My other annual countdown is upon us! The top live bands of 2017!
This year was a “quieter” year, owing to the fact that we didn’t go to Osheaga. But it was still another 365 days of fantastic music. This may have also been one of the harder Top 10’s I’ve had to do! I could honestly rearrange this a dozen times and still not feel that it’s right! But I think this is as close to “correct” as I can get.
Special thanks as always to those I drag along with me, or willingly join me as I dance/sing along to some of my favourite tunes.
32. VOWWS (Lee’s Palace, February 4th 2017)
This band was the opener for White Lies. I always feel bad when I have a band ranked last (except for last year. Future was awful). I mean, I am sure someone enjoyed VOWWS, but Sean & I both agreed it was not an enjoyable experience. For a concert on a Saturday night, VOWWS were dark, slow, meandering, mumbling, and just didn’t set us up for a great headliner to follow. Summing it up, Sean at one point leaned in to me and said “I really hope this is over soon”.
31. Royal Canoe (Field Trip, June 3rd 2017)
I must have got this band confused with another, because I could have sworn I knew some of their songs. I didn’t! It wasn’t a bad show, just wasn’t a memorable one.
30. Dams of the West (Royal Alexandra Theatre, May 6 2017)
Was pretty curious to see the solo project of Chris Tomson (drummer for Vampire Weekend), and it was a nice opener, perfect for setting the tone for Father John Misty later in the night. What was really neat about DOTW, was his entire backing band was all female! Girl power!
29. Third Eye Blind (Echo Beach, June 28 2017)
This was one of three “anniversary” tours I saw this year, and this one had Third Eye Blind performing their self-titled 1997 album in its entirety. For me, this album wasn’t as defining in my childhood as it was for other people my age. I do love their big hits, but the rest of their catalogue is foreign to me (and I thought sounded quite generic). The lead singer’s voice wasn’t in great shape, and found they didn’t have too much interaction with the crowd. But, hard to beat singing along to some classic 90s rock.
28. Cold War Kids (Danforth Music Hall, March 22 2017)
The kickoff to my birthday weekend! I was pretty excited to see Cold War Kids, and it’s tough putting them this low but the show left me with some mixed feelings. The vocal mixing was off for the first few songs, and considering they played their hit “Miracle Mile” second, it kind of took the wind out of my sails a little. It was also a night where I remember the crowd really not being that into it. A little disappointing, as I thought this would be a more memorable show.
27. Feist (Field Trip, June 4 2017)
Probably one of the more “controversial” rankings on this list in the world of Canadian hipsters. But I am going to come out and say it – Feist hasn’t put out a memorable record since “The Reminder”. I also find her incredibly misplaced at music festivals. While she is a big name, her shows aren’t incredibly engaging in a big outdoor setting. She excels when she has an intimate venue to connect with the crowd. I also am really underwhelmed by her most recent album, so I wasn’t that jazzed about hearing it live. Sorry Feist…
26. The Lumineers (Rogers Centre, June 23rd 2017)
I ranked these guys last year, and it’s the same story this year. I WANT to love The Lumineers. I think there is so much potential there! They SHOULD be like The Avett Brothers, or Mumford & Sons but I find their live sets tend to get a bit slow. Sadly, they also had the unfortunate task of being an opening act in the Dome, where with the roof closed, the acoustics were awful. (Which certainly isn’t the fault of the band). It is always fun to sing along to the big hits, but the rest of the show falls flat for me.
25. Warbly Jets (REBEL, November 23 2017)
Sean LOVED these guys, and is probably going to be annoyed with me for putting them so low. I enjoyed them, but not nearly at the same level Sean did. This band is definitely in his wheelhouse.
24. Hannah Georgas (Field Trip, June 4 2017)
I actually think I need to go see Hannah Georgas again, because some of her newer stuff is really growing on me (like the song I’ve linked to). Prior to see her at Field Trip, I only knew her big singles. Her new stuff was a bit of a departure from those, but it sounded great under the summer sun! Plus, she has a fantastic voice. Wish I knew her stuff a little better, so maybe next time I’ll appreciate it more. Side rant – she didn’t play her biggest radio hit “Robotic” and that always annoys me…
23. Big Sugar (Danforth Music Hall, November 24th 2017)
Another one of those bands from the 90s you probably forgot about, but Sean still loves! (I say this with love, it’s actually a lot of fun rediscovering some of these bands). Another band I don’t know well outside a few of their hits, but it was still an entertaining show. He joked through technical malfunctions (a contrast to another artist we saw the night before…) But put Big Sugar also in the category of “didn’t play one of their biggest hits”, Nicotina – the song I’ve linked to, was absent from their setlist. WHY.
22. Matt Mays (Field Trip, June 3 2017)
The perfect summer festival singer! It’s loud rock, you can dance to it, jump around, and just let go. I loved Matt Mays’ set! I only knew “Cocaine Cowgirl” going in, but the rest of his work was engaging and really enjoyable. One of the highlights of Field Trip!
21. Frightened Rabbit (Danforth Music Hall, May 29th 2017)
I was supposed to see this band at Osheaga last summer, but their flight was cancelled and only the singer, Scott Hutchison made it and performed a lone acoustic set in the woods. I was SO EXCITED to finally see the entire band. Their 2013 album Pedestrian Verse was one of my favourite albums of that year, and their newest, Painting of a Panic Attack is another solid record. I loved their show overall – great interactions with the crowd (even with thick Scottish accents!), and Hutchison’s voice was pitch perfect. My one complaint… you guessed it, they didn’t play “Late March, Death March“! Indie88 played that song into the ground 4 years ago, and it’s the reason I love this band!!! COME ON. Had they played that song, it might have launched them into the Top 20…
20. Liam Gallagher (REBEL, November 23rd 2017)
I probably waited about 22 years to see Liam Gallagher in the flesh, and it was certainly an unforgettable night. He came onstage to “F***ing in the Bushes”, and then BELTED out “Rock & Roll Star”. HOLY CRAP. I was so excited I didn’t think I’d last the entire night. The second song out of the gate was “What’s The Story Morning Glory” and I am not surprised my voice didn’t give out then and there. The show was off to a fantastic start, but then it slowly became clear Liam wasn’t having as much fun as the rest of us. He started sitting while he waited for the band to close out songs, looking bored. He took some time to yell at the sound bound operators standing just off stage. He didn’t talk to the crowd much. But I was determined to still have a blast, and just cross my fingers that he wouldn’t storm off stage. And I want to say, I really enjoy his solo album. It’s not ground-breaking, but it’s definitely his best work since Oasis fell apart. (Sorry Beady Eye). So the night is rolling along with a grumpy Liam, and he’s been on stage for barely an hour, and then after “Cigarettes and Alcohol” he just suddenly went off stage. He had mumbled something just prior to that song about “No breaks, we’re playing through”. But, it was still so early. It was barely past 10pm… surely he was coming out for an encore? At the very least, he hadn’t yet played “Live Forever”… I wandered out of the crowd to find Sean and kept hoping he’d be back… but then the house lights came up, and then someone else told me the sound guys had started packing up. It was over after 13 songs. I had been joking leading up to the show it would either be amazing or a disaster and I guess I got a bit of both. At least I can say I’ve seen a grumpy Gallagher performance!
19. Portugal. the Man (Field Trip, June 3rd 2017)
My second time seeing this band, and while this year they’ve been accused of “selling out” with their latest album, I really could care less about that and just enjoyed it! “Feel It Still” sounded awesome live, along with the rest of their newer songs. Is it a depature from their older albums, sure – but who wants a band to sound the same at all times? I like a little growth and change! These guys grooved, and made a perfect summer soundtrack!
18. Joseph (Field Trip, June 3rd 2017)
My surprise of the year! This sister trio knocked it out the literal park – Fort York! I had heard their song “White Flag” on Indie88, but hadn’t put two and two together that this was the same band I’d be seeing at Field Trip. By the end of their set, I wanted to join them on stage and be part of their flawless harmonies. If you’re into female bands like First Aid Kit, or just love a classic mix of folk rock/indie rock, these girls might be for you. Their album was also one of my favourite albums of the year.
17. Classic Albums Live: Imagine & Band on the Run (Roy Thompson Hall, January 27th 2017)
This was such a unique experience! This group performs classic albums from to back, and on this night we were treated to the double bill of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Band on the Run”. John & Val came up with the idea as part of a birthday gift for Sean, and with all of us being Beatles fans, it was a real pleasure hearing these albums come to life. The Imagine album is one of my all-time favourites, and the singer who took on John’s vocals did a fantastic job. I loved getting to hear a live rendition of “Oh Yoko” (one of John’s best tributes to Yoko). Before this night, I didn’t know the Band on the Run album, so it was pretty cool hearing some of the deep cuts from that album for the first time as a live concert. The musicians and vocalists in this group are all really talented, and it never feels like a “tribute band” in the cheesy sense. I highly recommend checking them out!
16. White Lies (Lee’s Palace, February 4th 2017)
When Sean & I had our first date he mentioned this band, and when I listened to them the next day I knew I had found a keeper – both in Sean & the band! These guys are my JAM! They are modern Brit Rock, but the lead singer sounds so much like Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode! I LOVE IT! So we were naturally very excited to see them. The one thing that we had a hard time appreciating was they played a lot of their early albums, whereas Sean & I love their last two albums (go listen to them!) But they were still really impressive, and their new album has so many great songs it was awesome to hear them live. My requests for the next time I see them would be a little more crowd interaction and more songs from Big TV!
15. July Talk (Budweiser Stage, June 24th 2017)
A top 15 finisher last year, so no surprise July Talk made it again. I will say, hands down, this band is one of the best live acts around. Their onstage energy and chemistry is second to none. So their place is a little deceiving. What made this one a little tougher for me was we were far back in the crowd, and July Talk are best enjoyed up close and personal. Also, they unfortunately had some audio issues which took away from some of my favourite tracks. But, if you get the chance, see this band. If you leave bored, or underwhelmed, give your head a shake!
14. U2 (Rogers Centre, June 23rd 2017)
The second of three anniversary tours – this was the Joshua Tree anniversary tour. I was being treated to the FULL U2 experience as well! My friend Sarah is a huge fan, and knows the ropes when it comes to getting a prime spot on the floor. We technically started lining up the night before at 7pm, and I took the entire day of the concert off from work to secure my place in line. The set up for this show was incredible – with a 192ft wide screen, that felt like it spanned the entire width of the Dome. They also thankfully opened the roof for the show, so it was awesome watching U2 perform under the stars. We stood in the perfect spot – we were close for the opening songs on the B stage, and then had an incredible view of the gigantic screen displays.
They played the Joshua Tree album front to back, which was also a lot of fun to hear. Especially being surrounded by hardcore fans who were hearing a few of these songs live for the first time. Some interpretations were a little odd (“Red Hill Mining Town” comes to mind, where it’s clear Bono can no longer hit those notes, but they also added in a much more prominent horn section which kind of distracted from the song). But other moments were clear standsouts, like the endless running road onscreen for “Where The Streets Have No Name” and the powerful “Mothers of the Disappeared”.
While many of the big U2 fans around me declared it wasn’t their best show, as my first time U2 experience I have to say I thought it was really entertaining, and their ability to transform a giant live venue into a full 360 viewing experience is still the best in the business.
13. Matthew Good (Danforth Music Hall, March 11th 2017)
The third anniversary tour we saw this year – Matt Good played the album “Beautiful Midnight” front to back. As a longtime MGB fan, it was an incredible joy to hear that album in its entirety. So many great tracks! First of all, I always love when I get to hear “Giant” live. Throw in getting to hear deep cuts like “I Miss New Wave”, and “Failing the Rorschach Test” and I was in Matt Good heaven!! It was also a great crowd, and Matt was feeding off the energy, even doing a song from the crowd. It was a lot of fun reliving that album. It’s always a good year when I get to see Matt Good. I am really bummed I’ll be missing his tour with Our Lady Peace next spring!
12. Bastille (Air Canada Centre, March 24th 2017)
So I benefited fro a fussy baby, and my friend Jeff kindly gifted me his Bastille tickets that he and his wife were unable to use. So I turned it into a birthday bonanza and went to the show with MC & Sean. Having been a fan of their album “Bad Blood” I was intrigued to check them out live! And you know what, they were fantastic! They really held their own in the ACC with high energy, a great stage setup, and songs that you can’t help but dance and sing along too. (The Brits always put on a good show). I was really impressed that they were able to engage the ACC and bring the house down.
11. Lady Gaga (Air Canada Centre, September 7th 2017)
Let me tell you, I am SHOCKED Lady Gaga didn’t end up finishing at #1 this year. Going into 2017, I would have told you she’d easily be number 1. I wasn’t a huge Lady Gaga fan, until I saw her Monster’s Ball Tour several years back, and she blew me away. What still impresses me is the sheer power of her voice. This girl can really sing, and belt it out. As always she had a creative stage set up, with floating catwalks and three satellite stages. Her dancers are also incredibly talented, and the entire performance is stellar. What brought this down a litle for me was the show was heavy on her new album “Joanne” and some of her old hits were combined into a medley. While I love some new songs like “John Wayne” and “A-Yo”, the album isn’t nearly up to the same level as “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster”. But damn, Gaga can sing. play instruments, dance, and also make an arena full of thousands of people feel intimate when it’s just her and a piano. People love to criticize Gaga, but from all the “pop divas” I’ve seen live, Gaga is the one who can truly stand up there and say it’s authentically her on stage. And that is why she’s my Mother Monster!
10. The War on Drugs (Massey Hall, October 21st 2017)
The last time we saw The War on Drugs, Sean & Will fell asleep on the hill at Osheaga. So I was really looking forward to a nap-free experience this time with Sean, and a couple of our other friends Jay & Chobi (who were having a child-free night on the town!) And The War on Drugs didn’t disappoint. Shoutout to his drummer who seemed to be having the absolute time of his life. ‘Red Eyes” was fantastic live with an extended guitar solo that brought Massey Hall to its feet. “Under The Pressure” and “Holding On” also sounded great. What you can really appreciate about this band is how talented, and how in sync they all are. My one complaint – War on Drugs is one of those bands where you often have no idea what the singer is saying, so it’s hard to sing along!
9. Kasabian (REBEL, September 18th 2017)
This show was all Sean’s idea, and I went into this concert only knowing a couple of their older songs, like “Club Foot“. So I went in thinking I’d have an “OK” time, and lose a bit of interest not knowing a lot of their catalogue. But WOW, I left a huge fan of Kasabian. As soon as they hit the stage, every single person in the packed room was jumping, dancing, cheering, and the band threw everything at the crowd. Their songs are so high energy, and the band do a great job of involving the crowd. During one song, they also came into the crowd. Other than a band you’ll see coming up, this was one of the most fun shows I went to. And this is all despite the fact I could barely see. This was one of the tallest crowds of the year! But once the band hit the stage, I didn’t care. I was too busy jumping along! Good choice, Sean!
8. Father John Misty (Royal Alexanda Theatre, May 6th 2017)
In the words of the great Rob Duffy, “Father John Misty is a treasure”. What a vocal performance! Sean & I were blown away at how pitch perfect his voice was. With an orchestra alongside him, this night was a pure clinic on how to put on a fantastic listening experience. This wasn’t a concert you got up and danced along to. This was a night of appreciation, and it was a welcome change. I really can’t say enough about how good he sounded. But listen to his albums, and magnify it a little, and you’ve got his vocals live. Just incredible. If he hadn’t been playing the same night as Kasabian at Massey Hall this September, we might have gone to see him again.
7. Gorillaz (Air Canada Centre, July 10th 2017)
This was a birthday gift gone wrong, as we bought the tickets originally for our friend John, but turned out he already had them! So Sean and I still headed to the show, even though honestly we both weren’t 100% excited for it. I hadn’t really listened to the Gorillaz since their debut album, but I was still curious to see their stage set-up and how the live performances would worked. Like Kasabian, I was hooked on this show from start to finish, again despite only knowing a few songs. It was a loud, booming, fun, impressive display of talent. I was also surprised at the relative simplicity of the stage, with just a large screen and the band out front to keep us entertained. It worked so well! From there, it kickstarted my love of their last album “Humanz”. Plus it had been nearly a decade since this band had last performed in Toronto, so who knows when we’ll get to experience this again. Need a new party soundtrack, go get “Humanz” and I dare you not to rock out to “Momentz” (one of my fave songs of the night).
6. Arkells (Budweiser Stage, June 24th 2017)
Last year’s #1 artist has fallen in the ranks this year! CUE TO CONTROVERSY! Or not… let’s be honest, it was going to be really difficult to top last year’s stellar performance at Massey Hall. But they did come close! Hard to top an encore that included all of the day’s openers, and July Talk, singing “Dancin’ in the Dark”. Arkells just put on such a high energy show, it’s impossible not to dance, clap, and sing along with the band as they steamroll through their impressive catalogue. During “Drake’s Dad“, Max also ended up singing in the crowd just a few rows away from us which was a lot of fun (that song is so fun to sing along to). I’ll keep saying it, but check these guys out live. Their songs are so catchy, and so enjoyable, and their clear love of performance makes for an incredible experience live.
5. Broken Social Scene (Field Trip, June 3rd 2017 & Air Canada Centre, November 4th 2017)
Starting to lose count of how many times I’ve seen this band, but the past part of seeing this group is you never really have the same experience twice. There’s always different members, guests, etc that shake up the setlist and the vibe. At Field Trip, it was virtually a full house with pretty much every single member of BSS, ever!, presented and accounted for. It’s been a long time since I last heard Emily Haines sing “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”, and she was in top form. At the ACC, I got to hear one of my all-time faves, “Fire Eye’d Boy” live and I think I was the happiest person in the arena. Their new album is fantastic and might be my favourite of 2017, so it’s great seeing this band rejuvenated and still rocking after all these years.
4. Phoenix (Field Trip, June 4th 2017)
Going into Phoenix at Field Trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sean had seen them a few years ago and thought they mailed it in. I was hoping it wouldn’t be the case this time. And WOW, I was completely floored. I danced the entire show, and it was the most fun concert of the year. Their energy was off the charts, and grabbed my attention right from “Ti Amo” the opening song, which they quickly followed with “Lasso”, another big hit. Their setup was also one of the most unique of the year – with an angled mirror behind them, giving the illusion of two bands on stage (and the front few rows were able to see a glimpse of what it looked like from the bands’s perspective.) The lights would reflect from all angles of the mirror, and as the sun set it created an awesome atmosphere, making it feel like we were in an arena (in a good way!) After belting out “1901” lead singer Thomas Mars crowd surfed as the band played on. I was completely exhausted after this show, and it’s been the one I’ve reflected back on the most. A sign of a great concert indeed!
3. Alt J (Massey Hall, October 27th 2017)
Alt J had blown Sean & I away at Osheaga back in 2015, and these three young guys are still doing just that. From the opening song “3WW” to the closer “Breezeblocks”, it was a near perfect setlist. I only wish they had kept playing! The most impressive part of Alt J is their albums are so layered, and their sound so complex, you’d think it wouldn’t translate to a live performance, but they pull it off. These three musicians filled Massey Hall with sound, and light. Their light show was one of the best this year, only barely edged out by the next three bands. 2017 was an impressive year, and it seems insulting putting them at #3 as this was truly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. (My parents who both came with us, are probably shaking their heads that this isn’t my #1 show of the year!)
2. Coldplay (Rogers Centre, August 21st 2017)
Guys. I waited over 5 years to see Coldplay, and it was worth the wait!! It had everything! Confetti! Lasers! One of their most colourful setups! An acoutstic set! Chris getting confetti in his mouth!! Jumping to “Charlie Brown”! A near perfect setlist! (What would make it perfect? If they played “Talk“). I can’t say I loved every single second – I found the slow portion of the show always drags my mood down. (In general, this can be a pet peeve of mine at concerts, but I accept that they happen). But despite this downfall, what always propels Coldplay above the rest is just what a full EVENT the night is. They play with passion, and leave you completely overwhelmed. There is always so much going on onstage, and because so many of their songs have that “swell”, things like the confetti truly do heighten the mood and lift your spirits. I truly do feel that they are incredibly appreciative of their fans, and it shows when Chris boyishly tries to charm the crowd, or playfully puts himself down. His banter is always just charming, and makes you feel like you’re watching them in a smaller venue. BONUS – they opened the Dome for the show! Instantly improves the sound quality! I hope Coldplay can continue to find their creativity and touring. I need this level of happiness in my life more regularly.
1. Arcade Fire (Air Canada Centre, November 4th 2017)
For the first time ever – there is a repeat winner!! Arcade Fire took the crown in my inaugural rankings back in 2014 and it’s really no surprise they’re taking it again this year. I know, the trendy thing right now is to hate on their latest albums and the shenanigans that came along with it, but regardless of whether their album is good, they are a talented group of people. This tour is by far their best. The unique “boxing ring” style show, set in the middle of the arena, was simple but genius. What I appreciated about it, was because the stage could rotate, I could at any time get a glimpse of what different members were doing. And that is my favourite part of an Arcade Fire show. By the end of the night, I am DYING to join them on stage. I could watch Will Butler roll around, banging a drum all day. It’s captivating watching them give everything for a performance. I also thought the new songs translated well to the live performances, and even enhanced the album for me. It’s also been a pleasure watching this band mature, and continue to improve live. They’ve come so far from when I first saw them on Toronto Island back in 2010.
Can we also talk about how I nearly EXPLODED with joy, when for the night’s closing number “Wake Up” they brought out Broken Social Scene?!?! I mean, two of my favourite bands, performing one of my favourite songs TOGETHER, IN FRONT OF MY FACE?! It was incredible!!!! That moment alone sealed the deal that this would be #1.
It was just a fantastic night of music, that I was lucky enough to enjoy with people I love. Can’t ask for much more than that.
That’s 2017 in the books!!! Once again, get out and find your passion! If it’s music, go check out that band you’ve been dying to see, you never know when you may not get the chance again!
Thanks as always for reading!