My Favourite Live Shows of 2011.

Unlike the last couple of years, the gigs I saw this year were fairly scant. It’s been a while since an act I loved came through Edmonton in 2011 (and I travelled a couple of times to compensate for that void) so of the few shows I saw this year, here were my five favourites:

Joshua Radin, Cary Brothers & Laura Jansen

What was more like a musical jam session between friends in a small coffee shop rather than a “concert”, this show featuring headliner Radin and his two fantastically talented singer/songwriter pals, Cary Brothers and Laura Jansen (the latter with whom I was previously unfamiliar) performed a tiny little gig at the Starlite Room on a wickedly cold day in March of this past year. Jansen took the stage wearing charming tube socks and playing a small, piano/acoustic set with songs from her then-forthcoming record, “Bells”; notably, she wrote an incredibly intimate song about her struggles as a teenager, sang a breakup song that deeply reflects and perfectly demonstrates to me, what it means to be a ‘dumped’ girl (“Single Girls”), played her cheeky pop song with a bouncy piano riff (“Wicked World”), and belted out a beautiful, slowed-down, keys-backed cover of the Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”. Brothers continued on the evening with his soaring vocals and self-deprecating jokes about depressing, self-indulgent singer/songwriter-type lyrics. Joshua Radin was warm, friendly and charming, and he played a decent array of songs from all of his releases; audience participation in the form of delightful, happy hand claps (during “Nowhere To Go”) and anecdotes about his young nephew’s brief foray into dating, and writing a baby-making song for his newlywed friends all made this a sweet, charming little night to remember.

Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs

Seeing Ray LaMontagne live was something I always wanted to do, ever since the first time I heard his stunning, chills-inducing vocals on his debut record back in 2005. Luckily for me, his newest release with the Pariah Dogs led him to Edmonton and the Winspear this past summer. And what a gig it was; the audience’s quiet, subdued mood was perfect for songs like my personal favourite, “Jolene” and “Like Rock n’ Roll and Radio”; conversely, Ray and the Pariah Dogs rocked the roof off the concert hall with “Repo Man” and “Henry Nearly Killed Me”. While quiet and mild-mannered, Ray did toss in a few moderately awkward bits of banter, and played a KILLER cover of the Byrds’ “Blue Canadian Rockies”, stating that everyone should listen to Sweetheart of the Rodeo because it is a life-changing record. A man after my own heart.

The Tallest Man on Earth

Before I saw Kristian Matsson at the Citadel Theatre, I was unaware at just how tiny a man he is; both smaller and slighter than me but also incredibly handsome, Matsson (who performs under the Tallest Man on Earth moniker) came out onto a dark, totally bare stage with a guitar about five times the size of himself it seemed, and played a stunner of a set; The Tallest Man on Earth plays songs that are dark, lovelorn and perfectly accompany his unique, scratchy, wavering voice (which is not too dissimilar from Bob Dylan’s, though I’m sure he gets that all the time). The hipsters were out in full force that night, bobbing their foppy heads along to Matsson’s poetic lyrics, which are equally mischievous and completely, utterly gorgeous. He may be an incredibly pint-sized little man, but his music, voice and power over a crowd of people, is HUGE.

Bright Eyes

After wandering around and then waiting in a cold near the Toronto waterfront which so intense, I thought my feet were going to get amputated, I had the great pleasure of, for the second time, seeing Bright Eyes (thee Bright Eyes – featuring Conor Oberst, Nate Walcott, and Mike Mogis, as opposed to Oberst’s other bands/projects) – a gig I travelled across the country to see, along with my best friend. While the crowd and my obstructed view were points of contention with me for the majority of the show, this time I was treated to a fantastically intimate singalong of “Lua”, along with a couple of my very favourite songs like “Hot Knives” and “Four Winds”. The newest Bright Eyes record, The People’s Key was aptly represented at this gig as well with Oberst belting out many of the often-strange, whacked-out, new age-y tunes like “Haile Selassie”, “Shell Games” and “Approximate Sunlight”. What’s interesting about Bright Eyes is despite being consistently (and  I feel, incorrectly) labeled as an ‘emo’ band, the outfit’s live show is considerably high-energy, fun, wild and a little surreal. Oberst knows how to put on a show that is appealing to the masses of Chuck Taylor-clad hip kids but wouldn’t seem as out of place as expected on some outdoor football field, playing to tens of thousands.

Ryan Adams

I’ve talked my ear off about Ryan Adams in 2011; from his newest record, Ashes & Fire which I named my favourite of 2011, to my open anticipation of seeing him perform at the Heinekin City Arts Festival in Seattle this past October, to furthermore, my review of said-show, which was a simple rant and rave over what I thought to be one of the top most magnificent evenings of my life, let alone my favourite gig of 2011… it’s been a very ‘Ryan Adams’ kind of year for me, you could say. Nevertheless, no surprise, this was absolutely a magic night. What started off with a note of sombre angsty seriousness ended up being a very eclectic mix of comedy and tragedy – hearing songs like the endearing, sad, intimate “Dirty Rain” and “English Girls, Approximately” alongside jokes about Tron trapper keepers, and soccer stickers, bratty smiles, and banter with ‘The Loudest Man in Seattle’, and a couple of roll-on-the-floor-laughing improvised jams, made for an unexpected barrage of laughter and reflection. It was most definitely a memorable, heartfelt, and uproariously funny night that I will never, ever, EVER forget.

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