Thursday, June 10, 2021

June 10th 1992, The Ramones at RPM

In 1992 I went to see The Ramones at RPM with my friends Brooke and Liz. In the late eighties and early nineties it was kind of an annual event that the band would come to town to play a couple of nights, and Brooke and Liz and I went to see them on a few of those visits. 

Their set was about an hour long and they played about thirty songs. There was a lot of counting by the band and a lot of jumping by the audience. RPM was really hot that night, and we were all covered in sweat when it was over. The Ramones were always a good time and this was a great show.

Monday, June 7, 2021

June 7th 2014, Interpol at Field Trip

There's something special about festival shows, isn't there? An outdoor concert on a night with nice weather out by the lake or in a field somewhere, a bunch of bands, I love that kind of thing. Over the years Toronto has played host to countless music festivals in a variety of genres, and I've been lucky enough to see touring shows, city specific events, a whole ton of different things that all speak to the joys of getting outside and listening to some music under the night sky.

Field Trip is one of the best of those city specific events, an annual festival held on the grounds of Historic Fort York down by the Lakeshore. Field Trip is unquestionably a music event, but it also encourages kids and families to attend and enjoy the show along with other activities like arts and crafts and stuff, and it's a really great fun summer vibe. Over the years it's played host to an impressive list of bands like Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The National and more, and based on those bands and the idea of it being a cool family event, Field Trip has gained a strong reputation as one of the best festivals in the city. 

The 2014 edition of Field Trip had Interpol as the Saturday night headliner and I kind of love Interpol, so Carolyn and I made sure that we picked up a pair of tickets. June in Toronto is pretty much Goldilocks weather, not too hot and not too cold, just right, and that evening was particularly glorious. On the way in we had the good fortune of running into my friend Wardy working at the box office and that seemed like an auspicious beginning to the day. Carolyn and I wandered around the grounds looking at vendor booths and checking out food trucks and stuff, and we spent a little while playing hula hoop which is when I learned that Carolyn is actually pretty good at hula hooping. We also learned that I am not nearly as good at hula hooping as she is and there is photographic evidence of this disparity in skill for those of you who are interested.

We checked out A Tribe Called Red who were really great, and I was really impressed with The Kills' set, swampy Blues-y Garage rock that intersects with Nick Cave and PJ Harvey. We got dinner from a booth set up by the people that run Kanga, and that began my long time love for Australian pies, particularly the ooey gooey delight that was their Mate's Masala. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. But as much as we enjoyed everything else going on that day we were mainly there for Interpol's set and I'm happy to say that they totally delivered.

My first introduction to Interpol was through my friend Janet, who suggested I might like them and played their first album "Turn on the Bright Lights" for me as we drove through the city one winter's night. She was right, I did like them, and from that point on I've been a solid fan of their Post Punk artistry and technique, a sound that really transcends styles and becomes something more. Their show at Field Trip was a great example of that artistry and technique in action, featuring a selection of fan favorite tracks mostly from "Turn on the Bright Lights" and "Antics", along with a couple of songs from "El Pintor" which was scheduled to come out later that Fall. Evil and C'mere are always solid additions to any Interpol set, and I'm always up for seeing them play Narc and Take You on a Cruise, a pair of tracks from the "Antics" album that stand at the top of my list of favorite Interpol songs. Lights was performed as an encore, an epic spiraling take on the song, fully dramatic and fully impressive, a piece of music that I could easily get lost in under the right circumstances.

Interpol played a great set that night, a really great performance that highlighted all of the qualities that made me a fan. After the show Carolyn and I walked home from Fort York, stopping at Smoke's Poutinerie at Queen and Bathurst where they were offering a special samosa poutine that I've only had the one time but remains the standard by which all later poutines have been compared, and y'know, between hula hooping and Australian pies and Interpol and samosa poutine it really was a great time that sticks out in my memory as a pretty much perfect day. I'm very much looking forward to getting back to Field Trip and other festivals in the future, and making more memories of perfect days and beautiful nights spent outside seeing bands under the night sky...

Saturday, June 5, 2021

June 5th 1997, Prince at The Warehouse

I was lucky enough to see Prince in a variety of settings over the years, and while there's no question that he was always a dynamic and amazing performer, there's also no denying that seeing him in a small venue really brought all of his artistry and talent into particular focus. In a big venue like the Air Canada Centre or Maple Leaf Gardens he was well aware that he was entertaining a crowd that numbered in the thousands. But in a smaller venue like Massey Hall or the Sony Centre there was a greater sense of intimacy to what he was doing, a relaxed looseness that gave him the opportunity to stretch out and do what he wanted. In a big venue Prince was performing for an audience, but in a smaller space it very much felt like Prince was performing for Prince, and that distinction meant anything could happen at that point.

In 1997 I was able to see Prince at the Warehouse, a club gig that was only announced that morning, and it was definitely the most free form and spontaneous show that I ever saw him do. It felt as though he was making up the set list as he went along, calling out shots to the band and jamming on whatever he felt like at the time. There was little interest in promoting his current album "Emancipation" or any of the hits, it really just felt like he was playing whatever he wanted, with a handful of covers and B-sides, some deeper album cuts and just two or three singles. Yes, he played Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret, but it was songs like 17 Days and If I Was Your Girlfriend, The Cross and Take Me With U that really defined the show for me, electric and elastic takes where the band stretched out the songs and jammed on whatever groove came to mind.

It was an incredible night, but that was what you expected from a Prince show, amazing music by an amazing artist. As a longtime fan I was thrilled to see him up close in a small venue, and the chance to hear some favorites that weren't normally part of his live shows was especially exciting. There have been a few times since his death where I've been listening to his albums and I'm struck and saddened by the fact that I'll never have the chance to see him play another concert again, but I'm also very grateful that I had the chance to see him as many times as I did. At the end of it all I'd rather be happy to have experienced the shows that I did see rather than sad about any shows that I missed, and I'm especially happy to have experienced his show at the Warehouse in 1997...

Friday, June 4, 2021

June 4th 1997, Switchblade Symphony at Lee's Palace


There's no question that the internet has been a huge resource for music fans, literally making an entire world of music available at the touch of a button. It's an unprecedented era of choice and discovery, and I'm truly grateful to live in a time where there are so many different opportunities to hear and discover new artists. But as rich as today's musical landscape is, it's worth remembering that before the internet there was another way to find out about new bands. Gather 'round and let me tell you about 'zines...

Growing up in the eighties and nineties a lot of my early musical discoveries were made through radio and video shows, suggestions from friends, right place/right time coincidences and the like, but an important piece of the puzzle was 'zines. Before the internet 'zines were huge, a thriving counter culture that served much of the same function as a blog or a website, only in a hard copy paper form using lovingly hand-crafted layouts, put together with glue and scissors and eight and a half by eleven stock, photocopied and mailed out to readers or given out at shows or sold at indie record stores. Like the internet, 'zines gave a voice to people's interests, a way to share the things that you cared about and to connect with others that felt the same way that you did.

Anybody could start a 'zine and in the early nineties there was a thriving scene focused on a huge range of topics like skateboarding, and urban exploration, and fashion, and anime, and pretty much anything else that you could think of. I was most interested in the music 'zines, particularly the Goth/Industrial ones, and they became a gateway to find a wide range of new bands and musical projects that I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to discover otherwise. 'Zines were an incredible resource in helping me find new music, and a lot of my music collection was shaped by the advice of Stained Pages and Corpus and The Sentimentalist and Sombre Souls on Prozac and any number of other great 'zines. 

A number of smaller record labels also recognized the impact that 'zines had in spreading the word to a fandom, and many of them would send promo copies for review in hopes of reaching a wider audience that were looking for new sounds to hear. Cleopatra was one of the labels that got a lot of  'zine coverage back then, a label out of California that were mostly known for their cover song compilations where up and coming Goth and Industrial bands would record cover songs by popular artists. It was actually a pretty genius idea, giving a new band something familiar that would probably appeal to fans of the original. You like Bauhaus?  Check out these new artists playing Bauhaus songs! You like Siouxsie and the Banshees? Here's a bunch of artists playing Siouxsie and the Banshees songs! 

But Cleopatra weren't just about covers, they also had a handful of bands on the label that released full albums, and one of my favorites was Switchblade Symphony. The first time I heard about Switchblade Symphony was in an interview that appeared in The Ninth Wave, a really great Goth culture 'zine that my friend Liisa did. The interview interested me enough to track down a copy of their first album "Serpentine Gallery", and it proved to be a pretty awesome debut, a fresh blend of electronic and organic elements with smart arrangements and ideas that crossed a variety of forms and styles. I listened to that album pretty regularly after that and when they announced a show at Lee's Palace in 1997 I made sure to go and check them out.

Lee's is one of my favorite places to see a show, and Sunshine Blind opened the night strong. Lead singer Caroline Blind was particularly awesome that night, a great singer and solid guitar player, a really charismatic lead. They played an excellent rendition of their club hit Release and a great cover of I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls, and it was a solid set of songs that I was pretty impressed by.

Switchblade Symphony's set followed and they were truly exceptional, with lead singer Tina Root and keyboard/instrumentalist Susan Wallace joined by a guitarist and drummer that filled out their sound really well. In a live setting Root's voice was just as versatile and fluid as it was on album, able to shift from a quiet whisper to a roar in seconds, truly distinct and unique. The set was based largely around "Serpentine Gallery", as their second album "Bread and Jam for Frances" wouldn't be released until later that fall, but they did play an excellent version of Drool which had been released as an advance single around the time of the show. The highlight of the night for me was when they played Dissolve, and it was just as dreamy and amazing as I had hoped it would be, swirling and beguiling, a sound that completely surrounded and enveloped the audience and maintained my focus so strongly that all the rest of the world vanished and, well, dissolved from my mind until all that existed was the band and the music. It was pretty intense...

As far as I know Switchblade Symphony don't have any particular 'zine connection themselves outside of what others did to support them, but for me they'll always be firmly entrenched in 'zine culture. I realize that I could have discovered them just as easily any other number of ways, but it was that first write up in The Ninth Wave that piqued my curiosity, an inextricable link in my mind and a connection that sets them aside as being something that I may have missed if it hadn't been for glue sticks and scissors and late nights with a photocopier. Thanks to my friend Liisa for making that introduction all those years ago, and thanks to Tina Root and Susan Wallace for making some great albums and playing some great shows that have stayed with me for years...

Sunday, May 30, 2021

May 30th 1992, Curve at the Opera House


Of all the bands that came out of the nineties, Curve are probably the one that made the biggest impact on me. From the release of the "Blindfold" EP in 1991 they existed fully formed and perfect in every way, a stylish blend of processed sound and electronics that fully complimented haunting and otherworldly vocals. Over the next few years Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia went on to produce a series of amazing albums and EPs that include some of the best songs of that era, forging a unique and distinct sound who's impact and influence is still felt today. Their debut album "Doppleganger" from 1992 stands out as one of their best, and remains a claustrophobic and unsettling masterpiece that simultaneously haunts and seduces the listener, drawing them deep under it's spell and leaving them changed upon it's completion. I'm pretty sure that there's never been another album quite like it, and I have my doubts that there ever will be.

Curve did a North American tour to support the release of the album that included a stop at the Opera House in May 1992, and I was lucky enough to be there. I had a spot on the floor relatively close to the stage when Curve's set began, but there was a wall of dry ice and fog that prevented me from really seeing any of the band. The fog continued to obscure my view for most of the night so all I really saw were lights that would occasionally flash and some movements or shadows when band members came closer to the edge of the stage. But even though I couldn't really see anything it was still an amazing experience, a complete immersion in the music. Halliday's voice rang out through the Opera House offering a focus for the senses that pushed and pulled like waves, alternately soothing, frightening, inviting, and warning the audience. Garcia and the band were especially tight that evening, building an incredible wall of sound, a slick blend of processed feedback and joyful noise, stretching tones and pulses in ways that expanded beyond the studio work that I was already familiar with and adding new and unique elements and colours to the music. 

The set was about an hour long and focused mostly on material from "Doppelganger" along with some tracks from the earlier EPs as well. Die Like a Dog was intense and driving, Halliday's smooth vocals contrasting with jagged feedback and wah wah distortion. Their performance of the title track from the album arrived around the middle of the set, the chorus of "You must hate me for being born, you must hate me for being me..." chilling me straight to the bone, a deliciously anxious and unsettling moment. Zoo was towards the end of the set, lyrics about psychotic dreams, dressing in black, and being frightened by sunlight rising and falling in intensity while a funky beat propelled everything forward, keeping us all from harm. Fait Accompli closed the night, rolling bass and a frenzied whirl of sound, Halliday's voice at the centre of it all. 

That night at the Opera House Curve crafted a complete and total sensory experience that stands as one of the best concerts I've ever been to, a balanced synergy of artistry, creation of space, tension, and engagement. I was lucky enough to see Curve perform a few more times after that, and they always impressed and inspired me with what they were doing, but it was this first show I saw that's really stayed with me all these years, a fully formed and perfect moment from a fully formed and perfect band...

Friday, May 28, 2021

May 28th 1995, PJ Harvey and Tricky at The Phoenix


Some shows stand out in your memory for a variety of reasons, a convergence of moments that work perfectly together and become magical in the retelling, and PJ Harvey and Tricky at the Phoenix is one of those magical shows for me. 

The release of "To Bring You My Love" in 1995 signaled a shift in Harvey's work, moving away from the stripped down Southern Gothic Blues of her earlier albums and stepping into a more polished and confident style embracing a wider and more expansive sound. Where her first two albums were largely based around a standard trio, "To Bring You My Love" found Harvey using the studio to focus on finer details and nuances that made for a more immersive listening experience. It was a significant step forward for her as an artist, an early example of the kind of re-invention that would define all of her albums to come and would establish her reputation as a dynamic and engaging artist, a reputation that stands to this day.

Shortly after the release of the album, Harvey announced a tour that would bring her to the Phoenix along with opening act Tricky. Not only would this be another chance for me to see PJ Harvey touring on the strength of an awesome new album, but it would also be a chance to see Tricky's first gig in Toronto, and that had me pretty interested. I really enjoyed the Goth-y Trip Hop style of Tricky's debut "Maxinquaye", a dark and claustrophobic sound that fully connected with the Darkwave and Post-Punk stuff that I was mostly listening to at the time and I was curious about how it would all come together live. On the album Tricky showed a real gift for mixing together samples and sounds in jarring and abstract ways to create unsettling and uneasy musical spaces, and his alternating whispered and growled vocals sat in rough contrast with partner Martina Mobley Bird's more controlled vocal range to create a truly engaging musical tension. There was no doubt in my mind that the pairing of Tricky's creation of space with PJ Harvey's new approach to her music promised a really exciting concert.

The show was set to start at 630pm, probably because the Phoenix had a live to air broadcast scheduled for later in the evening, so my friend Bevin and I made sure to get there early so we wouldn't miss any of Tricky's set. While we were waiting for everything to start we played a few games of pool in the lounge to the side of the theatre space, and I'm reminded that Bevin and I were constantly playing pool at that point in our lives. I haven't played in years but I miss it sometimes, there's something about the physics and math behind the game that I really enjoy. Anyway, we were playing pool in the side room when Tricky's set started, the haunting opening notes of Overcome drifting in and drawing us out  toward the stage. It was a short set, maybe only half an hour, just a handful of songs from "Maxinquaye" but it was mesmerizing from start to finish. I don't remember it as individual songs, more a steady wash of music and sound that flowed around the audience, with Black Steel performed at the end, a frenzied finish to an awesome set that fully solidified my appreciation and admiration for Tricky in the process.

By contrast PJ Harvey's set was more defined and focused in it's performance, but it was by no means less awesome. Harvey had expanded her band for this tour, adding a keyboard player and an extra guitarist which meant that she didn't have to play any of the guitar lines herself. That freed her to roam around the stage more actively, making for a more dynamic and physical performance that ran parallel to the more fulsome sound of her work at the time. 

Her set was primarily focused on the new album, and she played most of it along with a couple of tracks from "Rid of Me". About midway through the set she did a wicked version of Naked Cousin, all screaming vocals and apocalyptic guitar chords played in raw and bloody contrast to the other more slick songs of the night, and it was particularly amazing. She played Down by the Water shortly after that, droning guitars and ebow'd notes wrapping around her vocals, her arms outstretched while she played castanets. Seeing that song live for the first time was an incredible study in tension and atmosphere, an amazing moment that held the audience spellbound.

After Harvey's set ended and we were ushered out of the venue by security Bevin and I walked back to my place on Gerrard, talking about the show the whole time. There were a lot of big moments, little moments, grand gestures, and subtly graceful movements that stood out amid everything else, magical things that needed to be recognized and spoken to by each of us. Both Harvey and Tricky were on fire that night and the show gave us a lot to talk about, and when we got back to the apartment we went on an on to my girlfriend for at least an hour about what an amazing night it was, not to brag about it or to make her feel badly for missing it, more to try and share what we had seen and experienced, trying to share a little bit of the show's magic with her. I don't know how well we succeeded but it was well worth trying to share with her, some shows are special like that.

For years afterwards there was a picture taken from that night hanging in the hallway of the Phoenix outside of the lounge leading into the main theatre, Harvey crouched and coiled as if she was about to spring into the audience, black hair in mid swing cutting thick lines across the spotlights that shine around her. It's a really stark and powerful image, fully capturing not just that moment, but the spirit of the show as a whole, a reminder of an exceptional concert by a pair of exceptional artists. Every time I'd go to the Phoenix I'd take a moment to look at that picture and remember what a great show it was, and even though it was taken down a few years ago, I still make a point of looking for it in the hallway whenever I'm there in hopes that somebody has decided to put it back up again. It's a pretty amazing picture, and while the show it came from was over twenty five years ago, there's still a lot of magic captured in that image, magic that's still well worth sharing...

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

May 25th 1991, Deee Lite at the Concert Hall


I heart Deee Lite. Their debut album "World Clique" is an essential Pop classic, an excellent collection of sampledelic awesomeness wrapped in rainbows and butterflies, music for clubs and parties and anywhere that feels like a good time. It's a revelation, a larger than life cartoon world filled with bright colours and kaleidescopic swirls, a smorgasbord of carefully curated samples and beats blending Pop, Soul, R'n'B, Dance, Jazz and a million other sounds, all emphasizing the idea of the DJ as a musician in their own right. It was fresh and new and really quite incredible when it came out, and in it's strong embrace of so many different styles and musical eras it succeeded in creating a sound that remains both timeless and relevant even now, thirty years after it's release.

The tour for World Clique had a pair of nights in Toronto at the Concert Hall, and I went to see the Saturday night show with my friend Leah. I had just moved into a new apartment over the Carleton Cinemas, so Leah met me at College subway and we walked north to the show. I remember along the way we got ticketed for jay walking when we crossed the street at Yonge and Isabella, but that distraction didn't really make a difference in our mood though, we were still pretty pumped for the show. 

When we got to the Concert Hall we found a good spot about halfway back on the floor in front of the stage, and it was also central enough that we could see most of the audience around us. Everybody was really well dressed, serious club wear and fashions all around, a lot of sunglasses in the half light of the venue, more than a few wigs. It was all pretty cool, and I remember thinking that the black jeans and hoodie I was wearing made me a tad underdressed, but I figured that when the lights went off and everybody started dancing it wouldn't really make a difference.

The show began with Deee Lite Theme, the band vamping on the track and building up anticipation until Lady Miss Kier and her dancers strut out onto the stage, catsuited, be-wigged, and Fluevog shoe'd, proud and fierce like the Superstar that she is. From there on the rest of the show was a blur of funkified electric dancing and non-stop groovilicious beatz. In an effort to keep things interesting Deee Lite were playing with a live band for this tour and it was their job to play all the samples from the album in a live format, which made for some pretty incredible sounds. Bootsy Collins played bass for them, deep and groovy, stars and top hats, everything you could ever want from a classic bass Superhero.

Over the next hour or so Deee Lite treated the audience to a choreographed and tight set that had the whole room shaking and grooving, with an instrumental break for a costume change here, a shout out to New York City there, feather boas, high kicks, and dancing, a whole lot of dancing both on stage by the band and on the floor by the audience. Given that they only had one album at the time they played it all pretty much in it's entirety, with Groove is in the Heart in the middle of the set, elongated and given a funky breakdown towards the end. At one point near the end of the show Kier pulled out a Polaroid camera and started taking pictures of the audience, and I remember thinking that was because she wanted to remember the night just as much as we did. In that pre-social media era that was the 90s, a gesture like that seemed really sincere and genuine, and as I write this I hope that she still has those Polaroids and I hope that they still make her smile when she looks at them.

Deee Lite at the Concert Hall was an incredible show, a moment in time that I'll never forget. It was the only time I saw them live, but in some ways that may be for the best as it would be hard to live up to the awesomeness of that show in 1991. I kind of wish that I had some Polaroids from that night though, they'd be a nice memento to go along with all of my memories of the show...

Monday, May 17, 2021

May 17th 2019, Imogen Heap at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

I quite admire and respect Imogen Heap. She's pretty universally recognized as an exceptionally talented musician and an accomplished songwriter, but she's also an excellent storyteller and a visionary technologist who uses her position as a Pop star to share her ideas and interests with others, challenging and inspiring audiences wherever she goes. 

Heap made a stop at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on May 17th 2019 as part of her Mycelia World Tour, and it was equal parts musical performance, TedXTalk, and an advanced class in musical futurism. Heap played a set of songs that spanned her entire career, perfect Pop songs that resonated and instantly connected with her audience, all shared with stories and reflections that added a greater context and details making them even more enjoyable. As mentioned, Heap is an excellent storyteller, and her ability to spin a tale and engage with her audience is truly impressive, creating a warm and intimate space to share with her fans. To be honest I'd be happy just to hear her talk about stuff and things even if she wasn't playing music...

Throughout the show Heap wore her Mi.Mu Gloves, literally pulling songs out of the air while explaining and demonstrating how they work, and in the back of my mind I couldn't help wondering if maybe she lives ten years ahead of everybody else, traveling back to the past every so often to leave us with songs and gifts and ideas to help us shape the future. Or maybe she's just really ahead of the curve, that may be more likely now that I really consider it, but I still like to think of her as some kind of time traveler with a desire to make the world a better place.

She talked about music and networks and opportunities, and it was all really very engaging, and of course she played a number of songs that were all really great, including a bunch of tracks by Frou Frou which made a lot of sense given that Guy Sigsworth was part of her band. As far as I know, Frou Frou never toured in North America so I never had the chance to see those songs live until then, and I'm happy to say that they were just as blissful and dream-y as I had hoped that they would be. 

Speaking of the band, Zoe Keating played cello on this tour, and of course it's always nice to hear Keating perform, even if my seat was positioned at exactly the worst angle to be able to see what she was doing. It's alright though, I could hear her playing and that was enough to make me happy. 

Speaking of making me happy, Heap and the band played Breathe In, and First Train Home, and Tiny Human, and I spent most of the show smiling from ear to ear. She played a new version of Hide and Seek that she had reworked for the Harry Potter musical, and in a nod to Ariana Grande's cover version she did a nice mash up/remix of Goodnight and Go to close out the night.

All in all it was a great show, a solidly entertaining evening of music and stories. But it was more than just that, because it was also a showcase for new ideas, for new ways of thinking, and for new inspiration. Imogen Heap is a visionary, a futurist, potentially a time traveler, and hearing her speak about the possibilities inherent in music and art I couldn't help but be intrigued and interested by her ideas. She has a vision for a bright future for all of us and I hope that one day we'll all get to live in that bright future with her...

Saturday, May 15, 2021

May 15th 1992, The Cure at Nassau Coliseum

The Cure released "Wish" in 1992, a return to the dark Pop stylings that they had been exploring with 1987's "Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me". It was a solid album with a range of moods and sounds running from elation to misery and everything in between, but that seemed to be The Cure's style at the time and I was okay with that. The first single release High remains a personal favorite, and of course From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea stands as one of the band's greatest and most epic tracks. There are a lot of other classics on that album, tracks that would further solidify and establish the band as credible and successful artists, and while it's not my favorite album by them there's no question that it was an important turning point for The Cure, a significant release that set the stage for future success.

I should also add that From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea holds a particular place in my heart as I had just gotten my first guitar shortly before the release of the album and I had set a goal of learning how to play the solo but I just couldn't figure it out by ear. I ended up buying a tab book for the album in hopes that it would map out the solo but no such luck, all it said was "Guitar plays wildly", and so leading up to the show I was no closer to learning how to play the solo than I had been...

Regardless of my failed guitar dreams, I still enjoyed the album and when The Cure announced a North American tour I ended up getting tickets for multiple nights starting with the show at  Nassau Coliseum in New York. The Cure regularly changed up their setlists each date, and I figured that going to a few shows would give me the opportunity to see a few different sets, and what's better than seeing your favorite band play live? Seeing them play live more than once! It was the right decision to make, because the 1992 Wish Tour was a pretty good series of concerts, mostly focused on singles and the more Pop-flavored tracks, but with enough deep dives and gloomy Goth dirges to keep me happy as a fan.

The New York show started with the band coming out to a recording of Tape, with Robert Smith and Simon Gallup taking centre stage and leaning into each other so their foreheads touched as they began to play Open off the new album. They'd repeat the same forehead thing each night I saw them and while my description may not be doing it justice I thought that it was pretty cool, a suggestion of closeness and friendship between them that I really enjoyed seeing. I may be reading too much into it, but it sort of set the mood for the shows as being a shared experience with friends, not just between the two of them but also between the band and the audience.

Open has since become a regular entry in The Cure's sets, often alternating with Plainsong as the first song of the night. And while that frequency and familiarity has made it a fan favorite over the years, as I write this I'm reminded that during this show and the tour that followed, Open and all of the other songs played from "Wish" were just new tracks from the latest album which meant that they weren't necessarily received as well as other more familiar older material. And that's kind of interesting to think about given how in the years to come those same songs would become fan favorites in the band's back catalog, songs that make regular and frequent appearances in their current setlists. Food for thought, and something to support the idea that you often don't recognize history while it's happening...

High followed next, a nod to the new single at the time and something to suggest that the show wasn't going to be all doom 'n' gloom, that The Cure were well aware that at least half of their audience were there to hear some upbeat singles. And that's okay, because over the years The Cure have made some great singles, and many of them were played that night. Lullaby, The Walk, Let's Go to Bed, In Between Days, they were all greeted with huge cheers and applause, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't love hearing them myself. I mean, who doesn't love a good Cure single?

Towards the end of the main set they played From the Edge of The Deep Green Sea, and it was majestic and beautiful that night, just as awesome as I had hoped it would be. That show was the first time that I had seen the song live, and though by then I had already listened to it countless times on album, it was still fresh and new and amazing to hear it played in person. When Robert Smith sang "Put your hands in the sky..." we all did and in that moment all of the audience were part of something wonderful. As it continued, the song washed over the audience like a wave, all of it's parts growing and building as it moved forward to that guitar driven climax, spiraling, ascending, a blissful sound all around us. I've seen this song performed a bunch of times since and it always amazes and inspires me, but this first time? It was the best I've ever seen it played, sublimely beautiful and magical.

The set ended with Cut and End, a pair of tracks that I really enjoy so I was pretty happy to hear them live. Cut was especially ferocious, slightly sped up, a little more manic than on the album, a little more bitter, a little more awesome in all of it's wah wah guitar excellence. As I write this it occurs to me that I don't think I've seen The Cure play Cut any times since that tour, which is too bad because it's a pretty solid track. Who knows? Next year is the thirtieth anniversary of "Wish", maybe they'll do a tour to celebrate and will dust off that one and others to mark the occasion...

The encores included a couple of songs from "Pornography" along with Why Can't I Be You which was admittedly a bit of a jarring mix, but it worked in the context of the kind of roller coaster ride that The Cure's shows tend to be, pushing and pulling the audience through a range of emotions and feelings. The night ended with an extended version of A Forest, stretching out the instrumental bits, building on the guitar solo that comes at the end and throwing in a little bit of She's Lost Control for good measure until the band left the stage to the sound of echoes and feedback and the cheers of the audience. It was a pretty great way to end the night...

After the show was over I got a taxi to take me back to my hotel, but before they did that the driver rode around the venue picking up extra fares, all of us squishing into the back and slowly unloading at various points over the next hour. Is that a thing in other cities? I mean, I've ridden taxis in Toronto all my life, is that something that happens in other places? It was kind of strange and sort of kind of sketchy now that I think about it. I hope that's not a thing...

Regardless of taxi weirdness it was still a great night, a great show by one of my favorite bands, and knowing what to expect I was pretty excited for the next two shows in Philadelphia. The set lists for those nights were very similar to the New York show so I got to relive a lot of the earlier night's highlights, but there were also a few differences with the song order shuffled a bit and different encores. On the second night in Philadelphia they played Wendy Time, an especially rare track to see, so that was especially cool.

There's no doubt in my mind that the Wish Tour was a good era for the The Cure, a period where they were able to evenly balance both Pop and darker sensibilities in a way that was embraced by fans all around the world. Absolutely The Cure had already found a large audience before then, but on that tour in 1992 it all came together in a perfect synergy of appeal and artistry that really defined the band moving forward, changing their media perception from quirky Goth alterna-stars to viable and respected artists who are largely able to transcend genre. It was a solid tour, and I'm glad that I got to see a few different nights and that I had the chance to see that change happen first hand...

Sunday, May 9, 2021

May 9th 2005, Nine Inch Nails with The Dresden Dolls at Kool Haus

In 2005 Nine Inch Nails did a club tour in support of "With Teeth" that brought them to Kool Haus for a pair of shows in May. I went to both of them with my friend Death, knowing that each night would offer a different setlist and a unique show from NIN, and of course the chance to see them in a smaller space was a rare opportunity at that point in their career. It was pretty much the perfect arrangement for a longtime fan.

On certain levels The Dresden Dolls were a bit of an odd choice for opener, in terms of style their stripped down piano and drums theatricality seemed in contrast to the aggressive energy and guitar driven noise that Trent Reznor was known for. But despite the differences in sound there was a certain shared ideal at play that made for an effective pairing, a feeling of outsider identity that lies at the heart of both bands. Each night the Dolls played a short set, only about a half hour long, but they poured their hearts into it and offered brilliantly manic versions of songs from their self-titled debut. And it worked really well with the band doing a solid job of winning over a new audience, their cover of War Pigs and a wicked fast version of Girl Anachronism being particular highlights. They had a big energy on stage and while their set may have been a bit different from the Industrial stomp that most of the crowd was there for, they still managed to engage and impress each night.

As for the headliners Nine Inch Nails were particularly strong on this tour, playing focused and intense sets each night that were a little more loose and relaxed than previous times I'd seen them live. That loose and relaxed approach let the band stretch out and expand on some of the older tracks in new ways that made for an interesting rediscovery, with newer material from "With Teeth" fitting in nicely with the rest of the setlist even though it wasn't nearly as familiar having only come out a few days before. 

The show on May 9th balanced songs from the new album with tracks from "Pretty Hate Machine" and "The Downward Spiral", only diving into "The Fragile" for a couple of tracks. They played a haunting version of Something I Can Never Have early in the set, and you can call me an old softie but I still love that song. They played Burn and Suck as well, both tracks sounding really heavy, really solid. They did an encore that included Hurt and Head Like a Hole, and while the sound of each song is completely different there's still a thematic nature that both share at opposite ends of a spectrum. It should also be noted that Trent Reznor channeled his inner Dave Gahan during Head Like a Hole, doing the same kind of pelvic thrust shuffle that Gahan has been doing for years...

The second show on May 10th changed up the set considerably, with a handful of songs like Terrible Lie, Closer, and Burn carrying over from the night before along with a greater emphasis on material from "The Fragile", which I've always admired as an excellent release. I know, everybody loves "The Downward Spiral", but for me "The Fragile" is Nine Inch Nails' creative peak, a high point in their career that perfectly balances light and dark, creation and destruction, and any number of other opposing forces. Head Like a Hole was played as the last encore again, but somebody must have said something about the whole pelvic thrust thing from the night before because it didn't happen again. That's probably for the best...

I have a tremendous respect for Trent Reznor and what he does in the studio and on stage. He's always been a dynamic and exciting performer who's able to breathe a new life into his songs in a live setting, capturing and expanding on the ideas that he weaves into his studio work and bringing them forward in an honest and sincere way that connects and resonates with his audience. Over the years I've seen him live a number of times and he's always impressed and inspired, and the shows he played at Kool Haus in 2005 stand as two of the best I've seen him do. I'll be sharing my thoughts on a few of the other times I've seen him in the weeks and months to come, and I hope that you'll stick around to read those posts as well...

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 5th 2017, Slowdive at the Danforth Music Hall


There are few bands as swoonworthy as Slowdive. At the forefront of the Shoegaze movement, Slowdive made some of the most beautiful music of the nineties, a perfect blend of swirling vocals and shimmering guitars. Over the years they've been the soundtrack to a million dreams, a million lazy days, a million Gregg Araki films, and in my mind they're pretty much perfect.

I'll admit that I was a little late getting to the party when they started out, but my earliest recollection of Slowdive was when they released the Souvlaki album in 1993. There was a haunting beauty to that album, an otherworldly quality that really resonated with me. The combination of beautiful vocals and layered guitars on the album was striking and inspired, and I spent more than a few hours lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, actively listening to that awesome collection of songs. I saw them at Lee's Palace that same year with Catherine Wheel and Slowdive's live set was just as impressive as the album, a spiraling chorus that enthralled and amazed. They were magical that night, sublime, wonderful.

But somewhere between the release of "Souvlaki" and their next album "Pygmalion" in 1995, I lost touch with the band. I'm not really sure what prompted that shift. I don't think it was an active or conscious decision, it may have just been a proximity thing. Around that time I was getting more and more into Ambient stuff, and I guess that new interest moved my attention away from some of the things I had been listening to previously. It happens, right? But there was still a soft spot in my heart for Slowdive, and I would still think fondly of them whenever I was given reason to remember them, mostly in connection with Gregg Araki films (his use of Blue Skied 'n' Clear at the end of "The Doom Generation" is sooooooo moving...). I never stopped liking Slowdive, but I stopped actively liking Slowdive.

Then in 2014 they reformed to do some gigs and my appreciation for them was reborn. They went on the road with a reunion tour that came through Toronto and it was a beautiful reminder for me, almost as if none of the intervening years had happened. They played Alison and Dagger and When the Sun Hits, and of course they played Souvlaki Space Station, and it was all magical and beautiful and it was almost like seeing them back in the 90s again, but this time around I had all of the context of their influence and all those extra years of loving music, not just Slowdive's music but all the music that I listened to in the years in between, and I think in some ways I was in a better place to really understand the full impact of what they were doing as a result. It was a perfect juxtaposition of feelings, and it was enough to reassert my standing as a Slowdive fan so that when they announced a tour in support of their self titled fourth album in 2017, their first new music in twenty years, I was totally ready and excited to be there.

The show was scheduled for May 5th 2017 at the Danforth Music Hall and that was definitely the right choice in terms of venue. The Music Hall is a big beautiful box-y building with huge high ceilings, and the sound kind of travels around and through you during shows. The venue's natural reverb worked perfectly, giving room for the guitars to chime and echo and sound amazing, along with making the vocals ring crisp and clean and perfect. It's important to have a good venue when the sound of a band is so much a definition of what they do, and the Music Hall was pretty much perfect.

Slowdive's set opened with Slomo off the new album, and it was an inspired choice in it's beautiful simplicity. A few strummed chords, a steady drum beat and some delayed notes on the guitar all combined perfectly, ringing around the room and setting the tone for the rest of the evening. And while it may not have been as familiar of a track as other older material, it worked really well as an opening song, entrenching the band in the present while still acknowledging their past.

In keeping with that idea, one of the biggest cheers of the evening came for the album's second single Sugar for the Pill. One audience member even went so far as to call it out as "your best song ever", and with the perspective of a few more years I would agree that it stands with the best of the band's work. Sugar for the Pill was performed beautifully, fully capturing the sound of Slowdive 2017 while still remaining true to the spirit of Slowdive 1993. Great stuff.

But as much as they may have been promoting their new album, it was clear that they were just as excited about celebrating their past work too. Souvlaki Space Station was big and expansive that night, with guitar work that spiraled around the audience, wrapping us up in tendrils of musical awesomeness. Alison was beautiful and wonderful, a performance that tugged at my heartstrings while I did that head to the side nodding dance that I've done so many times before, thinking about how their messed up world still thrilled me. Blue Skied an' Clear made me swoon, and I couldn't help thinking of Amy Blue driving into the distance, forever changed.

It was an emotional experience for me, a glorious concert and a glorious evening, and I was really happy to have had the opportunity to surround myself with their songs again. Most of all it was a night that made me remember that the world really is a better place for having Slowdive in it, and all of the beautiful music that they make. I very much look forward to the day when they're able to hit the road again, and I have another chance to see them, to be part of that blissful noise one more time...

Saturday, May 1, 2021

May 1st 2018, Peter Hook and the Light at the Danforth Music Hall


There's no question in my mind that Peter Hook loves what he does. Since 2010 he and his band The Light have maintained a steady stream of live gigs all around the world playing songs from Hook's back catalog as part of Joy Division and New Order, and the excitement and enthusiasm with which the band plays all of these songs is pretty awesome to see. Starting with "Unknown Pleasures", Peter Hook and the Light have steadily worked through all of the Joy Division and New Order catalog up to 1993's release "Republic", playing epic three hour sets that are a true celebration of both bands.They're pretty incredible shows and I've thoroughly enjoyed every time I've seen them.

In 2018 Peter Hook and the Light were touring around the "Substance" albums, with Hook and the band playing both the Joy Division and New Order greatest hits compilations in their entirety which promised to be a great evening of music. The original "Substance" album from New Order was a monumental collection of tracks, pretty much the essence of the Eighties sound distilled into one album. It features singles like Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle that revolutionized the dance floor and changed the way that people experienced electronic music, alongside other tracks like True Faith and The Perfect Kiss that defined the band's sound and solidified New Order's place in popular culture. And not just content to be a career defining collection of tracks, it also features all of these songs in extended form, 12" versions that spoke to the band's deep connection with club culture. I mean, seriously, there is an argument to be made that "Substance" is the greatest compilation ever released.

Not to be outdone, the Joy Division "Substance" collection is equally impressive in it's own way, bringing together a series of songs that show a rich and steady growth and discovery within the band which would eventually lead them to their later work as New Order. And while these songs may not necessarily have the popular associations that New Order's work do, Joy Divisions' music still remains just as significant to their legion of fans on a more personal and intimate level.

In an interesting choice that defied chronology, the night began with a New Order set that saw Hook and the band launching into a steady stream of singles and fan favorites that had the audience dancing and moving and singing along right from the start. There's an indescribable bliss in hearing these songs played live, a particularly heady blend of nostalgia and happiness and appreciation and energy that all comes together perfectly in my mind, a feeling so strong that even now writing this a few years later I can't help but smile while I'm remembering it. Thinking about Confusion and Thieves Like Us, or Temptation and Ceremony, or any other moment from the show I'm filled with a tremendous happiness. 

After a short break they came back and started the Joy Division set, and while it has a different sound and feel, it's still just as amazing, just as perfect as the earlier New Order material. Joy Division followed a much more traditional vocals, guitar, bass, and drums kind of sound, it's a bit more raw, a bit more primal, and that sound works especially well in a live setting, but there's also a feeling that the Joy Division material has a greater immediacy in the current musical landscape given how influential that sound has been on the Post-Punk genre, how much it's left a mark on so much of today's music. As much as I love New Order's work, it's very much temporally locked in my mind as the sound of an era (even though it was completely distinct within that era). In contrast, the Joy Division material sounds almost timeless, and many of the songs sound as though they could have been written last month, last week, or even this morning. A track like Transmission is still just as resonant and just as vital now as it was upon release in 1979, and in that way it makes perfect sense that the band would play the Joy Division material later in the set, because it sounds so much more current and contemporary.

And of course forgetting sound or influence or anything else, there's no denying that it's just amazing to be able to hear Joy Division songs being performed live. Not many people had the opportunity to see them in concert, their career was pretty brief, and New Order went a looooooong time before they were willing to play any of the Joy Division material at shows, so the chance to see Peter Hook playing Dead Souls or Atmosphere or anything else from the band still feels like an exciting opportunity.

Over the course of both sets Hook and the band built on the songs, expanding them and finding new grooves and new elements that not only added to the music but also offered chances for the band to shine and highlight their own skills and talents. It was a pretty incredible evening, equal parts celebration of the songs and a rediscovery and exploration of music that I've loved for decades. The Perfect Kiss sounded amazing with extended solos for the band to play, Blue Monday felt even more monumental than I know it to be, and Transmission was a rolling wall of sound ready to crush anything in its path. And while some people would argue against changing the songs live I would counter that argument saying that change breathes a new life into the work, giving the audience something new to enjoy. Add the solos, extend the breaks, add another verse if you think it fits, that's the kind of recreation and revision that makes live music so special.

I'll admit that as I write this entry I'm finding it hard to think of the words to fully capture how I feel about this show and about this music. All I can really think to say is that to be in a room with others hearing these songs, surrounded by people who feel the same way I do, that's something magical, almost sacred. So much of my life is tied up with the music of New Order and Joy Division, and to hear it live is a celebration of so many things, not just the music but of everything they've become associated with for me. 

And I think in many ways that Peter Hook recognizes that about his audience, I think he's fully aware of the fact that these are more than just songs for people, and in realizing that he approaches performing them with the respect and appreciation that the songs deserve and he plays them knowing that they're an important part of people's lives. And that should be easy for him to do because it's perfectly clear that every one of these songs is an important part of his life as well. I mean, he literally lived all of them, right? 

Of course he gets it.

Over the course of the pandemic Peter Hook and the Light have had to cancel shows and reschedule gigs just like every other artist has, but during this hiatus Hook and the band have done a great job of maintaining contact with their fans, playing a handful of socially distanced online sets and holding weekly AMA sessions on Instagram. It's not the same as playing a gig, but it's something, it keeps people connected with the songs and the music in a way that reminds us that they exist and they continue to be an important part of our lives. And along with that is the knowledge that we'll get back to a space where we can hear those songs in a live setting again and celebrate that music together. Peter Hook has made it clear that he can't wait to get out and play live again and I'm sure that there is a legion of fans, myself included, who are ready to go to a show just as soon as he's out there...

Saturday, April 24, 2021

April 24th 1996, Garbage at the Opera House



Garbage are pretty excellent. With the release of their first album in 1995 they emerged fully formed and pretty much perfect from the start with a fresh sound, an impressive energy, and crazy tight musicianship. Tracks like Queer, Only Happy When it Rains, and Stupid Girl were all great singles that received tons of play in any number of spaces, and their videos were in high rotation on most of the music outlets available at the time. It was clear from the beginning that lead singer Shirley Manson was born to be a Rock Star, presenting a confidence and talent that was totally inspiring, a charisma that few before or after have ever been able to match. There's no question that Garbage were one of the best bands to come out of the nineties and they remain awesome to this day.

Garbage toured a fair bit for their debut album, and though it wasn't their first trip to Toronto their stop at the Opera House on April 24th 1996 was the first time that I was able to get tickets to see them, so I was pretty excited leading up to the show. My friend Helen was also a fan and we thought it would be a good idea to see them together, because a show is always better when you see it with your fan friends. That's science, right? It's an indisputable fact...

We met up at Futures on Queen just a little bit west of Bathurst around 730pm and decided to have a coffee before heading out to the Opera House, thinking that we'd just take the Queen Streetcar out to the East end. Doors were set to open at 8pm and we figured that we'd have loads of time before the show started, so we sat at Futures and caught up. We hadn't seen each other in a while so it was a nice chance to get together and shoot the breeze, talking about Garbage and songs that we both liked on the album and how much we were looking forward to seeing them live. We agreed that Vow was their best song and that was the one that we both wanted to see live the most. 

Around 9pm we decided we should get going, figuring that the band would be on around 10 or 1015pm, and it usually takes around half an hour for the streetcar to get from Bathurst to Broadview. We waited outside of Futures for the Queen car to come along, and we kept talking, a little bit more catch up, some gossip. Nothing too deep or engaging, mostly just light conversation, stuff that made us both laugh, the comfortable kinds of things that friends talk about while they're passing the time. I can't remember much of it very specifically, but I remember that it was good talk, and I was happy to be sharing that time with Helen.

When we got to the show the band were already on stage playing Only Happy When it Rains and they were pretty into it. Shirley Manson was at centre stage and she was radiating confidence and charisma, a dynamic and riveting presence that commanded the entire room. The rest of the band were tight and slick in their playing, but it was clear to every one in the audience that Manson was the star of the show. The crowd was really into it, the song was a hit and everybody was really happy to be hearing it live, it was one of those magical concert moments where the band and the audience were in perfect balance with each other, an electric feedback loop that everybody was feeding off of. 

After that the opening notes of Vow began and Manson started the first line, "I can't use what I can't abuse...", not so much singing as intoning, conjuring, then it all erupted into an amazing version of the song that was fiery and angry and Punk-y and Pop-y and all sorts of awesome. The sound rose and swelled and then came back around and it was incredible, totally incredible. The band had already reached a peak, and as the outro was playing I remember turning to Helen and asking how they could maintain that kind of energy for the rest of the show?

And almost as soon as I finished my question, the band waved to the audience and said, "Thank you! Good night!" and walked off the stage. Evidently we had gotten there late and what we had thought was the start of the night was actually the end of it. Garbage came back out and did a short encore which softened the blow for us a little bit but it was still kind of a drag, and as we were leaving Helen and I were kicking ourselves for not getting there earlier.

In the years following I've seen Garbage a few more times, and they've always put on a great show, always delivered a great performance, but I learned my lesson that night and since then I've always made sure to check with the venue to find out when the band is going on so I'm not late. I'm actually pretty OCD about that to be honest, but y'know, I'd rather not miss anything if I can help it.

But even though we missed most of the show, I still look back on the evening fondly because it was good time spent with a good friend. We may not have seen much of Garbage's set, but Helen and I got to talk and connect and hang together. That kind of thing is it's own reward, and that's something I'm especially aware of now when I've seen so few of my friends in person over the last year. 

In the end I had a good night out with a friend and we got to see an excellent band play a handful of great songs including the one that we both wanted to see the most. 

That sounds like a pretty great time to me, and that's why I always remember Garbage at the Opera House as a great show and a great night out...

Saturday, April 17, 2021

April 17th 2019, Ministry and Cold Cave at the Danforth Music Hall


My interest in concerts has always gone hand in hand with an appreciation for record stores. Being able to browse through bins of albums, being curious about new releases, getting excited about rare finds, that familiarity in seeing old favorites again, I enjoy the record store experience a lot and I've really missed it over the last year. I miss the sense of community that record stores offer in being a place to talk to random strangers about music, whether it's staff or other people who are browsing the same way that I am. My experience is that a lot of the people that shop or work at record stores enjoy music just as much as I do, and they're often happy to engage in conversation with me about it. That's always struck me as being pretty cool.

As a fan of concerts and record stores, I'm also a big fan of Record Store Day. It's been going on for about twenty years now, and the idea is to bring more people into bricks and mortar physical record stores by releasing special albums, limited editions, picture discs, special things that aren't available anywhere online, stuff that you have to actually go to a place to buy. A lot of times record stores will tie in special events throughout the day to add to the celebrations, live shows, listening parties, things like that. It's a pretty great idea, and it further emphasizes and builds on that idea of community that I mentioned earlier.

As part of the 2019 Record Store Day event, Wax Trax and Vans teamed up for a deal where anybody who bought a copy of the "Industrial Accidents" compilation would also receive a pair of tickets for a show at the Danforth Music Hall featuring performances by Ministry and Cold Cave along with the screening of a documentary about the label. And I'll admit, if you mapped all of that out in a Venn diagram I'd fit pretty squarely in the centre where everything overlaps. I thought it was a great idea, and I lined up at my local record store in hopes of scoring a copy so I could go to the show, and in a fabulous stroke of luck I was able to get the last copy they had. That may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I was wearing a well worn pair of Vans classic slip ons at the time, just in case I needed to pop an Ollie afterwards. Anyway, the album is pretty great, bringing together rare and unreleased tracks from across the Wax Trax label's history, with bands and artists like Ministry, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Chris Connelly, and more, a really great soundtrack from that era that fully captures a moment in time.

I went to the show with my friend Ryan, and we made a point of getting there early so we could see the documentary before the concert, and I'm glad that we made the effort to do so because it was a pretty amazing story. I knew some of the broad strokes about the label going in, but I didn't really have that much of an understanding of how significant they were in terms of creating a community, a space, a tribe around itself and how far back it had gone into the early seventies. It all started with two guys meeting at a David Bowie concert in 1972 who fell in love and started a record store. And that would seem like a pretty normal story, except for the way that they approached the store, how they did things, and the music they sold. It was all on the fringes far away from the mainstream, and because of that fringe nature in their approach and the work itself, it became something much more than just a record store. Wax Trax became a haven for outsiders and loners and people who didn't feel like they had a voice who wanted to be heard and people who did have a voice who weren't being listened to.

As a record store and as a record label, Wax Trax made something special that filled a gap nobody had ever identified before, and in many ways they set a standard and an ideal for other record stores in other cities all over the world, which is a pretty awesome thing to have done. I feel a particular gratitude to them for doing that, 'cause I was one of those outsiders, one of those loners, one of those people who benefit from the kind of community that they encouraged. I expect that a lot of you reading this feel the same way.

The concert itself was pretty awesome too and Cold Cave did an opening set that was really great. When I had seen them in 2017 with Drab Majesty their stage set up was pretty stark and minimal, relying instead on the strength of the songs themselves, which was great at the time but the addition of videos and better lighting at the Wax Trax show really upped the drama of their performance and expanded on the whole experience. The band were really tight and that made the sound more accessible and direct, and songs like Confetti and People are Poison both captured their album appeal and built upon their strengths in a live setting. Great stuff that really impressed me and has left me looking forward to their eventual return to Toronto. I really hope that we'll get the chance to see a new Cold Cave tour following the release of their new album later this summer.

Ministry were also great, big dumb fun that I really enjoyed. They've always been lumped in with the Industrial genre, but as their show at the Danforth Music Hall proved, they've always been pretty metal at heart. It was originally billed as a Wax Trax era set, but in the end they played a career spanning selection of old favorites that the audience really got into, and Ryan and I both had a great time. Songs like Thieves, NWO, and Stigmata were heavy and impressive, and when Chris Connelly came out to join the band for a couple of songs I may have wept tears of joy. Then again it may have just been sweat from bopping my head so hard during So What. They closed the show with an acoustic version of Every Day it's Hallowe'en, and I think that was the perfect ending for an evening about community, a song that was introduced as being about feeling comfortable living in your own skin. And really, isn't that what's at the heart of being part of a community? Being comfortable in your own skin with those around you?

It was a great show and a great night, and a reminder of many of the communities that I've been lucky enough to be a part of over the years, the places that have welcomed me and taken me in when I've needed it the most. And whether those communities were made with friends like Ryan, or music that I've listened to and enjoyed through the years, or physical spaces like the Music Hall or all of the record stores I've gone to since I was a young kid, all of those communities are valuable and special to me, all of them mean something to me and have become part of who I am.

So yeah, record stores, community, big ideas for me, and I have no doubt that I'll speak more to both of those in the weeks and months to come. I hope that you'll stick around to read those entries as well...

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

April 13th 2017, PJ Harvey at Massey Hall

PJ Harvey's show at Massey Hall in 2017 was her first visit to Toronto since playing the Phoenix in support of the "Uh Huh Her" album back in 2004. Thirteen years is a long time between shows, especially given that Harvey had been producing some of the best and most relevant work of her career during that period, playing gigs in Europe and some of the larger US markets but missing Toronto each time she toured. It was a long stretch between shows.

In 2007 Harvey released "White Chalk" shortly after my partner Carolyn and I started dating, and that album became our soundtrack for a number of months. I remember the first time we played it, actively listening, not moving, just lying there staring at the ceiling while we heard it for the very first time. We didn't say a word, we were just so fully absorbed in its sparse piano based structure and Harvey's restrained vocals, completely spellbound by what we were hearing. When it was done I started it over again, and I think we listened through maybe four times before either of us could speak, we were just so overcome by the experience. I had hoped that Harvey would tour for it, I was really looking forward to seeing her play live again and I wanted to take Carolyn because she'd never seen her in concert before. But there weren't any shows in Toronto that year, with Harvey opting instead for a tour through Europe and some promo in New York and Los Angeles. So we waited.

In 2009 when Harvey released her collaboration with John Parrish, "A Woman a Man Walked By", I was sure there would be a tour but again no such luck. And when she released "Let England Shake" in 2011 it seemed like a foregone conclusion that she'd tour for that album, I mean, by that point she hadn't done a major North American tour in years, wasn't it obvious that she would play some gigs? And she did, but she didn't come to Toronto then either.
As stated, it had been a long time since PJ Harvey last played here, and the more time passed, the more I was hoping that Carolyn and I would get to see her live at some point. With the release of every album I became more and more curious to hear her new songs live, to see what she'd do with them, how she'd recreate them in a concert setting. So when she announced that she'd be doing a North American tour for her latest album "The Hope Six Demolition Project" and that it would be opening at Massey Hall in Toronto, I was justifiably excited.

The weeks that led up to the show were spent familiarizing myself with the new album, listening carefully for clues in the music about what to expect at the show, along with revisiting older stuff to get into the mood. Throughout Harvey's career she's displayed a definite habit for reinvention, and she's always presented a very distinct focus and persona on each album, with a sense of purpose and clarity that defines each of them as a unique musical entity. "The Hope Six Demolition Project" was no exception to that rule, with Harvey taking on the part of impassioned journalist and observer, and I was very curious about how this role would translate live in terms of both newer and older material, but I resisted the urge to watch any video of her performances in Europe earlier in the tour, opting instead to be surprised when I finally saw the show. And even though I really wanted to, in retrospect I'm glad that I didn't do any prior viewing beforehand. The feeling of anticipation and prickly excitement leading up to the moment when the lights dimmed at Massey Hall were well worth all of the wait.

The set opened with Harvey and the band marching in a line onto the stage to perform Chain of Keys, a dramatic opening executed with precision and focus, and it perfectly set the tone for the rest of the night. This wasn't going to be a loose rock show where anything could happen, this was a planned and choreographed performance designed to highlight the strength of the songs being played. It clearly suggested that there was no ego here, the music was much more important than Harvey or the band's individual talents. And true to this idea, after the song was finished Harvey retreated to the back of the stage where she drank some water and let the rest of the band build up the next song, The Ministry of Defence. There was no in between song chatter, there was no "HELLOOOOO TORONTO!!!!" carefully enunciated over a searing guitar solo leading into the big new single, it was all very understated and planned out.

And I really liked that.

Over the course of the next ninety minutes Harvey traveled backwards through her catalog, focusing largely on material from the new album, playing a suite of songs from "Let England Shake", a pair of songs from "White Chalk", and a handful of classics from earlier releases, including 50ft Queenie and her manic cover of Highway 61 Revisited from "Rid of Me", the album that introduced me to her work and made a lifelong fan out of me. Each song she performed was perfectly executed, masterfully played. New songs like The Wheel and Orange Monkey sounded great, and I quite enjoyed the stomp and urgency of The Words that Maketh Murder from "Let England Shake".

But it was When Under Ether and The Devil from "White Chalk" that really stood out as particular highlights for me. On album both tracks feel very fragile, reveling in their sparse arrangements, coming across as almost delicate in their execution. Performed live they took on a new life with a more fulsome arrangement that complimented their strengths without lessening their beauty. I'm sure that my own personal connections and appreciation for the songs made me more inclined to like those two over the rest of the show, but I really do think that they were the two best songs of the evening.

Throughout the night Harvey had minimal interaction with the audience, choosing instead to creep forward to the front of the stage to sing a few verses, and then retreating to the back or the side to let the band spend some time in the spotlight. It was a habit that brought to mind waves on a beach, and that idea struck me as significant as it fits in so well with Harvey's work, filled as it is with water imagery, rivers, seas, and drownings. I'm probably just projecting my own thoughts onto the experience, but in some ways that ebb and flow added to the performance for me, bringing together the themes and concepts in her songs even more effectively, a holistic approach to her work that spoke to the totality of her vision.

Or maybe she just wasn't feeling very talkative that evening. That's a possibility too...

I suppose I could go on rhapsodizing about the show, saying how awesome Harvey's feathered fascinator was, or the way she brandished her saxophone like a sigil meant to conjure up magical forces, or how great The Community of Hope sounds live. I could tell you about the little finger gestures she made during Down by the Water, or the glory of hands clapping, or just how happy I was to finally see a PJ Harvey show with Carolyn after all these years, but I worry that's getting into minutiae that won't matter to anybody else but me, so I probably shouldn't bother telling you about all of that. Suffice to say that it was an incredible performance where Harvey fully demonstrated the wealth of talent and artistry within her work. 
And here we are four years since the show, and that talent and artistry continues to amaze and inspire me. New material from Harvey during that time has been limited to a few soundtracks and a couple of singles, but a recent reissue campaign with her back catalog being released on vinyl along with companion albums of demo tracks has me revisiting her work and rediscovering it in a new context. A context that reaffirms her standing as a true artist who's vision and ideal have remained strong and focused throughout her career.
But as much as I enjoy listening to her back catalog, of course I look forward to the next time she comes to Toronto. Whether she's looking back on older material or touring in support of something new, I have faith that it will be another awesome show in keeping with her past visits. PJ Harvey has always been a dynamic and engaging performer and I'm sure that her next tour will fully demonstrate that...

Saturday, April 10, 2021

April 10th 1996, Gavin Friday at The Rivoli

Gavin Friday may not be a household name, but he's had a solid career beginning with his early days as lead singer in The Virgin Prunes through to his work as a solo artist. Possessed of an impressive vocal range that shifts easily from commanding depths to outstanding highs, he's an excellent story teller in his songs, a spellbinding and mesmerizing presence who is beguiling, hypnotic. His 1995 album "Shag Tobacco" is an excellent example of his sound, a classic release that plays fast and loose with the Pop aesthetic and kind of transcends the genre in hindsight, becoming it's own distinct style and sound. There are elements of Dark Cabaret, Glam, Opera, and Punk, all mixed together in a richly textured blend that works really well and sounds quite unique.

In the spring of '96, Friday went on tour to support the album and I went to see him with my friend Bevin, one of dozens of shows we've seen together. Bevin and I both share similar tastes, and over the years we've seen a lot of live music, sharing in the joy and rapture that comes from a great show. She feels much the same way as I do about concerts, about performance, and her enthusiasm and excitement make her an excellent companion to see a gig with. 

Friday was playing at The Rivoli, a small club on Queen Street just a few doors east of Spadina, and it's always been a great place to see a show. It's a small venue, I can't imagine that it holds any more than maybe two or three hundred people, and you enter by walking through the restaurant in the front and the venue is a tiny brick walled space in the back. There's a short bar that runs along the back wall opposite the stage, along the East wall there are a few stools, and the West wall has a few cushioned seats, but it's the kind of place that gets crowded enough that you can't really sit down if you want to see the stage very well. 

I love the Rivoli, and I've seen tons of shows there over the years, a lot of local bands, a lot of touring shows, I've even played there myself a few times. I saw Mourning Sickness there once, they were an incredible artistic and musical collective that have a legendary status in the Toronto scene, and I've seen dozens of friends' bands play there over the years. I saw Hole play a show in support of their first album, and a solo gig by Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. The first time I saw Thrive play was at the Rivoli, part of a 'zine launch for The Ninth Wave and I made a number of lifelong friends that evening. In the early nineties The Riv used to host industrial video nights during the week, and I remember those nights being the first opportunity I had to see videos by Einst├╝rzende Neubauten, Nick Cave, and others. The Rivoli has always been a special place in my mind, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Friday wore a simple black suit with a white shirt that night, and looked rather dashing I thought, and over the course of the evening he and his band played almost the entirety of  "Shag Tobacco" along with a couple of covers. It was a strong performance, an excellent blend of charisma and talent that worked really effectively and entertained greatly. He sang through a megaphone on Caruso, a track that stands out on the album as kind of a conceptual centrepiece around which everything else is built. The live version was delivered really well, with Friday's vocals building a manic intensity as the song progressed. It was pretty awesome.

There was a great performance of Angel, a spotlight shining on a disco ball overhead that brightened the room with a million sparkles. Friday came down from the small stage and started to walk through the audience, singing directly to people only inches away from them, moving from one person to the next. It was a high point of the night, an example of tearing down the walls that separate artist and audience and bringing them closer together, an amazing and sensual moment that's stayed with me for years. I may have swooned at the time. I still get a little flustered writing about it now...

There were other songs, My Twentieth Century, You and Me and World War Three, more, each of them capturing the spirit of the album and building on Friday's charm. It was a good night, an excellent evening of music and performance by a charismatic performer and a great band, the kind of show that leaves you with a smile on your face. When Friday came back to Toronto later that year for a show at Lee's Palace Bevin and I made sure to go to that show too. He played largely the same set along with a cover of The Jean Genie which was pretty amazing, a big song for a big personality. 

As far as I know that second show was the last time that Gavin Friday ever played in Toronto, and in hindsight I'm glad that Bevin and I were able to see him at the Rivoli and again later at Lee's. Friday is a dynamic and impressive artist, and even now twenty five years later I still look back on those evenings fondly, a testimony not only to Friday's performance, but also to the wonder of live music and the memories and feelings that it can inspire...

Thursday, April 1, 2021

April 1st 2004, David Bowie at the Air Canada Centre


David Bowie's last show in Toronto was at the Air Canada Centre on April 1st 2004. He was touring for the "Reality" album and of course nobody knew then that this tour would be among the last chances to see him live. "Reality" was a strong album, a continuation of a return to form that started with "Heathen" signaling an end to the troubled nineties era where he drifted between sounds and styles without the same direction and purpose he had shown earlier in his career. "Reality" saw Bowie with a renewed purpose, a vitality that he hadn't shown in years, and of course the shows that he played in support of that album reflected that same purpose and vitality.

Originally set for a date in December the year prior, the April show was a rescheduled date due to illness so by that point there was some considerable anticipation from the audience who had been waiting extra long for the show to happen. I went with my friend Charlotte with a pair of tickets in the stands along the side a few rows up from the floors just one section away from the stage. Not too close, but not too far, just the right spot to get some perspective and still see things in detail. 

The show opened with a reworked version of Rebel Rebel, the band walking out and vamping on the instrumental opening for a bit before Bowie appeared. Earl Slick was on guitar, Gail Ann Dorsey on bass, Mike Garson on keyboards, and a few others from past tours rounded out the band making for a slick and tight unit that complimented and built on the songs well. Having all played with Bowie for so long there was a great chemistry between them and that added a lot to the show.

The set was pretty diverse and covered a wide range of tracks from across the years with a fair focus on "Reality" but enough classics to keep the excitement going. New songs like New Killer Star and Never Get Old were paired well with Hang on to Yourself and Fame. There was a spectacular version of Ashes to Ashes with an extended piano solo from Mike Garson that was a particular highlight in my mind. The encores included a suite of songs from "Ziggy Stardust" which was an excellent way to end the evening.

Overall it was a great show, and I try not to dwell on the fact that it was the last time I saw him live, especially because this tour wasn't so much a marked ending as it was a transition into the next phase of Bowie's career, where he would become more private, more reclusive, and would create a new role and a new sound for himself yet again. I prefer to think of this show that way, as another transition in a long line of changes and growth that defined Bowie's entire body of work over the course of his life. 

I guess that's one of the lessons I've learned from listening to Bowie for so long. When we think about things it's best not to look at beginnings and endings so much as we should think of transitions.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

March 25th 2016, Prince at the Sony Centre

I've been a fan of Prince for a long time. Pretty much since the first time I saw the video for Little Red Corvette during an episode of The New Music back in the eighties. Maybe you've already seen that video before, but indulge me for a moment and imagine seeing it for the very first time, and revel in that opening with the red lights pulsing in time with the opening synth build. Prince is visible in half light and then the camera pulls back to show him wearing a long metallic overcoat, a frilly shirt, and heels. And he looks fucking awesome.

It feels like an important moment in time, and watching it you can tell that he's right on the edge of superstardom. His band aren't The Revolution yet, but they're so close. Lisa Coleman is there, and so is Dez Dickerson wearing a bandanna and some kind of funky 80s tunic thing. I think Jill Jones and Matt Fink are in it too, but I may be confusing it with the 1999 video. All the elements are there, the swagger, the strut, the funk, everything that Prince would come to define in the years to follow. During an instrumental break he does this amazing side step spinning kick that leads into the splits and he keeps perfect time throughout the whole thing. It's a pretty amazing video, and of course it inspired me to check out some more of his stuff, and that soon led me to  "Purple Rain" which was the album that sealed the deal for me and made me a fan of Prince for life.

I bought a cassette copy of "Purple Rain" at the Zellers at Towne and Country Mall a couple of weeks after it was released, and I remember the first time I ever listened to it, just sitting there holding my Walkman with my eyes closed, soaking up every note and beat on the album. The spoken intro at the start of Let's Go Crazy sent shivers down my spine and the song itself blew my mind, an explosion of searing guitars and spiraling heights that never seemed to end, truly an epic piece of music. I immediately liked Take Me With U, resplendent in strings and drum fills and Appolonia's very politely whispered "Thank you" in response to being complimented. Brilliant stuff.

There was something majestic about The Beautiful Ones, a raw, heartfelt emotion that seemed so poignant to me, earning that song a place as one of my all time favorite Prince songs. Computer Blue followed, a swaggering slab of metallic funk guitar-based monstrousness that still amazes me to this day. And then there's Darling Nikki. What more can be said about Darling Nikki? I've often thought that if "Purple Rain" had been released as an EP and had ended with that track it would still be lauded as a masterpiece. I think the world still would have still embraced Prince and recognized him as a formidable talent and his stardom would have still been assured.

But Prince was never satisfied with doing anything half-heartedly, and so we have the second side of "Purple Rain", which in many ways is even more amazing than the first. It opens with When Doves Cry and I'm sure that I don't have to tell you what an amazing song When Doves Cry is. Have you heard it lately? I encourage you to do so right now, it's a fucking masterpiece. Legend has it that the band just came into the studio one day and it was already recorded, mixed and pretty much finished all in one night, Prince having recorded all of the instrumental parts and sang all the vocals by himself after the band had left the studio the night before. Think about that for a second. Prince wrote and recorded When Doves Cry in one night all by himself. If that's not a sign of musical genius I don't know what else is...

As a kid I thought that I Would Die 4 U was the ultimate love song. Up until that point I'd never heard such a bold statement, such an absolute declaration of love. I mean, Prince was willing to die for his Darling if they wanted him too, that was pretty intense. I was pretty impressed by that, although I often wondered if he was talking about Darling Nikki or a different Darling. At the time I was still kind of feeling my way through personal interaction, and stuff like that got a little bit confusing for me.

Anyway, that song blends seamlessly into Baby I'm a Star, which I'll admit at the time I thought was a little self aggrandizing, but looking back on it I'm okay with it now. I mean, I totally recognized that he was a star, but I thought it seemed kind of arrogant to flaunt that fact all over the place. I'm okay with it now, I mean, really he was a star, he deserves to toot his own horn, but at the time I was a little turned off by that kind of bravado.

And then the album ends with Purple Rain, and I'm hard pressed to think of a more epic and sweeping display of grandeur. Purple Rain is quite simply one of the greatest songs ever recorded, and any failure to recognize and acknowledge that fact is pretty much grounds for dismissal in my mind. Building from a simple guitar and vocals into a fully orchestrated wall of sound, Purple Rain is an astonishing and mind-blowing work that transcends the genre of popular music and becomes something spiritual, and needless to say it's the perfect finale to what is arguably Prince's greatest album.

Now you'd think that after releasing one of the greatest Pop albums ever made, you would want to explore the same formula a little more in your follow up, maybe build on what you'd already done and see if you could top your previous efforts. But Prince was never one to follow trends and when "Around the World in a Day" was released in the spring of 1985, it was revealed as a huge departure from the sheer ecstasy that was "Purple Rain". It was a little less funky, a little more psychedelic, and the record buying public didn't really quite get it at first, even though the first single Raspberry Beret was monstrously catchy. I liked the album a lot when it was released, and as the years have gone by it's become one of my favorites in the Prince catalog. Of course saying that "Around the World in a Day" is one of my favorite Prince albums needs to be tempered by the fact that I have so many favorite Prince albums. I mean, who can resist the funk of "1999" or the brilliance of "Sign o' The Times"? Saying that you don't like "Lovesexy" or "Batman" is kind of like saying you don't like music. And don't get me started on the quality of the later stuff, because "Musicology" and "The Gold Experience" and his later work with 3rdEyeGirl are all just as credible and interesting as his earlier stuff. Ultimately the idea of having "a favorite Prince album" becomes entirely dependent on which one I've listened to most recently. There is a legitimate case that each one of them deserves to be recognized as my favorite Prince album.

But as amazing as his albums are, it was in his live performances where he really shone. Prince is one of the most amazing performers I've ever seen, dynamic, charismatic, an incredibly accomplished musician, an artist in the truest sense of the word. I was lucky enough to see him play a few times in a few different spaces, and every time was a spectacular and amazing experience. The first time I saw him was in 1993 at Maple Leaf Gardens when he was touring for the symbol album. He played the whole thing straight through followed by a selection of hits and fan favorites. There were great versions of She's Always in My Hair and The Max that night, and he encored with Partyman and 1999. It was pretty awesome.

In 1997 I saw him at the Warehouse, a spontaneous club gig that was announced the morning of the show. One of the guys I worked with lined up for tickets and got one for me because he knew I was a big fan. There's an electric energy in seeing big artists in small venues, and that night at the Warehouse the energy was exponentially more pronounced. Prince stayed away from the hits for the most part aside from Purple Rain and Raspberry Beret, and the rest of the show was a selection of gems that seemed chosen just for fans. He did a James Brown cover that night, a spirited run through 17 Days, a deep blues-y How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore, and a really sweet version of Take Me With U among other things. Seeing Prince in a small venue was a magical experience, something transcendent.

I went to see him again at the ACC in 2004. During the set he ordered pizza for everybody on the floor and he played a blistering cover of Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin. Let's go Crazy, Purple Rain, a ton of other hits and tracks from "Musicology" were all part of the setlist that night. He did an awesome version of Shhh from "The Gold Experience", and the band vamped on a couple of Sheila E. tracks as well. It was another great night, another awesome concert from a superstar showman.

I got another chance to see him in 2015 when he came to the Sony Centre with 3rdEyeGirl. It was another last minute show with tickets going on sale the day before the gig, and it was a bit of a scramble but I was able to get a pair on the floor about fifteen rows back from the stage for Carolyn and I. While we were waiting for the show to begin we started talking to this guy sitting next to us who had brought his mother to see Prince 'cause she'd been a fan for as long as she could remember, but she'd never had a chance to see him before. During the show she brought out a pair of mini binoculars so she could see the stage better, and she passed them to Carolyn and I a few times so we could get a better view too. I'm glad she got to see him that night, it was a pretty blistering show. 3rdEyeGirl were an amazing back up band that evening, and each one of them had a chance to shine with solos interspersed throughout the set. There was a certain magic to their performance with Prince, a give and take between the four of them that spoke of great things to come.

The main set was mostly newer work from "Art Official Age" and "Lotusflow3r", even a track from "Emancipation", but it didn't matter that the songs weren't as familiar to anybody, they were still tight and funky and altogether awesome. Carolyn danced through the whole set, even though she didn't know any of the songs he played up until a slowed down take on Let's Go Crazy. For the first encore he played an Elvis Presley cover (our new friend with the binoculars was a big Elvis fan too she told us, so it was pretty much a dream come true for her...), followed by a heart stopping solo version of The Beautiful Ones (YESSSSSS...) and a really sweet Something in the Water (Does Not Compute). For the second encore he did a half hour medley of hits from across his career, and then he closed the night out with Nothing Compares 2 U. Bliss I tell you, sheer musical bliss...

But of all the times that I saw Prince perform, it was his last show in Toronto that will always stay perfectly etched in my memory. The Piano and a Microphone Tour was a free form set of shows that Prince had started doing in 2016, spontaneously announcing dates in a city a day or two before playing. There was no notice, no prior warning, rather he'd just show up in town to play a couple of gigs and then vanish into the night heading to another lucky city to do it all over again.

True to it's name, the idea was that the show was a solo performance by Prince, no band, just him and a piano playing whatever he felt like at the time, and given the depth of his catalog this promised to be a pretty amazing concert. I had been following setlists from earlier dates on the tour, and it looked as though pretty much anything was up for grabs during these gigs with deep album cuts, obscure singles, and surprising covers all making their way into the show. At a night in Melbourne earlier in the tour he ran through a collection of songs that included Little Red Corvette, The Max, and a cover of the Batman theme from the sixties TV show. That possibility and spontaneity were especially appealing to me so when he announced a pair of shows in Toronto at the Sony Centre I jumped at the opportunity to get a pair of tickets for Carolyn and I to see the second set.

We got to the Sony Centre about 930pm and they hadn't opened the doors yet, so the lineup snaked all the way around the venue until they let us in about 10pm. Our tickets were up in the rear balcony, but one of the joys of the Sony Centre is that it has great sound and great sightlines wherever you are in the venue so we weren't worried about being able to see anything. And of course, given the suggested stripped down nature of the show we weren't expecting a big theatrical presentation or anything, just Prince and a piano and a microphone as advertised. And that's exactly what we got. 

And it was spectacular...

He walked out from a door in the back of the stage to thunderous applause, just Prince wearing what looked like a pair of velvet pyjamas, and he sat down at the piano and started to play Joy in Repetition. I wouldn't say that's an obscure track but it's certainly not one of his more popular ones, more of a deep cut for the fans, and it was absolutely amazing. The story of a chance meeting in a bar unfolded with grace and style, just Prince singing and playing piano, and it was among the most riveting and captivating things I've ever seen, hypnotic, beguiling, magical.

What followed was a steady stream of music with hardly any breaks or pauses, a medley that ran on for most of the evening. Prince jammed on a tune for a verse and a chorus here, stretched out another song there, improvised and built something up elsewhere. It was an incredible display of talent, technical prowess, and the sheer glee of making music. I wish you all could have been there, it was really special.

There were some obvious choices like Little Red Corvette and Controversy, stripped down instrumentation bringing the songs to their core, demonstrating the strength in his songwriting and celebrating the catalog of work that Prince had made over the years. He touched on most of the albums that you wanted to hear, some cuts from "Sign o' the Times", a pair of singles from "Diamonds and Pearls", a little love to his early albums. As a longtime fan I can say that it was a perfect mixture of tracks, I mean, an artist like Prince, you're never going to hear everything you want to, but this setlist touched on enough of the things that you were hoping for and more so you couldn't help but be impressed.

He played songs by Bob Marley and Joni Mitchell, and at one point he did a cover of Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi, yeah, that song from the Peanuts cartoons, Doo do do Dododo Doo Doo, and it really wasn't something you ever expected or imagined you'd see, but when it happened, well, of course it did. That's the kind of show that it was.

As one of his encores he played an iconic version of The Beautiful Ones, and the power in his voice, the range of emotions that he displayed during that song, there are no words to describe it. Even in a stripped down format that track stayed true to it's nature, it remained amazing and reiterated itself in my mind as one of my favorites, simply stunning.

His last encore was Purple Rain, and in hindsight that was the perfect choice, the song that changed his life and propelled his career into a whole new level. While there might be other Prince songs that I think of as my favorites, I can't deny that Purple Rain stands as his very best and most personal work, the song that captures the purest essence of the artist that is Prince. And on a night that featured such an extensive overview of his catalog, such a celebration of the music that he had made over the years, it seemed like the right ending for the show. 

A couple of weeks later I was at work when a colleague of mine called and asked if I had heard about Prince, and that's when I found out that he had died. And in a year that had already been filled with loss and death around me, his passing struck hard. Over the last few decades Prince had been a huge part of my musical world, an influence, an inspiration, an icon, and his music had been a consistent joy in my life. It didn't seem real, and the idea of living in a world without him seemed almost impossible to imagine. Even now I can't help but feel like the world is a worse place for his absence, a little bit less musical and a little bit less magical for his absence.

But as sad as his passing was and still is, when I listen to his music I'm reminded how very lucky I was to have experienced as much of it as I did, and I'll always be grateful for the contributions that Prince made to the soundtrack of my life. I'm grateful for all the songs, for all the shows, for all the little things and all of the big things that he did over the course of his career that made him so awesome. There's no doubt in my mind that we'll never see another artist quite like him, and I'm truly grateful to have had the chance to see him when I did.