The best and worst of a wild musical year

In 2017, we saw the death of a Canadian icon, the reunion of a legendary local band, and the political awakening of Eminem.

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      Starting with a certain orange-crayon-coloured clown taking the White House down south in January, a lot of crazy shit happened this past year. Some good things happened too, not just internationally but locally. Here’s a selection of highlights, both good and bad.

      Death with Dignity

      A Canadian great goes out with class

      Before he was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer in 2016, Gord Downie’s legacy was showing Canadians you don’t have to make it stateside to become an icon at home. After learning his time would be short, the Tragically Hip singer gave the world a clinic on going out in style, hitting the road for a series of devastatingly emotional farewell shows, recording a final solo album (Introduce Yerself), and working tirelessly to draw attention to the way Canada has historically treated its Indigenous peoples. Someday, they’ll build a monument to one of the greatest Canadians ever. In the meantime, don’t be embarrassed about tearing up every time you hear “Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)”.


      Definitive proof that musicians are idiots

      Who comes up with those baby names?

      If you thought the names of musicians’ offspring couldn’t get any stupider than Apple Martin, North West, and Jermajesty Jackson, you need look no further than new parents Liam Payne, of One Direction, and Cheryl Cole, reality-TV-show judge. The pair apparently decided to call their son Bear Payne after spending a week “getting to know the infant”, from which we can only surmise that their child felt most at home playing with the family’s garbage. In fairness to the couple, it could have been worse—the U.K. edition of Marie Claire announced that the duo had named the tot Wayne “Window” Payne: a joke that was billed as an April Fools’ prank, but was actually published in March.


      Liam Payne, father of Bear.

      Most disappointing appearance

      Liam Payne pops up—briefly—at the PNE

      Speaking of Liam Payne: when it was announced that the singer would be headlining the iHeartRadio Beach Ball at the PNE this past September 3, Directioners everywhere (certain Straight staff members included) rushed to lock down their tickets. Unfortunately, the star fell short of expectations. As he stood on-stage for a sum total of six-and-a-half minutes, more of the performer’s set was soundtracked by screaming teenage girls than by his own music. Sure, Payne had only released two (reasonably disappointing) singles by the start of September—“Strip That Down” and “Get Low”—but surely he could have, we don’t know, at least attempted a One Direction cover? (Not bitter or anything.)


      Unintentionally subversive

      Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee, “Despacito”

      “Despacito” is not a political screed by any stretch of the imagination. (Like most pop songs, it’s about screwing.) There’s something deliciously ironic, though, about the fact that a single by Puerto Rican artists, performed almost entirely in Spanish—Justin Bieber’s cameo on the remix aside—became the chart-dominating song of the summer in the U.S. the same year that saw the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who doesn’t seem to realize that Puerto Rico is actually part of his country. The English translation of the title, “Slowly”, is a good description of the pace at which Trump’s government is sending desperately needed aid to the hurricane-ravaged island. ¡Ay, bendito!


      Slow steps up again

      Local legends stage a triumphant return

      Vancouver protogrunge unit Slow did everything right during its initial run in the ’80s. The quintet burned just long enough to write a landmark EP (Against the Glass) containing the greatest song this city’s fabled underground has ever produced (“Have Not Been the Same”). Live shows, meanwhile, were famously complete anarchy—ask your parents about the pig’s-blood shower when the band backed up the Cramps, or how Slow cancelled an entire underground-rock festival at Expo 86 in something like 14 minutes. Thirty-odd years after imploding, the classic lineup of singer Tom Anselmi, bassist Stephen Hamm, drummer Terry Russell, and guitarists Christian Thorvaldson and Ziggy Zigmund shocked Vancouver this past November by announcing they’d re-formed. Initial shows have been tightly wound and powerful, with new material on the way. Welcome back.


      Dan Mangan isn't one of those musicians who keeps a distance from his fans.
      Amanda Siebert

      The pride of Vancouver

      #StraightUnplugged concert series

      It was a very musical year around the Georgia Straight offices. Way back in January, Yukon Blonde kicked off a series of unplugged performances at Straight HQ in celebration of this publication’s 50th anniversary. Highlights of the series—which featured a roster of high-calibre local acts who have been featured on our cover in recent years—included Dan Mangan leading a rousing sing-along version of “Robots” and the Zolas sharing the local indie love by covering We Are the City’s “Keep on Dancing”. The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, the Pack a.d., Mother Mother, Hannah Georgas, Said the Whale, and the Gay Nineties also stopped by to play a few tunes.


      Biggest bargain

      Jay-Z comes up short on the sales

      Jay-Z caused a stir when tickets for his December 11 Rogers Arena concert hit the market earlier in the year with prices well beyond the means of, frankly, anyone who pays rent in Vancouver. Out to promote 4.44, his first album in four years, the rap superstar swiftly discovered that he’d overestimated his popularity. Not only did he fail to sell out the venue, there were ample tickets left on Ticketmaster going for less than $40, StubHubbers were flogging theirs for under US$15, and scalpers outside the arena were practically giving them away. Could it be that literally nobody can be bothered to pay for TIDAL to hear his new album? Could it be that a man who cheated on Beyoncé is not worthy of the people’s love? We’ll take both of the above.


      Vancouver’s Sam Tudor.

      World-class wonder

      Sam Tudor gives a gift with “Truthful”

      Even though it’s never been harder for artists to make a go of it in this increasingly unaffordable city, somehow our creative community not only endures but often proves itself world-class. Sam Tudor’s “Truthful” is the kind of song that sinks its hooks into you on first listen, creating a vibe that’s as dark and melancholy as it is weirdly uplifting. Sonically, the Vancouver singer-songwriter infuses folk-tinted indie rock with a menacing electro undercurrent, turning something great into a local classic with a chorus that makes resistance futile. Cue it up the next time the rains roll in, if for no other reason than it’ll prove there are rewards for toughing it out in Canada’s hardest-to-live-in livable city.


      Rap beef of 2017

      Eminem vs. Donald Trump

      At the BET Awards in October, Eminem dropped a freestyle called “The Storm”, in which the veteran rapper tore U.S. president Donald Trump a new one for his hypocrisy and race-baiting politics. Choice lines included: “And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his/I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against/And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split/On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this: fuck you!” The man born Marshall Mathers softened his stance somewhat in an interview with Vulture, noting that Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and efforts to dismantle Obamacare hurt everyone, including the people who elected him. “I don’t want any voters to get fucked; everyone’s trying to improve their lives,” Eminem said. “I just feel mad that Trump’s sold people a dream that’s never coming true. I want the division in this country to stop.”


      If you missed Nick Cave's last show in Vancouver, you can always check out the doc One More Time With Feeling.

      Best climax

      Nick Cave floors fans with a captivating curtain call

      Long famous for his gripping live shows, Nick Cave mixed things up on his Vancouver stop for his latest, Skeleton Tree. Understandably, given the record was informed by a momentous personal loss, the night—at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in June—balanced moments of quiet introspection with exorcisms like “From Her to Eternity” and “Tupelo”. Just when it looked like Cave was happier on the dark side, he delivered an encore that was jaw-dropping. Climbing into the audience at the opening notes of “Red Right Hand”, he then shepherded fans onto the stage for “Stagger Lee”. By the time he returned to the floor of the Queen E. for “Push the Sky Away”, there were 100 people alongside the Bad Seeds on the stage. Cave, meanwhile, stood godlike among his ticket-buying disciples, the spectacle projected in rich black-and-white on the floor-to-ceiling screen behind the band. The singer described it all as “fucking fantastic”. That was
      actually shortchanging things.


      Hope for the future

      Vancouver births new festivals

      Yes, the last few years may have seen the deaths of Squamish, Levitation, and the mighty Pemberton festival, but this year revealed green shoots in the live-music ecosystem. Two new three-day events were announced in 2017: the Stanley Park–situated SKOOKUM festival and the multi-venue Westward Music Festival, which featured headliners like Vince Staples and A Tribe Called Red. Throw those parties in with Contact, FVDED in the Park, Seasons, and Music Waste, and we’re not doing half bad for local showcases.


      The Nard was back this year, testing Christy Clark about her knowledge of 1980s punk-rock acts.

      Still rawkin’ in the free world

      The Nard reaches a milestone

      Proof positive that a little bit of tenacity will take you a long way, Nardwuar the Human Serviette celebrated the 30th year of his remarkable career in the fall with a 20-hour radio marathon and a live all-ages blowout with his band the Evaporators. The celebrity interviewer’s determination to know all things about his subjects started at West Vancouver’s Hillside Secondary School, where, as student council president, he’d point the mike at future legends like Art Bergmann before student dances. Since then, the Nard has become legendary not only for landing interview time with the biggest names in popular music—Drake, Jay-Z, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga—but, more importantly, for keeping them engaged by rolling out trivia that inevitably leads to the blurting-out of “How do you know that?” As a proud Canadian, Nardwuar is fittingly humble about his status as one of the country’s most-loved cultural icons. “I guess the way that I work is scared,” he told the Straight in a September profile. “It’s good to be scared because it shows that you care. A lot of people aren’t scared, and because of that they do a bad job and bad interviews.”


      Best new trend

      The meat-and-greet

      Ticket sales are down, downloads are down, and with artists earning less than a tenth of a cent for every play on Spotify or Apple Music, their bank balances over the last few years have taken a hit. As a result, stars such as Drake, Bieber, and Kanye have set up pop-up shops, offering fans the chance to score hideously overpriced merch while catching a glimpse of their idol standing behind a large police escort. This year, as the craze started to tire, publicists tried to put a creative spin on it. Food was officially the new m.o. of pop-ups for rap stars in 2017, with Eminem opening the doors of a one-time “Mom’s Spaghetti” shop, and Lil Yachty launching “Yachty’s Pizzeria”. We’re only disappointed that we didn’t get to visit D.R.A.M’s organic “Broccoli” outlet or 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop”.


      Who needs the Grammy Awards, anyway?

      The year in Drake

      Mr. Playlist vs. the Grammys

      The playlist has become the primary medium through which people consume music, a point driven home this past spring with the release of Drake’s More Life. Drizzy pointedly refused to call More Life an album, or even a mix tape. He also opted not to submit the 22-song collection for Grammy consideration. Then again, he’s not a big fan of the Grammy Awards, even though he’s snagged three of them. Back in February, Drake skipped the Grammys and played a show in Manchester instead of accepting the awards for best rap song and best rap/sung collaboration, both for “Hotline Bling”. The next day he told a U.K. radio host, “I won two awards last night, but I don’t even want them, ’cause it feels weird for some reason, it doesn’t feel right to me.…I’m apparently a ‘rapper’ even though ‘Hotline Bling’ is not a rap song. The only category that they can manage to fit me in is a ‘rap’ category, maybe because I’ve rapped in the past, or because I’m black—I can’t figure out why.”


      Most inspirational moment

      Grammy nominations show real progress

      Suffocating Planned Parenthood, encouraging KKK rallies, and threatening LGBT rights, Donald Trump has spent the last 12 months trying to undo 50 years of social progress. Kudos to the Grammys’ voting members, then, for making sure that the same isn’t true for the music industry. Absolutely zero white men were nominated for the album-of-the-year award, which means that there will be no Daft Punks stealing the podium from Kendrick Lamar, and, much to Kanye’s delight, no Becks to take the limelight from a Beyoncé. 2018 is looking brighter already.