Musical moments of 2012: Vancouver's top concerts

As 2012 winds down, we remember the musical moments we’re not ashamed to say that we loved

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      Paul McCartney
      At B.C. Place on November 25
      For all of us, the experience was the same. “Holy fuck,” you thought, “that’s a Beatle…” And then you burst into tears. The cute one has been the subject of much scorn and cynicism over the years—deservedly, at times—yet this three-hour testament to the transcendent possibilities of popular culture (and the health benefits of a vegetarian diet) was so inarguably glorious that even singing along with “Ob La Di Ob La Da” felt like an almost religious tribute to the man’s place in history.

      The Weeknd
      At the Commodore Ballroom on May 12
      The 1,000 or so people who packed a sold-out Commodore for the Weeknd’s first-ever Vancouver show acquired instant bragging rights; the next time Abel Tesfaye hit town, he was playing the Pacific Coliseum. Substituting a not-particularly-subtle power trio for the haunting dream-pop samples of his recordings posited the enigmatic R&B crooner as some kind of rock star, for better or worse. Still, there was no denying the power of the Weeknd’s voice, or his knack for self-mythologizing.

      Cat Power
      At the Vogue Theatre on November 2
      Most people are probably shaking their heads at this being named a top concert, but after the scrutiny and arguably sexist judgement laid on the now 40-year-old Matador artist this year, Chan Marshall managed to suspend the hate for one night when she played at the Vogue. Forget all her weird, stressful stage moments or painful awkwardness, Marshall’s voice is like no other and is enough to make you cry.

      The Pack a.d. 
      At the Rickshaw on January 28
      The Pack a.d. didn’t exactly start off 2012 as Vancouver’s shiny, new, or hottest thing; the duo of Becky Black (vocals, guitar) and Maya Miller (drums) has been slogging it out in the trenches since 2006, first working a post–White Stripes power-blues angle, and, more recently, hunkering down in the garage to perfect a revved-up strain of grungy pop. Holy sheepshit, though, if this wasn’t the year the band officially arrived as local heavyweight contenders, starting with a turbocharged coming-out party that was a riotous blur of flying sweat, spilled PBR, and nonstop action, with Black seemingly spending as much time in the air as on the stage.

      Bill Frisell’S 858 Quartet
      At the Vancouver Playhouse on November 24
      Bill Frisell is the most influential guitarist to emerge since Jimi Hendrix’s untimely death, but arguing that point—in Vancouver, at least—hasn’t always been easy. That’s largely to do with the concerts the Seattle-based musician has given here in the past few years, most of which have been sleepy, albeit gorgeous, examinations of Americana’s jazzier side. Not this one, though. Inspired by the vibrant hues of Gerhard Richter’s artwork (projected on a big screen behind the band), Frisell and his innovative “string quartet” delivered a spine-tinglingly psychedelic clinic in deep listening and high-intensity interplay.

      The Darkness 
      At the Commodore Ballroom on February 24
      With circus-freak glam rockers Foxy Shazam in the opening slot, to say that the Darkness had a tough act to follow would be an understatement. Thankfully, Justin Hawkins and company not only rose to the challenge, but delivered a comeback show so damn endearing and profoundly entertaining that it was impossible to leave the Commodore disappointed. To those who missed it, we are deeply sorry for your loss, even if you hate metal in all its many mutations.



      Sam Martorana

      Dec 27, 2012 at 6:05pm

      What about Sloan at The Commodore last September? They played "Twice Removed" from start to finish, took a break and came back for a second set. Come on you guys - Canadian icons!

      Emily Cat

      Dec 28, 2012 at 8:48am

      And how could you overlook other great Commodore shows last year: Kathleen Edwards, Franz Ferdinand, Scissor Sisters, Great Lake Swimmers? Whitehorse at the Rio in January was f-ing great too, and can't wait to see them again soon!

      out at night

      Dec 28, 2012 at 11:37am

      I guess mentioning that Neil Young and Crazy Horse on Remembrance Day was otherworldly and deserves a spot here will just mark me as hopelessly old and curmudgeonly. Ah well, it was the greatest concert I've seen in many a year and I like to think I get out at night y'know.

      Neil Young is Cezanne, he's Titian, he's Blake and Whitman, and he's got to got to got to deserve this more than The freakin' Darkness!

      Adrian Mack

      Dec 28, 2012 at 1:42pm

      out at night, I couldn't agree more and if I'd had two choices, Crazy Horse would have made the list. It was a mammoth show and it was everything I wanted from that band in that moment.

      Dan Daviduk

      Dec 28, 2012 at 4:10pm

      1 2 3 4......Bruce!!!!!


      Dec 30, 2012 at 4:16pm

      My top 3 were the Next Music from Tokyo vol 4 @ The Waldorf, Dan Deacon @ The Biltmore and Marina and the Diamonds at The Commodore. An honourable mention goes to the Danko Jones show, also at the Commodore, a highly underrated live power trio even if I never listen to their music.


      Dec 30, 2012 at 10:30pm

      I went to a number of really good shows not on this list, I too would put Cat Power at or near the top of my list. Almost didn't go. Glad I did, you could tell it took a lot for her to hold things together, yet gave such a soulful performance.

      Miranda Nelson

      Dec 31, 2012 at 4:35pm

      Actually, the BEST concert of 2012 was Fred Penner at the Gallery at UBC. (Not even joking.)

      Fact: You haven't lived until you've been in a room packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of 20-30 somethings drunkenly singing along to "The Cat Came Back".

      Mr. Penner, you are magic.


      Jan 2, 2013 at 11:48am

      Agree with the Darkness: Staight up best concert of the year. Would put any Hey Rosetta! concert on the list as well. Can we start a worst of list? How about Metric @ GM Place (go fuck yourself Rogers) Metric puts on truely epic live performances, but this one was awful - please go back to playing small venues...


      Jan 2, 2013 at 2:08pm

      Yeah Frisell !!! Very interesting.

      The Dirty Three w/ Fond of Tigers!!! So good. So very, very good.

      Colin Stetson @ Western Front!!! Shoot, intense.

      Trevor Dunn solo show @ Ironworks. Man alive, that made the best all time list.

      Spectrum Road's local opener Gordon Grdina, dangit.

      Lightening Bolt @ Fortune.

      Secret Chiefs @ Rickshaw.

      So many good good shows in 2012! Happy new year.