The top 30 concerts in Toronto from 2012
Some of the best concerts in Toronto from 2012
A ton of great artists blew through town in 2012 — gracing huge stadiums, divey basements, and everything in between. Sometimes a crowd can make a show, sometimes a lone powerful voice is enough to capture the audience, while sometimes everyone drinks too much and beer (and dignity) ends up on the floor. No matter the setting or one's generic preference, there's nothing quite like the experience of live music, and we're genuinely lucky to have so many high calibre artists stop in Toronto. Below you'll find our staff picks for our favourite concerts in 2012. Obviously we didn't get to every show this year (as much as we might have wanted to), so we encourage you to share your picks in the comment section.
RYAN BOLTON'S PICKS
FLAMING LIPS / YONGE-DUNDAS SQUARE / JUNE 16
This one is easy. It was a perfect June night. Thousands descended upon Yonge-Dundas Square. Confetti littered the air. Wayne Coyne crawled atop of the boisterous crowd in a human-sized hamster ball. And in a classy but sombre tribute, Coyne et al. remembered Radiohead's drum tech who died earlier that day when the main stage collapsed at Downsview Park by playing "Knives Out."
SIGUR ROS / ECHO BEACH / AUGUST 1
Truly unlike any other concert I saw all year, this was the most arresting live show I made it out to. A haunting beauty that, at times, brought near silence to the thousands gathered at Echo Beach. If you were there, you know.
THE LUMINEERS / THE HORSESHOE / JUNE 16
Pretty much as intimate a show as it gets. With the biggest line-up outside of the Horseshoe that I've ever seen and everyone inside singing along to the catchy-as-all-hell "Ho Hey," it was one of those shows that you never want to end.
EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS / KOOL HAUS / MAY 13
Say what you want about frontman Alex Ebert, but shit, that guy is a performer. Completely silencing and the sold-out Kool Haus crowd and having everyone sit down to end an equally beautiful and weird set is pretty dope. Also, there was a lot of that. Dope.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / ROGERS CENTRE / AUGUST 24
He's the Boss. He packed the Rogers Centre and played for nearly four hours straight. Full stop.
AUBREY JAX'S PICKS
JANELLE MONAE / NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE / JUNE 22
A perfect show, from the performances by Monae and her orchestra to the costumes to the dancing. Even the awkwardness of the Toronto Jazz Fest tent couldn't hold the energy back.
HOW TO DRESS WELL / THE DRAKE UNDERGROUND / JUNE 7
Prior to releasing Total Loss, Tom Krell was getting his new band ready for a heavy fall tour schedule. Emotional, real, and sparsely attended, this warm-up show was the intimate experience fans dream about. The band's new material shone, and I made a 60 second long cell phone recording during "Decisions" that I listen to it all the time.
KINGDOM / DIM SUM KING / FEBRUARY 24
Kingdom's heavy live set at Happy Endings blew me away and I forgot I was at a packed club show where my natural inclination would be wall flowering or just bolting out the door. Technically this was in a Chinese restaurant so it wasn't a club show, but there was bottle service, so whatever. The ambiance of Dim Sun King and the sparkly crowd were dazzling: it felt like Toronto at its best.
DENT-DE-LION / PLACEBO SPACE / JANUARY 30
Before this night I'd never heard of France's Aymeric Hainaux but now I often think back to his trance-like state during his avant beat-box (you had to be there) / noise performance. I've never seen an artist so immersed in and in control of their sound and body movements: it was a real, captivating, and uncomfortable experience. Plus, RIP Placebo Space.
TRUST & LIGHT ASYLUM / THE GREAT HALL / JULY 13
Trust seemed to have twice the energy and stage presence of their record release at Wrong Bar earlier this year, and NYC's Light Asylum were a great match. It was the hot (Great Hall in summer = Turkish bath) goth mess of the year.
YO LA TENGO / TORONTO UNDERGROUND CINEMA / APRIL 21
Watching the three members of Yo La Tengo creep from instrument to instrument while Jean Painlevé's quirky films of giant sea creatures were projected above them was unforgettable. The artist formerly known as Mantler (now Marker Starling) charmed as well.
ADAM KAMIN'S PICKS
SHABAZZ PALACES / LEE'S PALACE / APRIL 10
Making their first Toronto appearance in support of last year's interstellar debut Black Up, the duo of Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire brought to Lee's a captivating take on the unique psychedelia-meets-jazz-hop of their recorded material. Rarely taking a moment to pause for instrument changes, let alone between songs, the set was exhausting in all the right ways, underscoring the potential of the relatively new band. Also, they managed to incorporate choreography in the strangest and most effective way, so points to them.
ARCHERS OF LOAF & METZ / THE PHOENIX / JUNE 16
Existing as the perfect stopgap between Pavement and the Replacements for the all-too-short decade that was the 90s, Archers of Loaf finally brought their triumphant 2011 victory lap to Toronto in support of Merge's exhaustingly comprehensive reissues of their back catalog. Eric Bachmann and co. pulled out a two-hour plus set touching upon nearly everything one could want from the reunited band with fervor like they'd never left. Bachmann's a little gruffer and the crowd's a little balder, but who cares? If they're this good at being weekend warriors, it's impossible not to hope they become an active concern again. METZ opened and tore the place down, obviously, because they do that.
DINOSAUR JR. / LEE'S PALACE / SEPTEMBER 24-26
If you ever wondered whether Lee's could fit four full Marshall stacks, J, Lou and Murph rolled in for a packed three-night stay at the venerable Annex venue to answer your question with a fuzzy but resounding "yes." Joined by Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew and Fucked Up's Damian Abraham for the final night of the engagement, these shows were evidence of just how tightknit and collaborative the band has become since J's early days of commandeering every decision pertaining to Dinosaur Jr. The distorted psych-pop of Montreal-based openers the Besnard Lakes only sweetened the deal. If you went in sans earplugs, I sympathize - but not nearly as much as I do if you missed these shows altogether.
LADYHAWK & BABY EAGLE & THE PROUD MOTHERS / PARTS & LABOUR / OCTOBER 28
Touring a criminally light schedule for what could very well be their best record yet, Vancouver's favourite sons Ladyhawk capped off an exhausting four dates in Ontario with a last-minute show at the recently reconfigured Shop at Parts and Labour, joined by Baby Eagle & the Proud Mothers. Having performed double-headers at the venue over the last two Februarys as de facto headliners of Mattyfest, the closed-in, beer-soaked environs of the Shop seem to have become a home away from home for Duffy and the boys. Running through a marathon set comprising most of their biggest and best chart-toppers, it remains obvious why the band is so consistently in demand. I feel like I can speak with authority when I guarantee the hundred-ish hoarse folks huddled in the basement of the Shop would come out every weekend if possible.
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE / AIR CANADA CENTRE / NOVEMBER 19
Feedback. Comically oversized amps. The only band worth paying to see jam one song out for upwards of ten minutes. More feedback. At times I thought the ACC would surely collapse. The most intimate and explosive arena show I've ever been witness to. And no, he didn't play "Heart of Gold."
ERIN SCHOLZ'S PICKS
LADYHAWK / PARTS & LABOUR / FEBRUARY 11
I transform into a beer-chugging-man-monster at Ladyhawk shows. This particular one I recall dropping my Stiegl on the ground, picking it up and continuing to drink — I don't even like beer. The Shop at Parts & Labour has kind of become their home base and it's a very sweaty, very loud and very drunk base.
BRY WEBB / THE MUSIC GALLERY / FEBRUARY 4
I usually prefer my live shows loud and drunk so the fact Mr. Webb made me shut up and cry is something I don't take lightly. The beautiful Music Gallery was packed and his powerful voice rang out into awed silence. His banter between songs about his young son only softened me more. (Get it? Because I'm so hard.)
SLEIGH BELLS / THE PHOENIX / MARCH 26
A lot of people were making out at this show. Grossness aside, Alexis Krauss is one of the most energetic frontwomen I've ever seen — she didn't stop jumping around and whipping her hair back and forth until the last booming bass beat. Oh yeah — the bass. So. Loud. It rumbled through my body and forced me to dance.
DOG DAY / PARTS & LABOUR / JULY 13
Dog Day is a band I'd been wanting to see for years, and I ended up waiting even longer as they didn't go on until about 1am. They started their set with Deformer album opener "Daydream" and I really think I got chills (like, for real). The husband and wife duo was so in sync and there's just something so earnest about them that made The Shop seem more like a friend's living room.
THEE OH SEES W/TY SEGALL & SMARTBOYS / THE HOXTON / SEPTEMBER 26
This was my first time seeing Thee Oh Sees live and holy fuck I left feeling like a train had run me over. The crowd was extremely aggressive, there was a constant stream of stage-divers (yes, in 2012!) and I had to fight to hold my tiny space on The Hoxton's floor. The crowd shouted along to the lyrics and tipped and swayed as one big, sweaty hot mess.
ADAM BRADY'S PICKS
WHITEHORSE / THE WINTER GARDEN / FEBRUARY 24
Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland redefined the concept of the duet over the course of an evening at the gorgeous Winter Garden. Constantly switching instruments over live looping and improvised percussion, they created beautiful textures and fresh takes on a few songs I've heard hundreds of times — as well as playing the new material that makes their records so worthy of repeated listens.
NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE / THE AIR CANADA CENTRE / NOVEMBER 19
This was just a straight-up dream come true. Seated amongst crotchety,
paranoid-stoned baby boomers and drunk college kids, I got a chance to watch Neil Young
stomp around like the prehistoric rock behemoth he is on a stage strewn with over-sized
amplifiers. And he played "Cinnamon Girl." What more could I want?
ARMY GIRLS & GORDIE JOHNSON / SUPERMARKET / JUNE 13
This was just one of those unreal 'is this happening' shows. Just before they went on, photographers began crowding the stage, elbowing each other frantically to get shots of Army Girls — and then the minute they finished, the photographers basically cleared out... just in time for Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar to get onstage and play from his new gospel/soul/doom project, Sit Down Servant! The experience was made all the more surreal because it was on the first night or two of NXNE, so I was all amped up and prepped to run from show to show, hardly sleeping for a week.
JAPANDROIDS & CADENCE WEAPON / LEE'S PALACE / JUNE 23
This was a huge year for both of these artists — both Cadence Weapon and Japandroids were nominated for the Polaris Prize shortlist, and each made critics' lists all over the world, bringing lots of international attention to what had previously been two very Canadian-secret kinds of acts. The energy in the room was great, the sold-out crowd at Lee's dancing, sweating and screaming along with the lyrics the whole night.
GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS & COLD SPECKS / DANFORTH MUSIC HALL / JUNE 2
I'd done some really heavy listening to Great Lake Swimmers' newest record in anticipation for this show, and was pretty pumped, but was completely unprepared for the Cold Specks. Great Lake Swimmers played a great set, with songs from across their career — but Cold Specks stole the show for sure, Al Spx's voice ringing in my ears, giving me shivers for days afterwards.
ERIC BOSHART'S PICKS
TEEN TITS WILD WIVES / POLYHAUS / OCTOBER 11
This particular Feast in the East was a mixed bag, which was appropriate because I was fairly in the bag. For some reason the band before had really freaked me out so I was in a bit of a sour mood when TTWW took the stage. Within 30 seconds my sourness was washed away like a "Tearjerker" under a water fountain until I was just a sweet ball again.
ANDREW W.K. AT RIOT FEST / FORT YORK GARRISON COMMONS / SEPTEMBER 9
Most of Riot Fest was a bore; NOFX are crass and nobody appreciated my George Plimpton inspired outfit. However Andrew W.K. made the long day more than worthwhile. It should have been a let down to finally see W.K. after all these years only to find out it was a afternoon set with a midi back track instead of a live band. It should have been, but Andrew W.K. defies conventional reality, and I love him so much for that and the joy he inspires in my heart. I should mention that Fucked Up were a hoot as well.
VILE INTENT / SIESTA NOUVEAUX / FEBRUARY 25
Frankly, hardcore or power violence or whatever you're supposed to call it is a perfect bore when recorded. But hearing it live is like going to a church. Just imagine that church in Blues Brothers without the rhythm, but with that pure emotion that's sometimes manifested in music. Plus my brother Brant is the singer and he's super cool and I love him very much. HEY BRO!
THE MAGIC & HOT CHIP / SOUND ACADEMY / JULY 15
The Sound Academy can be iffy but nothing beats having a drink on it's patio on a beautiful summer night before seeing a terrific band. Truth be told I was a little anxious about a live performance by HOT CHIP but they managed to recreate their studio sound with all the proper live trappings one could hope for. Nobody really danced, but I chalk that up to a packed house and distracting lasers.
FRIENDLY RICH & THE LOLLIPOP PEOPLE / CAMERON HOUSE / SEPTEMBER 22
Essentially Friendly Rich is a children's entertainer for adults. It's all silly dirty jokes, high energy meanderings and a capacity for fun that dwarfs any other live band I've seen, not to mention the fact the musicians are T.I.G.H.T. TIGHT, y'all FEEL ME? And he was playing to a nearly empty room.
Make that 35! Here's 5 picks from MELODY BROWN
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / ACC / April 27
RHCP at the ACC was my first big-budget concert experience and they did not disappoint. After seeing so many club concerts featuring house lights and blaring subwoofers, I'd forgotten about the millions of dollars put into high-profile shows. The ACC was filled with 16,000 screaming fans and the impressive stage set of over half a dozen moving screens was outmatched only by RHCP's setlist of classic hits, sprinkled with only a few new gems - perfect for 1990s RHCP fans like me. After 20 years of making music, the boys may not be quite as crazy as their sock-only days, but their ability to rock out and entertain is as skilled as ever. The "I'm With You" tour was dubbed by some as the most anticipated music event of 2012 and it immediately became one of the most memorable concerts I'm thrilled to have attended.
HOODIE ALLEN / THE PHOENIX / MAY 21
Since the oh-so-modern, twitter-hashtag-titled #WhiteGirlProblems hit Hype Machine's popular feed, I developed a schoolgirl crush on Zac Ephron lookalike Hoodie Allen and his upbeat musical repertoire. It turns out I'm not the only one. Hundreds of girls lined up for hours in hopes of finding themselves front-row centre, at arms-length from the Pep Rally performer. With songs filled with frequent pop culture references and celebrity shout outs, Hoodie's humble excitement and constant crowd shout-outs manifested the epitome of the ideal Pep Rally -- the ones you only see in teen movies, where even the outcasts throw their hands in the air like they just don't care. I've never felt an excitement quite as clear as the vibe coming from Hoodie's audience. The only #WhiteGirlProblem I had with the show is that it had to end.
K'NAAN / DAVID PECAULT SQUARE / JUNE 8
Luminato 2012 opened with a free concert at David Pecault Square, featuring Torontonian K'Naan. Thousands of people from all walks of life unfolded lawn chairs and unrolled picnic blankets, setting up their station under the warm evening sky. From elderly women dancing to "Waving Flag" to dads with young children bouncing on their shoulders, to young couples in love, everyone was there for a lighthearted good time, which is exactly what K'Naan delivered. A surprise appearance by fellow Canadian staple Nelly Furtado kept the energy high, and as I said in my review, it was the first time I'd experienced the tingle that comes from so much energy and talent. The show felt like more than a just a concert. It was a coming together of an often cynical city for a few hours of cheerful celebration.
CITY AND COLOUR / MOLSON AMPITHEATRE / SEPTEMBER 12
I have to admit, it took me a very long time - like, years - to figure out that City and Colour was cleverly derived from his own name Dallas Green. Until this summer, I was generally indifferent toward the Canadian artist. I knew most of his hit songs, but none really stood out for me. When he released "The Grand Optimist," my feelings changed. All of a sudden I fell in love with his music. "The Girl" brought me to tears, and I just had to see him live. His late-summer show at the Molson Amphitheatre showcased his unique ability to silence a 15,000+ crowd of people with a single story. Upon his request, the audience lowered their cell phones for an entire song: an impressive feat if you've attended a concert in the last five to ten years. Dallas (city) Green (colour) stupefied me with his ability to captivate a crowd, making his show more than just a musical experience.
CUNNINLYNGUISTS / THE OPERA HOUSE / NOVEMBER 17
Although the crowd was small, CunninLynguists kept the energy high with their remarkably intelligent, lyric-driven hip hop music. A fan of their newest album Oneirology I was unfamiliar with most of the songs in their set list, as they mostly stuck with old school hits. Even so, their skillful performances and crowd-pleasing personas brought out the fangirl in me and made me hungry to hear their older albums. Their opener, Tonedeff, nearly outshined the duo with his high-energy set that included more audience involvement than The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Featuring a conga line, a two-step tutorial, and road-runner speed freestyling, Tonedeff quickly became one of the most impressive entertainers I'd ever seen. To my delight, he made an appearance during CunninLynguists' set, which solidified the show as one of my all-time favourites of 2012.
Friendly Rich photo by Todd Fraser