Crowd pleasers ... Coldplay, led by Chris Martin, delivered an incredible spectacle that included confetti, lasers and pyrotechnics to accompany their slick sounds. Photo: Edwina Pickles
The year in gigs started superbly with the Sydney Festival, led by the incomparable PJ Harvey, hit a couple of peaks expected (Janelle Monae) and surprising (New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys) along the way, and drew to a close with a flurry of unforgettable November shows, from an intimate date with jazz outfit Trio M to rock spectaculars from Radiohead and Coldplay.
We asked five of the Herald's foremost musical authorities to each pick their two live acts of the year - and here, in chronological order, are the results.
January 18-19, State Theatre
With vocals sometimes tremulous and trebly, at other times dropped down, and a sonic palette ranging from guttural to high reaching, everything Brit alt-rock queen Polly Harvey did served the specific world she created on stage: a distant time that seemed too fresh and pungent to be consigned to the past. Few artists would imagine or attempt a show like this. Is there anyone who could do it as powerfully and completely as PJ Harvey? BERNARD ZUEL
JAMES VINCENT McMORROW
April 11, The Vanguard
Irish folk singer-songwriter McMorrow has the most haunting of voices, including a gorgeous falsetto on songs such as If I Had a Boat and Steve Winwood's Higher Love. He knows the value of space between notes, and uncluttered arrangements. Perhaps the most powerful moment of this gig was when it was threatened by sound-system glitches; McMorrow carried on, proving his voice and guitar are just as mesmerising unplugged. DANIEL FALLON
May 26, Allphones Arena
Two of the world's greatest boy bands - New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys - still had the '90s dance moves, the '90s outfits and the bad '90s haircuts. They seamlessly tag-teamed with each other and busted out the hits with frightening precision. It was nostalgia at its finest for '90s kids like myself for whom NKOTB and BSB were as much game changers and life shapers as Y2K and MSN. Oh so cheesy but oh so good. RACHEL OLDING
May 26 and 27, Sydney Opera House
Dressed in black tie and sporting Astro Boy-like hair, this 27-year-old Kansas City native has a soulful, pitch-perfect voice, dance moves that would make James Brown blush and a stage presence that commands the audience to let themselves go. Monae's brilliant 13-piece orchestra played mainly infectious funk (Tightrope) and slick pop (Cold War) and brought it down with a dash of jazz (Smile). DF
June 9, Blue Beat
Ethiopia's Samuel Yirga is a pianist who is staggering in his invention, facility and narrative skill. He led us through a fantasia of Ethiopian, jazz, Cuban, funk and classical elements with a deep understanding of the convergence of their essences. Yirga's improvisation could be seismic in its power and transporting in its range. His band is surely one of the most thrilling on the world stage right now. JOHN SHAND
November 9, The Sound Lounge
Myra Melford (piano), Mark Dresser (bass) and Matt Wilson (drums) are an equilateral triangle, with all the implied perfection of balance and proportion. They piled surprise on surprise until we seemed to enter a parallel musical universe where wonderment was the norm. It is rare for the atmospheric and the earthy, the abstract and the moving, the cerebral and the playful to be intertwined so comprehensively.JS
FAT FREDDY'S DROP
November 10, Sydney Opera House
New music from the New Zealand group's coming album, Blackbird, plus live art and animations by NZ street artist Otis Frizzell and an eight-piece band feelin' the brassy love equalled a gloriously huge night of dub, reggae, jazz, funk and everything good in between. The Opera House had never seen such a delighted audience: up on their seats, cheering a street artist and begging for more of those glutinous bass lines. RO
November 12-13, Sydney Entertainment Centre
For Radiohead these days, rhythm infects everything - sometimes subtly, sometimes brutally - but it was the deep-lying emotion, not to mention the sheer beauty of Thom Yorke's voice, that nailed you to the moment at their shows. Just as compelling was the technology: vocal sampling, tone distortions and suspended mini-screens that reshaped throughout. A scorching merger of physical and machine. BZ
November 13, Enmore Theatre
Swedish hardcore punks Refused went out in a blaze of glory with the devastating 1998 album The Shape of Punk To Come. The Sydney leg of their re-formation tour showed they had lost none of their righteous anti-establishment anger or incendiary punk-rock power. Led by one of the most dynamic and exciting frontmen you'll ever see, Dennis Lyxzen, Refused ripped through a series of cuts so sharp they practically drew blood. GEORGE PALATHINGAL
THE METRO M AWARD FOR LIVE ACT OF THE YEAR GOES TO ...
November 17-18, Allianz Stadium
What do you want from a stadium rock show? Erupting fireworks, dazzling lasers and confetti cannon in overdrive? Spectacular sights such as 50,000 raised fists illuminated by flashing multicoloured wristbands? Anthems that can fill such an expansive venue and a frontman who can seemingly connect with everyone in it? These Brit-rock world-beaters provided all this before the end of the second song of a show that just kept getting bigger and better. GP
THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD FOR BEST LIVE ACT GOES TO ...
English supergroup Coldplay again, who captured 21 per cent of votes online for their magnificent shows at the Allianz Stadium. Runners-up were British rockers Radiohead (20 per cent) and indie pop-rockers Florence + the Machine (15 per cent).