concerts Toronto

The best and worst concerts in Toronto this summer

It was the summer of live music in Toronto - more specifically the summer of festivals, as is the trend across North America, though we weren't short of stellar one-night stands. Bands large and small toured through the city so constantly that it was easy to miss the apparition of a favourite artist, or a dozen ("Riot Fest? Why didn't anyone tell me?" -your cousin in the burbs, on Facebook).

If you missed some of these concerts due to lousy radar/non-tipster cousins, cottage getaways (no sympathy), or lack of funds (the big one in the city this year), try to ease your pain with the knowledge that while concert season is about to slow down, our fall schedule is growing more stacked every day. Though no new announcement will beat the fact Slowdive is coming.

As for worst concerts and festivals, we had some slip-ups, disappointments, and questionable opinions (our team can't agree about Riot Fest), but for the most part this was a summer we'll remember as one flooded with great music. And beer sponsorships. And great music.



Field Trip / Fort York 
/ June 8
After 2013's Broken Social Scene reunion at the first Field Trip, this year's fest was expanded to two days, and boasted the long-awaited Constantines reunion (I guess I am at the age where bands I loved in my youth broke up and are now in the "reunion" stage of their careers. Sigh!) and another return for BSS. The Sunday was almost tarnished by midday rain, but the sky cleared by the time Broken Social Scene played their headlining set to what was comparably less to last year's excitement - though I still get a sense of hometown pride whenever I see them play. WL

Live In Bellwoods: The Great Heart Festival / Trinity Bellwoods / June 19-22
You'd swear Bobby Kimberley (Young Lions Club) is booking the weather as well as the performers at the Live In Bellwoods: The Great Heart Festival. This year was no exception to green grass and sunshine in Trinity Bellwoods Park. As opposed to the other June wristband event, the all Canadian acts were all presented free, and all-ages. Wooden Sky, Kalle Mattson, Gramery Rifts and others all performed unplugged over three-days. RA


Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) / Fort York / July 4-6
TURF assembled a stellar line-up and delivered fantastic performances from the likes of Black Joe Lewis, The Strumbellas, July Talk and Jenny Lewis. Shovels & Rope were positively magical (I cried during "Birmingham") as was Neutral Milk Hotel (I cried during "Two Headed Boy Part 2") and Gogol Bordello whipped the crowd into a frenzy. This is an example of a Toronto fest that succeeded despite poor hospitality - $9 beer is just rude. PO

Toronto Urban Roots Festival (TURF) / Fort York / July 4-6

[Editor's note: twice because we loved it so - PO cried.] Just when I thought TURF couldn't top their lineup from their inaugural year, they proved me wrong (happily!) by announcing Jenny Lewis would be on the bill. Oh yeah, and Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and more. TURF has secured a special place in my books forevermore, and the overall festival was well-run and relaxed. Bonus points for their smartphone app, which was incredibly helpful with navigating the eye-boggling schedule covering three stages on the Fort York grounds. WL

Riot Fest / Downsview Park / September 6-7
Thousands of people flocked to a muddy Downsview Park for Riot Fest to relive their high school years. Metric, DFA, Billy Talent, were just some of the names to take the stage at the punk fest that seemed a lot less punk. That being said, the atmosphere was lively the whole weekend with space for moshers and picnickers alike. On the downside, food and drink were overpriced while some people took exception to some over-zealous security guards. JT

Wavelength Free Island Show / Gibraltar Point / September 7
An impromptu afternoon on the island conjured the spirit of the sadly departed All Caps! Festival, albeit on a smaller scale. Intimacy was enhanced by the BBQ burgers and fresh donuts, and Matrox kicked off the event with some heavy machine music, followed by Most People's anthemic set. Weaves served complex art punk, and Fresh Snow played blistering instrumental noise rock. Surprise guests bluesy Catl finished the night to beautiful weather and super moon. A Wavelength fest for next year was announced, sure to be a success if they can match this atmosphere. DB

Hamilton Supercrawl / James Street, Hamilton
 / September 11-14
It felt like fall at Hamilton's free street fest, but that didn't stop the show. The fest, obviously a fantastic way for Hamilton to showcase their city, was well-organized and prepared for attendees from all around the GTA (with helpful and detailed instructions from GO Transit), and complemented the music with a variety of activities for all ages, and vendors for varying interests. Supercrawl allowed me to see Hamiton Leithauser (of the Walkmen), Operators, Kevin Drew and Spoon for free in one day, and all I had to do was go to Hamilton. Not bad. WL



NXNE / June 13-22
After its 2014 radius clause debacle and other various fuck-ups - and trolling blogTO - NXNE hinted that they will discontinue ripping off bands with scam-site SonicBids, or at least offer alternatives. In true NXNE form, SonicBids apps are now open, and exclusive. Some of our favourite concerts were booked by the fest, but these artists would tour through regardless, siphoning cash to local promoters, opening bands, and venues rather than the pockets of a corporate festival we don't need. AJ

Riot Fest / Downsview Park / September 7
Downsview Park: ugh. You can't accuse me of unwillingness to travel (I went to Hamilton for Supercrawl), but here I have to ask: why isn't this at Fort York? Disorder was everywhere. Convoluted signage from parking to foot travel (follow the crowd?), stages too close together (ever heard a metal/thrash band playing simultaneously with Die Antwoord?), confusing schedules, lineups for bathrooms, beer, food, leaving the park - I mean, really. I caught a few glimpses of Ben Gibbard through the crowd during Death Cab, so I guess I got what I came for. WL


Nothing, CMW, Adelaide Hall, May 10
[Editor's note: we're playing fast and loose with "summer" - just like it played us.] Though technically summer had yet to start, Nothing ushered the season in early with this bombastic set at CMW. Unfortunate more people weren't there to see it - perhaps because of the sheer amount of bands, or that no one knows them yet. This was my fourth time seeing them, so hopefully there's a fifth for us to share (and yes, that's an American drinking joke) soon. ESP

Young Widows/Helms Alee / May 17 / Hard Luck Bar
Days after releasing their latest (and awesome) LP Easy Pain, I got the chance to see Young Widows perform the whole thing from start to finish. Opener Seattle three-piece Helms Alee blew us all away with their technically masterful metallic sludge helmed by a particularly powerful drummer. Despite sound problems - it was tough to hear lead vocals - Young Widows delivered a stirring rendition of their latest material, made all the more dramatic by the sparse backlighting from their signature amps. SK

Timber Timbre / Massey Hall / May 23
Massey patrons were treated to a double bill of genre bending soul and folk with local talent Timber Timbre and Cold Specks. Timber Timbre used the hall's illustrious soundscape to their advantage; playing most of their 2014 release Hot Dreams. It was probably as close as you could get to Sergio Leone performing the score to Once Upon a Time in the West at Massey Hall. JT

Jamie Cullum / Queen Elizabeth Theatre / June 3
Not your average jazz musician. Jamie Cullum uniquely blends pop and jazz and creates some magical music and he dazzled Torontonians at his performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in June. By the end of the concert, not one person was sitting in their seats. They were too busy dancing and singing along to his infectious tunes, some even rushed to the stage to get a closer look of Jamie's mad piano skills. NG

The Ole Fashion EP Release and Variety Show / Dakota Tavern / June 11
On the night of the Ole Fashion's EP release, they filled the Dakota Tavern to a standing room, that is, a dancing room only crowd. Presented in old-style country variety show format, the evening was complete with special guests (Angie Hilts, Tom Parker, Chris Staig), an homage to country classics, originals, whiskey, and lots of band sex-appeal. With a room that kept chanting, "One more song" Toronto's "Best Ole Country Band this side of 40" closed the show with several encores. RA

Pharmakon / S.H.I.B.G.B.S / June 12
From the moment Margaret Chardiet sampled and looped a chunk of metal through her Microsampler to the last time she paced through the crowd screaming into the mic as its cable tangled beneath quivering, joyful punks, noise-heads, Tumblr-goths, gutter-goths, and actual goths in the basement of S.H.I.B.G.B.S, Pharmakon was the real deal. This isn't just what noise should be, it's what a live show should be. My fancy new earplugs arrived in the mail the next day. AJ

House of Vans at VICE Island / NxNE, Toronto Island / June 19
From the boat to the island it was free drinks for everyone, all day, all night for anyone with a festival pass or the forethought to RSVP with VICE. Plus you got to see Future Islands comfortably, instead of getting stuck in a line outside Tattoo the night after, along with Pusha T, Le1f, Omar Souleyman and more. MF

Spiritualized Toronto

Spiritualized / NXNE, Massey Hall / June 20
J Spaceman may not be the most engaging front man to grace a stage but he sure is charismatic. Even from a seated position he is a commanding presence. This night he filled Toronto's crown jewel with sounds both sweet and somber, making it impossible for you to squash your feelings in to a tiny ball and swallow them with a Guinness chaser. ESP

Perfect Pussy / Soybomb HQ / June 20
Telephone Explosion and Pleasence's Summer Melt owned the night of the longest day of the year. Unsponsored and un-un-un-NXNE affilated rooftop vibes and a vocal-lessly mixed secret appearance of Perfect Pussy made for a Unique User Experience, sans wristband. Great use of 10 bucks. The local lineup was stellar (Petra Glynt, Teenanger, Ice Cream, Das Rad and more), and Cleveland's Pleasure Leftists tore it up as well. This is how you put on a show. AJ

Spoon / NXNE secret show, Horseshoe / June 20
Spoon was headlining Dundas Square on Saturday, but on Friday they played a "secret" set at Horseshoe after Speedy Ortiz and Perfect Pussy (truthfully, it wasn't the best kept secret). Close to 2am I swooned and swayed from a combination of exhaustion and fangirling. It was fantastic to hear new songs from They Want My Soul, and favourites like "I Turn My Camera On" and "Rhythm and Soul" in such a small venue. WL

Allie / NXNE, 159 Manning / June 20
This intimate daytime set at 159 Manning took me by surprise and was nearly the best set of NxNE. I had no idea who she was until I bumped in to her in the kitchen that day. She mentioned she was playing momentarily so I stepped in to the living room and was transported to a time when hip hop and trip hop were not only symbiotic but synonymous. ESP

Double Cuts, Whitney Rose, NQ Arbuckle, Ferraro, Sam Cash & the Romantic Dogs, Zeus / NXNE, Cameron House outdoor stage / June 21
While Sam Cash, NQ Arbuckle, and Whitney Rose all had showcased shorter sets and took second billing to Lindi Ortega, and Jim Cuddy/Whitehorse at the Horseshoe the night before, the Cameron House outdoor stage was their real moment in the sun. The swing-danceable Double Cuts opened the weather-perfect afternoon for extended sets, and rockers Zeus closed out the day to a crowd of 300+. RA

Run the Jewels

Run The Jewels twice / NxNE (Y&D + Adelaide Hall)
El-P and Killer Mike's tag team project, Run The Jewels, delivered a hard-hitting one-two punch. First was Adelaide Hall, where they likened the venue to a pit fight, which they won. They were back to open for Juicy J at Y&DS. Those looking for something more thought provoking would agree that RTJ were the ones to see, unless you wanted to discuss just how hard it really is out here for a pimp. Both sets opened with Queen's "We Are The Champions" turned up to 11, and few would dispute that by the time they were done with TO. MF

Metz / NXNE, June 22 / Lee's Palace
Any chance I get, I go see Metz. No, that's not a lyric from some ill-conceived song about Toronto's music scene, just a simple truth. In my mind, they are the best live act this town has produced in a long while. I've yet to see them disappoint. The palpable energy in the room, obviously transferred kinetically from the stage, is proof positive. They're the fuckin' battery that got this whole thing rolling. ESP

Sundown @ 40 / Harbourfront / June 29
It was a night celebrating the 40th anniversary Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown". A free show, featured on the Westjet Harbourfront stage were Lee Harvey Osmond, Ron Sexsmith, Jory Nash, Scarlett Jane, Dan Romano. With special guests advertised, it was a solid bet Lightfoot would show up. And yes, he did and led the all-star ensemble in a version of Summer Side of Life. RA

Lucius / Fort York / July 4
A bright and sunny day in Fort York requires a shiny soundtrack and Brooklyn's Lucius is as good a band as any to provide the backdrop. And they did so with a smile on their faces. Ripping through the majority of the tracks from their 2013 release Wildewoman, I just laid back in the sun and let their harmonies melt the day away. ESP

Feast in the East - Silkken Laumann with No Breakup, Most People, Memorex / The Jam Factory / July 5
After spending $9 a drink at TURF, $4 tall boys at The Jam Factory compelled me to hug the bartender. Most People are one of the best acts in the city and they keep getting better with every gig. No Breakup delivered a flawless, high-energy set, but Ottawa's Silkken Laumann shot the show into the stratosphere with an unbelievable set of relentless electro. Add the free burnt chocolat toast and tasty tasty soup and this show was a success on every level. I left a well-fed, hot, sweaty mess. PO

Silent Shout ft. Zoo Owl + Sexy Merlin / Canton Chilli / July 17
Zoo Owl's Bryan Sutherland has been honing his craft in dark, secret, mysterious ways for some time. The surreal experience of seeing him transform a Chinese Food Restaurant into a dark electro rave was almost enough to make my brain explode. He was accompanied by Sexy Merlin, both with an opening set and as a partner in his live band. Also, cover included a Chinese buffet. Maybe I'm just a sucker for show with free food. PO

July Talk

July Talk / Mill Street Brewery / July 21
July Talk rocked this launch party for a new limited edition collaboration beer "July Talk Conversation." Contest winners were rewarded with a raucous performance. Leah Fay doused herself with a pitcher of beer a few songs in and the set was tight musically and loose. Beer was flowing all around and everyone seemed to have an awesome time. RC

Camera Obscura / July 22 / The Opera House
I saw Camera Obscura last summer (albeit a shortened set at TURF) and two times prior, but I was still excited to see them headline Opera House. The show didn't disappoint. Tracyanne Campbell and band sounded spot-on for every song (Campbell wore a Dolly Parton shirt to further prove her awesomeness) and the crowd loved them right back with energetic dancing and exuberant singing along. I left the Opera House sweaty, but thrilled to have just seen one of my favourite bands. WL

Nick Cave Sony Centre

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds / Sony Centre / July 31
Nick Cave's sold-out show at the Sony Centre is sure to top lists this year. The show started out with a "Push This Guy Away" moment, but soon all was forgotten and Nice Cave was walking atop outstretched arms well into the audience, serenading the crowd with a host of favourites. The show coincided with a new rockumentary film by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard called 20,000 Day on Earth, a fictionalized day in the life of Nick Cave set to an original score by Cave and Warren Ellis. The film opens on Sept. 19. RC

Wildcat! Wildcat! / The Drake / August 5
Tuesday nights aren't best known for partying hard but the lucky few who came to Wildcat! Wildcat!'s concert at the Drake sure didn't let the mid-week lull stop them from having a good time. On the eve of the release of their debut album "No Moon At All," the Los Angeles band put on a solid performance of their anthem-like tunes and proved that great music is great, any night of the week. NG

United Nations - August 7 - Sneaky Dee's
I had to make a tough choice between two bands I was dying to see - Boris at Lee's or United Nations (Geoff Rickly from Thursday's controversial screamo project) at Sneaky Dee's. It wasn't easy, but I opted for the latter. Thankfully, the "screamo powerviolence" supergroup that's in trouble with the actual United Nations made left no regrest, delivering an intense set of their viciously noisy, occasionally self-deprecating version of punk. SK

The Secret Garden of Lido Pimienta / Summerworks, Lower Ossington Theatre / August 13
This Summerworks performance perfectly melded music and theatre. Lower Ossington Theatre was decorated like a garden with actual living plants, and a harpist played in the the audience. Pimienta was carried to the stage while singing in the arms of one of her dancers/backup singers before an electrifying set of unclassifiable electronic tunes that, while somewhat reminiscent of Björk, managed to sound completely unique. The performance quickly turned into a sweaty dance party. DB

Alvvays / The Horseshoe / August 13-14

Understatement of the year: I love Alvvays. The self-titled debut from these Torontonian east coast transplants was the album of my summer. I attended both sold out Toronto shows (and their Montreal gig two days later) and yes, both nights had the same set list. But who cares? I sang along and loved every minute of it. It's refreshing to see a talented, young band garner so much excitement and interest, and it's 100% deserved. WL

Chris Isaak Massey Hall

Chris Isaak / Massey Hall / August 27
An angel descended at Massey Hall in August and blessed Toronto's gentle kitsch-country fans (mostly beigey types who still buy CDs) with a light show that began with the twinkle in the golden voiced singer/Fire Walk with Me actor's eye and culminated in a mirror ball suit. Chris Isaak, lead me, I'm still blind. The fog machines for "Wicked Game" were a nice touch, as if gothic perfection needed flair. AJ

Death From Above 1979, Edward Day Gallery, Sept 4
Sure DFA1979 has played a few shows around town since the reformed in 2011 but this one felt like a proper band and not just some reunion sideshow. Highlighting new songs from their recently released sophomore album, The Physical World, it was a welcome return for 200 some-odd in attendance. The band faltered a bit out of the gate but as soon as sound wrinkles were straightened out it was back to business as usual. ESP

Flaming Lips

Flaming Lips, Riot Fest, Downsview, Sept 6
I went to Riot Fest not expecting much, particularly not from the Flaming Lips. But the second Wayne Coyne and company launched in to "The Abandoned Hospital Ship" from overlooked classic Clouds Taste Metallic I knew I was in for something special. It seemed like most of the crowd around me had no idea what song it was, but I didn't give a shit. I belted that thing out like it was 1996. ESP

Sylvan Esso / The Horseshoe / September 8
This newly formed supergroup played their inaugural Toronto show to cap off the summer concert season. With lead singer Amelia Meath's personable lyricism and Nick Sanborn tight and imaginative production, the electropop group led a dance party at the back of the Horseshoe. Judging by their reception, they'll be back in Toronto soon. JT

The oOohh Baby Gimme Mores' album release party / The Rivoli / September 12
The OBGM's have been thrown into the spotlight as the subject of a beer-brand marketing campaign, but any naysayers who doubted their merit would be silenced after witnessing the out-of-control chaos they unleashed on The Rivoli. To call their particular style of dance-punk "hi-energy" would be like calling a tornado windy. This band explodes off the stage and the crowd becomes collateral damage. Bottles were breaking, people and cake were flying everywhere. Finally, real rock and roll is back in Toronto. PO

Geary Lane Toronto

Toronto's new DIY venues / all summer
Watching artists like Pharmakon, AKUA, SINS, Bile Sister, and Mmm Mmm at a total of five new/new-ish DIY venues (Ratio and 8-11 in Kensington/Chinatown, Jam Factory (spring) in Riverside, S.H.I.B.G.B.S (almost new) and Geary Lane on Geary) was a highlight of my summer. Backyard BBQs, sprawling warehouse spaces, crowded patios, and genuine music fans building alternative spaces infused the summer with intimate concerts and an undercurrent of excitement. Renewed basements at Smiling Buddha and HMV didn't hurt either. AJ


The Roots / Luminato Festival / June 7th
This just in, Luminato doesn't know how to throw a party. Picture 12 bartenders trying to serve 4000 people. And refusing to pre-pour. Arriving 45 minutes before The Roots' start time, I missed three songs before I was able to get a drink. They also refused to turn the volume of the band past 90 decibels, which is slightly louder than Toronto street traffic. My grandmother throws wilder parties than this. Even the legendary Roots couldn't overcome the problem of not being heard over normal conversation volume. Total bust. PO

Phoenix / Sound Academy / June 10
A tepid and predictable opening set by Albert Hammond Jr. of The Strokes set the tone for a mediocre evening. Despite having some strong songs, Phoenix's total lack of stage presence and charisma made for a very dull show: Thomas Mars seemed totally disinterested in us or the songs. This of course wasn't helped by Sound Academy, or a surprisingly irritating crowd, the members of which seemed far more concerned with posing for group selfies than actually watching the band. DB

Jad Fair and Danielson / Dance Cave / September 6
The wonderful Jad Fair and Danielson were battered tea kettles boiling over at the spout with joy as the band played new songs and old Half Japanese songs - for a rapt audience of 25. Almost no one loves obscuro Jad Fair and that's fair - yet I know many more local fans who would have been there if he show had been promoted by someone invested in the cult lofi artist (we did our best to help). The early Saturday start time and lack of openers didn't help Toronto save face, but glowing fans who did manage to hear about the show might have. AJ

Did we miss your best/worst concert or festival? Did you discover the best band ever this summer? Tell us about it in the comments.

Contributions by PO Karim, Evan Sue-Ping, Aubrey Jax, Shazia Khan, Naomi Grosman, Matt Forsythe, Jacob Thompson, Ryan Ayukawa, Wini Lo, Roger Cullman, Dorian Barton

Photos: TURF by Jesse Milns; Spiritualized, Chris Isaak by Irina No; Run the Jewels, NXNE, Flaming Lips, Geary Lane by Matt Forsythe; July Talk, Nick Cave by Roger Cullman

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