The Oils burned bright

EMPHATIC: All three of the Herald’s music writers believe Midnight Oil at Hope Estate stole the show on this year’s live scene. Picture: Jonathan CarrollHUNTER music fans wereblessed in 2017.

We welcomedmusic legends Bruce Springsteen,Midnight Oil, ColdChisel, Cat Stevens, Alice Cooper, Nick Cave and Stevie Nicks to our stages armed with their memorable hits, alongsiderising stars like Violent Soho, Tash Sultana, Dune Rats and Wil Wagner, who injected verveinto the scene.

The Newcastle Herald’s music writers and photographerswere there among the masses capturing the action.

1.MIDNIGHT OIL,Hope Estate, October 21​They came. They saw. They conquered.

When it was announced in 2016 that Midnight Oil were reforming for their first full-scale tour since 2002 there were skeptics.

Could a band of 60-somethings stilloperate with the same ferocious high-octaveenergy they were renown for?

Could frontman Peter Garrett sing those songs with the same political convictionafter his controversial career as a federal Labor minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments?

Any lingering doubts were emphatically erased within a minute of their opening track Redneck Wonderland.

The Great Circle Tour wasn’t promoting a new album, it was simply a celebration of one of Australia’s most iconic bands, who had last performed in Newcastle in 2002.

Thecapacity 19,000 crowd at Hope Estate responded accordingly. They were absolutely ravenous for The Oils.

The Hunter was always a great supporter of Midnight Oil, dating back to their formative days in the late ‘70s andGarrett remembered.

“Hello to all our friends from the Ambassador [nightclub],” he said.“If you’re under 40 then you don’t know why you’re cheering.”

Everyone knew why they were cheering throughout the two-hour, 22-song set list, whichwas peppered with genuine classics.

Beds Are Burning,Blue Sky Mine,Forgotten Years,Dreamworld,The Dead Heart,Power and the Passion,Best of Both WorldsandKing of the Mountain–the pace was frenetic and the crowd sang their lungs out.

Many of those songs, tired from years of high-rotation on commercial radio, were reborn through thebuzzsaw-like guitar ofJim Moginie and Martin Rotsey and by Garrett’s energy.

Fellow Herald writers Jim Kellar and Lisa Rockman also listed Midnight Oil as theirbestshow, leaving nodoubt who burned the brightest in 2017.

2. NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS,Newcastle Entertainment Centre, January 22​ SHAMAN: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds even made the Newcastle Entertainment Centre feel intimate. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The Newcastle Entertainment Centre, not so affectionately known as “The Shed”, can be a graveyard for some artists.

International acts like Placebo and Ace Frehley learnt that lesson this year.

But Nick Cave was special. He created an intimacy that was experienced even at the back of the grandstand through his dark and marvelously intense brand of music.

It was no mean feat given the bleak and melancholic moodof Cave’s last album Skeleton Tree, which dominated the set list.

It felt like a religious experience.Like a mad-eyed preacher bellowing from hispulpit, Cave leaned over the guard rail to passionately sing into the faces of the true believers. The audience replied likeevangelical Christians.

“Can you feel my heart beat?” Cave screamed during Higgs Bosom Blues.The front row almost could.

That’s not to discount The Bad Seeds. While they predominantly let Cave consume the limelight, they are a terrific band.

The grey-bearded Warren Ellis’shredding on theviolin was hauntingly visceral.

3. ALL OUR EXES LIVE IN TEXAS,Lizotte’s, June 11THIS was the year’s great surprise. I knew the all-girl folk-country foursome would be good after hearing their terrific debut albumWhen We Fell, but I didn’t expect sucha riotously funny and entertaining performance.

All Our Exes Live In Texas are Elana Stone (accordion), Georgia Mooney (mandolin), Katie Wighton (guitar) and Hannah Crofts (ukulele), who have each obtained individual success in Sydney’s folk scene.

Together they are a certified super group. Each able to deliver beautiful vocals and harmonies to accompany their rich and melodic folk andblue-grass.

Presentation is key for The Exes. While the majority of their tracks delve into dark territory likeThe Devil’s PartandI’m Gonna Get My Heart Cut Out, they brightened the evening with theircheeky brand of humour.

Much like The Spice Girls or Beatles they constantlyplayed off each other, whether it be telling stories about accidentally breaking grand pianos or watching R-rated reality TV shows backstage.

4. VALERIE JUNE,Dashville Skyline, September 29 STUNNING: Valerie June on stage at Dashville Skyline. Picture: Josh Leeson

The Dashville audience knew instantly they were hearing a different kind of artist.

Tennessee’s Valerie June is like a lost relic from the 1930s, melding gospel, folk, blues and rock. HerAppalachian-flavouredvocal walks at tightrope between heart-warming sweetnessandear-piercing, but June never trippedat Skyline.

“I’ma long way from home, but you people and this place is sure making me feel at home,” June told Dashville.

June’s third albumThe Order Of Timeis one of the best roots albums released in 2017 and the set was dominated by thatnew material like the hypnoticShake Downand vulnerableAstral PlaneandWith You.

Throughout June danced and gyrated in her peculiar and unique style. There’s no one like Valerie June.

5. GRINSPOON,Cambridge Hotel, August 31​ CHAMPIONS: Grinspoon delivered an evening of punk-rock nostalgia. Picture: Paul Dear

Loud, brutal, euphoric and riff-heavy. Grinspoon’s 20-year celebration of their debut albumGuide To Better Livingwas everything their fans craved.

The Cambridge was a heaving mass of late 20s and 30-somethings, eager to relive an album which soundtracked their rebellious and angry teenage years. Some creaking middle-aged legs even managed a mosh or two.

Fans weren’t disappointed. The Grinners smashed throughChampion,Post Enebriated SocietyandSickfestwith the same ferocity they conjured up back in 1997.

Frontman Phil Jamieson is a much-improved vocalist and showman and he threw himself into the set of alternative rock classics.

With his eyes hidden behind a long emo fringe, the 40-year-old orchestrated the audience like a puppeteer, while wearing that trademark smirk.

Whether or not Grinspoon’s reunion will be long-lasting, theGuide To Better Livingtour proved Phil and the lads have fuel to burn.

6. JAPANDROIDS,Small Ballroom, July 15​ PRIMAL: Japandroids guitarist Brian King belting it out at the Small Ballroom. Picture: Paul Dear

Rock’n’roll at its most primal is guitar and drums played with real intensity.

Canadian garage-punk two-piece Japandroids are all about primal rock’n’roll. Their sound could be described as Bruce Springsteen if The Boss played punk rock.

Japandroids’ most famous songThe House That Heaven Builthas the lyrics“If they try to slow you down/tell them all to go to hell” –which perfectly sums up their mission statement.

Guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse never slowed down. They whipped themselves into a sweat-soaked frenzy during their 17-song set.

Neither King orProwse attempted to wow their audience with acts of virtuosity.

Their currency of trade was intensity.

Kingstrangled the neck of his guitar and thrashed away in a distorted fuzz of power chords. Riffs and solos were not required.

Unfortunately the Small Ballroom was only three-quarters full because a band as powerful as Japandroids deserved better.

7. COLD CHISEL,Newcastle 500 Supercars, November 25 SUPER-CHARGED: Ian Moss and Jimmy Barnes led the show during Cold Chisel’s historic set at the Newcastle 500. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

A sea of 20,000 punters packed into Newcastle Foreshore Park was a sight to behold.

Toss in an illuminated Fort Scratchley to the east and a setting sun over the harbour in the west, and you had the recipe for a magical evening.

And Cold Chisel delivered, like only they know how. There was no quarter given, no time for flamboyant showmanship –this was a get-down-and-dirty rock’n’roll show.

Chisel are often unfairly maligned as a “bogan” band. This leads to many people and critics overlooking just what talented performers they truly are.

No one who attended the Newcastle 500 Supercars’ entertainmentmain event were left questioning Chisel’s musical credentials.

While Jimmy Barnes’ vocalsscreeched and croaked at times, you couldn’t doubt his effort. The sweat poured from his face.

Ian Moss’guitar work was immaculate, peeling off bluesy riffs and solos.

Pianist Don Walker and the engine room provided the stable backbone and freely allowed Barnes and Moss to hog the spotlight.

All the hits were covered.Flame Trees,Khe Sanh,Cheap Wine, Shipping Steel, Bow RiverandChoir Girl.

The only disappointment was noStar Hotelto provide thequintessential Newcastle pub-rock experience.

8. WIL WAGNER,Small Ballroom, February 17“How is my guitar still plugged in?” Wagner frantically asked from within a scrum of 30 punters surrounding him on stage.

It was an incredible spectacle of rock’n’roll craziness. After whipping up his audience with solo renditions of his best Smith Street Band material, Wagner proceeded to end the set withYoung Drunkbefore about 30 punters stormed the tiny Small Ballroom stage.

Amazingly Wagner finished the song and amazingly the tiny stage didn’t collapsein what was a thrilling conclusion to a powerful evening.

Wagner is a hulking man, with his face framed by a scraggy mo-free beard and wild hair. He looks like half this audience. Endearingly ordinary.

The nervous voice and Wagner’s lack of pretense further adds to his likability.

But when Wagner sang he was powerful as he belted out Smith Street Band classics likeDeath To The Lads,Ducks Fly TogetherandSurrender.

Two months later Wagner would be joined by his Smith Street Band colleagues at Maitland’s Groovin The Moo, butthis solo Small Ballroom show offered a far more thrilling rock’n’roll experience.

9. THE CHURCH,Lizotte’s, December 5 FAITHFUL: The Church were preaching to the true believers at Lizotte’s. Picture: Paul Dear

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of watching a show at Lizotte’s knows the Lambton theatre is a music-lover’s dream in terms of sound quality and ambience.

However, often the venue doesn’t attract bands intending to showcase their full electric arsenal. The Church did in December for two sold-out shows and it was an incredible display in musicianship.

WhenMarty Willson-Piper left the ‘80s psych legendsin 2013 it seemed impossiblehe could be replaced.

However, ex-Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug proved that he has the musical chops to step into Willson-Piper’s shoes.

Haug was brilliant on the opener,Aura.He was free to express himself on the fret board more flamboyantly than the more muscularPowderfinger ever allowed.

Unlike most of their contemporaries, The Church are still producing forward-thinking new material.

Several cuts off their impressive 2017 albumMan Woman Life Death Infinitywere performed without losing momentum or the crowd’s interest.

Steve Kilbey’s transformation into a more engaging frontman has also been part of The Church’s continuing appeal.

As the two-hour 19-song set progressed Kilbey became more and more expressive, sensing the energy rise from the audience.

Old fans were kept happy withUnder The Milky Way,Reptileand a compelling version ofTantalized, before the crowd-pleasingThe Unguarded Momenthad people dancing in the aisles.

10. THE LIVING END,Cambridge Hotel, March 10 PURE ENERGY: The Living End’s Chris Cheney tearing up the Cambridge. Picture: Marina Neil

One of the greatest developments in the Newcastle music scene over the past year has been the expansion of the Cambridge Hotel’s glasshouse band room.

Increasing capacity to 700 people and installing a state-of-the-art sound system has led to various bigger-name artists performing at the Newcastle West venue.

One of those acts was The Living End.

Are you ever too old to shout out The Living End’s classic teenageangst anthemPrisoner Of Society?

You know the onewith the prophetic lyrics, “Well we don’t need no one to tell us what to do,” and then “’Cause I’m a brat/And I know everything/And I talk back/Cause I’m not listening to anything you say.”

The sold-out Cambridge crowd of mostly 30-somethings delivered a resounding “no” to that question when the rockabilly three-piece closed the set with their rebellious hit.

Earlier in the evening Chris Cheney and his bandmates showed off their incredible musicianship. Cheney is a guitar-lover’s dream. A combination of dexterity, finesse and power.

While it’s fair to say The Living End’s newer material was fairly under-appreciated, the passion for their hits likeRoll On,White NoiseandWest End Riotguaranteed a raucous energy in the room.

JIM KELLAR’S TOP 51. Midnight Oil, Hope Estate, October21:Every song held a memory for someone in the audience. Every song seemingly holds a lyric that, once released, it can never be forgotten.

2. Bruce Springsteen, Hope Estate, February 18:The legendary entertainer hardly let up on his full throttle rock, finishing with a magical acoustic version ofThunder Road.

3. Violent Soho, Groovin The Moo, April 29:Their songs of remorse, meaningless love, lost lives, the detritus of wasted living were delivered with scorching power. They ignite fearful energy. Full of testosterone, the angst of youth.

4. The East Pointers, Unorthodox Church of Groove, March 24:An hour and a halfof sheer joy, about as upliftinga musical experience as you could ask for.

5. William Crighton,48 Watt St, May 27:To say he’s capable of taking an audience to another level is not an understatement. The acoustic-driven show cut down the barriers between artist and audienceto only the air between them.

LISA ROCKMAN’S TOP 51. Midnight Oil,Hope Estate,October 21:It was a privilege to witness songs of passion and protest being performed live so many years down the track. The sound quality was spot on and the production both moving and electrifying. Peter Garrett was mesmerising and the crowd was completely in his (often splayed) hands.

2. Nick Cave & Bad Seeds,Newcastle Entertainment Centre,January 22:Dark, brooding, stormy and violent, this was as close to a religious experience someone who doesn’t go to church can experience. The light and shade of Cave’s brilliance draws you in and takes you on a journey.

3. Tina Arena, Civic Theatre, September 12:Asurprise hit. I knew she could sing, of course, and that she had numerous hit songs to her name but as a performer she blew me away. She never missed a note, joked with the crowd as if we were sharing a beer,and yet carried herself with grace and poise.

4. The Pretenders,Bimbadgen,November 11:Stevie Nicks was the headliner, but for me, Chrissie Hynde stole the show. Thatwoman rocks.

5. The Eurogliders, Newcastle Entertainment Centre, December 3:Fronted by the hilarious, zany andtalented Grace Knight, Eurogliders came out firing and didn’t drop the ball once. It is easy to forget how many great songs they had on the charts in the’80s. I certainly had, but still found myself singing along to every word.

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