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Top Ten Shows of 2012

Live music is one of the greatest experiences and I love going to shows. This was a good year for new music and I was fortunate to see and hear a lot of it live. As I do every year, I’ll list my favourite performances here. I missed out on two that I’m certain would have made the list: Radiohead in Toronto was cancelled due to tragedy, and I was in B.C. for a writers’ festival when Propagandhi came to Ottawa. Notwithstanding, I really enjoyed these sets:

Deltron 3030
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 10

Their self-titled debut is one of my favourite rap albums of all time, so I was excited when I heard they’d be playing Bluesfest. I wasn’t sure how they’d pull it off life, so I was even more stoked to see Del, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala take the stage with a full band including a chorus and string and horn sections. They took those already monumental songs into another dimension and I was totally blown away.

Jack White
L’Olympia
Montreal
October 2

Although I dig his new solo album, in all honesty I went to this show because I wanted to hear his old songs from other bands. He ended up devoting about half of the set to White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather material, much to my delight. The White Stripes tunes were especially phenomenal, thanks to the full electric band. They were way better than the original versions. I still get shivers when I recall the mighty opening version of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”.

Die Antwoord
Metropolis
Montreal
November 3

This South African rap/electronic outfit is one of the most interesting acts out there. They bring the weird on their albums and videos, and their live show was no exception. This was a loud and powerful one-hour set in my current favourite venue. They had the sold-out crowd moving from start to finish, and I can’t wait to see them live again. I haven’t had that much fun at a show in a long time.

KEN mode, Biipiigwan, Vilipend, Kloven Hoofs
Daily Grind
Ottawa
November 15

Metal bills are often jammed with lots of bands with varying degrees of talent. Most of the time I can’t get into all of them, and find myself using one band’s set to socialize/use the washroom/check Twitter. But at this show I can honestly say I genuinely enjoyed all four acts from start to finish. It was in a fun, intimate venue with a great turnout from Ottawa’s vibrant metal community. Also, it doesn’t get much more intense than seeing KEN mode live.

The Melvins
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 4

They’re one of my favourite bands of all time and seeing them live is always a spectacle. This touring incarnation was called “Melvins Lite”, promoting their recent Freak Puke album with a much more stripped-down sound than usual. Down to one drummer and an unplugged bass, it was still louder and more robust than almost everything else at Bluesfest this year. Plus, Trevor Dunn is a bass legend, so any fan of the instrument could appreciate his expertise here.

Digging Roots, A Tribe Called Red, Daybi, Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen
National Arts Centre
Ottawa
March 21

CBC Ottawa hosted these four extremely talented acts in a special showcase at the National Arts Centre called Beat Tradition. The purpose was to feature some of the eclectic brilliance from the Aboriginal music community. The crowd here got a great taste of it all – from electronic dance music to hip hop to blues – for free. It was an honour to be involved, especially to be able to introduce my friends Digging Roots and A Tribe Called Red.

Mastodon
Lebreton Flats
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 14

From an aural standpoint, this set actually started out pretty poorly. There were a lot of issues with the sound mix for the first few songs that eventually got ironed out. Despite that, the band was in fine form and conveyed truly great spirits. It wasn’t my favourite set of theirs – focussing heavily on material from their fan-polarizing-but-still-great recent album The Hunter – but they seemed genuinely into it and showed the Ottawa crowd a lot of love. Good effort and attitude go a long way in a live performance.

Barn Burner
Maverick’s
Ottawa
February 18

Somehow I’ve always just missed seeing these massive Montreal metal monsters live. I finally got a chance to catch them for the first time this year. Any guitar player can appreciate what they do live. Epic riffs, leads, and solos that harness the true spirit of metal are the centrepiece of their stunning live shows. They’re one of the best metal bands Canada has to offer and everyone should check ’em out in concert.

Anvil
Great Canadian Cabin
Ottawa
March 30

A buddy and I stumbled across this show as part of the JUNO festivities in Ottawa this spring. I haven’t seen the renowned documentary about these guys (I know, I know) so I didn’t have much of a frame of reference, but I had a blast. It was loud and their rowdy, dedicated fans around us made it a lot of fun.

Whitehorse
Hog’s Back Park
Ottawa Folk Festival
September 9

They play catchy, sweet folk music, and a big part of their allure is that the passion the married duo of Melissa McLelland and Luke Doucet share for each other carries over onto the stage. Whitehorse had hundreds in the crowd in the palms of their hands. The musical and emotional harmony they portray is really endearing.

What were some of your favourites? Stay tuned for the Top Ten Albums of 2012 coming in a couple weeks!

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Top Ten Albums of 2011

It’s that time of year again, where music fans around the world compete to look hipper than others in list form. Taking a second look at my favourite albums of 2011, I appear to have grown much tamer since last year. Regardless, this is what I was listening to the most in the calendar year:

Feist – Metals

It’s dark, emotional, and catchy. Feist’s latest album has a massive, mostly orchestral sound that sucks you into an aural whirpool and throws you around from start to finish. I usually reserve my top spot for something heavier, but music doesn’t need down-tuned power chords and double-kick drums to be heavy.

KEN Mode – Venerable

On the other hand, a stripped-down three-piece from Winnipeg can make some of the loudest and most intense metal out there. I’m always blown away by just how powerful their songs are, and then I remember they’re only drums, a guitar, a bass, and vocals, and I’m even more flabbergasted. Flabbergasted!

Puscifer – Conditions of My Parole

With their last album entitled V is for Vagina, a lot of people had a hard time taking this band seriously. Others may have had higher or more serious expectations from Maynard James Keenan, whose other band is the “highbrow” metal outfit Tool. While musically, this album isn’t too much of a departure from the last one, it’s still solemn and groovy and thus very enjoyable.

Mastodon – The Hunter

Fanboys around the world cried when they heard more actual singing and catchier guitar hooks on this album. At the core it’s still the most intricate and sophisticated popular heavy music out there, and Mastodon still deserves a lot of credit for playing by their own rules all these years. They’ve done something different on every album, and I already can’t wait to hear what they’ll try next.

Saul Williams – Volcanic Sunlight

Like most fans, I fell in love with Saul’s spoken word, which eventually evolved into rap music, which has now evolved into an almost pop/R&B sound. Needless to say that kinda weirded me out at first, but in its essence this is a fun album held together by his always strong trademark lyrics.

Thrice – Major/Minor

This was my favourite rock album of the year. Over the years, the dudes in Thrice have carved out a very unique and heavy pop-rock sound that’s light years beyond that dreadful “emo” category they were pigeonholed as a decade ago. Why popular rock radio largely ignores them is beyond me, but their longevity speaks to their true talent.

Bon Iver

I drank the Kool-aid.

Wilco – The Whole Love

Honestly, whenever Wilco puts out a new album, I could either take it or leave it. Some of it I dig, some of it I don’t. I definitely dug this one so I took it. It’s louder and more aggressive (for a band like Wilco) than past outputs I’ve heard. Rock on Wilco!

Tom Waits – Bad as Me

Another confession: I’m not really that familiar with Tom Waits’ music. I know his hit songs, and someone left his Real Gone CD at my apartment in Toronto many years ago (if it’s yours, sorry, I think I traded it for a Billy Talent CD), but other than that I’m pretty green. My good friend Chunk sent me this one out of the blue as a gift and it’s been the nicest musical surprise of 2011 for me.

My Morning Jacket – Circuital

I first listened to this album on a sunny spring afternoon drive through Algonquin Park. I fell in love with it right away. But then I listened to it again after a shitty Tuesday at work and didn’t really like it. Now I like it again.

Rock on in 2012!

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Top Ten Shows of 2011

It was a good year for concerts. I’ve now been in Ottawa for a little more than a year, and I’m very impressed with the calibre of acts that come through here. And I’ve learned that if bands skip over the capital, they’re usually playing in Montreal, which is only a two hour drive away. As I do every year, I’m gonna list the shows I dug the most here. While this year can’t compare to the awesomeness that was Bonnaroo last year, Ottawa still has this two-week deal called Bluesfest, which I very much enjoyed this past summer. So here are the best concerts I saw in the year of our lord, 2011:

My Morning Jacket
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 13

Jim James is a genius, and I truly believe his talent is muffled by his studio outputs. A My Morning Jacket show is something to truly behold. Circuital is a great new album, but hearing the songs live made me love it even more. Also, remembering hearing them play the classics “Dancefloors” and “One Big Holiday” to close the show still makes me shiver.

Mastodon
Metropolis, Montreal
November 23

Their new album is probably the most polarizing amongst fans. Some love it, some hate it. I’m in the former camp. While I really enjoyed the live versions of the new tunes, I was still blown away by the intricacies of their past gems. Mastodon is the most exciting band in hard rock/light metal, and I was thrilled to hear them play my favourite tune of theirs – “Megalodon” – at Metropolis.

Queens of the Stone Age
Metropolis, Montreal
March 27

This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m pretty happy I was there. Josh Homme announced prior to this tour they’d be playing their self-titled debut album the whole way through in each city. Ask any QOTSA fan and they’ll agree that’s their best album. Hearing it live from start to finish was a real treat, along with some deadly cuts like “Turning on the Screw” and “Song for the Dead” in the encore.

Feist
National Arts Centre, Ottawa
December 5

Metals is probably my favourite album of the year, but prior to this show I really wondered how she’d pull off the huge sound on that album live. I was even more skeptical when I saw only four backing musicians and three backup singers take the stage with her, but they quickly proved me wrong. They rearranged the songs on the album nicely to fit a stripped-down band, all the while filling a huge concert hall with epic sound.

Joel Plaskett Emergency
Stockey Centre, Parry Sound
March 19

I had never seen a concert in my quasi-hometown of Parry Sound until this one. I loved his Threes album and it was great to hear a lot of those tunes in the Stockey Centre, along with some of his other hits. He was a bona fide gentleman and seemed to appreciate the love a small central Ontario town gave him.

KEN Mode
Cafe Deckuf, Ottawa
August 5

Straight outta Winnipeg, they’re one of the most unique and innovative modern metal bands out there. While only a three-piece, they wrestle out some of the most monumental heavy music and launch it into the ether. Seeing them live, it’s hard to believe those songs come from just a guitar, a bass, drums, and a couple voices.

The Roots
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 6

I very much prefer these guys far away from Jimmy Fallon.

Pearl Jam
Bell Centre, Montreal
September 7

Nostalgia bubbled to the surface in many ways in 2011, and this was one of them. I hadn’t seen them since the last Canadian tour in 2005, so it was a treat to catch them in both Montreal and Ottawa. Ottawa had a better set list (including the elusive “Breath”) but thanks to my good buddy Bob we were up close in Montreal. Old dudes rocking out!

A Perfect Circle
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 10

I seem to see Maynard in some form almost every year. I don’t mind making him richer as long as he puts on shows like this one. Best APC show I’ve seen.

Soundgarden
Ottawa Bluesfest
July 5

The first time I ever saw Soundgarden was in 1994 at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario on the Superunknown tour. Nine Inch Nails opened and obviously blew them out of the water. We left after “Spoonman”. I saw them a couple years later at Lollapalooza in the same venue. Chris Cornell’s voice sounded even worse at that show and they were pretty much booed off the stage. All these years later I finally saw them again and they actually really impressed me.

So those were my favourite shows this year. What are yours?

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