My Favourite Concerts of 2016

2016 was a good year for me and live music. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance it’ll end up being my best year ever. Among other things, I saw each of my big three (Pearl Jam, the Who, Bruce Springsteen) at least twice. I saw a band about whose potential reunion I once wrote, “This could still happen; then again, pigs could fly.” I saw a show whose opening act was 20 minutes of lucha libre. And I saw the Hip five times, including what might have been their final concert.

How to rank all this? Simple: I can’t. So here’s an unranked top five for you instead:

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 2/1 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I’m not a fan of this recent trend of bands touring old records. In the case of Bruce Springsteen, for instance, I’d much rather see him do a regular show than perform a thirty-five-year-old double album in its entirety. Except…it’s The River, and this tour (which I also saw in Buffalo) made a convincing argument that it’s his unvarnished masterpiece. And when he got to the hits, I got to stand next to Sam when she heard “Born to Run” live for the first time. (We also witnessed an incredible fistfight during “Born to Run,” which put a weird bow on the experience.)

Video by Brian Gay

Pearl Jam, 5/12 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I hadn’t seen Pearl Jam since late 2013; it was a deliberate break, a chance for me to recalibrate my relationship with my favourite band, and by the time their 2016 tour rolled around I was ready to have them back. The second Toronto show, which got bumped back by a day to accommodate a Raptors’ playoff game, was actually my least favourite of the three I saw–that’s obviously a relative statement–but I’m putting it here anyway for a, being Sam’s first Pearl Jam show; b, us (including Sherkin and Pearl Jam Heather) having GA; c, the Oceans/Inside Job/Breath sequence; and d, Ed’s bizarre mid-“Better Man” rant about a Miami limo driver that was awkward at the time but that now seems remarkably prescient.

Video by Len Anaquod. Watch through till the end!

The Hold Steady, 9/18 at Toronto Urban Roots Festival. I’m not a fan of this recent trend of bands touring old records. In the case of the Hold Steady, for instance, I’d much rather see them doing a regular show than perform a ten-year-old album in its entirety. Except…they absolutely killed Boys and Girls in America. Their set was the highlight of TURF for Sam and me (a weekend which also included, among others, the Hives, the Dropkick Murphys, Whitehorse, Julien Baker in the rain, and the New Pornographers in the blazing heat). Plus, the mini Boys and Girls tour brought Franz Nicolay back into the fold. The Hold Steady are so much better for it.

Video by The Low Lifes

The Who, 4/27 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The Who’s “final” Toronto appearance (I bet it wasn’t!) got postponed not once, not twice, but three times: from October 21 to December 1, 2015 to April 26, 2016, and then, thanks to the Raptors, April 27. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing “my” band for potentially the final time. I needn’t have worried: I was too busy screaming along to every single word to feel sad. Plus, when the final two songs are “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it’s hard to feel anything other than euphoria.

Video by Dave Olsen. No relation!

The Tragically Hip, various arenas across Canada. I saw the Man Machine Poem tour five times–once in Calgary, three times in Toronto, and, thanks to years of good ticket-buying karma, Kingston–and it’d be impossible for me to separate the shows from each another. The fact the band even toured this year was miraculous; that the shows were as good as they were made the Man Machine Poem tour something the likes of which we’ll never see again.

Actually, I can separate one from the pack. The Kingston concert was, along with Pearl Jam in Thunder Bay, one of the two most special shows I’ll ever see (and I can’t imagine a third that’d take its place alongside them). A lot of you watched the broadcast–according to CBC at least a third of Canada tuned in–yet while the overriding impression among those who watched it on a screen seemed to be how sad the concert was, those of us who were lucky enough to get a ticket experienced it much differently. This was rock n’ roll. Yeah, there were parts that were difficult–the line “it’s been a pleasure doing business with you” at the end of “Scared” hit all the feels–but for the most part it was much less wake and far more triumphant homecoming for a band that’d spent the past three months walking through hell and come out the other end with heads held high. It was celebratory. It was raucous (I’ve never sang/screamed the words to “Fifty Mission Cap,” “Twist My Arm,” and especially “Grace, Too” like I did that night). And it was moving…moving, but very rarely sorrowful. None of us knows what’ll happen to the Hip next. I went into the Kingston concert thinking for sure this wasn’t “it.” Now I’m pretty sure it was, because how on earth do you top that? One thing we do know: if there’s one band that can, it’s the Hip.

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