Hits and misses but beat goes onEntertainment Music
Antony and the Johnsons' Swanlights.
DID VIDEO kill the stadium star in 2012? For all the talk about a tour-led renaissance, the sheer ubiquity of streaming sound and vision constantly updated on so many devices often made the real thing feel like deja vu once it negotiated the old-school channels of air freight and box office.
We still went gaga for Gaga, of course, but mostly because she'd bothered to show up. The sex card looked as dog-eared as Madonna and the firepower thing hasn't raised eyebrows much since Pink Floyd crashed a Spitfire into The Wall 30 years ago. If you missed Roger Waters' repeat launch in March, never mind. It's on YouTube.
Thrills more often erupted from a base of low expectations, below the social media radar. Who tweeted that Daryl Hall and John Oates would front such a fierce and fiery soul band 25 years after their last FM radio hit? Nobody, that's who.
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Same thing for 77-year-old Frankie Valli and his strapping new Four Seasons: a Las Vegas bandstand masterclass in two-minute hits and harmony. No Facebook campaign to speak of but OMG, Like, + Friend.
Lana Del Rey copped a blogosphere assassination attempt ahead of her first tour. What the tastemakers didn't get from a distance was the irony, the brilliant subversion of playing an abused and sedated glamour kitten in a world where pop starlets are all earnest power players - in underwear.
Florence and her Machine were treated with more respect, perhaps because she really is an elven queen spinning round and round under a pagan moon as her band thunders on horseback through a burning wood.
We'd seen her moves already, of course. Surprises are rare in an age where you can preview song selection at setlist.fm and watch a load of shaky iPhone footage from last week's gig in Helsinki before you buy a ticket.
Watching the reunited Beach Boys felt like ticking off a ''most played'' playlist which, at three hours, could have used an edit. Similarly structured sets from Simple Minds, Devo and Blondie were recorded off the mixing desk and burned to CD for purchase ($30) on the way out. Maybe it was the ultimate souvenir. It was almost certainly their last chance to actually sell us any music - even if one fan would probably upload it for free within minutes of reaching a computer.
Radiohead's return was more shock than awe. For so long rock's voice of humanity in the digital machine, they felt more like pixels in the retina-scorching matrix of electronic components we know too well. Yawn. Don't they know Waters has, like, a Spitfire on stage?
With due respect to Rufus Wainwright's bizarre Roman mardi gras encore and Goblin's ready-made gothic backdrop of the Town Hall pipe organ, the most impressive staging belonged to Antony and the Johnsons' Swanlights.
His set was an ice floe under a laser-simulated aurora borealis and his unveiling of the MSO a breathtaking climax. At last, lighting and theatrics tailored to the story at hand rather than the desensitised appetites of the video game generation.
Morrissey staked his territory with a pre-gig video hits show. For an audience used to following YouTube and Spotify trains of thought, rare footage of Francoise Hardy, Ziggy Stardust and the New York Dolls defined the exclusive Mozz aesthetic more vividly than any real live support act could ever hope to.
In other cunningly prepared manoeuvres, a ghostly projection of the late Billy Thorpe brought spooky context to the Long Way to the Top arena nostalgia show. He sang a relatively new song about being old while surviving peers sang old songs about being young. ''Too much f---ing perspective,'' as Spinal Tap's David St Hubbins might observe.
Most memorable moment on stage? Maybe it was the few seconds where Burt Bacharach choked while playing Alfie. He said later that the song had conjured too vividly the memory of a dear friend who, he had just learned, was on the way out. You can Google Hal David's obituary. But not that moment.