing along and dance to Joy Division. Support Tyne-James Organ moved like he’d stepped straight from a ’70s rock band.
https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/8028272/year-in-review-live-music-makes-killer-comeback-in-2022/?src=rss Year in review: The live music gigs that made the greatest noise in 2022 | Newcastle Herald