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He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line


As this decade progresses, 1990s sentimentalists will continue to wax nostalgic as 20-year milestones tick by. As someone who was a teenager for most of that decade, I am also prone to this, especially when it comes to music. I’ve already done so with the most influential album on my life. Today marks another such anniversary: 20 years since the release of Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral. It was an album that broadened my musical outlook and emotional scope at a crucial time in my life.

Musically, I had never heard anything like it. Some songs were loud and aggressive; others were ambient and introspective. The album spanned genres from metal to rock to techno, and I learned that critics had sorted it into the “industrial” genre, whatever that meant. I was a little familiar with NIN prior to this. A buddy had lent me the Broken EP a couple years earlier, and I liked it so much I bought my own copy. But it was just a slight taste of the power and range that was fulfilled with The Downward Spiral.

Some of its themes like isolation, struggle, and oppression really hit home. I was a month away from turning 15, living on the rez and confused about my place in the bigger picture. I connected emotionally with some of the lyrics, and it was through this album that I really learned how music could powerfully convey darker sentiments, and that those feelings were valid and common. I didn’t start wearing eyeliner or black nail polish, but I respected that.

Later that summer I saw NIN open for Soundgarden (who, coincidentally, released Superunknown on the same day as The Downward Spiral) at Molson Park in Barrie, Ontario. The songs were even more immense live, and I was totally blown away by how Trent Reznor and his band played them. They were energetic and unrelenting, and it looked really fun. I remember walking out of that show feeling extremely happy; almost like I was part of a collective emotional purge and celebration. Music, as art, is a release, and we share to make ourselves and others feel.

I’ve seen various incarnations of NIN play four times since then over the past two decades, most recently last fall at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Each time it was a massive audio/visual spectacle. Their live show really is something to behold. While Trent’s sound has evolved, it’s always nostalgic to hear those songs that struck me to the core as a teen 20 years ago. And as these musical milestones emerge, I’ll continue to reflect proudly and unapologetically. Rock on!

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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