Bono, Van and Leonard still lording it on stage
Stars with more than a little mileage shone in the past year, both live and in the studio, writes Barry Egan Shows Of The Year
Someone once described Bob Dylan as "a crank who wants you to believe that he's seen it all but really just wants to complain that he hasn't liked what he's seen". Arcade Fire's Win Butler seems to be still pondering over what he's seen in life thus far.
Like Dylan and Bruce Springsteen before him, Butler likes the big thoughts. His band's debut album Funeral focused on the theme of death and existence; 2007's Neon Bible switched to religion, God and natural disasters. The Suburbs has Arcade Fire turning its gaze on the smaller details of the world all around us. The more you listen to The Suburbs the more beautiful it becomes.
There was a time when it was easy to dismiss Weller as man stuck in a Sixties time-warp populated by the Small Faces, the Who and the Beatles.
That is no longer possible with Wake Up The Nation, an audacious album that challenges Weller as much as his hardcore audience. His 25th studio album is an avant-garde record full of risks. Fast Car/Slow Traffic owes a debt to David Bowie's Low; Andromeda possibly has a bit of a Bowie influence, circa Aladdin Sane, too. This is Weller's boldest, most out-there album, and it is hardly a surprise when you look at the musicians he's brought in to contribute to the out-of-kilter sonic palette: chief among them, My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields.
"Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/ Two great big humps and then I'm gone," Nick Cave, full of mischief, soothes on Worm Tamer. It is hard to imagine sometimes that the same man who wrote Into My Arms can write this kind of highly enjoyable filth. All this and Warren Ellis's guitars, too, which, as NME pointed out, squeal and howl like the animals of the Ark undergoing brutal torture.
Plastic Beach is 'sing-a-long-a' in places and outright difficult in others. Stay with it, though.
The album overall has a theme of New-Age doom. The melancholia of listening to Plastic Beach brings with it a kind of perverse pleasure.
A cool $3m in the making, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy does what it says on the tin. It is a surreal album. That in itself should surprise no one. Kanye, as one US critic once described him, is the glitch in the matrix, a mad genius who transforms just about everything he does.
Sci-fi evangelism that Prince would sell his soul for now.
Someone said recently that Sufjan is saving the world from bad Christian music. This is not so much good Christian music as great soul music. Sufjan is not a man you are likely to meet every day. On Vesuvius, he refers to himself in the third person: "Sufjan, the panic inside, the murdering ghost that you cannot ignore".
The OutKast rapper's first solo album was a joy to listen to if only to hear him talk up the delights of "Tailored alligators/Soufflé/Escalade". This is Eighties synth-funk-hip-hop for people too young to remember the Eighties.
Cleaning out his closet is something he is very good at, clearly.
Outside-the-box Irish funk via Baltimore in the US. Eccentric. Eclectic.
Eamon de Valera, on being told that Lloyd George had said talking to him was like trying to pick up mercury with a fork, replied: "Why doesn't he use a spoon?"
Analysing Bono with any accuracy is like trying to pick up mercury with a spoon with holes in it. He is elusive as smoke; but sometimes more intriguing for it.
Some 96,000 people lost their minds that night in the City of Light as Lord Bono of Killiney Hill opened up with Return of the Stingray Guitar and then go immediately into Beautiful Day, I Will Follow, Get On Your Boots and Magnificent. Before we knew it, they were into voice Mysterious Ways (which segued into My Sweet Lord.) At the end of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Bono went into an improv moment on Many Rivers to Cross. The Edge had his improv moment, too: at the end of I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight, The Edge drives the song into Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax.
"I don't know when I will be back this way again, but I promise to give it my all," the 76-year-old Leonard promised. He made good on his promise. A late summer's evening in Yeats' country was a perfect place to watch the gravely voiced poet from Montreal rhapsodise. Wearing a dark grey suit with grey shirt buttoned to the neck, and a hat, he shot the crowd that famous crooked smile of his as he sang the self-mocking Tower Of Song: "Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey, I ache in the places I used to play." First We Take Manhattan had the crowd tapping their toes merrily oblivious to the recession still in our midst.
It's official. Leonard Cohen was Prozac for the soul.
The man from Duluth can do no wrong in my opinion. The previous night in England (a show I attended), Bob opened up with Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35, Don't Think Twice and Stuck Inside Of Mobile. Twenty-four hours later in Cork, he wows us by opening his show with Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, Lady Lady Lay and Just Like Tom Thumb Blues. He is still singing like a man trying to stand up in a drunken boat and succeeding. He is still playing like a man trying to get to heaven before they close the door.
To paraphrase PG Wodehouse, Van Morrison is a tubby little chap who looks as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say "When!'' But his physical presence aside (he was wearing a white suit and matching hat finished off with sunglasses of the garish sort worn by Elvis in his Las Vegas nadir), Van is still an incredibly powerful and emotive live performer.
When he played Have I Told You Lately That I Love You and Brown-Eyed Girl the whole south-east of England seemed to be dancing in ecstasy. Van doesn't do dance. Movement embarrasses him.
Mr Friday -- ably supported by Martin Hayes (on guitar) and Dennis Cahill (on fiddle) -- performing work by Mr Yeats at the National Library was a special performance alright. Gav was nothing short of mind-bogglingly brilliant as he approached the poetry in his own (beautifully peculiar) manner; his phrasing lush as his own records; his personality just as rich. "I'm not from Sligo," he told the audience of luvvies, "I'm from Dublin."
John Lydon and his Public Image Limited gave an exercise in crowd control, ie he had them in the palm of his hand from the opening bars of The Flowers of Romance. "This is coming home for me," Lydon -- whose late parents are from Ireland -- said from the stage during his breathtaking performance. "It's great to be in a field in Ireland." And he was right.
At their best, Arcade Fire seem to be the pupil-dilating, pulse-quickening, larger-than-life prophets and guardians of a gateway into a bigger, better, brighter world.
He played five sublime sold-out nights. (I went four of the five nights.) Weller is the boy about town that you've heard of.
Music snobs please note: Elton can play the piano and emote as evocatively as your Dr Johns and your Tom Waits. He is a wonder to watch.
Mr Fish is possibly one of Ireland's most underrated artists and performers. He deserves to be huge in 2011. And I, for one, hope that he will be.