Now that I’ve got the hardest list out of the way (I am not cut out for music criticism) … on to the other list. I see a pretty good number of shows in a year, augmented by my job as an usher at Massey Hall, and it’s kind of fun to look back at them.
My first show of the year was my band Entire Cities‘ CD release party at the Dakota Tavern on January 6th, with Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke and the Strumbellas. A giant snowstorm didn’t stop everyone from packing the place and lining up down the street (seriously, I love you guys), and I Hope You Never Come Home made its way into the world in a totally wonderful way.
The last one was the second of two Fucked Up benefit concerts on December 21st, with Bonjay, Ohbijou, the Rural Alberta Advantage, and Sloan. I barely had the energy to get my butt there but it was, of course, totally worth it. (It’s on the list!)
Also, not including the ones I played myself, I saw 51 shows this year. Not too bad, although 30 of those were at Massey, so my actual concertgoing was a bit slow! Nevertheless, for fun, here’s the list of my favourite shows of 2011:
10. Elliott Brood (with $100), November 18 @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
Finally my first EB show after years and years of being a fan. Dark and rough and rowdy, just the way I’d hoped, and $100 were a perfect addition. They should tour together forever. (Now if only there weren’t so many violent bros at Elliott Brood shows, that would be cool.)
9. Lowest of the Low (with Mick Thomas & Squeezebox Wally), May 7 @ Massey Hall
For the 20th(!) anniversary of Shakespeare My Butt, the band played the entire album front to back at Massey Hall. It was awesome. Great crowd, tons of energy from the band, super tight & blazing performance of a great record … I had a blast and I was working the show.
8. Weird Al Yankovic, July 16 @ Massey Hall
I’ve never seen so many nerds in one place — but what a hilarious show. All the hits, a billion costume changes, a ridiculous, over-the-top, goofy, amazing production. Weird Al is the definition of showman.
7. Sam Amidon (with Ken Reaume), March 27 @ Drake Underground
We all sat on the floor of the Drake like it was storytime and let Sam Amidon’s beautiful tenor wash over us, singing quietly along when prompted, and it felt like we were all an extended family in a giant living room somewhere with a crackling fire. It was a beautiful, happy, wonderfully relaxing evening, and I even got to buy I See the Sign from a very thrilled Sam himself post-show.
6. Sloan, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Ohbijou, and Bonjay, December 21 @ Great Hall
Sloan, playing all of One Chord to Another front-to-back (with horns). Amazing. A ton of material I never thought I’d see now, and done pretty impressively well. Not to mention the stacked lineup — I hadn’t seen the RAA since before Hometowns came out, and boy do they sound great. Just a fun, happy night.
5. Levon Helm (with Lucinda Williams), March 5 @ Massey Hall
Levon’s always been my favourite member of The Band, and while it was heartbreaking that he could barely sing this time around (his daughter Amy held up the vocals with him) he showed no sign of being defeated, instead putting on one hell of a show behind the kit and grinning like a kid all night. He is a magnificent entertainer, and the musicians he has with him … well, it’s a gig I dream of. I admire him immensely and it’s always a treat to see him play.
4. Bon Iver (with Lianne La Havas), December 6 @ Massey Hall
They opened with “Perth”, filling Massey Hall to the rafters with this giant collection of instruments and voices, and from then on it was just layers and swells and heartstrings. Colin Stetson’s insane, skronky extended bass sax solo was obviously a highlight, but it felt like everything was absolutely perfect.
3. Paul Simon, May 6 @ Massey Hall
I’ve been wanting to see Paul Simon play since I was a little kid listening to my dad’s Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints CDs, so this was a long time coming. Tough audience (surprisingly) so I missed a few songs, but it was all magic. He is tinier than I could have imagined and so much more wonderful. Seeing one of my favourite musicians of all time in my favourite venue ever … yeah. Thanks, Paul.
2. Jeff Mangum (with Andrew, Scott & Laura), August 13 @ Trinity St Paul’s
I’m not one of those crazy people who glorifies Mangum like he’s the Messiah, which was most of the rest of the audience at this show, but … the joyful singalongs to “King of Carrot Flowers” and “Holland, 1945″ (including some boot-stomping), the earnestness of Mangum’s voice, the horns reverberating through the church — it was quite an experience. Sometimes performances are electric. This one was.
1. The Mountain Goats (with Megafaun), April 3 @ Opera House
Another band I’ve been wanting to see for years; from the moment John Darnielle stepped on stage to the beginning of “Liza Forever Minnelli” I was transfixed. The joy of performance is stamped all over him, his emotional investment in everything obvious; everything, from that opening song to the insanity of “This Year” with Megafaun, was jaw-dropping. A banner year for these guys in my life, I think. After the show it took me weeks to come down from the high (I tried to write a review of it at least 5 times and couldn’t manage it)–probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, period.
Lee Konitz & Brian Dickinson Trio, February 11 @ Glenn Gould Studio.
Neil Young with Bert Jansch, May 11 @ Massey Hall.
Brian Wilson, June 18 @ Massey Hall.
More 2011 in review: Albums of the year