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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
One left her sweater sitting on the train / and the other lost three fingers at the Cannery
— Neko Case, Margaret vs. Pauline
December 17, 2010
Vancouver’s Best Concerts: 2010 Edition

Writing about music is an inherently subjective thing. One person’s best album of the year could leave another scratching their head. It simply can’t be helped.

I see a lot of concerts: there are certainly people who see more than I do, but the vast majority see less. My personal taste and my distaste for stadium venues means that most of the shows I see tend to be small to mid-sized shows in venues that hold between 300 and 1,500 people (though I spend a fair amount of time in places that hold fewer than 50 people as well.) As a result, any list I make isn’t likely to include the biggest shows of the year. Amongst those I missed that I’m sure would make this were Arcade Fire at the Pacific Coliseum and Rogers Waters’ performance of The Wall.

Having said that, I couldn’t let December roll past without a summary of the best concerts I’ve seen this year. Without further ado, I’m going to dive right in. The shows that made this list are the ones that stood out as something special and unique through the year.

Yes, the concert you were at that blew your mind should probably be on this list but alas I may not have been there. You can always let me know about it, and I promise to try to make it next time.

Wilco at LiveCity Yaletown

Wilco - LiveCity Yaletown

It’s no secret that I’m a Wilco fan, but I’m not the only one. Wilco kicked off Vancouver’s two week long Olympic party at the outdoor LiveCity Yaltetown. Lineups were epic and it poured rain but a crowd of over 8,000 stalwarts braved the weather for this one. With Wilco (The Album) almost six months old America’s best touring band played a mix of new and old material. Watching Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy jam out to perennial crowd favourite Spiders should have been enough to convince anyone they were watching something special.

Calexico at the Vancouver International Folk Fesival

Calexico -Vancouver International Folk Festival

If the three rules for concerts were the same as the thee rules for real estate—location, location and location—the Vancouver International Folk Festival would have little competition. The Jericho Beach location is beautiful and the mid-July weekend reliably delivers in spades with warm sunny days that faded into warm sunny nights. Calexico closed the first night of the festival this year under a clear, starlit sky and the forlorn sound of a lone trumpet wailing into the night was the perfect way to end a day and start a weekend. Don’t miss this Tuscon, Arizona based band’s Tex-Mex tinged Americana when it comes to your town.

Justin Townes Earle - Legendary Biltmore Cabaret / Wild Buffalo House of Music

Justin has been both burdened and blessed by having a famous father throughout his career. Living up to such a strong legacy can be hard. On the other hand the reason I first went to see Justin at the Media Club a few years ago was loyalty: the first live concert I saw as a kid was Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road show in Toronto, and I wanted to support his son. Justin was great that night, but this tour—his second time playing Vancouver’s Legendary Biltmore Cabaret an epiphany. Justin’s finally shed the burdensome part of that legacy and now shines as an artist in his own right. The following night’s show at the Wild Buffalo House of Music was even better.

I saw Steve Earle this year as well: Justin’s shows were better.

The Gertrudes at the Vancouver International Folk Fesival

The Gertrudes - Vancouver International Folk Festival

With a large grounds and multiple stage playing music going all day, the hardest thing about the Folk Fest is being in the right place at the right time. After leaving a mid-day workshop featuring Sarah Harmer I sort of wandered the grounds aimlessly until my ears were hit by the sound of Kingston, Ontario’s The Getrudes. With nine musicians crowding the stage with a mix of banjos, fiddles, and guitars and two lead vocalists the Gertrudes have a big sound that’s reminiscent of the Band, the Waltons and other southern tinged swamp music. Their Dawn Time Riot album is one of the most fun I’ve heard this year. They haven’t been back to Vancouver since, but I can guarantee that I’ll be there when they are. CBC has the Folk Fest concert on demand: you can listen to it here.

Yukon Blonde at the Legendary Biltmore Cabaret

Yukon Blonde & the Wooden Sky - Legendary Biltmore Cabaret

Vancouver is a fickle town, and even on the best of nights a great lineup can play to an almost empty venue. With two of the indie rock scenes’ up and coming bands on the bill for a Saturday night this was one Biltmore show that didn’t disappoint. Packed to the gills with people—including half the musicians in Vancouver, as near as I could tell—I could hardly move. Either one of these bands would have been worth it. Both? This was as perfect a night of up and coming indie rock as I’ve seen.

Dan Mangan at the Vogue Theatre

Dan Mangan - Vogue Theatre

I’m not even sure I could count how many times I’ve seen Dan Mangan this year but it was his Vogue theatre show in May that I’ll remember. Coming on the heels of touring his Nice, Nice, Very Nice album around North America, Europe and Australia May’s show at the Vogue was a triumphant homecoming for one of the nicest guys in the Vancouver music scene. Selling out in about 8 days—even Vancouver based supergroup The New Pornographers took weeks to do that—the show was a moment in a career that was beautiful to see.

Kyprios at the Commodore Ballroom

Said the Whale, Kyprios and Vince Vaccaro - Commodore Ballroom

It’s pretty tough to choose a best show from the Peak Performance Showcase Series: there were five nights at Vancouver’s Red Room (I missed one of them) and a grand finale show at the Commodore Ballroom. I’m going to go with the Commodore Ballroom show sort of by default. All three acts that night were killer but a particular tip of the hat to Kyprios. I don’t do rap. I did listen to rap once, but it was the early 80s and it was groundbreaking stuff that my neighbours in Toronto passed along to me. Kyprios blew the roof off of that place, and had that horse hair sprung dance floor hopping higher than I’ve ever seen it. Said the Whale and Vince Vaccaro’s sets were just as good.

Hannah Georgas at the Vancouver International Folk Festival with the Malahat Revuew

Malahat Revue - Vancouver International Folk Festival

Here’s where i make it up to Said the Whale: they’re the only band to make this list twice. The Malahat Revue was a group tour including Jeremy Fisher, Aidan Knight, Hannah Georgas and Said the Whale. They toured a good portion of Southern BC by bicycle and performed each other’s works as a group. The smile on Hannah Georgas’ face above on the last day of the tour says it all, I think: that’s a woman who’s exactly where she wants to be, and couldn’t be happier.

Jenn Grant at St. James Community Square

Jenn Grant & Justin Rutledge - St. James Community Square

Jenn Grant’s Echoes was one of the most underrated albums of recent years. She’s based on the East Coast which means she doesn’t get out this way that often, and when she finally did she paired with Justin Rutledge to play the beautiful St. James Community Square. This was such a fantastic and beautiful night of music that ended with with Rutledge leading the audience in a singalong version of Don’t Be So Mean Jellybean. Without a doubt my favourite small gig of the year.

Maria in the Shower at the Fringe Bar

Maria in the Shower - Vancouver International Fringe Festival Bar

I realized at some point this year that pretty much every band I liked had either a banjo, a cello or an accordion in it. Of course if you look through this list you’ll notice, no doubt, that almost none of these ones do. Go figure.

Nonetheless this was the first year I discovered Maria in the Shower, a band of roving musicians who bring a Mardi Gras vibe wherever they go. The band opened the first night of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival music series at the Fringe Bar and it was a warm, clear, starry canopy that welcomed a full audience to one of the most beautiful music venues in the city for its 10 day run. About half the days were rained out and moved indoors, but the memory of that first night of outdoor music lingers on.

Posted by skooter at 12:42 AM This entry is filed under Music.
This entry is tagged: Calexico, Dan Mangan, Hannah Georgas, Jenn Grant, Jeremy Fisher, Justin Rutledge, Justin Townes Earle, Lists, Maria in the Shower, Olympics, Said the Whale, The Gertrudes, Vancouver 2010, Vancouver International Folk Festival, Vince Vaccaro, Wilco

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