This is it, the moment you’ve all been patiently waiting for! The creme de la creme of this year’s live bands! The Top 25 Live Bands of 2016!!!!
25) The Naked & Famous – April 1st (Mod Club) & November 8th (Danforth Music Hall)
Seeing this band wasn’t a straight forward venture this year! For the show at the Mod Club, we only caught the last twenty minutes or so. Sean & I went to dinner with Val & John beforehand, and things went long. We figured since it was a Friday night concert it would start late – and boy were we wrong! TNAF were off stage by about 10:30. So lesson learned; get to Friday night Mod Club shows early!! The second time I saw TNAF, well, was Election Night in the US, and I think you can imagine how distracting that was. All of that being said – they put on a helluva show. I absolutely adore Alisa Xayalith’s voice and wish I had her singing chops. And she nailed it live – both nights. They’re a high energy band and it really comes across onstage as well.
24) MisterWives – July 30th (Osheaga)
These guys make such infectious pop tunes!! And WOW, they blew me away. I would call them one of my surprises of Osheaga – alongside another artist you’ll see later on this list. So much energy! And Mandy Lee is a great frontwoman. I was so impressed, especially when they admitted they hadn’t played a live show in awhile. Usually, I would expect some rust and bumps – but nothing like that appeared here. I think the energy of the crowd really helped elevate their concert in order to give us all a great performance. So happy I was there early enough to see them! Would definitely check them out again.
23) BØRNS– July 31st (Osheaga)
BØRNS has literally stepped out of the 1970s and it’s awesome. He did an amazing cover of “Benny & The Jets” (naturally), along with a Zeppelin cover (again, naturally). While his hit “Electric Love” has been heavily overplayed – I highly recommend his album, or at least the title track “Dopamine” – which I’ve linked to. I have to say, his afternoon set filled with swagger was perfect for the summer and sun at Osheaga! As much as I hate to compare modern music festivals to the likes of Woodstock – his set gave you a little sense of what it might have been like back then.
22) Basia Bulat – June 5th (Field Trip)
I had seen Basia Bulat a couple of years ago as an opener, and she was excellent. She has a beautiful voice, and it was great to see her wooing over the crowd at Field Trip. She was captivating, and was the perfect soundtrack for a summer night.
21) Boy & Bear – June 4th (Field Trip)
These Aussies put on a great show in the summer sun. Their music is perfectly suited for an outdoor show, and a relaxing, chill afternoon. They sounded excellent, and didn’t disappoint. If you like a mix of folk and rock – these guys are for you.
20) Death Cab for Cutie – March 23rd (ACC) & July 30th (Osheaga)
March was my first time seeing this group and being a fan of their latest album I was pretty excited! I caught about half of their set at Osheaga as well. What I appreciate about them is they bring more energy and power to their songs live, than what you’d expect if you have just heard their albums. They were a great compliment to Metric in March, and like so many other openers on this list, set the tone for the night and got you excited for more.
19) Daughter – November 16th (Massey Hall)
Elena Tonra not only has a beautiful name, she has one of the most beautiful voices, and hearing it at Massey Hall really put her talents on display. It’s a voice that is simultaneously haunting and wonderful. She will give you goosebumps. The band is also excellent, and hold their own. She has this adorable modesty on stage that draws you in, rather than push you away. I am so happy I was able to experience this band at probably one of the best venues in the world.
18) Aurora – July 31st (Osheaga)
This Norwegian singer was one of my “surprises” of the Osheaga weekend. I knew her song, “Under Stars” and was curious to hear her live. I wasn’t sure how her voice would be live, as her music is quite electronic. But like Elena Tonra, she has this gorgeous tone. Watching her, literally perform under the stars and trees at Osheaga was perfect. Side story not related to her as an artist – I had the weirdest moment during this show. A couple in front of my kept making out/groping each other, and eventually I moved in front of them so I could see a little better (they were taller than me). Suddenly, during one of the songs, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned, and the guy from the couple was laughing away because he did the “made you look” trick. Ok. He tried it again, and eventually I had to move to the other side of the stage. I hate people sometimes.
17) Red Hot Chili Peppers – July 29th (Osheaga)
I had seen RHCP at the ACC back when I worked there as an usher, and I have to be honest – I was totally underwhelmed. The show lacked emotion, and I hate to use this phrase – but it lacked “heart”. However, Friday night at Osheaga I thought was way better. They seemed energetic (despite Anthony Kiedis’ recent illness earlier in the summer), and giving a full performance. Flea was entertaining as always. The one note I’d say is that I wasn’t a fan of Josh Klinghoffer’s backing vocals, however his guitar work was excellent. Great way to open the festival, and they ended up one of the highlights of the weekend.
16) MØ – July 31st (Osheaga)
You know Mo, and may not even realize it. She’s the voice behind Major Lazer’s hit “Lean On” (which she performed). She’s also a total badass and deserved a way better placement on the Osheaga lineup. She was an early performer, but so worth getting there early for. She has energy, pipes, and captures your attention. You can also dance your face off with her. The linked song is one of my favourites of hers. I was sad to miss her recent show in Toronto but I am sure she nailed it. So check out her music and discover that there is so much more to her than the overplayed single she’s known for now.
15) Phantogram – October 19th (Phoenix Concert Theatre)
Probably one of the shows I was most looking forward to seeing, and they lived up to my expectations. It was a visually engaging show – using a large screen to enhance their light show and transform The Phoenix from small club to arena. My only knock on the show, is I felt there were times when singer Sarah Barthel was relying on her vocal track too much. However, it didn’t fully detract from her actual talents. There was also an especially poignant moment where they paid tribute to Sarah’s sister who commited suicide, and inspired the song “Barking Dog“. The moment was enhanced by what I can only assume is home video footage of Sarah and her sister. Overall the duo put on a fantastic show (their new album is also one of the best of 2016).
14) July Talk – June 4th (Field Trip) & July 30th (Osheaga)
There was probably no other band that I saw this summer that had more hype about their live performances than July Talk. I had heard numerous stories about their intense performances that include anything from duct tape, slaps, and everything in between. And usually, when you hear so many crazy stories you inevitably end up disappointed when you actually DO see the band because your expectations are just set so high. However, July Talk brought it. Their sets at both Field Trip and Osheaga knocked it out of the park. The chemistry between Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis is second to none. They play off each other, and I love that Leah isn’t afraid to call out the crowd and modern day sexism declaring “It’s 2016 – keep your hands to your fucking self!” Their new album is also their best yet, with a mature sound that shows their progress as a band. And then you also can’t beat absolutely rocking out to “Summer Dress” during you know, the summer.
13) Leon Bridges – July 31st (Osheaga)
Gentlemen, ladies – do you need an artist to woo the object of your desires with? Do you enjoy smooth, soulful blues and southern rock? Do you want to feel transported back to a time when Motown was king? If you answered yes to any of these – let me introduce you to Leon Bridges. This kid is exceptional. (Also, shout out to his backup vocalist who may also be the coolest woman I’ve ever seen onstage). Hearing his voice live was a real treat, and just a beautiful way to spend a summer evening. He also did an incredible cover of “Pony” which, again, if you need something to make out to – this cover might just seal any deal. What Sean & I love most about Bridges is that despite his youth, his voice is so mature and so beautiful. He honestly sounds like he just stepped out of the 1960s, and it’s actually so refreshing to hear someone recording this style of music today. I really hope we get to see him somewhere like Massey Hall one day.
12) Jack Garratt – July 29th (Osheaga) & October 15th (Phoenix)
Sean bought Jack Garratt’s debut album “Phase” on a whim after hearing so many rave reviews about him. I caught him at Osheaga with friends, and was blown away. He plays all of the instruments, sings, and is adorably modest. He seemed absolutely shocked that so many people came out to watch his set. He had the same love for his fans at The Phoenix in Toronto. At The Phoenix especially, I really felt as though we were watching an artist on the verge of making it big. It reminded me a lot of when I saw Ed Sheeran open for Snow Patrol just a mere months before Ed Sheeran exploded into mainstream music. He is incredibly talented, and it’s exciting now to see where his career will take him next. If you want something new to listen to – and love something pop with a bit of a rock edge, give Jack Garratt a listen.
11) Metric – March 23rd (ACC)
I’ve seen Emily Haines perform before – and she is one of the best frontmen (frontpeople?) in music. She has this ethereal energy, and a surprisingly powerful live voice. She can delicately balance the softer tones of some songs, and ramp up the edge in others. Their shows are always visually entertaining, but it’s Emily Haines who controls the show. One of the best bands to come out of the city of Toronto.
10) Robyn – June 4th (Field Trip)
Another badass female, and what an incredible performance she put on! She was dancing up a storm, and her vocals never seemed tired or dragged down by her incredible moves. She was dancing from start to finish. If you aren’t familiar with her more recent music, which is more electronic and “experimental” than the hits you know her for from the 90s and frankly, I love her new work more than her old. So I loved the set. If you were expecting to just hear the hits, you would have been disappointed. However if you wanted to see an artist, fully embracing being on stage and giving it their all – you would have been like me and absolutely enthralled with her.
9) M83 – July 31st (Osheaga)
I never know what to expect from electronic acts, because I never know how engaging the actual show will be. Will it essentially just be someone singing along to a track? Will there be live instruments? Will the female vocalists also be playing? And M83 was so much more than I expected. It had incredible energy, power, and everyone nailed it. I still think about some of the guitar solos!! This was one of my favourite performances of the entire weekend. Also with “Midnight City” being one of my favourite songs it was amazing to hear that live. M83’s music deserves to be heard live, and loud.
8) The Tragically Hip – August 14th (ACC)
I’ve already written pretty extensively about The Hip this year, and I have to admit, it was difficult to decide where to place this concert in the context of the rest of the year. For pure emotional value, this was the best show of the year. However, I didn’t want to rank them based on that reaction. I wanted to base it on the performance, the setlist, everything. (And if somehow I ever was able to discuss this with Gord Downie, I feel he’d be insulted if I basically ranked them based on sadness or pity). As awesome as this show was, I do have to say I wish the setlist had contained fewer new songs, and that we’d gotten to hear more songs from their earlier work. However, hearing “Gift Shop” and “Grace, Too” live is such an amazing experience. The energy that this bands pours into each show – and the love they have for their fans is so incredible. And they are just a damn good band, and Gord Downie’s voice will never be duplicated. I am so thankful we got to see them this year, and I truly hope that by some miracle we’ll get to see them again.
7) St. Lucia – February 15th (Phoenix)
Another show earlier in the year that managed to stay near the top as one of the best. I often say to Sean that one reason I know it was an incredible concert is by how badly I wanted to be onstage with them. St. Lucia came out to one of my favourite opening songs of the year, and basically put on a clinic for the entire night of how to put on a badass, high energy, no holds barred show. Their infectious synth-rock makes it nearly impossible to have a boring time while watching or listening to them. Plus, they dance around, engage the crowd, and basically take you on an adventure during their shows. MAN, I love them!
6) Muse – January 16th (ACC)
It’s always tough to be the first concert of the year – you can so easily end up forgotten. Having seen Muse before, though, I knew this would be a hard show to forget. They are one of the best arena rock bands out there, and always put on an incredible show. Everything from their performance as a band, to visual aids, and even DRONES. Sean & Justin also found their inner kids and chased around giant balloons that eventually popped and dropped confetti everywhere. This was an overall fantastic night with friends, belting out some of Muse’s biggest hits together and eventually having a streamer fight. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of this band, you have to see them live. I guarantee it will be one of the best concert experiences you have.
5) Noel Gallagher‘s High Flying Birds – July 10th (Echo Beach)
Ah yes, The Chief came back to town. Again, someone whose music I have admired since I was a kid. He’s crass, he doesn’t give a flying **** that you want to hear Oasis songs. He hates most of those songs now anyways. His new materials, though, is fantastic and still great rock music. It was also special getting to watch him perform outdoors, because it meant listening to “Champagne Supernova” while a beautiful red sunset exploded around us. One of the great rock legends, and yes he knows it. At least despite all the ego he still puts on a fantastic show and knows how to entertain a crowd.
4) Mumford & Sons – June 13th (Molson Canadian Amphitheatre)
One of the best live bands on the planet, hands down. I saw M&S just a day after completing the RTCC, and so I was still riding an incredible high from completing that event. I am actually amazed I had the energy to be at the concert. Mumford, are just so passionate and captivating. I dare you not to dance, stomp, clap, and sing along with them at a live show. This being my third time seeing M&S, I have to say this was the best of the three. This band is so much more than some banjos. They are a bonafide rock band and will blow you away in concert.
3) Radiohead – July 31st (Osheaga)
What.a.night. I mean, we were lucky enough to hear some truly classic songs live and in the flesh. “Let Down” is one of my all-time favourite songs, and to hear Thom Yorke sing it gave me chills. AND THEY PLAYED CREEP. They didn’t even perform that at Lollapalooza!!! Yes, you can make the case that this is why Radiohead is a frustrating band to see live. You have to listen to their newer, less accessible music before you get to hear the hits, and even then, they may not even play the ones you want to hear. I don’t have a huge issue with how they organize their live shows, because in the end you get to watch some incredible talents. And it’s worth the wait when you get to sing along to “Karma Police“. A generational band that I am so happy I was able to check off my “concert bucket list”.
2) Sam Roberts – December 17th (Corona Theatre)
Oh Sam. I’ve said it a thousand times, but I could never get sick of watching this band perform live. Now, throw in that I’ve been lucky enough to see him perform in Montreal twice and I feel really spoiled. His hometown shows are simply the best. He was only SLIGHTLY edged out of the top spot by the next band. The setlist on this night was heavy on the new tunes – but that isn’t a complaint from me. I am really enjoying his latest album Terraform, and his previous record Lo-Fantasy is his best. Also, anytime I get to dance my face off to “Fixed To Ruin” is a great night. Even if you haven’t listened to Sam Roberts since the early 2000s, you must check him out live. I promise you a fantastic night of rock, energy, and passion.
1) Arkells – November 5th (Massey Hall)
If you had asked me at the start of the year who would finish number 1 on this list – I can guarantee it wouldn’t have been Arkells. But we witnessed something special at Massey Hall. Sean & I knew these guys would be good – we saw them at Osheaga last year, and have friends who love this band. But I didn’t expect to be truly blown away. There are literally zero complaints from this concert. Everything was exceptional – the setlist, the horn section, the backing vocalists, the crowd at Massey Hall, and the band themselves. Their opener, “Drake’s Dad” ended up being the best opening song of the year too. Completely set the tone for the night, and got everyone to their feet. My personal favourite song of the night was “Whistleblower” – which started as an acoustic rendition until BANG, the whole band re-joins in! I forget who said it of our group; but we had a moment after leaving the show where I was discussing how the hell I was going to rank the bands this year and we started talking about The Tragically Hip. Someone made the excellent point that as we witnessed one band give perhaps their final bow, that night at Massey Hall we watched the next great Canadian band. You forget how many hits these guys have written, and they are still early in their careers. These guys will be remembered as the next Tragically Hip, Guess Who, The Band, etc. I feel so lucky to have seen them on one of their best nights. I hope it only continues to get better for them.
Thanks everyone!! Have a Merry Christmas and wonderful 2017! Can’t wait to see what shows end up on this list next year.
If you’re interested – here are the previous years’ lists: