My Favourite Concerts of 2011

It’s time for the Nonsense Year in Review, starting with my favourite concerts from 2011. I’ve learned to spend my money more discriminatingly (largely because ticket prices are spiralling uncontrollably), and 2011 proved to be a banner year. It was dominated by U2 and Pearl Jam and Chris Cornell; it featured one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, the fulfillment of a dream, two famous cameos, and lots of Mother Love Bone covers. I think you’ll agree I did quite well.

U2 w/Arcade Fire and Carney (“Magnetic Hill Music Festival”), 7/30 at Magnetic Hill in Moncton, NB. The final night of U2’s record-breaking 360° Tour brought “the Claw” to the bottom of a giant hill in Atlantic Canada, thousands of miles both literally and figuratively from where I’d first seen the tour back in April. La Plata and, later, Edmonton were both memorable–but Moncton, which also featured an hour-long opening set by Arcade Fire, is one of my all-time pantheon concerts. A truly special night.

Video: “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (from JiffySpook). Also worth watching: this proshot video of “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)” which ends with Bono improvising a moving verse about the tour’s end.

Soundgarden w/Coheed and Cambria, 7/2 at Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, ON. Seeing Soundgarden was, in many respects, the realization of my ultimate rock n’ roll fantasy. I barely allowed myself to dream it might one day happen–but when it actually did, and when the second song was “Searching With My Good Eye Closed,” my response was predictably ecstatic. And that’s before I saw Matt Cameron play “Jesus Christ Pose” live.

Video: “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” (from leblancdaniel469)

PJ20, 9/3-4 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI. Pearl Jam threw itself a weekend-long birthday bash in rural Wisconsin–and remarkably, I didn’t even decide to go till earlier that same week. I’m glad I did: the entire weekend was memorable, and apart from Pearl Jam (more on them in a second) we got two impressive nights from Queens of the Stone Age. As for the headliners, the six hours of Pearl Jam were obviously great–but what pushed the performances over the top were two guest appearances from Chris Cornell, two resurrections of Temple of the Dog…and on night one, with Sherkin and I looking on in astonishment, a cover of “Stardog Champion” by Mother Love Bone. The other highlight? “Release,” Pearl Jam’s first song of the weekend, against which all future versions of “Release” will be measured and found wanting.

Video: “Stardog Champion” with Chris Cornell (from JeffgardenConcerts). A quick note on “Stardog Champion”: if, before the weekend, you’d have let me draw up a dream scenario for the festival it’d have been this. Seriously.

Chris Cornell, 4/27 at Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat, AB. Chris Cornell skipped Calgary on his recent Songbook tour, opting instead to play three hours away at the gorgeous 700-seat Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre in Medicine Hat. No matter: I’d have driven twice as far to see my favourite singer, especially with the promise of him without any accompaniment. Two songs in particular–an electric guitar version of the Badmotorfinger song “Mind Riot” and an acoustic take of Mother Love Bone’s “Man of Golden Words”–left my mouth, quite literally, agape.

Video: “Mind Riot” (from KeithVids1)

Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney, 9/11 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON. Night one of Pearl Jam’s two-night Toronto stand would’ve qualified as a nice, solid Pearl Jam concert had it not been for the second encore–but the debut of “Chloe Dancer” (which led seamlessly into the band’s cover of the Mother Love Bone song “Crown of Thorns”) and, two songs later, a twelve-minute “Rockin’ in the Free World” in which Neil Young himself ambled onto the stage with Mike McCready’s guitar strapped around his shoulder turned it into something much more memorable.

Video: “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Neil Young (from cls1974). Fast-forward to the 3:19 mark, when Eddie Vedder becomes aware of what’s happening. Watch his reaction. Priceless.

Honourable mention: U2 w/Muse in La Plata, the Black Keys w/Cage the Elephant in Calgary, Pearl Jam w/Mudhoney in Calgary

Favourite songs? Got those too, in rough chronological order:

  • U2, “Return of the Stingray Guitar” into “Beautiful Day” and “Bad” (La Plata); “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (Edmonton); “Even Better Than The Real Thing” and “The Fly” (Moncton); “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” at all three 360° Tour shows I saw in 2011. Also, while it wasn’t part of the set per se, the nightly “Space Oddity” introduction was brilliantly executed.
  • Chris Cornell, “Mind Riot” and “Man of Golden Words”
  • Soundgarden, “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” and “Beyond the Wheel”
  • Arcade Fire, “Month of May” (Dartmouth)
  • Queens of the Stone Age, “Song for the Dead”
  • The Strokes, “Juicebox” with Eddie Vedder
  • Pearl Jam, “Release,” “Better Man,” and “Stardog Champion” (PJ20 Night 1); “Long Road,” “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns,” and “Rockin’ in the Free World” with Neil Young (Toronto Night 1); “Rearviewmirror” (Ottawa); “Search and Destroy” and “Fuckin’ Up” (Calgary); the end of the first encore and the entire second encore in Edmonton
  • Temple of the Dog. I’m not picking favourites.
  • The Headstones, “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”

Theatre and sports to follow!

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