The Vine story: “My Top 10 Musical Moments of 2011″, December 2011

A list of my ten favourite music-related memories and moments from 2011 for The Vine, reproduced below in its entirety.

My Top Ten Musical Moments of 2011
by Andrew McMillen

As we hurtle towards 2012 and the holiday season, TheVine has asked our critics to give us their Top 10 best music “things” from over the past year — whatever the hell they may be and in whatever haphazard fashion they so declare. Go.

10. The Drones at The Hi-Fi, October 28 2011

I didn’t review this one. I went by myself. I don’t think I even spoke to anyone at this show. But over two intense hours, The Drones reinforced why they’re my favourite band. ‘I’m Here Now’, in particular, blew my mind. I think the bit where Gareth sings, “…and for the first time now, I’m looking right at you” is my favourite moment in any Drones song. Cathartic. It kinda goes without saying, but: never, ever pass up an opportunity to see The Drones live. Here’s footage from Sydney, the night after I saw them:

 

9. Les Savy Fav at Laneway Festival Brisbane

This was one of those “you had to be there” kind of shows, so I’m a little hesitant to include this on the list. But Christ, are this band incredible live! I haven’t seen one man own a room – or, in this case, a tin shed – like this before, and doubt I will again (until Les Savy Fav visit Brisbane again). Watch this video, and keep in mind that the rest of their 45 minute set was just like this:

I tried to describe it. Excerpt:

“Some bands simply have singers; guys with strong vocals that get the job done. Some have frontmen; guys who, in addition to singing, take it upon themselves to keep the crowd pumped. I’m reminded of that quote from Almost Famous, where the singer is like “You know what I do? I connect. I get people off. I look for the guy who isn’t getting off, and I make him get off”. This is entirely apt when discussing Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav. To say that his performance sets the Inner Sanctum alight is to understate the obvious. For the next 45 minutes, he owns the room. A chubby, bearded, near-bald man with a hell of a voice and (metaphorical) balls the size of grapefruits, has – within minutes of the band taking the stage – commandeered an orange vest from TheVine’s photographer, Justin Edwards and marched through the crowd; extra-long corded microphone in hand, singing in people’s faces, rubbing himself against poles, and drinking whatever people offer him.

At times, his performance veers toward the unbelievable. Like when he grabs some silver paint from his bag of props – the dude comes prepared with all manner of costumes and supplements – and rubs it all over himself, before dropping into the front row and leaving gigantic silver handprints on the faces of the entire front row. Or when, right near the end, he marches through the crowd, picks up an orange security barrier, and has the crowd hold him aloft while he stands and sings. All the while, his gun band thrash away at their idiosyncratic style of danceable noise-punk, with barely a glance toward the mesmeric insanity of what their singer is doing. Even as it happens, it feels like one of those performances that you’ll be telling people about for years to come. Harrington redefines the boundaries of what’s possible and acceptable onstage.”

8. Nova Scotia – Nova Scotia

This fine debut was released at the start of the year, but it’s still one of 2011’s best albums. They’re an indie rock band who live in Brisbane. They’ve hardly toured outside of this city so you’ve probably never heard of them, but believe me, they’re worthy of your attention. Try this track:

Excerpt from album review: “Final track ‘The World Is Not Enough’ is the best cut they’ve put to tape. Built around an instant-classic bassline and subdued guitar licks – which must have been tough for the three guitarists – the song does an abrupt about-face at the halfway mark and becomes another thing entirely. The inclusion of brass instruments late in the piece is the final inspired decision on an album full of them.”

Buy the album on their Bandcamp.

7. Warpaint [pictured above] visiting Australia twice: Laneway Festival and Splendour In The Grass

I would be even happier if this was an annual occurrence. A fantastic band.

Laneway review excerpt: “On the Car Park Stage, four women called Warpaint prove themselves as one of the day’s highlights, soon after shouldering instruments and counting in. I spend most of the set in awe of Stella Mozgawa, whose control and power behind the drumkit is a thing of rare beauty. While all four of the LA-based band are strong instrumentalists, Mozgawa is the band’s beating, metronomic heart. She’s not a particularly flashy player, but the way she dominates her kit with an insistent, rolling flurry of notes has to be seen to be believed. Warpaint’s sound is rarely brash; they often opt for creeping subtlety in their guitar lines and vocal delivery, though there are occasional moments of raised heartbeats, as in standout ‘Undertow’. The crowd increases as their set progresses; quite possibly the result of text messages sent across the festival instructing friends to come witness this shit-hot American rock band. Highly recommended.”

Splendour review excerpt: “Under the McLennan tent, Los Angeles quartet Warpaint are the closest thing to perfect we’ve heard so far today. They write intelligent dream pop and deliver it in an effortlessly smooth style. In Sydney-born Stella Mozgawa, they’ve got one of the best rock drummers alive. It’s clear that Warpaint live, breathe and love their music. They toured with the Laneway Festival only a few months ago, but they’ll always be welcome on these shores.”

6. Witch Hats – Pleasure Syndrome

An incredible second album from one of the best rock bands in Australia. I hope I don’t have to use the phrases ‘criminally underrated’ and ‘underground’ when describing Witch Hats for much longer. Here’s a taste: ‘Hear Martin’, the first single from an album which you can – and should – buy directly from the band. Here.

5. Eddie Vedder dedicating ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ to — the very recently deceased (at the time) — Mike Starr, at Vedder’s first show of his Australian tour, 10 March 2011

This broke me. An incredibly sad, beautiful, powerful, unforgettable moment. I had a strange feeling that something remarkable would happen at this show, which is why I brought my audio recorder along. I was right. Excerpt:

“Though Vedder’s performance – nearly two hours long, and featuring nearly two dozen songs – is thoroughly entertaining, there is a very dark moment embedded toward the end; curiously, right after ‘Betterman’, a track whose narrative shifts from depressed to optimistic across three minutes. Here’s the moment transcribed below in its entirety.

[Vedder finishes playing ‘Betterman’. Crowd cheers. A few moments later, a woman yells from the back of the room, “That was beautiful, Eddie!” Crowd cheers again.]

Vedder: Thank you very much. First night of a new tour – that’s exactly the kind of support you appreciate.

[Crowd laughs and cheers.]

Vedder: There was a, um… the first tour our group ever went on was with another band. It all seemed… I mean, it’s still new and exciting, but you have to work at ways to make it new and exciting. It was just a trip. It was just mind-blowing, starting out. I’d never actually been, like, in a band, and on tour. I’d played little shows here and there. But this was, like, the real thing. There was another band that we were with, and they had records out, and I was kind of looking at them to see how to behave. It was pretty intense. There was a guy in that group – the group was Alice In Chains, that we toured with.

[Crowd cheers.]

Vedder: The guy who played bass in that band, his name was Mike Starr. Our orbits changed a long, long time ago. We hadn’t seen him for years. He’d been going through a rough time for quite some time. Uh, yeah. I don’t know if you heard, but he’s no longer with us, as of yesterday. I’ve just been thinking about him. A lot. I don’t know what anybody could have done. It’s just really sad when life, and living life, and all that the planet and the people on it have to offer; and all that you can offer it, and them. It’s too bad when sobriety’s just not enough to keep you alive.

[Crowd applauds. Vedder begins playing ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ by Neil Young. It’s heartbreaking.]”

4. The Dandy Warhols at The Tivoli, May 31 2011

This is one of few shows I witnessed this year that I wish I could relive. Despite going to dozens of gigs and nearly every major festival that visited south-east Queensland in 2011, I find myself returning to this particular set. An unlikely Tuesday night highlight at the tail end of a national tour. Magic. Excerpt:

“What if I put it to you that The Dandy Warhols are one of the best American rock bands alive? The more I watch and listen tonight, the more plausible it seems. I didn’t walk in expecting to happen upon this realisation. It hit around halfway through, when the rest of the band left the stage—keyboardist Zia McCabe and drummer Brent ‘Fathead’ DeBoer for a toilet break, apparently—which left frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor to unveil his “secret weapon”: a solo version of ‘Every Day Should Be A Holiday’. I doubted whether he could pull it off. The Dandys tend to work through sheer volume, I figured, not cutesy, sentimental moments better suited to stadium schlock-rockers. I was way the fuck wrong. From the first downward, loosely-strummed chord, CT-T begins singing. Right near where I’m standing—up the back of the balcony— a bunch of middle-aged men begin bouncing around, arms around shoulders, singing along at the top of their lungs. Then, what seems like the entire crowd joins him to harmonise during the chorus. Its ascending melody is irresistible; contagious. Over a thousand voices follow his trajectory: “Anytiiiii-hiiii-IIIME / Baby let’s goooo-hoooo-HOOO / EverydAAAA-AAaay-aayyyyyy / Should be a holidaaaaaay”. Which sounds fucking stupid on paper, sure, but in the flesh, it’s hair-raising. He gets to the line in the second verse – “Super cool / The Dandys rule, okay?” – and…I can’t disagree. All of a sudden, I realise I’m watching one of my favourite bands.”

3. Daring to criticise Tool’s Big Day Out sideshow in Brisbane (see here)

Even though I’ve been a hardcore Tool fan for around half of my 23 years, when I saw their Brisbane show the day after the Gold Coast BDO in January, I had forgotten just how intense their fanbase is. So when I wrote a mostly positive live review that poked fun at a few elements of their oh-so-serious concert, I was surprised at the reaction from a handful of Tool fans who took umbrage at my decision to criticise the band. It’s worth clicking the above link and reading through all 31 comments to witness the sheer blind insanity that Tool invoke in certain people, but here’s a sample of awesome eloquence:

“SHUT THE FUCK, UP AND GO BACK TO YOUR UNEDUCATED,OVER CRITICAL CORNER, WITH YOUR CD COLLECTION THAT NO DOUBT, CONSISTS OF SHIT LIKE “SOMETHING FOR KATE” “OPERATOR PLAESE” “MILLI VANILLI” “MGMT” AND THE LIKES, AND refrain from slowing down the natural evolution of mankind!”

And from the same commenter, this time sent to me via TheVine’s personal message system:

“Put your pen down, and do the world a favour…. kill yourself!!! Kind regards. Pete.”

2. Gotye feat. Kimbra – ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’

I was in Odessa, Ukraine with my girlfriend when I saw this video for the first time, soon after Gotye tweeted its release in early July. Our hotel’s shonky internet connection meant that we had to pause halfway through to let the rest of it load, but once viewed in full, the song’s power was remarkable. Even then. Incredibly, it still is, even after hearing it hundreds of times. The intertwining male and female vocal harmonies toward the end of the song still give me goosebumps, every time. Watching the pair duet at Splendour 2011 was a revelation: the crowd response was extraordinary. I knew then and there that this track would win the Hottest 100 (and wrote as much for Mess+Noise). Simply a killer tune.

1. Tyler The Creator – ‘Yonkers’

32 million YouTube views and counting, this still stands up as my favourite track of the year. Released in February seemingly out of nowhere – I hadn’t heard of Odd Future before ‘Yonkers’ – this sparse, menacing narrative sent me and many others down the rabbit hole of discovering a prolific and diverse catalogue, one self-released by a group who only just left their teens. Coupled with an instant-classic music video and verse after verse of memorable lyrical hooks, ‘Yonkers’ is a modern hip-hop masterpiece. Though nothing on Tyler’s 2011 release Goblin came close to the quality of this first single, this young writer/producer and his crew of collaborators certainly made their mark this year.

Andrew McMillen

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