2022 should be remembered as the year when live music enjoyed its unbridled return to action. Gone were the miserable COVID restrictions of 2020-21, while the memory of malfunctioning livestreams and last summer’s hit-and-miss selection of live events – many of which were laced in lingering uncertainty about whether they could actually go ahead or not – was emphatically banished.
Instead, 2022 witnessed a fully fledged festival season: over 200,000 revellers descended on Worthy Farm for the first Glastonbury since 2019, while the likes of Coachella, Mad Cool and Green Man all made their full returns. Massive gigs from the likes of Liam Gallagher (returning to Knebworth for the first time since Oasis’ landmark 1996 shows), Harry Styles and Adele wowed the punters, while statements of intent from the new and next generation of artists – Wet Leg, Yard Act and Dylan, for example – were laid down.
Team NME were understandably thrilled about the resumption of gigs and festivals this year – here are our live music highlights from 2022.
Words: Alex Flood, Andrew Trendell, Erica Campbell, Hannah Mylrea, Jake Tucker, Kyann-Sian Williams, Rhian Daly, Sam Moore, Sophie Williams, Thomas Smith
The Rolling Stones at Estadio Metropolitano, Madrid, Spain – 1/6/2022
And then there were three. After 60 years of perfectly playing behind the beat, The Rolling Stones lost their drummer Charlie Watts in August 2021. Their ‘Sixty’ tour, which kicked off in Spain on the same weekend as The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the UK, turned out to be a spectacular celebration of their late bandmate and a testament to the power of a pristine rock’n’roll concert.
On the tour’s opening night in Madrid – their first European dates without Charlie – wiry frontman Mick Jagger ran rings around Atletico Madrid’s stadium like nothing had ever happened – re-energised, almost. Replacement sticksman Steve Jordan offered a punchier approach in the Stones’ live set-up, but a sweet tribute to their late bandmate offered a rare moment of sincerity from a group not best known for their sentimentality. Later dates on the tour would be scuppered by COVID, but for one of the year’s most anticipated comeback gigs the stars aligned perfectly – and oh, how they shined. TS
Rosalía at Altice Arena, Lisbon, Portugal – 27/11/2022
Rosalía’s 2022 record ‘Motomami’ saw the Spanish superstar broaden her sonic palette like never before. Splicing genres as diverse as industrial electronica, R&B, reggaeton and chart pop, the exhilarating end result was a triumph – and it only shone brighter during its live outings this year.
Meticulously planned and executed, the ‘Motomami World Tour’ managed to stand out as something special in a year already blessed with spectacular pop shows. In some ways, it felt more like theatre than a glossy arena gig: while there were euphoric renditions of the hits (TikTok smash ‘BIZCOCHITO’ saw revellers recreate Rosalía’s viral gum-chew en masse), it was the unexpected moments that stood out in Lisbon. Take Rosalía riding a motorbike made up of her backing dancers during the new record’s titular track, or the stunning performance of ‘HENTAI’ that juxtaposed idyllic visuals and gorgeous vocals with the track’s deliciously filthy lyrics. Alongside the considered big-screen camera work that meant the on-stage videographer was as much a part of the show as the dancers, it resulted in a surprisingly intimate experience for an arena show. A dazzling, theatrical showcase of the artist’s sheer talent. HM
Bonobo at Royal Albert Hall, London – 19/5/2022
Simon Green made Royal Albert Hall history back in May as he brought the wondrous Bonobo live experience to the historic central London venue for a five-night residency – the first time an electronic artist had staged such a run of shows at the RAH. NME was in attendance at the spellbinding fourth show of the residency, which showcased both the blissfully beat-driven (‘Surface’, ‘Cirrus’) and all-out ravey (‘Bambro Koyo Ganda’, ‘Kerala’) sides of the Bonobo coin – both of which felt very much at home reverberating off the walls of arguably the grandest live music setting around.
The following and final night of Bonobo’s residency, though, featured a serendipitous collaboration between Green’s live band and the RAH’s resident organist Anna Lapwood, who added spine-tingling grandeur by playing the hall’s organ during main set-closer ‘Otomo’. Don’t just take our word for it – check out Lapwood’s own footage of the wonderful moment, which deservedly went viral on social media at the time, above. SM
Father John Misty at Barbican Hall, London – 7/4/2022
If you want to go on tour but don’t have any new ideas, there’s a tried-and-tested tactic in the music biz that just might work for you: hire a massive orchestra and bang out the hits. Slinking onto the stage at London’s Barbican Hall in a smart black suit and loafers, folk frontman Father John Misty treated his fans to a full charm offensive, reinventing himself before their eyes as an old-school Hollywood schmoozer.
He rattled off early classics like ‘Funtimes In Babylon’, but also found the time to give 11 fresh cuts from his new album ‘Chloe and The Next 20th Century’ their first outing (twinkling piano ballad ‘Goodbye Mr. Blue’ was perfect for the classy venue). Hip-swinging his way into an exciting new era, it was like watching a man reborn. So if your favourite artist still hasn’t shaken off that lockdown rust in 2023, might we suggest them stepping out in front of a mic stand and maybe adding a few violins? AF
Gorillaz at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain – 3/6/2022
Compared to the infectious energy shown by Charli XCX on Primavera 2022’s opening night, the headliners of the Barcelona festival’s third day were a lot more muted – at least to begin with. Thousands of eager festivalgoers watched on with some bemusement as Damon Albarn initially plinked around on a keyboard and a revolving cast of special guests came and went, all while a whole host of Gorillaz deep cuts filled up the first part of the set.
Festivals are an odd beast: if you grilled everyone in the crowd that night, chances are they were there to witness Gorillaz let loose by playing their numerous hits. Albarn, ever the showman, made us wait for the bangers: ‘Kids With Guns’, ‘Dirty Harry’, ‘Feel Good Inc.’ and ‘Clint Eastwood’ all came at the very end of the set, sending the crowd wild in dance-fuelled ecstasy. That joyous closing 20 minutes – and the sweaty smiles seen across the Prima site afterwards – may very well have been the highlight of the entire festival. JT
Paul McCartney at Glastonbury Festival, Pilton – 25/6/2022
Paul McCartney’s transcendent headline slot at Glastonbury – the second of his career, following his first Pyramid Stage appearance in 2004 – wasn’t so much about the performance itself as the impact it had on the 100,000-strong audience in attendance. We’ve always known that Macca’s songs were built to last, let alone evolve beautifully through decades’ worth of cultural shifts. But it’s hard to name any other legendary living artist with a run of hits like the one he delivered in the home straight that night: ‘Let It Be’, ‘Live And Let Die’ and ‘Hey Jude’. By the latter, the crowd’s emotional response had swelled massively as everyone basked misty-eyed in a beam of rainbow lights.
There was also something that was impressively relentless about the set: it never lagged despite its three-hour run time, while almost every song arrived with psychedelic visuals or, almost unbelievably, pyro. But it was the sight of Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen – two prominent Beatles obsessives – living out their dreams as they performed closer ‘The End’ with McCartney that was the most powerful spectacle of all. As a flurry of fireworks spread across the sky above, the trio repeated one word over and over: “Love.” For 180 minutes, it was everywhere. SW
Fontaines D.C. at Eventim Apollo, London – 25/11/2022
Dublin’s finest Fontaines D.C. started the year by being crowned Best Band In The World at the BandLab NME Awards 2022, before then proving themselves more than worthy of that title with their expansive and immaculate third album, ‘Skinty Fia’. Their victory lap of sold-out UK and Ireland shows to cap off 2022 later saw Fontaines effortlessly showcase the poise, passion and poetry that’s made them not just the finest band on this planet, but a true once-in-a-generation tour-de-force.
England had just given a mighty disappointing performance against the USA in the World Cup on the night Fontaines rocked up in Hammersmith, but these five lads – complete with a string quartet for some of the show’s more tender moments – knew what they needed to do for the fans whom these songs mean everything to, and really brought it home. Life will never be empty as long as we have Fontaines D.C. AT
BTS at Busan Asiad Main Stadium, Busan, South Korea – 15/10/2022
Even at the time of BTS’ free concert to promote Busan’s bid for the World Expo 2030 – which took place before singer Jin had even announced his plans to enlist in the military – it was clear that this would likely be the last time in a good while that all seven members of the group would be on stage together. Instead of feeling like the sun had set on the glory days, though, this Busan gig felt like a celebration of how far BTS had come, and how far they still want to go.
Each performance hit ferociously hard: ‘Run BTS’’s revving choreography got its debut outing, the group’s rappers flexed their lyrical fire and more tender moments like ‘For Youth’ got the stadium in its feels. There were flashy moments of production – hologram butterflies for ‘Butterfly’, constant slews of earth-shaking fireworks – as you’d expect from a show of this size, but none of it overshadowed the power and awe created by the seven members in between it all. But at the concert’s end, there came a poignant message in ‘Yet To Come’ – a vow to keep pushing forward together, even if that momentum has to be put on pause for now. This might be BTS at their best now, but there’s plenty more where that came from. RD
Playboi Carti at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain – 9/6/2022
Clinging onto the barrier at the front row of a Playboi Carti gig is an experience that you only get if you are truly dedicated. Witnessing the Atlanta artist in his full glory is always a mesmerising experience, even if the endless clouds of smoke generated by both the stage and crowd somewhat obstructed our front-row view of the rap superstar in action.
For his Primavera set, Carti embraced his self-described ‘Rockstar Made’ lifestyle by bringing out a guitarist to add further electricity to cuts from his 2020 album ‘Whole Lotta Red’. Throwing himself and his guitarist around the stage, Carti gave his absolute all – and the up-for-it Prima crowd reciprocated this manic energy. With black swirls drawn around his eyes in apparent homage to KISS, the 26-year-old transformed his image from the melodic rap stereotype many came to know him for in the 2010s to now embrace a punk-screamo persona – a shocking yet highly memorable transition to witness in person. KSW
Turnstile at Lollapalooza, Chicago, USA – 30/7/2022
Shouting sanguine lyrics while headbanging, crowdsurfing and getting covered in sweat that may or may not be yours is a uniquely cathartic experience that even the most devoted live music attendees rarely get to enjoy. It’s one that should never be taken lightly, though – especially if you find yourself at a Turnstile show.
On a balmy Chicago Saturday night, the Baltimore band brought this exact experience to an overpouring Lollapalooza crowd, drawing in new fans from Grant Park’s walkways with their melodious, heavy style and boundless energy. There’s something beautiful, primal and human about a show that begs you to take part with not just your ears and voice but your body, connecting you with thousands of strangers as you chant “I want to thank you for letting me see myself!” in unison like a mantra. If you’re experiencing a sense of dread regarding the current state of the world and are in need of relief by way of distorted, bright guitars and the elated camaraderie of fellow revellers, look no further than a Turnstile show. EC