The National, Enmore Theatre
I got to see The National twice in 2011 – once at The Enmore Theatre and once at Harvest Festival (it was indeed, as promised, a civilised gathering). Both shows, Matt Beringer (who seems to experience some pretty debilitating stage fright) walked into a crowd of adoring fans who swarmed around him. I love this sort of giving from bands: the collaboration, the shared moment. But the song that transfixed and transformed me was the acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks sung by Matt and the Desner brothers at the end of their Enmore concert. All the very best of us string ourselves up for love. Heartbreaking.
Sufjan Stevens, Sydney Opera House
Scoring box tickets to see Sufjan Stevens hours before he played his second show at the Sydney Opera House was possibly the best thing that happened to me in 2011. I want to be able to dance like those girls when I grow up. Sufjan was a gentleman, as always, and I loved the journey he took us on through the Age of Adz. I hadn’t really thought of this album as a concept album, but all the science fiction themes and moments of personal connection and love really concreted when he explained how the album had been inspired by outsider artist Royal Robertson. Impossible Soul was maybe the best 30 minutes of my life. Sufjan had people up on their feet, the Concert Hall was about to become a dance party… and then there were balloons. So many balloons. Boy, we can do much more together.
Michelangelo and the Tin Star, The Vanguard (and The Old Bar in Melbourne)
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve saw this band in 2011. They are a band for laughing with, and frenetic dancing is compulsory. Mikelangelo has such great stage presence, and you completely lose track of which decade you are living in, let alone where in the world you are. I want to dance to Balkan Beach Party right now.
The Eastern, my Backyard (!)
My favourite New Zealand band – Country/Folk mainstays of Lyttetton, The Eastern, were in Sydney in May, and were looking for a house concert to play. So I set them up to play in my backyard! 40 people came along and enjoyed a great set, but it was a very cold night. There was mulled wine to drink and green lanterns hanging from my washing line, and we all rugged up under quilts and duvets and enjoyed some tunes before Adam McGrath hauled everyone inside, squashed into the tiny kitchen of my victorian terrace, for the last two songs.
Union S.S.C. went off, Jess Shanks dedicated one of her songs to me (I love her voice in the band, her songs are some of my favourites), and they brought the house down with us all crammed into the kitchen for Tiny Town. I don’t think many people can say that they’ve had a banjo, guitar, violin, harmonica, double bass + 40 people in their kitchen, especially not for a rawkus song like Tiny Town. Best night ever.
The Eastern are a very community minded band. Adam has the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met, and he collects amazing people wherever he goes. But The Eastern’s heart rests in Lyttelton and they have done amazing things for the people of Lyttelton and Christchurch since the September 2010 and February 2011 earthquakes, playing too many house concerts, street parties and benefits to count. These guys have such spirit and are a driving force behind The Harbour Union, a Lyttelton collective of musicians who released a stellar album to raise funds for post-earthquake Christchurch.
The Eastern have a new double album out and are touring Australia in April/May 2012. I’m hoping they’ll have time to play an awesome Newtown house party.
Okkervil River, The Metro
I hadn’t really connected with Okkervil River’s new album, I am Very Far, but they brought it at their Sydney Show in 2011. What a stunning band. Will Shef has such great stage presence and his songs just really get me. I think I’m actually a little too close to this band to be able to articulate what I love about them so much. Highlight song from the new album live was You Past Life as a Blast. I think this band gets edgier with each new album, and seeing them live again helped me love their new music. This is why we go see bands. This is how we connect. This is why we connect.