Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Best Shows of '08

I'm taking this as a Top 10 countdown, because I've simply seen so many shows this year that I can't pick only one without feeling as though I'm leaving at least three dozen out. So, here we go.

10. Greenbelt Collective, Sebastien Grainger, and Islands at the Pavillion in Halifax, NS. October.
Okay, so the crowd was largely unresponsive, even to the utterly danceable Greenbelt, and two of the opening acts were pretentious crap, but this still ranks among my top 10 just because I finally got to see two of the artists who shaped my music tastes. Sebastien Grainger as part of Death From Above 1979 and Nick Thorburn as part of The Unicorns were such a defining sound of my high school years. The shows they put on here weren't bad, either. Islands' set could have been longer, but it was still incredible, and I hadn't heard Sebastien's new stuff before that show; it won me over. The overall enjoyability of the event was hammered home by my rather drunk journalist friend, and his man-crush on Mr Grainger. This also introduced me to Greenbelt, who would later produce the most epic dance party of a concert ever I have seen.

9. Share, Rebekah Higgs, and Jason Collett at George's Roadhouse in Sackville, NB. September.
This was my first show at George's, which I named my venue of the year. I have to say I was largely unimpressed by Share, but given it was just Andrew Sisk and not the whole band, I'll hold my judgment until I see the actual band. Rebekah Higgs blew me away with some of the most swimmingy and beautiful electro-folk music I've heard; I made sure she knew this. Jason Collett is Jason Collett, no more really needs to be said. And given that one of my best live tracks of the year came out of this concert, of course it'll make it to the list!

8. The Tom Fun Orchestra at a khord in Saint John, NB. December.
See my review.

7. Hey Rosetta! at the Bridge St. Stage in Sackville, NB. September.
My very first Sackville show, and an altogether lovely night. Newfoundland's Hey Rosetta! have become in the last few months one of my favourite bands I'd never heard of before coming to Sackville, and now both albums I could get my hands on are on fairly high rotation in my CD player. The concert was just that awesome. The stage was set up in the middle of the main street in Sackville, just outside the apartment to which I'm moving in June. Hay bales lined the edge of the stage, and I was there with good friends. Tim and the gang gave such an amazing and epic performance, and it was there that I for the first time felt really and truly and absolutely at home here in Sackville. Huge moment for me, personally, and a great show altogether.

6. Peter Project, The Bicycles, Young Rival, and Woodhands at the Coconut Grove, Halifax. October.
This was my last show of the Halifax Pop Explosion, and absolutely solid from start to finish. It did get a little bit odd when a lost-looking birthday pub crawl showed up and started weaving through the crowd, but this wasn't too much of a damper on the situation. Peter Project was a totally fab DJ whose album I picked up. I might put up some choice cuts from the record at a later date. The Bicycles put on such a totally rad show, coming on wearing box dinosaur outfits and shouting "WE ARE THE NEW GWAR!" You know if a set begins that way, it's bound to be radtastic. Young Rival underwhelmed me, as they would at a later date, but this didn't do a thing to damage the quality of the show.
Woodhands, oh, Woodhands! What can be said? By then the pub crawl had invaded the crowd and made it horribly thick, but I still managed my way in and enjoyed myself. A rapper from earlier, More or Les, was invited up to freestyle during the set, and fell a little flat. But oh, Woodhands! How long until I see you again?

5. Nathan Richards, Shotgun Jimmie, Construction & Destruction at 67 Bridge, Sackville, NB. November.
This was my first and so far only concert at 67 Bridge (as I missed the B.A. Johnston show in September) and the environment alone makes it worthy of a top 10 list. They put on concerts in their living room, you see.
Jimmie was as Jimmie is, that is to say absolutely radtacular, and just getting off a national tour with Ladyhawk and coming home. Enjoyed him thoroughly. Construction & Destruction I had never heard nor heard of before--I went to see Jimmie. But they won me over almost instantaneously. I probably have a review up somewhere, I seem to remember losing my words when attempting to describe what the darkened room and Colleen's voice did to me. That said, Dave is awesome, too. Also, there was a didgeridoo being played at one point. Awesome.

4. The Bicycles, Young Rival, Greenbelt Collective at the Mt. A Campus Pub, Sackville, NB. November.
These were all bands I was seeing for the second time, and Greenbelt hadn't even really been on the lineup aside for a show at 67 Bridge which fell through. It struck me about 30 minutes into sitting there that half of the crowd was the epic group of people that are Greenbelt. The crowd wasn't nearly as large as the last time I'd seen the Bicycles, and the Campus Pub leaves a lot to be desired, but the show! Oh my word, the show. Dance party extravaganza, both during the Bicycles and, though Young Rival was a bit of a bust for me, again, they seemed to be enjoyed by most, once Greenbelt came on, holy mackerel. As I said, Sarty told me they hadn't even been meant to play that night, it just sort of happened that way. Their set turned into a two-hour long dance party with members of other bands getting behind the mics (I seem to recall Dana with a tambourine) and even people from the crowd. The pub's sound guy began freestyling at one point, and Drew and I had a bit of a dance-off. It was epic, it was wonderful, it was one of the best nights of my life.

3. The RAA, Rich Aucoin, Ghost Bees, and Laura Barrett at the Coconut Grove, Halifax. October.
My first Halifax show since 2005 (I don't get to Halifax much...) and holy mackerel, what a show! We got there a bit late so only managed to catch the end of a set by Boxer the Horse, but from what I could tell they were solid. This is possibly the most consistently awesome lineup I saw all year, without a low point in the bunch over four and a bit acts. Purely beautiful, but where do I begin? I reviewed the RAA before, and that can be found here.
Rich Aucoin was like nothing I'd ever seen before, an electronic DJing adventure synced up to video clips--most notably How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The man was dressed in white from head to toe, threw balloons at the crowd (which for some reason were still there two nights later at the Woodhands show... oi! janitorial staff!) and just all around seemed to be having the time of his life, creating shadow puppets and suchlike. Beautiful, fun, incredible.
Ghost Bees had the most unique set I've ever seen. Halifax natives and twins, they had turned the stage into their own little tea party. A drum borrowed from the Rural Alberta Advantage, covered with a tablecloth and oversized doily served as a table for a tea service, porcelain masks adorned the mic stands, and the twins, Romy and Sari, were dressed in the flowy garb of yesteryear and across the seas. And the voices! Oh my word, the voices. These two, Romy with her guitar and Sari with her mandolin, play the most otherworldly folk music you ever will hear, and the voices are so integral to that. For any other band, I think, dressing themselves and the stage in that manner and going on to sing about the reading of tea leaves would seem pretentious as all hell, but they pull it off! I wish they had made it to the #1 show on my list, instead of, well, I was told they were sleeping..
And then came Laura. I don't know how to adequately do justice to describing her sets. Ghost Bees had helped to transition the bar from Rich Aucoin's dance club to the coffeehouse style setting to which Laura played. She and her kalimbas held the room enrapt so totally, and was adorable in her cute and dorky way. On a related note, CBC Radio 3 listeners have named her Sexiest Canadian Musician of 2008. I don't know if sexy is the right word, but she has definitely stolen my heart! The set was beautiful, and she was joined by Sari Lightman and then Romy for a couple of songs--never have I seen a bar so quiet save for the music being played, a public space like that so focussed on the actions of one person. I swear, she and her music are something out of a dream.

2. Olenka & the Autumn Lovers, and the Tom Fun Orchestra at George's Roadhouse, Sackville, NB. November.
See my review.
I've just heard that Olenka might be coming back to play at Stereophonic. If this is true, I am beyond psyched. If that concert had only been her, and Tom Fun was another night, it would have still made this top ten list. She's the reason it's so far above the other Tom Fun show. She and the venue, anyway. She and the venue and Tom Fun's set. Oh, hell, it was just an altogether better show in an altogether better town. But Olenka was an integral part of that.

1. Laura Barrett in the kitchen of 27 St James, Sackville, NB. October.
There was simply no debate about what my best show of the year was. It is singularly the best show I have ever seen, that I have ever been to, that I have ever experienced. The night began as a little party in the house of Sandy Mackay, but the crowd was pared down to just a dozen of us by the time the show started. Corey Isenor opened the show, representing Sackville as he does, and a fellow from Ontario followed up--all that I recall about him is a mellow acoustic cover of the Dead Boys. Someone, please refresh my memory! Then there was Laura.
As I said in the last one, my words don't do the lovely Ms Barrett any kind of justice. The environment in the room, eleven of us watching her play, her little green bag of kalimbas. I remember it was eleven because when she did Sorting Hat, there were just enough of us to make the song work. As the evening continued, at a break in the songs, sparklers were brought out, and all were lit and waved about, and Laura brought her camera out. I would love to see those photos someday! My words are so convoluted, I wish I knew why.
When she played Consumption, she brought out a new toy--a handheld midi sequencer from the age of the stylus. This little thing may well be responsible for most 90s hip-hop. This descended into laughter at an incredible midi snare line and I'm fairly certain the song never really finished, it just-- but that was the mood of the night. This was also the night when, around the same time as the sparklers, Dancing in the Dark was attempted to be covered, with failure on everyone's part except Laura's thumbs.
As I said, it is the single most beautiful and wonderful and overall fun show I've yet been to. After the performance was done, we moseyed on over to 67 Bridge for Laura to drop off her things and then a few of us, her included, went to the pub where the Meligrove Band played, and Laura did an impromptu set of a few songs. All in all, a beautiful night.

~ ~ ~

And with that, six days into 2009, 2008 finally ends. It was a very good year, full of very good beer. Pumphouse. Blueberry beer. Check it out.

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