The Best Gig In A Year Without Gigs

MTV Australia’s music minds have searched their lockdown-fogged memories for their favourite gig in a year (mostly) without gigs.

Everyone remembers their “last” gig this year. In the space of two weeks in March in Australia, “last” went from a transient modifier to a death sentence for live music as public gathering restrictions shut it down. And so, we sat locked down in our homes feeling an intense nostalgia for yesterday, or a week prior, when we were all permitted to stand skin-to-skin with friends and strangers in a sweaty room. We didn’t have to be watching an artist we loved – in fact, we even missed watching a terrible support act from the back corner, pint in hand, waiting to make a snide comment to our friend when they returned from the bathroom. The full and beautiful spectrum of live music was part of our lives.

Gigs have returned in many parts of the country in a new form – mostly seated, and limited-capacity. For some of us, these gigs have been the kind of reaffirmation of life outside we’ve been waiting for since restrictions eased. For the rest of us? Well, we’re still thinking of that one night, that one beer, that one song. 

MTV Australia’s music minds have searched their lockdown-fogged memories for their favourite gig in a year (mostly) without gigs, and wrote about it to make you miss it just that much more.

Aldous Harding, The Forum (March 6)

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It was the third time I’d seen Aldous Harding, Kiwi folk-freak – my girlfriend and I made the fateful decision to buy tickets just hours beforehand, such was the privilege of the Before Times. 

Chapter Music-signed indie pop gem Laura Jean supported, without her usual full band arrangement – instead, her only accompaniment was Honey 2 Honey’s Rory Stenning on keyboard, and baritone backing vocals. Jean didn’t play any of the glittery music she was known for; her new music was austere, and floated on the cavernous echo of the venue. It fell flat for most people – they were confused by Stenning's blank looks, and Jean's chorus-less, winding songs. In retrospect, it appears like a premonition, and I wish I could hear it recorded.

Harding emerged in a '50s-style black and white blouse. She began, like she always does, perched on a stool, finger-picking like she's trying to remember what she's playing. One of Harding’s staple tools of performance is to contort her face, and leer at unfortunately chosen members of the audience – all while playing gentle, folk music. I saw her for the first time three years ago, where she did the same thing – back then, it seemed like a mechanism to neutralise stage fright, and redirect toward the crowd. Three years later, it’s sheer Jim Morrison-bravado.

We left the gig, and by chance met old friends who I hadn't seen for over a year at our local pub. They'd just been to see Stereolab at the Zoo, of all places. As we said goodbye, the band themselves were smoking around the corner. Stereolab feel like a rude band to intrude on, so we left it. And with that, we also left our last night out.

- Josh Martin, mtv.com.au contributor

Lizzo, Sydney Opera House (Jan 6)

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In the first week of January, no one could really predict just how turbulent, chaotic and miserable of a year we were all going to have – partly because, with the pandemic still months away, Australia was already busy trying to tackle one of the worst bushfire crises we’d seen in recent memory. The nation was covered in thick smoke, but for one night only at the Sydney Opera House, Lizzo tried her hardest to shine through the haze.

To no one’s surprise, she succeeded. Lizzo said it was her dream to play the iconic venue, but it was the honour of everyone there to witness her do it. She brought fun, bounce, energy and a level of pop honesty that we all needed. She had everyone on their feet from the start to the very, very end, with all of us losing our breath but not caring. Her radiance and love is infectious, and she spent a large amount of the gig talking about the bushfires and doing what she could to help out. She had donation boxes set up around the venue, and a few days later she went and volunteered with FoodBank in Melbourne – she’s about it.

Whether it was the immediately uplifting “Good As Hell”, the wailing and passionate “Jerome”, the epic closer of “Truth Hurts” or the anthemic “Juice” – which was preceded by her playing the first half of the song on her flute – Lizzo’s mission that night was to give everyone there a brief respite from the blaze and smoke that lingered outside the concert hall. Even if nothing was OK for the rest of the year, it was for that one night. 

- Jackson Langford, mtv.com.au contributor

Vera Blue and Live Orchestra, Sydney Coliseum – Great Southern Nights (Nov 14)

There are certain feelings I only get at a gig. Anticipation as the lights go down – knowing the words of my favourite song are coming, the touch of the crisp new lanyard that goes around my neck if I am working the gig... I had to wait eight months to add to my memory rolodex. With Vera Blue and a live Orchestra performing at the Sydney Coliseum, I didn't have to be asked twice to help shoot it.

Coming through backstage, fresh lanyard round the neck once again, it felt so special to be back at a live show. I'm buzzing!

Lights go down, roll camera. The string orchestra starts, followed by keys and harp. Purple lighting hit each note as the strings go higher and higher and then, Vera appears. Flowy white dress against a floral-lit, silver tree décor, Celia began with "Everything is Wonderful", which was exactly how I felt. I lip-synced my way through "Regular Touch" and "Rushing Back". Sadly, operating the camera stopped me from having my usual jig, though I still had my chance for internal reflection, which hits every time I hear "Mended". An hour and 15 minutes later, I know there is no way I can go another eight months without experiencing all this again.

- San Man, CMT music programmer

Azure Ryder, Oxford Art Factory (Dec 2)

Mid-week, preceded by fried chicken tenders and poutine, I attended the early session for Azure Ryder (Australia’s answer to Florence Welch) at the OAF in Sydney. 

I was travelling at the start of the year, and I arrived back just as COVID began to wreak its havoc on the live music scene, amongst everything else, so along with being Azure’s first live performance ever, it was my first gig this year. And it felt good.

I was only informed of Azure’s gig-less history about five minutes before she took to the stage, but had I not known, I couldn’t have guessed. Her voice was warm; her outfit sparkly. And after nearly 12 months without live music, I don’t think I realised how much I really missed it. That base-buzz, the tingle in your palms from clapping, and the connection to the crowd and space you become part of is impossible to recreate. The candlelit tables, the ciders delivered without an elbow to the ribs in the bar queue, and the joy on the face of a woman receiving real-life applause from a crowd that just made it that bit little easier for her to settle in.

- Monique Bour, head of MTV’s music channels

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Intro written by Josh Martin. 

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