Monday, January 21, 2013

2012 on stage

Now that I’ve finally got around to changing my calendar, I’m reminded of my favourite live moments of 2012. I don’t get out much anymore, largely due to parenting but also because of a busier-than-expected second half of 2012, so we’ll just talk about five gigs.

1. Tuneyards (The Phoenix, Aug. 1). My favourite album of 2011 sounded even better after a full 18 months on the road. Merrill Garbus has never lacked confidence, but as a huge fan who had seen her before, I didn’t expect to be so blown away yet again. The new choreography from the horn section was also a nice touch. Joyous, visceral, and completely cathartic. 

2. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo (Harbourfront, July 13). There was a time when much of my Toronto summers were defined by Harbourfront’s music programming. That’s less true now, but every so often a show like this comes around that reminds me what a gift the free venue is to the city. These Beninese legends from the ’70s have put out over 100 albums, of which I’ve heard maybe two. They live up to their name, as every track had an astounding number of rhythmic layers that added up to a feverish dance party perfect for a hot summer night on the water.

3. Fanfare Ciocarlia / Lemon Bucket Orchestra (The Hoxton, Sept. 21). Speaking of old guys who can still get it up, this Balkan brass band blast through blistering tempos that leave most men one-quarter their age gasping for air. Most men, that is, who aren’t in perfectly simpatico Toronto openers Lemon Bucket Orchestra.

4. Corb Lund (Danforth Music Hall, Nov. 23). When Corb Lund puts out a beginning-to-end great album, as he did this year with Cabin Fever, you almost have to worry that some of his earlier classics will get squeezed off the set list. But with so many two-minute miracles scattered across his discography, Lund and his crack band almost suffer from too much of a good thing. Throw in a mid-set political tangent, including the rural vs. oil company prayer “This is My Prairie” and a cover of Geoff Berner’s “That’s What Keeps the Rent Down,” and you have a full evening’s worth of entertainment.

5. The Magic (Great Hall, Aug. 10). When you’ve been a live band for five years gearing up to release your debut, damn straight you’re going to be tight. But just for kicks, why not stage the show as a ’70s TV taping with a raunchy MC in drag, played with aplomb by Keith Cole, who hectors unsuspecting members of the studio audience? What could easily have been a silly mess was instead a polished performance, with lead vocalists Geordie Gordon and Sylvie Smith inducing libidinous squeals from the eager crowd.

Runners up: Toronto Symphony Orchestra – War of 1812 (Luminato, June 17); Bahamas / Joel Plaskett / Geoff Berner (Hillside Festival, July 27-29); Leonard Cohen (Air Canada Centre, Dec. 4); Willis Earl Beal (Drake Hotel, April 30); Bidiniband (Dakota Tavern, Jan. 28)

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