Once again, it’s year end list time, and once again, I’m kicking things off with a list that no one can quibble with but me and my wife (who goes to all the same concerts I go to). We made it to 11 concerts this year, a personal best, and not bad considering that most bands I listen to don’t come to Calgary, choosing to view the Canadian portion of their tours as two or three cities (Toronto, Montreal, and maybe Vancouver). If I lived in those cities, I think I’d being going to shows every other week, as live music is probably the best thing there is in the world (other than puppies).
10. Brand New at Mac Hall (U of C) – This was one of our first concert of the year, so part of the reason it falls to ten is that it’s the furthest in my memory. But the bigger reason is that we actually missed the first few songs in Brand New’s set. I’ve grown pretty tired of the whole waiting around forever for the main act to take the stage bit, especially when the opening act is unknown to me. I don’t mind checking out opening acts, what I do mind is waiting 45 minutes between acts, especially since most shows I attend (like this one) are standing room only. So we left late for the concert, outsmarting ourselves by about ten minutes. Oops. Anyway, the show was very high energy, with Jesse Lacey’s vocals a little shaky at first before he found his groove. They tore the house down at the end, with the opening act joining them for a big shmoz until they thrashed their percussive set, which is about as rock star as indie concerts get (probably because they’re more emo than indie).
9. Pete Yorn at the Jubilee Auditorium (opening for Crowded House) – This holds the distinction of being the most expensive concert we went to all year (probably my most expensive ever). The reason? First, the Jubilee is a more expensive venue, so a lot of the cost was tacked on with venue fees. But the bigger reason was that this wasn’t a Pete Yorn concert, but rather the comeback tour for the aging Crowded House. Since old bands generally get together so they can cash in on the memories of boomers, the cost was higher than your typical indie show. The funny thing is that we didn’t even bother sticking around to listen to Crowded House, leaving after Pete Yorn finished his set. It was really great to hear him live, even if we had a hard time seeing the band as our seats weren’t the best. If only he’d come here as a headliner sometime.
8. Modest Mouse with Man Man at Mac Hall (U of C) – You remember how I said I’m tired of the waiting around forever thing at concerts? This show was the worst for it. We got there as the first opening act was playing, catching the last song of their set after picking up some merch. We then waited half an hour for Man Man, who were pretty wild (I’m not a big fan of their music, but it was definitely an interesting experience live). Then it was probably over 45 minutes until Modest Mouse finally came out around 11:00, for a show whose doors opened at 7:00. Ridiculous. The band themselves were pretty good, and Johnny freaking Marr was right in front of me, but we were already burnt out before they came on stage. My wife, who was still on crutches from a broken ankle, had to leave early to go sit on a bench. My brother-in-law and I followed once the set was done, not waiting around for the encore that probably took 15 minutes before it started up.
7. The Weakerthans at Mac Ballroom (U of C) – Sometimes circumstances separate from the show hinders one’s enjoyment of the concert, which was the case here. The band was great, and I very much look forward to seeing them live again. The venue is probably my favourite in all of Calgary, with great acoustics and an intimate atmosphere. But my wife was still nursing her broken ankle (even moreso than in the Modest Mouse concert), so we stood off to the side so she could support herself with a wall. Eventually, her leg hurt too much (the only one she could stand on), so she sat down for a couple of songs. Thus, my enjoyment of the show (which again, was really strong) was tempered by my concern for my concert (and life) mate.
6. Neko Case at Folkfest – On the one hand, Folkfest is a cool gig in that it generally draws some acts that I want to see. On the other, acoustics are always an issue outdoors, the nights go pretty long (stuffed with acts I don’t care for), and the audience isn’t always familiar with the band you’re there to see. Still, if you ever have a chance to hear Neko Case sing live, do it. Just do it, even if you’ve never listened to her music before. Quite possibly the best pure vocalist I’ve ever heard live.
5. Feist at the Jubilee Auditorium – If Neko isn’t the best vocalist I’ve heard live, Leslie Feist is. It’s between those two. This was the third time I’ve seen Feist, each time hampered a bit by the venue. The first time was at Mac Hall, which was a little too big and cavernous for the intimate nature of her set. The second was at Folkfest, which had the same issues Neko did this year. This time was at the Jubilee, which has perfect acoustics for Feist’s voice, but the seated nature and more formal atmosphere keeps the audience a step removed from the performance (especially since the audience skewed a little older). I could tell that Feist wasn’t able to feed off the crowd as much as she would like, as we mostly stayed respectfully quiet during the songs (since we didn’t want our voices picked up by the brilliant acoustics). Still, a great show that happened to fall on our anniversary.
4. Interpol at Mac Hall – Before their new album, I’d heard that Interpol concerts were more subdued affairs, with hipsters standing around with arms crossed, waiting for them to play “NYC”. Their new album (which didn’t come out until after the concert, making us some of the first people to hear their new material) progresses from Antics making the band more uptempo, leading to a decidedly less hipstery affair, with the crowd actually yelling and jumping around. Which was pretty awesome. What else was awesome? Paul Banks’ soaring vocals? Possibly even more awesome? Carlos D’s pornstache and overall rock star aura. I didn’t even mind that they didn’t play “NYC”.
3. Tegan and Sara at the Jubilee Auditorium – This was my third time I’ve seen Tegan and Sara live, who are my go-to name when asked “whose your favourite band?” (although the truth probably is a bunch of bands tied for first, depending on what I’ve been listening to recently). They’re so fun to see live, with all their twin bickering banter and their nervousness over playing in their hometown (this time with the added distinction of being the venue where they attended their high school convocation). The limitations of the Jubilee weren’t as bad with this one, since the crowd was younger and thus got more into it (albeit staying seated for the most part, which was good for my one-legged wife) and since we were in the fifth row. Yay us! The opening act, Northern State, were probably the worst opening act I’ve ever seen, or would have been if I didn’t skip out on their set to visit the merch table. But Tee and Ess made up for it, topping the show off with a cover of “Umbrella” (yes, the Rihanna song). I think all bands should have a fun cover for concert purposes.
2. Mates of State at The Grand for The Sled Island Festival – Sled Island was a big indie music festival making its debut in Calgary this year. I was pretty psyched for the chance to attend a real music festival, then learned that one of the frustrations of festivals is that bands you want to see tend to play at the same time for some reason (insert fist shake of frustration here). This show was probably made better in comparison to the Cat Power show we attended the night before, which burnt us out at over 2.5 hours, with only Chan Marshall and a guitarist. There was no rhythm section, severely hampered the show. Mates of State are also a two-person unit, with husband and wife duo Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel, who managed to fill the small venue with their sound. Not surprisingly, the two have terrific chemistry, which made it that much more fun to watch. My wife fell in love with them a bit that night.
1. Stars at Mac Hall – Stars were number one on this list last year, and they’re number on this year. I’m starting to think that I should just follow them around the continent on tour, like a Deadhead or something. Torquil Campbell brings such a theatrical sensibility to the shows, which teams up really nicely with Amy Millan’s seductive vulnerability and the band’s musicianship to create a great night of music. This time out, they replaced “He Lied About Death” with “In Our Bedrooms After the War” as their big showstopper, which gives their new set a more optimistic tone. If you have the chance, I highly recommend checking them out live.