Before we go ahead and tear down that old 2018 calendar from the wall, it’s time once again to look back at some of the most memorable concert experiences that we enjoyed over the last twelve months. Quite a daunting task, given the number of shows that we were fortunate to catch live, and tougher still when imposing a ten track limit to this article. Don’t even consider asking me to rank these in any kind of order. Just like previous years, I am simply listing ten notable moments in chronological order of our live concert dates. Look carefully and you’ll see that there is more than one Tragically Hip cover here too.
The Fugitives: “No Words” (Brantford/January)
It’s not often that we can catch a band live just 24 hours after the official release of their latest album, but this was indeed the case when catching up with The Fugitives earlier this year. Reviewing the album prior to its release, I was simply amazed by “No Words,” their atmospheric tribute to Leonard Cohen, complete with amazing vocals and gospel-laced harmonies. Sans the choir for their live version of this song at The Sanderson Centre, the quartet still left me with a lump in my throat with their effective use of pauses and timing to build the intensity of the chorus.
Jim Cuddy Family Band: “Maggie’s Hardware Store” (Hamilton/February)
For his “Constellations” album tour, Jim Cuddy not only invited several family and friends to join him for these shows, he also defied convention and had his guests rotate in and out of the show throughout the night. During Devin Cuddy’s performance of “Maggie’s Hardware Store,” both Sam Polley and Barney Bentall would appear on stage for some good old fashioned ‘fooling around.’ Demonstrating some humorous chemistry, the pair offered some slick synchronized dance moves and some impromptu howling too. How Devin maintained his composure without succumbing to laughter, I’ll never know. This truly was one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments.
The Mercenaries: “Immigrant Song” (Toronto/March)
Who says that my choices have to reflect well known bands? Well hey, the Mercenaries are “Toronto’s most electrifying live rhythm and blues review,” at least according to Ian Goodtimes, lead vocalist and bassist for The Mercenaries. As a rag-tag ensemble of some of the finest ‘recognizable’ faces from the ON music scene, no two shows are ever the same, whether it be the cast, the tunes, or the themed events that the band frequently perform. On this particular night back in March, we caught the band at The Rec Room, and marveled at how well they cranked out cover after cover. However, extending an invitation to a young lady named Joan Smith to join them for a few songs, it was Smith’s outstanding vocals during the Led Zeppelin classic, “Immigrant Song” that earned my undivided attention. We would focus on Joan’s own debut album shortly after this event, but for me, this was one of those “remember when” moments.
Whitehorse: “Ohio” (Ridgway/April)
Any live tune from Whitehorse could easily make this list! The duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland always impress, but it would be their encore number at The Sanctuary back in April that stood out. Inviting opening artist Dan Edmonds to join them on stage, these three musicians performed an outstanding impromptu cover of the CSNY classic, “Ohio.” Turning a 3 minute song into an 8 minute epic, both Doucet and Edmonds traded extensive guitar solos that left everybody in awe at the musicianship being witnessed. While Doucet is known for his amazing guitar skills, Edmonds was not intimidated, and really gave his Telecaster a healthy workout to showcase his talents too.
Justin Rutledge: “Grace, Too” (Toronto/April)
Being part of a very intimate crowd for a house show featuring Justin Rutledge was definitely one of the highlights for our concert-going adventures in 2018. With no microphone or amplification needed, and armed with just his trusty acoustic guitar, Justin dug deep into his back catalog to perform tunes he seldom gets to include for his larger shows. Knowing that I had driven up from PA that day for the show, Justin asked me if I had a song request. Not wanting to choose the obvious, I recalled “Daredevil,” his album of Tragically Hip covers, and simply uttered, “Grace, Too.” Caught unawares, Justin joked, “Could you pick one of my songs?” But appreciating the request, he took a brief moment to determine the chords, before filling the room with his interpretation of this uplifting Gord Downie classic.
Terra Lightfoot: “See You In The Morning” (Harrisburg/June)
Supporting US rock band The Posies on their 30th anniversary tour, Terra Lightfoot brought her lively brand of blues-rock to the PA mid-state on a Tuesday night this past summer. With just time for seven tracks during her opening slot, Terra and her band would close with “See You In The Morning” from her “Every Time My Mind Runs Wild” album. Not only would drummer Joel Haynes be given his time in the spotlight with a lengthy solo during this number, The Posies’ drummer Mike Musburger would appear behind his own kit at the back of the stage, joining Haynes in an epic percussion duel that literally rocked the house to its core. Those in the room are not likely to forget this amazing drum-jam.
Rose Cousins: “Ahead By A Century” (Gravenhurst/August)
There are monumental moments, and then there is this; possibly one of the finest collaborations we’ve experienced. Headlining the Main Opera stage at the 2nd annual Sawdust City Music and Arts Festival, after performing a few of her songs alone, Rose Cousins invited many of her friends to join her for an outstanding cover of this Tragically Hip classic. The list of artists on stage ran like a who’s who of the Canadian music scene: Royal Wood, The Good Lovelies, Damhnait Doyle, Amanda Rheaume, Grady Kelnick, Lydia Persaud, Bret Higgins and Joshua Van Tassel. Enough said, right? Words cannot describe just how special this brief moment was for those in attendance.
Jay Gilday with Terence Jack: “Dream Your Dreams” (Philadelphia/September)
Canadians were very well represented at the Philadelphia Folk Festival this past summer, allowing us to catch up with old friends, and make several new ones too. Unfamiliar with either artist, both left a lasting first impression during their respective performances; Gilday (Alberta) with his raw emotion and gravelly vocals, Terence Jack (British Columbia) with his west coast indie rock. However, when both artists were partnered to collaborate on a pair of tracks during “The Backstage Sessions,” their performance of Gilday’s “Dream Your Dreams” truly was a once in a lifetime moment to behold. You’ll find video footage on our Facebook page; but be warned, this one is addictive and will warrant many repeat viewings.
Jeremie Albino: “Bottle” (Toronto/November)
Always heed the good advice of a musician-friend who is well connected within the Toronto music scene, when giving you an artist name to watch out for. Jeremie Albino was the name dropped to us, and both good timing and a little luck brought us together for a Black Friday show at the historic Dakota Tavern. Amazed by his talents from his sound-check alone, the show was, as expected, simply off the charts. So much talent that is ready to make big waves both nationally and internationally. Joined briefly on stage by musical friends Taylor and Sean for a pair of tracks, it would be the fun and lively collaboration during “Bottle” that electrified the room. One banjo; two guitars; and three-part vocals combined to bring the house down on that Friday night.
Blue Rodeo: “Disappear” (Brantford/November)
Yes, I listed Jim Cuddy earlier. Yes, Blue Rodeo appeared on this list both in 2017 and 2016. But for good reasons! This would be our only date with Blue Rodeo in 2018, and it happened at The Sanderson Centre; yes, the very theater where our Great Dark Wonder blog was conceived. On this particular night, I had goose-bumps upon hearing Greg Keelor introduce “Disappear” with his tale of the ex-girlfriend making her wish on the beach. And as much as I loved Mike Boguski’s re-worked piano solo performed in a sea of darkness, it was that moment when the crimson-red lights passionately illuminated Keelor, Cuddy, and Colin Cripps jamming away at the very edge of the stage. If you felt no emotions during that brief moment, you ought to see a doctor, my friend(s).