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:
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.
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”.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Great Canadian Cabin
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.
Hog’s Back Park
Ottawa Folk Festival
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!