Best of 2011, live edition

Now that 2011 is officially behind us, I can give my full account of what was so great about it. Since I went to quite a few shows this year, I’ve compiled a list of awards. There are no trophies or medals, but everyone gets to leave with a buzz and a sense of well-being. All shows were in Montreal, unless otherwise noted.

Band who looked like they were having the most fun
Telekinesis at Casa del Popolo
I saw them on a very snowy night in March, the part of the year where everyone (but me) is sick of the snow. I had heard a bit of their music before the show, but it was no preparation for seeing them live. They played their catchy songs with lots of energy, and looked like they were having a great time doing it. It was enough to make the evening more than worth it.

Best live cover
Titus Andronicus at Il Motore
It was hard to decide between the infectious raging of this winner and Dave Hause doing Coma Girl at Foufounes Electriques, but the former won out. It was one of those nights where I wasn’t sure I was even going to go out until the last minute, but I did and the crowd kind of exploded when they started playing White Riot.

Best opener
Callers at Casa del Popolo
Seeing them open for Wye Oak at Casa del Popolo was a treat. They sounded like they belonged outside at Jazz Fest on a balmy July night instead of a cramped club in late Spring.

Best performance from a guy with a cold while I was in severe back pain
Frank Turner at El Mocambo (Toronto)
I took a train to Toronto fresh off a train from NYC the night before to see Frank Turner for the first time since 2010’s Osheaga. Sleeping in different beds and walking all over the city really messed with my back and by the time I got to El Mocambo I was in a whole lot of pain. As for Frank Turner, he had just come down with a cold, but it was his 1,000th show and it was solid. He included a cover of The Lemonheads’ (or was it Smudge?) The Outdoor Type, which I ended up enjoying from the couch at the back of a packed room.

Best drunken/nostalgic experience
Elvis Costello at Osheaga
Well into the first day of Osheaga I started drinking wine during the Anna Calvi set over on one of the smaller stages. By the time I got back to the main area to see Bright Eyes and Elvis Costello I was feeling toasty. I really didn’t think much about what he would play. I figured he was touring an album, so there’d be a bit of that, but what I got was pretty much a hit parade. I spent half of the set laying on a blanket in the dark singing along into my lover’s ear and the other half of it dancing wildly. Somewhere in there I lost my phone in the grass and then found it again, like magic. Thanks Elvis.

Best storyteller
Colin Hay at Petit Campus
I love when artists tell stories about the music they’re playing. Colin Hay had stories in spades, some several times longer than his songs, but I don’t think anyone in the audience minded. The whole thing was entertaining, and there’s really no better way to introduce people to songs they might not know than telling engaging stories about them.

Best one shot deal
The Horrible Crowes at Bowery Ballroom (NYC)
The Horrible Crowes, being a low-key side project, only really played two shows after releasing their album Elsie. One was in NY and the other in LA. In early September I took a short walk over to the Bowery Ballroom on a warm night to see them play. There was an electric excitement from the audience that built and built until it was time for them to take the stage. It seemed like everyone there knew we were getting something very special, and it wasn’t just Brian Fallon in a suit. So many Jersey folks were there, many dressed up in their finest at Fallon’s request, and I overheard lots of “I hope they play….” and general chatting about the album. Everyone there seemed so invested, appreciative and proud that a local boy had put so much passion into something like this. Nothing but love.

Best reunion show
D Generation at Irving Plaza (NYC)
I’m not really one for reunions. Most bands have a time and a place that were all their own and most of the time trying to relive that several years later (in this case twelve) is a futile gesture. That being said, I just can’t seem to find anything wrong with one of my favorite bands ever reuniting to play the kind of show I never got to go into the city to see when I was growing up. I had to rush out after the last song and miss the afterparty to catch the last train back to suburbia, but seeing D Generation at Irving Plaza was worth it. I can’t count how many times I’ve listened to D Generation and thought about how I’d never get to see those songs live again. Never say never.

Best show by a music legend
Jonathan Richman at La Sala Rossa
He had no opener and requested the AC and fans be turned off on a warm September night, but it was amazing seeing someone well established take the stage with such enthusiasm and disregard for certain pretentions of a rock & roll show.

Best blocked view
Wild Flag at Lee’s Palace (Toronto)
For the Wild Flag show I chose a spot surrounding the pit at Lee’s Palace which just happened to be the place with a blocked view of Carrie Brownstein and a great view of Mary Timony. This probably corresponds to the fact that in my daydreams Helium never broke up and Mary Timony controls the universe. Plus I was never really a fan of what Sleater Kinney did.

Best Overall Show
Frank Turner at Corona
Even though I had seen him months before in Toronto I had never seen him with a band, touring the album that he took to nearly every corner of the world in 2011. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find another non-Canadian artist who plays NINE Canadian cities in one tour. There’s no question that he’s in this game because he loves it, and that’s the way it should be. His show at Corona a few days before Halloween made me feel exuberant, excited and connected, which is the ideal. When I chatted with him after the show he was eager to get to the bar, but he still took the time to talk with me and ask me how the show compared to the one I saw earlier in the year. I told him it was as awesome as always.

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