I went to a LOT of concerts this year — not as many as 2008 I don’t think, but a lot nonetheless. And as always, some stood out more than others because of something in the air or whatever. The following were for me, the most special and memorable gigs I saw in ’09, starting with the best of the best, and after that, in no particular order.
Coldplay. I had waited my entire life it seemed, to see Coldplay, and I finally got the opportunity when they came through Edmonton this summer. And it was worth the wait. If there is any band in the world that knows how to truly put on a great show, it’s Coldplay; the lasers, the onslought of butterfly confetti, the band’s mini acoustic set played in the stands at the back of Rexall Place (and slapping high fives with fans on the way — myself included – no big deal), the little off-the-cuff ditty about Edmonton, Chris Martin’s solo piano stuff, a bangin’ classical music intro, etc etc etc. It was like my own private Beatlemania. I was, and still am, completely and totally in love with this show. Everything about it was totally perfect and sharing it with an equally die-hard Coldplay fan, in a crowd of thousands, was not just the best gig of the year, but one of the best moments of my life.
David Gray. It seems that whenever I travel to see a concert, that concert is SO worth the trip; granted, the only other time I’ve travelled to see a concert was to see my messiah, Ryan Adams, in Vancouver a couple of years ago. But seeing David Gray in Massey Hall, one of the most beauitful venues in this country and certainly the venue with the richest history, was magic. Lisa Hannigan opened and she too, was a sparkling little ray of light with her ethereal smile and gentle rolling folksy songs. But David Gray… DAYUMM. What a beautiful, intimate lovely show. Before he sang “Falling Down the Mountainside”, he suddenly told this story about how the song is about a friend who passed away, and the story was so touching and the performance was so engrossing and emotion-filled, it was hard to notice the crowd. And the finale, with the snowflake-esque lights… David Gray live is something to be truly treasured and appreciated. His album material, though still magnificent, is significantly less so after seeing him sing “Babylon”, “Nemesis” or “Life in Slow Motion” live. Sharing this rare and very special gig, in a very special venue, with my special best friend, was another one of the greatest moments of my life — a show I’ll remember and cherish forever.
The Trews (Acoustic). This was my fourth time seeing the Trews, and I think it was actually the best. The odd thing about the Trews is, I am never really grabbed by their albums, or really that interested in them overall; but suddenly, they play live and their appeal completely makes sense. Oftentimes, after seeing a show, you go home and listen to the music on an album and are able to attach more meaning to it. This for me with the Trews, never works either. And yet, live… nobody beats them. But I think actually, once their songs are stripped down, they really shimmer. The raucuous mainstream-ish rock sound of them is wittled away and what we have are some good old maritime-flavoured jam songs. Pair these great tunes with Colin’s AMAZING, soaring voice and John Angus’ severely underrated guitar virtuostics, and what happens is unforgettable onstage magic.
Patrick Watson. I really like Watson as a singer and his records have a dreamlike quality that is gorgeous and transcendant, so I figured that seeing him at Macdougall United would be a good show. I didn’t really know how good though. Tune after tune, there was just something lingering around the air and I watched Watson and his band in awe, totally immersed in his unique, quirky little world; I loved his sense of humour and his cameraderie with his bandmates, and I loved how pitch-perfect he sounded while singing. When he sings, he looks like he’s lost somewhere, and I was getting lost with him. If I had a choice, I would see all of my favourite bands perform at the Macdougall. It’s a great place, and this was a GREAT show. It definitely cemented my Patrick Watson fandom.
Sarah Mclachlan and Tracy Chapman. Outdoor concerts have such beautiful sound quality because there is no feedback and so the sound is free to travel for miles and spread gently across a crowd of thousands without any awkward barriers. Sound this good should be reserved for fantastic performers. These two women were those performers. Tracy Chapman began to sing and play a simple acoustic set, her old soul and oddball sense of humour sending shivers throughout the crowd. There is something kind of mystical and prophetic about her, as diminutive and gentle as she is, and seeing her live was something I never expected would happen, but there she was, and it was incredible. Sarah Mclachlan is someone I’ve always wanted to see live as well, and hearing her impeccible voice on that chilly summer night, everyone holding their candles and smoking and perched on the grassy hill at Gallagher Park, was great. Just great. What a pure and simple evening that was, shared with old friends. Folk Fest is a wonderful time.
Keane. The funny thing about the Edmonton Event Centre, is that it is actually a terrible venue; it has horrible sound quality and at times, can attract an awful crowd. And yet, some of my favourite-ever concerts have taken place there (Travis, Bright Eyes, the Trews, just to name a few). Despite an unfortunate opener (Lights… ugh), Keane’s set was practically perfect in every way, and the crowd MADE it a night to remember. It was as enthusiastic a crowd as I’ve ever seen in my city — energy radiating, the loudest cheers, the longest ovations, every single person singing along to “Somewhere Only We Know”… being among all those people was a natural high, and the band too, seemed truly humbled by such a positive and loving reaction. I was smiling the entire time. Great music, played well, by a bunch of top-notch guys who took the time to talk to fans and sign autographs at the end of the show.
JET. Another GREAT show at the EEC. This wasn’t the ‘best’ gig of the year, but I think I had more fun seeing JET than I did at almost any other show this year (Coldplay notwithstanding). Dancing and singing along to “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was one of the most fun concert moments of my life, and JET were anything but stoic, heavily enthusiastically playing all of their songs and even taking a request from an audience member.
Fleetwood Mac. It’s hard not to mention a gig in which you are in the VERY front of Rexall Place, watching one of history’s most legendary rock bands. I mean, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were almost an arms’ length away in all their rockstar glory, playing and singing great old tunes, really really really well. Buckingham is a guitar GOD.
AC/DC. Speaking of guitar Gods, Angus Young is essentially my all-time favourite guitar God and seeing his 25-minute solo in the motherfucking POURING rain, in a completely full stadium, surrounded by drunk headbanging bikers, in what was the most overbloated indulgent excessive tacky loud arena rock show I will probably EVER see, was just a great night. I came home soaked, and in AWE of what AC/DC can still do, fearlessly, even after all these years. For those about to rock… I salute you.