Rocking out at home is one thing but you can’t beat the live experience – as this year best gigs demonstrated. So who blew your mind this year, asks TONY CLAYTON-LEA
IT’S SUBJECTIVE, of course, so if your favourite gig didn’t make the cut this year, don’t worry.
At this point, we all know live music is the best way to cut to the chase. Yes, you can download or stream to your heart’s content, and that’s fine in the comfort of your headphones and your home, but unless you’ve been sectioned, you’re left with limited choices: tapping your toes, strumming your fingers, diplomatic body-popping and humming along to the melodies.
But what if you leave this passive, sterile, lonely environment behind for more socially interactive pursuits? Such as people (sometimes lots of people) and music that you can feel in and around your body and not just in your ears? Music that, by virtue of its nature and via the channeling of musicians, can take you from here to there without physically picking you up and dropping you down?
The subjectivity of the experience makes it difficult to pin down. For every person who shouts out for Jack White’s gig at the O2, there’s someone else who would put their life on the line for Patti Smith at Electric Picnic.
Ditto for Jay-Z/Kanye West at the O2 over Band of Horses at the Olympia; Chic at the Galway Arts Festival over Spiritualised at Vicar Street; Bruce Springsteen at the RDS over Bad Plus at the National Concert Hall.
So, it’s hard to let one act through and push another act aside. The Ticket’s top three gigs of the year demonstrates this: just how do you choose between the Jay-Z/Kanye West double whammy at the O2, Patti Smith’s powerhouse performance at EP, and Jack White’s lesson in raw excitement (again at the O2)?
The sheer diversity of the music (as well as of the venues – even a venue as big as the O2 works if you have the right act digging for gold) is what makes the live experience such a marvelous, moveable force to be reckoned with. May that marvelous, moveable force be with you.
(Electric Picnic, Co Laois)
JAY-Z/KANYE WEST(O2, Dublin)
Mahler from an Italian orchestra? Spacious, detailed, splendid. A wonderful start to a new Beethoven cycle from American pianist Jonathan Biss. Consorts to the Organ by one of music’s great originals, William Lawes, (1602-1645) played with telling insight. Early percussion pieces by John Cage, hugely appealing pieces played with palpable relish. Arias written for a great castrato that concentrate on delicacy and refinement rather than overt virtuosity. And, in close contention, the Freiburger Barock Consort’s exploration of the adventurous Heinrich Schmelzer (Harmonia MundiHMC902087), a return to form in baroque laments from mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter (NaïveV 5286), Olivier Marron and the Arcanto Quartett giving Schubert’s String Quintet a fresh makeover (Harmonia MundiHMC9022106), pianist Stephen Hough in top form in a French Album (HyperionCDA67890), and an excellent Arvo Pärt collection under Paul Hillier (Harmonia MundiHMU807553).
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano EMI Classics 084 4132 (2 CDs)
BEETHOVEN:PIANO SONATAS VOL 1
Jonathan Biss (piano) Onyx 4082
WILLIAM LAWES: CONSORTS TO THE ORGAN
Phantasm Linn Records CKD399
CAGE: THE WORKS FOR PERCUSSION 2
Third Coast Percussion mode243
ARIAS FOR GUADAGNI
Iestyn Davies (counter tenor), Arcangelo/Jonathan CohenHyperionCDA67924
These kids are still alright – just a little older. Neil Young, at 67, released two albums, with Psychedelic Pill and its elongated guitar workouts vastly superior to Americana; Dylan, at 71, continued to intrigue and inspire with his best album in years; Cohen, at 78, waltzed back into our hearts with grace and insight; Dr John, at 72, reignited hisNew Orleans groove with rare panache and Springsteen, the boy at 63, made his stand in the bitter US political wars with lung-busting commitment and fervour. Ry Cooder (65) also showed which side he was on with Election Special. Other senior citizens who put in a decent shift included John Hiatt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Donald Fagen, Willie Nelson and the long-lost Iris DeMent. The bright young things, relatively speaking, included Mick Flannery, Kevin Doherty, First Aid Kit, Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley and the amazing Punch Brothers.
If there was one defining characteristic of jazz in 2012, it was the increasing diversity of the music and the musicians making it. Veteran Canadian trumpeter Kenny Wheeler gave the world another big band album to treasure, while still-wet-behind-the-ears Norwegian duo Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset completely confounded expectations of what can be achieved by two guys blowing into metal tubes. American indy label Cuneiform cemented its growing reputation with a towering four-disc epic from free-jazz evangelist Wadada Leo Smith, while theNewYork “downtown” scene’s conspirator-in-chief Tim Berne launched a terrifying new band with his debut for the famed German label ECM, who also unearthed agemfrom their vaults in the shape of pianist Keith Jarrett’s sparkling Sleeper. Meanwhile, the Irish jazz scene proved its own growing diversity with excellentnew recordings from Ronan Guilfoyle, Sean MacErlaine, Mick Coady and Lauren Kinsella’s Thought-Fox.
NECK OF THE WOODS
Daniel Herskedal/Marius Neset
TEN FREEDOM SUMMERS
Wadada Leo Smith
THE LONG WAITING
Kenny Wheeler Big Band
It’s been a strange year: out of left field came the renaissance of the banjo, and We Banjo 3 do something dramatically different with the instrument: tracing its roots from Africa to theUS and across the Atlantic. Gerry Diver’s The Speech Project is a thought-provoking collection that marries original, avant-garde music with spoken-word reflections from a wonderful mix of musicians including Margaret Barry and Shane MacGowan. Zoë Conway and John McIntyre’sGo Mairir i bhFad: Long Life to You is a celebratory amble through newly-composed tunes from many of the best composers in the traditional idiom, while Triúr’s second collection showcased the teeming imagination of Peadar Ó Riada, whose compositions glisten here.
And the dark horse of this year’s nominees? Altan’s box player, Dermot Byrne and his harpist partner, Floriane Blancke, deliver a collection of such subtlety and delicacy as to render the listener an eavesdropper on the magic of it all.
THE SPEECH PROJECT
DERMOT BYRNE AND FLORIANE BLANCKE
Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke
ROOTS OF THE BANJO TREE
We Banjo 3
GO MAIRIR I BHFAD: LONG LIFE TO YOU
Zoë Conway and John McIntyre