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Staff Picks: Best Songs, Albums And Concerts Of 2012

By: Laura Stanley

1. Death Cab For Cutie with Magik* Magik orchestra
Massey Hall, Toronto
April 19th, 2012

Supposedly marking the last tour for a while for everyone’s favourite “indie” band Death Cab For Cutie, the Seattle quartet teamed up with the unique creative force that is the Magik* Magik Orchestra. Reworking their already loved songs, “Title and Registration,” “Soul Meets Body,” “What Sarah Said,” to include the brilliant Magik* Magik orchestra, the lush swells of the music was made even better thanks to acoustics of Massey Hall.


2. Lisa Hannigan and Joe Henry
Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
June 10th, 2012

A guilty pleasure of sorts, Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan stopped by Toronto with her collaborative tour with Joe Henry. While Joe Henry left the crowd wanting a little more, Hannigan completely charmed the pants off everybody, playing songs from her latest record Passenger. As a welcoming addition, Hannigan’s guitar player, and solo musician, John Smith blew the Phoenix away that night with his own tunes. The night was capped off when Hannigan, Henry, Smith, and Ross Turner (drummer) beautifully covered Neil Young’s “Helpless,” to a very excited Toronto crowd.


3. The Daredevil Christopher Wright
Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto
August 7, 2012

As part of “Nu Music Nite” at the Horseshoe Tavern, The Daredevil Christopher Wright showed the, albeit small, audience why they are such a talented trio. With completely flawless harmonies in their live performance, The Daredevil Christopher Wright made the best of their short set with true grace and talent.


4. Ben Gibbard and Julie Doiron
Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
October 14, 2012

In the moderately revamped Danforth Music Hall, Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard brought charm to support his recent solo record Former Lives. With Canadian folky sweetheart Julie Doiron, who was promoting her own new album So Many Days, opening, it was smiles all night. Playing solo acoustic renditions of both solo, Death Cab For Cutie, and The Postal Service songs, the depth and strength of Gibbard’s catalogue shined through.


5. Coldplay
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
July 24, 2012

While I’m not a huge fan of Coldplay’s newer work as I mentioned in my concert review, it hardly matters. Thanks to their “Xylobands,” bracelets that light up to the beat of the music, and various other concert props, lights, lasers, confetti etc, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto Tour has ushered in a new definition of what makes a massive arena show so great.


By: Chris D’Alessandro

1. Rush
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
October 16th 2012

Rush is currently touring their newest album, Clockwork Angels, and perhaps the greatest thing about this latest tour is just how different it is from the last few tours.
Yes there’s lots of visuals up on a big-screen, yes there’s lasers and giant flames. Yes they played “Tom Sawyer” and Neil Peart did his mind-blowing drum solo.

However, this was a completely new-set list for Rush and that’s something the fans really appreciated. Not only giving us something new and unexpected, but also playing most of their new album, as well as dusting off a few forgotten gems from the vault.

Even if you’ve seen Rush a dozen times before (which I have), this show will still shock, surprise and ultimately thrill you.


2. Death from Above 1979
Sheridan College, Oakville
October 31st 2012

Since Death from Above 1979 had reunited, I had missed more than one opportunity to experience them live. When I heard they were playing beneath the office where I work at Sheridan College, I was obviously thrilled. First, you have to see this band in a small venue where everything is more intense. The sound, the band, the crowd, it all comes together and makes sense in a small room. Any concert that injures you is an automatic win. Second, try to get a battle-scar. I got bruised ribs from the mosh-pit, now that’s a souvenir.


3. The Black Keys
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
March 14th 2012

Anyone who tells you The Black Keys don’t sound good live is full of shit.  Do they sound much less polished than the record? Hell yes, and that’s a good thing. The problem here is that The Black Keys have transitioned into the mainstream just enough to merit the attention of some pop-music fans, who have no appreciation for actual music.  These guys sound raw, but are still able to get the entire ACC singing along to Lonely Boy. Bonus point for the giant disco-ball during the encore.


4. Mother Mother
Echo Beach, Toronto
August 19th 2012

On my way to the Our Lady Peace show at Echo Beach, I noticed that more people were excited to see Mother Mother than they were OLP. Maybe for good reason, this band sounds extremely good live. Like Black Keys, they’re less polished than the record and the levels and arrangements seem just a little different. But that’s why you go out to a concert. You want to hear what songs like “Bandages” and “Let’s Fall in Love” sound like when it’s coming through people and their instruments and not a computer.


5.  Andrew Bird
Echo Beach, Toronto
July 19th 2012

I had never heard of Andrew Bird before I was asked to cover the show. However, I’m very glad I went.  This guy just goes out on stage with a violin and captivates an entire audience. Something about the combination of his music, with the taste of beer, that feeling of a summer breeze, the smell of the water front, all the sand. It just came together and became of an experience than just a show.


By: Calum Slingerland

1. Black Keys
Bell Centre, Montreal
March 13, 2012

After having their Bluesfest appearance in 2011 cut short due to an abrupt storm passing through Ottawa, there was no way I could miss The Black Keys at the Bell Centre in Montreal. I had floor seats with a few friends of mine, and Dan and Patrick proceeded to blow the roof off the place with a stellar set full of new songs and old favourites. It was excellent to see the duo in a more relaxed setting with no fear of Mother Nature ruining the performance!


2. Bon Iver
Ottawa FolkFest, Ottawa
September 10, 2012

A chilly fall night brought Justin Vernon and his band to the Ottawa Folk Festival. There was no way I could miss this, as it isn’t often that Bon Iver passes through my city at all. All tracks from his self-titled record have much more life in a live setting. Tracks such as “Perth” and “Beth/Rest” were set highlights, becoming so much more powerful than I had previously known them to be. The audience was silent the entire time, transfixed upon the incredible performance before them. See him if you have the chance.


3. BadBadNotGood
Ritual Nightclub, Ottawa.
June 1, 2012

This Toronto jazz-hop trio had been making waves on the internet with the release of various mixtapes, often creating jazz renditions of hip-hop music staples. I was front row, centre for their appearance at the intimate Ritual nightclub, and the crowd absolutely loved them. Playing some originals, as well as noted works from Kanye West, James Blake, and Waka Flocka Flame, people were moshing, dancing, and crowd-surfing to the young trio’s musical creations. Now how many jazz shows have that kind of action?


4. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Scotiabank Place, Ottawa.
April 30, 2012

Having missed the Chilis on their Stadium Arcadium tour years earlier, I wasn’t going to miss them this time around. Touring their latest album I’m With You, the band brought an excellent live show to Ottawa, playing a great mix of older favourites, new tunes, and even some rarities. New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer is a natural successor to John Frusciante – he has stage presence, along with serious guitar chops which made the performance that much more enjoyable. Despite the slight change in sound they’ve undergone, the Chilis are still very, very good at what they do.


5. The Sheepdogs
Ottawa Bluesfest, Ottawa.
July 12, 2012

The Sheepdogs come to Ottawa more often than other bands do, but ever since I started listening to them, I have always had other plans when they decide to roll through the city on tour. I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to see them slip by this time, so I went right to the front of the stage to wait hours before their set. Leading the Canadian classic rock revival from the prairies, the band delivered a flawless set, which showcased material from all four of their studio albums.


 By: Curtis Sindrey

1. Edgefest 2012
Downsview Park, Toronto
July 14, 2012

Under the humid afternoon sky at Downsview Park, fans were treated to a show that was ripe with talent with indie rockers Yukon Blonde, The Darcys and Said The Whale, along with Canadian rock heavyweights Billy Talent, DFA1979 and The Sheepdogs.

Josie Dye of 102.1 The Edge may have best summed the day as she introduced Death From Above 1979: “We go to festivals all around the world and then we come to Edgefest and realize how amazing Torontonians are.”


2. Tune-Yards
Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
August 1, 2012

What was announced by frontwoman Merrill Garbus as Tune-Yards’ “last show in Canada for a long time,” the Connecticut-based quartet didn’t disappoint their Canadian fans with their highly energetic, fun and mesmerizing performance that saw them play many lesser known tracks and a handful of well-known ones including the smash single “Gangsta.”

Whether or not they return north in 2013 is anyone’s guess, but for those lucky enough to have seen them on this tour, their set will last a lifetime.


3. Gob/Silverstein
Sneaky Dee’s, Toronto
September 13, 2012

To celebrate Sneaky Dee’s 25th Anniversary, Canadian punk heavyweights Gob and Silverstein performed highly intimate sets for the few hundred or so lucky enough to get tickets. Incorporating a lot of newer material into their set from their most recent album Short Songs, Silverstein played a fast and sweaty set that jumpstarted the night. Gob mostly played their classics like “Give Up The Grudge” and “Soda” much to the delight of the pissed drunk crowd. With a new album in the works, it’s highly unlikely that we’ve heard the last of them.


4. Treble Charger/Matthew Good/Sam Roberts
Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto
November 23, 2012

With the excitement of the 100th Grey Cup already in the air, Treble Charger fired up the crowd and performed classics like “American Psycho” and “Brand New Low” to the delight of the football fans in attendance. Although currently working on a new album, Matthew Good played a solid set, but failed to include much material from his newest album Lights of Endangered Species, instead focusing on classics like “Apparitions,” and “Load Me Up.” Always the energetic frontman, Sam Roberts performed much of his classic material including “Where Have All The Good People Gone,” and “Hard Road.” and he matched that with several tracks from the band’s most recent album Collider.


5. Smashing Pumpkins
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
October 25, 2012

Although much doubt was expressed about the choice of venues for the newest incarnation of ‘90s rock legends Smashing Pumpkins on their most recent tour, dubbed the “Oceania Tour,” it soon evaporated once Billy Corgan and company hit the stage when they performed their newest album Oceania in full followed by an eclectic mix of classic tracks from the band’s crowded catalogue.

The Pumpkins ultimately proved that nostalgia wasn’t about to make an appearance on this tour and that the only way to look is forward.


By: Stephen McGill

1. Pulp
Radio City Music Hall, New York City
April 11, 2012

There was no other place on this list for this show. One of my favorite bands playing their first (this show was announced before the later scheduled 10th show) American show since the 90s, at the gorgeous Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Jarvis Cocker and the rest of Pulp were absolutely brilliant, ripping through a set list of hits from His ‘N Hers up through Different Class and This Is Hardcore. Highlights included “Mis-Shapes”, “Common People” and “This Is Hardcore” as well as basically everything Jarvis Cocker said or did whilst on stage.


2. Jack White
Scottish Rite Theatre, Detroit
May 24, 2012

I love Jack White, I loved the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, and I love his solo album. So the chance to go see him in his home town of Detroit, for one of two back to back solo shows, was one I wasn’t going to pass up. It was also my first exposure to Alabama Shakes who were stunning. But nobody can compare to Jack White, from the first notes of “Sixteen Saltines” all the way through to the closing song the crowd at the relatively intimate Scottish Rite Theatre was enthralled. With a heavy smattering of White Stripes and Raconteurs songs thrown into the mix and the excellent accompaniment of his all-girl band the Peacocks, I was simply floored.


3. Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band
Rogers Centre, Toronto
August 24, 2012

It was my first time seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band, that should really speak for itself in how much this show impressed. Playing for over three and a half hours and showing more energy than I’ve ever summoned in my life it was just unbelievable. I got to hear all my favorite songs off my personal favorite Born To Run and a ton of other songs. The E Street band was as incredible as you’ve been told. Springsteen also legitimately brought me and half the Rogers Centre to tears with his touching tribute to recently departed saxophone player Clarence Clemons during “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out.” Though he would have been proud of the performance his nephew Jake Clemons had in his place.


4. Riot Fest
Humboldt Park, Chicago
September 15 – 16, 2012

This was probably one of the strangest, and fun, festivals I’ve ever been too. The highlights include: Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Elvis Costello & The Imposters playing almost exclusively off My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model (the two best albums by far), seeing GWAR play in the daylight on the Saturday afternoon, being blown away by a fantastic set by Larry & His Flask, finally getting to see Cursive after many years of trying, brilliant sets by Frank Turner, Gaslight Anthem, Hot Water Music, Gogol Bordello, Built To Spill, Japanther, The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Promise Ring. Lastly it was great to see the sausage fest of a weekend broken up by the only female musician I saw at the festival, The Screaming Females’ Marissa Paternoster, and who turned in one of the best sets of the weekend.


5. Death From Above 1979
Ritual Nightclub, Ottawa
November 4, 2012 

I’d seen the first round of reunion dates for the Death From Above 1979 tour, and while they sounded great, you could tell there was no love lost between Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler. Somewhere on that tour though, everything changed, there came the improbable announcement that the two had been recording new music, and were embarking on a small club tour to road test the new songs. They meant small too, the two shows I caught on this tour were in the 300 person capacity range. The new material sounded great and very much like the old stuff, and the guys were joking with each other and the audience and having a great time on stage again.


 By: Alex Lee

1. The xx
Massey Hall, Toronto
October 23

The xx is a band that takes pride in their minimalistic approach. Whether it be in their music, or their live shows, they apply that very methodology to fuel every aspect of their intimate indie-pop art. But it seems that this year will see the band take a different route, at least in their live shows. With an obvious budget increase, the band’s show at Massey Hall was surprisingly stadium-sized.

Featuring an array of lightworks that could put any night club to shame, a large, and now humbly iconic, “X” symbol that ominously loomed over them, the band’s stage looked fantastic. Other than stage-aesthetics, of course, the band remained as exactly as they were. With a healthy balance between new material and old and a well-fitted retouching of some songs for a more club-friendly vibe, The xx showcased only their strengths, all the while proving that they still have some tricks left under their sleeves.


2. Grizzly Bear
Massey Hall, Toronto
September 26th

Aside from universally acclaimed records and rave reviews, Brooklyn-quartet Grizzly Bear are also renowned for their impressive performances. Their stop at Toronto’s Massey Hall, one that had them constantly mentioning Neil Young’s set at the venue, was no different from the other. With an impressive, Shields-heavy setlist and surprisingly extravagant visuals (the hauntingly beautiful array of jellyfish-like lighting at the back was exceptionally memorable), the band’s performance was superb. With pitch-perfect harmonies and extraordinary instrumentations, the show was a testament to the band that has more or less hit their peak as an unbelievable live act.


3. Beach House
Kool Haus, Toronto
October 13th

It’s hard for bands to play a venue like Kool Haus without feeling insecure about losing the crowd’s interest. With a small stage and and an overtly extravagant bar, boring shows may very well have concert-goers heading straight to the bars. This will never be the case for Baltimore dream pop duo Beach House, whose show at Kool Haus was anything but boring.

From opener to encore, the band remained highly innate to their mysterious persona, one that relies much on subtlety. But epic lights and stage aesthetics are not what Beach House is about; the music it self was vivid enough to illuminate the dimly-lit venue. Singer Victoria Legrand’s rich, sultry vocals were full and booming, meriting beautifully with Scally’s smooth, reverb-doused guitars. With an electrifying 18 song-long setlist and a dim, but tastefully set lighting, the band’s performance delivered the duo’s dreamy indie-pop sensibilities.


 By: Adam Harrison

1. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
Rogers Centre, Toronto
Aug. 24, 2012

An unheard of four hours and 30 song set with no breaks, in front of an open Skydome filled with nearly 50,000 fans, taking requests from signs through a seventeen-album discography… This 62-year old Bruce Springsteen proved he is still The Boss and this year’s top concert.


2. Black Keys & Arctic Monkeys
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
March 14, 2012

This combination is just unparalleled. The Black Keys are probably the most relevant rock band in the world right now. The duo has headlined almost every festival across the planet this past year. The Arctic Monkeys consistently muster up one of the most intense club shows you’ll ever witness, but have been screaming to reach larger venues. Each brings their unique spin on modern rock n’ roll to the table. Together they put on one hell of a rock show. The mass dance party during “Lonely Boy” is really something to be experienced.


3. Coldplay
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
July 24, 2012

This has to have been one of the most visually appealing tours of all-time. Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto tour included a graffiti tagged stage, storms of confetti and more than 15,000 wristbands handed out to every audience member. The wristbands lit up in rhythm with specific songs, illuminating the stadium like a Christmas tree. Oh yeah, the music was pretty awesome too.


4. Iron Maiden & Alice Cooper
Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Toronto
July 13, 2012

Every time Iron Maiden embarks on one of their classics tour it makes this list. The Maiden England tour, a tribute to the DVD shot during the 7th Tour back in 1989, was no different. The unrivaled energy of the band, the dedicated intensity of the fans, the mysterious stage sets and of course the fifteen-foot Eddie robot make their shows unforgettable. On top of all that excitement, add the ever-so dramatic Alice Cooper as an opening act and this is one classic metal show to remember.


5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Air Canada Centre, Toronto
April 28, 2012

After a few years of hiatus and John Frusciante leaving the band again, it was really up in the air what would become of these now middle-aged, strategically placed sock-wearing hippies. Although the release of I’m With You didn’t quite live up to Californication standards, Red Hot Chili Peppers demonstrated they still had the energy and antics in them to put on a good show. Changing up the set from night to night, spanning across the almost thirty-year career of the psychedelic, alternative, punk rockers, no two shows were quite alike.


Honorable Mentions: Soundgarden – Phoenix Concert Theatre, The Killers – Sound Academy, Aerosmith – Air Canada Centre


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