Here are my favourite of shows of the year in sequential order. For ease sake, I've chose to quote portions of my original reviews for each show. There were a few shows I hadn't originally wrote up reviews for (not at all an indication of the worthiness of the show but rather just a matter of writer' block/laziness), so I've provided some commentary for those shows. It seems my concert-going has gone down even compare to three years ago but I'm striving for quality over quantity and I'm trying not to wear myself too thin. Let's see what 2009 brings.
Lightspeed Champion @ Horseshoe Tavern (Mar 4, 2008) (original review)
"Nary a lap-steel in sight(as I'd heard on a song or two from his debut album "Falling Off The Lavender Bridge", Dev brought his songs to life(playing a set without a set list) with his solid but respectable guitar work, the complimentary violin arrangements of violinist Mike Siddell(played with the similar casual sonics of say Final Fantasy) and Dev's melodic vocals. Stripped down to the duo, the music was less pastoral/folk-rock from what I'd heard from the album and had a much more raw feel to it. The whole set musically was sublime."
My Morning Jacket @ Berkeley Church (Mar 31, 2008) (original review)
"With the stage drenched in hues of blue and green and probably many other colours, the band was most dynamic during their anthemic rock numbers, at one point vocalist Jim James covering his sweat-soaked head in what seemed to be a towel or t-shirt as he continued to sing to the audience with blissful passion. The band were also adept at performing quieter, desolate numbers and the ironic thing is that, given now that I was finally able to see the band, I almost felt like closing my eyes and soaking it all in."
Jens Lekman, Final Fantasy, Katie Stelmanis @ The Great Hall (Apr 8, 2008) (original review)
"Unfortunately the show didn't meet the blissful levels of his last show at The Music Gallery in 2005, but considering the almost 3-year gap between shows, I'll consider myself fortunate for seeing him at all."
British Sea Power @ Lee's Palace (May 16, 2008) (original review)
"Energy spent by the end of the more than hour long set and drenched in sweat, Hamilton and the band continued their tradition of no encores, and left the stage with the audience wanting more although thoroughly satisfied with what we'd already got. Overall, their set ranks as one of the most exhilirating I've seen this year."
R.E.M. @ Molson Ampitheatre (Jun 8, 2008) (original review)
"It may have been somewhat egoistic for R.E.M. to devote much of their set this past Saturday to tunes off their most recent album "Accelerate" and latter-era obscure album tracks. On the other hand such confidence did pay off as some (well actually a lot of) the newer material had its moments, resonating with a melodicism and energy that's on par with R.E.M.'s decent songs."
The Hidden Cameras @ Pride Toronto (Jun 28, 2008) (original blog post)
Ok, I didn't review this show but I'll just say that when The Hidden Cameras make a sort of homecoming during Pride Toronto you know the show's going to bristle with energy. Rather than their vocal choir decked out in prep school garb as I'd seen them in a past performance, this time the choir adorned themselves in golden sheets looking like ghosts. Yes, I believe Berlin has had an influence on the group.
Steve Earle, Allison Moorer @ Gage Park [Hamilton,ON] (Aug 08, 2008) (original review)
"Continuing the evening's lineup of great solo performances, a gruff, bearded Steve Earle took the stage to an enthusiastic response. I'm not really up on my Steve Earle but he seemed to play a mix of his country-rockers, love songs, experimental folk-beat tunes(including a DJ to provide the beats) and some political stuff. Steve had an arsenal of guitars, plus a banjo and mandolin which he continued to switch between throughout the evening. The crowd at this point had swelled to fill the festival grounds in front of the stage and with the family crowd onhand it didn't hold back Steve from throwing out a 'fuck' when he needed to..."
Silver Jews @ Lee's Palace (Sep 2, 2008) (original blog post)
This is another show I didn't get around to reviewing, but believe me it was one of the best shows I'd seen all year, which is saying something for a Silver Jews newbie such as myself. Silver Jews's David Berman is one of the most idiosyncratic artists I've seen live, with a stage persona that's a crosspoint between a lounge singer and a poet. He was quite beloved by his fans in the audience to a point that I deeply regretted not being more familiar with his music as they were, although my ignorance didn't prevent me from enjoying his tuneful, storytelling songs.
Goldfrapp @ Danforth Music Hall (Sep 14, 2008) (original review)
"Musically, I loved every song in the set, though perhaps too painstakingly did they reproduce the studio versions in this live setting. It didn't matter much with the audience who were rapturous(especially this one girl who took it upon herself to dance alone) with every song performed, especially so when 'Ooh La La' was performed, prompting the entire audience including myself to finally get out of our seats and dance."
My Bloody Valentine @ Kool Haus (Sep 25, 2008) (original review)
"As last remnants of the feedback subsided and the house lights came on, there was a jubilation in the faces over everyone around me, including myself. It felt like I'd gone to war, won, and was going home in one piece."
Neil Young @ Air Canada Centre (Dec 4, 2008) (original review)
"I'm reminded of a day back in my youth(man, do I feel old) when my family and I were at the Canadian National Exhibition and I could hear Bruce Springsteen playing live from within Exhibition Stadium, the enormity of the experience as The Boss' vocals echoed through the grounds, but on the other hand the music was deeply invigorating and personal. Really, that was exactly the same experience I had seeing(for the first time) Neil Young play live and one I won't soon forget."
Love Is All @ Horseshoe Tavern (Dec 11, 2008) (original review)
"As loose and carefree as they sound on record, there was an even more ramshackle quality to their live set as pixie-ish vocalist Josephine Olausson's child-like vocal exhuberance collided with shout-out backup vocals, elastic guitar arrangements, rubbery bass lines, urgent drumming, scintillating keyboards, and skronky saxophone. It was sometimes a bit too ramshackle at times, arrangements maybe even a little bit off beat, and I sometimes missed the precision of the guitar arrangements I'd heard on record, but overall I couldn't deny the thrillingness of their live performance."
The Show I Wish I'd Been At In Person:
Portishead @ Coachella (April 26, 2008)
I remember watching their set live on-line and feeling so connected to the music even as I sat thousands of kilometres away. I even wrote a blog post about it. It was that good. As Adrian Utley mentioned to the BBC back in July, they had no more plans for touring in 2008 and were focusing their efforts on preparing for a new album. As to what the status of the new recordings remains to be seen, but I can only cross my fingers that they'll bring their next tour jaunt to Toronto.