As music fans, there’s few experiences more exciting or memorable than those that come with the stage.

It’s the lights, the sounds, the electric shiver that leaps from frame to frame as our favourite band at last arrives to perform. 

At its best, live music is a ceremony in which we come together to be part of something unique, that lives, breathes, and exists in those fleeting moments that no camera or iPhone can ever truly capture, as they escape into the night even as those performances work their way into our hearts and coil inside our memories. 

It’s those concerts and gigs that inspire those one-of-a-kind experiences that we turn to for the next in our end-of-year celebrations. Continuing on from looking at the Best Album Artwork Of 2013, we set a collection of Tone Deaf’s regular scribes the painful task of selecting their best live shows of 2013, and the even harder challenge of explaining why.

In the words of those who were there, these are The Best Gigs of 2013.

Image: Peter Dovgan 

The Drones – 26th April 2013 @ The Forum, Melbourne

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – The Drones are Australia’s best live band, hands down.

You don’t go along to a Drones gig to have a nice old time; you arrive preparing to have your senses wrung out and your emotions skewered by the group’s throttled garage rock and Gareth Liddiard’s spitfire, lyrical punk poetry.

Perhaps it was the anticipation of hearing their latest album I Sea Seaweed thrashed into life, or the addition of Steve Hesketh’s fragile piano notes to the fray, or Liddiard’s more-unhinged-than-usual, liquor fuelled antics; either way, there was the sense of this being The Drones at their zenith.

It says something about the calibre of The Drones that in a year where I was fortunate enough to see some great bands in some incredible settings, including The Black Keys in California and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, the gig at The Forum has etched itself into my memory in a way that no other live performance quite matched.

– Claire Francis. Read the review here.

Neutral Milk Hotel – 16th November 2013 @ The Forum, Melbourne

In 2013 it’s easy to be jaded and dickish about live music. So for a gig to make an audience of thousands move without pretence or cry without quandary is a rare feat.

Hearing a packed out crowd at The Forum belt every line (including the ever-perfect “Jesus Christ, I love you, yes I do”) in unison with the original line-up of Neutral Milk Hotel was staggering, not least because in front of us was a musical impossibility realised.

Better still and thanks in part to a strict no photo policy, not a person in the room was on their phone or attempting to get dodgy footage. Instead, everyone was relishing the moment instead of trying to capture it.

I could give you the setlist or say the whole band was tight and that 15 years after the opus that was In The Aeroplane Over The Sea Jeff Mangum still gives great voice.  I could tell you a lot of true and facty things, but none of them matter because on a night in mid-November a room full of people got to collectively feel something they never thought they would and forged a memory of the most intensely visceral kind.

No one walked out with a blurry photo of Neutral Milk Hotel that night, or even proof that it happened,  but I’m hedging my bets that not a single person who was at The Forum on November 16th will ever forget.

-Esther Semo. Read the review here.

You Am I – 6th July 2013 @ The Forum, Melbourne

There’s been a flurry of these band-plays-classic-album nostalgia trips recently. But while the snarky characterisation of these shows as sentimental cash-grabs may be warranted in some cases, there’s something else going on you should also consider.

These ‘classic’ albums, and in the case of both Hi Fi Way and Hourly Daily no other word seems more appropriate, are snapshots of a time and place, and of a crucial moment in a career. And so for younger You Am I fans, like yours truly, who missed the chance to see album cuts such as “Gray” or “Dead Letter Chorus” or the mournful, string-laden “Heavy Comfort” the first time around, shows likes these are a more than an exercise in nostalgia, they are a remarkable opportunity.

On the night in question, Tim Rogers was in top form – he’s singing better than ever these days – and both albums were recreated with the same passion and exuberance that the group initially captured on tape. For the older fans, this retrospective tour was a reminder of why they fell in love with Tim, Andy and Rusty (and eventually Davey) all those years ago. For me, I got to see my heroes perform some of my favourite songs and if that’s a cash-grab, hand me my wallet.

-Luke Henriques-Gomes. View the photo gallery here.

James Blake –July 31st 2013 @ The Palais, Melbourne

A gig must be pretty special if it can turn you from a non-believer to an awe-struck, lost-for-words fanboy in the space of 90 minutes.

This year, James Blake’s Melbourne Splendour sideshow did exactly that, and rightfully takes out the title as my favourite show of the year. Playing a set that showcased his earlier blogosphere triumphs and, of course, this year’s immaculate Mercury Prize winning record Overgrown, Blake’s soulful RnB electronica sprouted goosebumps down my spine as it echoed with a pulsating intensity through the picturesque cinema hall.

From the bass-heavy club anthems ‘CMYK’ and ‘Voyeur’ to his fragile cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case Of You’, it was almost like Blake had placed me under a trance-like spell as he swivelled side to side on his piano stool and breathed out his signature chilling vocals. Suggested by the rapturous standing ovation at the end of the final encore, I certainly wasn’t the only one in the room completely possessed by the shy Englishman that night.

-Dylan McCarthy. Read the here.

David Byrne & St. Vincent – 17th January 2013 @ The State Theatre, Sydney

I sweltered at the Sydney Big Day Out earlier this year when the mercury hit 46 degrees, but the night before was much cooler – especially when it involved David Byrne busting out ’80s moves. The former Talking Heads frontman was dressed in all white; the gorgeous Annie Clark contrasting in black.

It was kind of weird being surrounded by people that were my parents age (and older), but the energy given off by Byrne and Clark somehow brought to life a youthful spirit that was dwelling within my neighbouring seat holders.

Laying down the quirky tracks from their collaborative work Love This Giant as well as their individual material, the pair were very deserving of the cliche ‘a match made in heaven’. Highlights included Byrne imitating a singing plank of wood (he lay on the stage floor and sung), Clark’s shredding solos, their gnarly backing band (yep – gnarly), and seeing basically the entire audience jump out of their seats to move and groove to Talking Heads classics ‘Burning Down The House’ and ‘Road To Nowhere’ – something I’ll never forget.

-Meaghan Weiley. Read the review here.

Puscifer – February 28th 2013 @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne

While Bruce Springsteen’s three-hour Hanging Rock performance was a life-defining concert, the sheer awesomeness of the Boss’ 2013 tour is well known. Puscifer’s first ever tour Down Under is an event less talked about, but more than worth the recognition here.

With Maynard James Keenan’s other outfit, A Perfect Circle, playing Soundwave, the wine connoisseur’s least well-known project put on a spectacle so unique that few other shows are likely to replicate it. How many shows have you been to that include a half an hour tour mockumentary in place of the support slot before an in flight simulation with ‘Vagina Airlines’ takes off for the main performance?

Maynard Keenan as captain made his entrance singing through a megaphone, while the spectacular leading lady in Carina Round gallivanted around the stage when she wasn’t initiating a crab like dance.  Needless to say the visual effects were incredible and the music so enthralling you almost needed the free Vagina Airlines peanut bags thrown in your face to snap you out of a complete trance.

Puscifer’s performance ticked all the right boxes. Theatrically unforgettable and musically impeccable, this wasn’t just another band strumming their instruments, this was an experience.

-Corey Tonkin. Read the review here.

Neil Finn & Paul Kelly – February 16th 2013 @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne

In a year packed with touring acts straight from a Gold 104.3 playlist, Paul Kelly and Neil Finn’s tag team at a stinking hot Palace Theatre stood out amongst all.  On paper, it seemed genius – two of Australiana’s finest in the one room interchanging into each other’s classics.

In the flesh it felt like a religious experience, even it if was occasionally spoiled by a filthy heckler who deserved a biblical stoning.

Picking highlight is superfluous, though Kelly’s reading of ‘Into Temptation’ and Finn’s delivery of ‘(You Can Put Your) Shoes Under My Bed’ leaves tingles still.

Plus, hearing the pair lovingly – and humourously – piss into each other’s pockets throughout was price-admission worthy alone.

Bruce’s benediction may have been the biggest and Paul Simon’s gig the sharpest, but as far as pure tingles, none surpassed the magic these two geniuses conjured.

-Paul Bonadio. Read the review here.

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – 18th November @ The Recital Centre, Melbourne

The ingenious collaboration between the Berlin-based producer and the bell-bashing collective from Oslo resulted in January’s release of Elements Of Light. That album celebrated an intriguing intersection between classical composition and modern electronic music but when performed live, the musical experience transcended genre and became simply a beautiful piece of performance art.

Even down to their creepy matching outfits – part mad scientist, part evil butcher – the six performers were magically in-sync throughout the performance, and the crowd similarly hung on every note, drone, bleep, bang and crash that was played.

Said audience remained silent throughout the show, so mesmerised were its members by what they were witnessing and hearing in the acoustically impeccable Elizabeth Murdoch Hall. When Pantha and co. performed a live fadeout – playing hand-held bells as they walked through the crowd and exited the rear of the hall – no one dared to even applaud for some time, lest they miss that tiniest, distant, final chime.

Breathtakingly original, technically flawless and utterly spellbinding, this performance was something I will never forget.

-Will Van de Pol

Animal Collective – 23rd January 2013 @ Palace Theatre, Melbourne

Let this be prefaced with the knowledge that this is a far more sentimental entry than a musical one. A few years ago, a cousin and I entered into a now longstanding tradition of buying records for each other for Christmas. Every year, without fail, I’d be presented with some kind of shiny new Animal Collective vinyl.

In January, despite being dirt broke, I managed to pull together my pennies and get a ticket to see them at the Palace with aforementioned cousin and some mates in tow. Initially the set itself was kind of disappointing, a pretty straightforward run through of their new album, lacking any experimentation.

But gradually, albeit hardly ever, they dug into their back catalogue, playing Lion In A Coma, Brother Sport, Peacebone and My Girls. Not favourites, no Fireworksbut overall pretty darn nice. I cried a lot during My Girls, because obviously I’m super lame. I think the power came in the fulfilment of seeing a band together that had been so formative in bonding us as family after so many years, and it was really, really lovely. Love ya cuz.

-Stephanie Milsom. Read the review here.

Dinosaur Jr – 8th March 2013 @ The Espy, Melbourne

I know this ain’t no breakthrough artist of the past 12 months, but that only cements the argument for best gig of the year. The low-fi kings have kicked around dive bars deafening audiences for two decades now.

Crammed in the grungy dungeon that is the front room of St.Kilda’s Espy, the coastal venue couldn’t be a more fitting freak scene. Bare in mind, the band could sell-out Festival Hall at the flick of J’s grey wig, yet opting for intimacy has forever coaxed further admiration for the masterful three-piece.

Watching the band tear through a setlist littered with timeless tracks like The Wagon, In A Jar the threesome emphatically exemplified why they’re still around

J is still an unforgiving axe-wielding maniac that refuses eye contact, Lou Barlow still packs the sonic bass reverberation that almost causes teeth to shatter whilst Murph belts the fuck out of the skins like the hardcore punk fanatic he once was.

Perhaps it’s a personal sentiment of bashing around a seasoned crowd with my older brothers, entirely captive to J’s infinite solos, but no other set of 2013 has come close.

-Joe Harris. View the photo gallery here.

Weezer – 17th January 2013 @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne

It’s a common place correlation, but it’s a formula that holds true: the more rare the show, the better. And they didn’t get much more unlikely (or amazing) than a concert that was nearly 16 years in the making.

Never mind Weezer’s epic absence from Australian shores ahead of their January visit this year – in which they played their 1994 debut live and in full – realising a hope that many Aussie fans, myself included, had long since dashed. It was the one-off, pitch-perfect, Melbourne-only performance of Pinkerton at The Palais that was the true Weezer diehard’s wet dream, complete with a front-half set of B-sides and obscurities.

Despite its horrible reception at the time of release – sending the band into a half-decade exile and another 12 years before they’d even return to material that they considered a vile embarrassment – this concert saw both band and audience embracing “the greatest emo… indie… rock album of 1996 and all-time!” (as the band half-joke on stage) in all its cathartic glory.

Songs that (often brutally) revealed that deep within Rivers Cuomo, the Rick Moranis of the music world, was more than a geek who could pen tasty alt-rock nuggets about sweaters and surfing.

Even if he’s actively avoided conveying such depth since – as Weezer careened into a goofy arena rock concern in the intervening years – this concert was an emotionally powerful time machine back to the finest 36 minutes Weezer have ever recorded.

As the entire venue belted along to every moment of quirky rock heroism – from the aggravated frustration of ‘Tired of Sex’, to the gonzo ‘El Scorcho’ and eloquently wounded ‘Across The Sea’ – it was charged by the fact that it would be very likely be the first and last chance to do so.

Leaving the venue with an impossible grin, breathless and wet with the magic of nostalgia, I still consider it a kind of dumb luck to witness something that never could or should have been.

Even if it turns out that Weezer miraculously return to Australia for another performance of their 1996 masterpiece, I’d imagine I – like others there – would turn down the offer for fear that it might tarnish the memory of what was a perfect night of wish fulfilment.

– Al Newstead. Read the review here.

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