In February, some 81,000 fans flocked to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for US rapper Eminem’s Rapture tour – breaking the record for the largest audience attending a music concert at the stadium.
Although sound quality was sketchy at times, the masses were treated to an energetic performance complete with a gunshot-peppered soundtrack and fireworks.
For some context, the ‘G has packed out its 100,000 capacity many times for major sporting events, and the world’s most wholesome band – Australia’s own The Seekers – hold the actual record for highest attendance at a music gig in Australia, topping twice that number for their 1967 homecoming gig at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
Rock legend Iggy Pop headed down under at Easter for BluesFest and treated fans to exceptional performances at side shows in Sydney and Melbourne. It seemed fitting he should play Festy Hall, on his 72nd birthday, without a shirt, like the many boxers who have thrown punches at the gritty venue over the years.
Pop’s energetic set climaxed with an invitation for the audience to get up on stage for a very different kind of singalong to when the Shania Choir joined their namesake at Rod Laver Arena a year ago.
Lindsay Buckingham may have been missing from Fleetwood Mac’s September return tour but two other additions – Neil Finn and Mike Campbell, a long-time guitarist with the late Tom Petty – certainly made up for it.
We’d heard about Finn singing Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over with the revamped supergroup in other locations on the tour but it was a cover (is it still a cover when you wrote the song?) of Split Enz’s I Got You that made their Melbourne stop one to remember, as Finn reminisced about writing his early hits in the city and getting his very first perm.
There are only a handful of stadium tours in any year and having one fall through is every promoter’s worst nightmare. We’re talking many tens of thousands of punters, as opposed to a mere arena. And so it was when the Sandman conjured a nightmare for both fans and promoters when James Hetfield went into rehab, causing the epic band to cancel just weeks out from its scheduled October tour.
But the bad dreams weren’t to end there for heavy music fans. In November, painted rockers Kiss pulled out of their apparent farewell End of the Road tour at the last minute due to guitarist Paul Stanley falling ill.
Pop fans had a brief thrill in September when Taylor Swift was announced as the exclusive Melbourne Cup headliner. But the excitement was as short-lived as the race itself, as barely a week later the megastar reneged due to scheduling conflicts. Which seems like a cute way of saying “I don’t want to be involved in whatever animal cruelty crisis you have going on there”.
Redeeming himself in holy fashion, meanwhile, was Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, who had cancelled his sold-out 2018 Australian tour after breaking his foot. Sure, the guy may not need his foot to rap, but when he finally made the trip in July it was clear his performance hinged on being able to give 110 per cent. Having released one of the most potent songs (and video clips) to come out of the US in 2018, This is America, Glover’s late showing in Australia was a five-star affair. (The Lion King remake, however, in which he stars and which was released the same day as his Melbourne gig, was not quite so well received.)
Nineties R&B legend Lauryn Hill got such poor reviews at the first stop of her Australian tour in Perth in February that all media tickets were cancelled for the rest of her trip. Last month it looked as if Janet Jackson might suffer the same fate, with WAToday reporting punters stormed out of the singer’s Perth concert amid accusations of lip-syncing.
Our Melbourne reviewer braved Marvel Stadium for her set at RNB Fridays, however, and reckoned that Janet gave the crowd exactly what it was after. But the Black Eyed Peas still managed to upstage her.
Earlier this month the king of Britpop, Liam Gallagher, made headlines when the plug was pulled on his show at Margaret Court Arena midway through a song. Cue outrage from fans and Gallagher himself, who tweeted that a $250,000 fine for breaking the 11pm noise curfew was a “f—ing piss take”. That same night a much bigger star, Sir Elton John, had no problem sticking to the rules across the park at Rod Laver Arena.
Speaking of concerts cut short, entertainment writer Michael Lallo reported that some Bryan Adams fans missed out on much of his March concert when they decided to hot foot it after Summer of ‘69 to beat the exit crowds. And they definitely succeeded – because it was far from the last song of the night. He had about an hour left to go. Whoops.
Live and local
In 2019 the Teskey Brothers solidified their reputation as an exceptional act both live onstage and on the airways, suffering no hint of a sophomore slump as their second album Run Home Slow dominated various music awards and even earned them a Grammy nomination for engineering (which, by the way, happens in the brothers’ basement). They won best group at both the ARIA and Music Victoria awards, as well as ARIAs for best engineer (Sam Teskey) and best blues and roots album and Music Victoria awards for best regional act, best album and best song for So Caught Up.
If two years ago the boys from Warrandyte had sold out the Corner Hotel four times over, in 2019 they did the same … at a venue four times the size. Their Forum Theatre shows in November were not only electrifying but still managed to retain their trademark warmth and intimacy, despite the venue upgrade.
It was also a whirlwind year for breakthrough artist Tones and I, who cleaned up at awards nights, debuted on stages across the country and is currently enjoying a record 21 weeks and counting at number one on the ARIA singles charts with Dance Monkey.
Various ‘90s bands relived their (and our) youth with 20th, 25th and 30th anniversary tours. Locally, we had the Meanies, Regurgitator, Grinspoon, Spiderbait, Even and more take us on trips down memory lane with humour-laced, guitar-driven shows which, as Michelle Griffin wrote in her Dandy Warhols review (we’re counting them as local because one Dandy lives in Melbourne), involved much reminiscing and bumping into exes.
In November, ABC TV aired a gorgeous one-hour special on Recovery, the shambolic, Saturday morning live studio show which featured many of those bands and became a weekly fixture for a generation of young music lovers during its four-year run. Can you imagine the ABC being in a position to fund something like that in 2019? Neither can we.
Also last month, U2 laid down more of a memory highway with its Joshua Tree tour, some 30 years after the album was released. But taking the cake in the nostalgia stakes is Sir Elton John, whose Farwell Yellow Brick Road tour continues in Australia all the way through March. An epic innings for an epic goodbye.
Hannah Francis is Arts Editor at The Age