2017 was a hell of a year for me. To say that there was a lot of upheaval is putting it mildly. After being out of full-time work for over two years, I suddenly found myself back in the workforce. I was just starting to get settled when a member of my family was diagnosed with cancer. They died just five months later, just before the end of the year. In the middle of all that, another family member died. And just for good measure, my husband parted ways with his company and started a new job just a few weeks later.
One of the things that kept me grounded through it all was music, both seeing live music and discovering new music.
I saw 23 concerts in 2017, which is pretty much on par with my usual concert-going schedule. In any given year, I try to see as much live music as my budget and stamina allows. Here are the shows that really stood out for me this past year:
Mogwai: I began and ended my year with Mogwai. Mogwai was my second show of 2017 on January 30, the very day after Adam Ant, in fact. They were performing the score they created for a documentary about the atomic bomb, and the documentary was broadcast on a screen behind them. The entire room stood silent and motionless as waves of sound rose and crashed to images of Hiroshima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Looking back, I realized that there was not a single cell phone in sight. Everyone was too mesmerized to take photos.
Mogwai came back to Toronto on December 5, and I ended my concert-going year much as I had begun, with waves of searing noise and melody. Except this time I was smart enough not to take my earplugs out during Mogwai Fear Satan.
PJ Harvey: I fucking adore PJ Harvey and this was her first Toronto show in nearly 13 years. Auspicious number, that! The show sold out very quickly and my friends and I were kind of stuck behind one of Massey Hall’s notorious pillars, but none of that really mattered because we were in the same room as the brilliant and majestic PJ Harvey. She was touring her brilliant new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, and it was no surprise that this was reflected in the set list. What was a surprise – a huge, joyful, earth-shattering, wonderful surprise – was when, right in the middle of the concert, she launched into 50 Ft Queenie.
Anyone who knows me knows that 50 Ft Queenie has been my online handle since the Usenet days. I first used 50 Ft Queenie on alt.gothic, then Livejournal, Dreamwidth, Twitter, Gmail, you name it. Even in silly little iPhone games, if I have to choose a handle, it’s always 50 Ft Queenie. The song begins with a loud twanging guitar chord and then launches into PJ’s fantasy of being “the biggest woman” who is the “king of the world”.
I had never heard it live and wasn’t sure PJ even performed it anymore. When I heard the opening chords ring out, I sat in stunned silence for a couple of seconds. PJ tore into the song with a raw, fierce energy and it was fucking breathtaking and glorious. My only regret – and I do regret this deeply – is that I didn’t stand up and dance. Everyone around me was sitting and I didn’t want to be that jerk who stands up and blocks everyone’s view. BUT…it was a rock show and PJ Harvey was tearing it up onstage and I desperately wanted to dance to my favourite song. I made do with shimmying madly in my seat, but if I could do it all over again, I would jump and dance like the king of the world.
Nick Cave: I have seen Nick Cave many many times, beginning with his set at Lollapalooza in 1994, when he ordered the crowd to stop moshing. The show was at Massey Hall and we were in the second row, but even before the show started, it was clear that no one was staying in their seats. There was already a crowd in front of the stage waiting for the arrival of Saint Nick.
When the show started, we all pressed even closer to the stage and Nick, as always, prowled the edge of the stage, reaching out into the audience, drawing us all in close to him. Out of nowhere, during Magneto, he grabbed my hand, looked me right in the eye and sang to me. I stood very still, hardly daring to breathe as I held his gaze. Then the moment was over and he moved on and I stood there hardly daring to believe what had just happened. My heart still skips a beat when I think of it.
VNV Nation: This was my first time seeing them, believe it or not. All the times they’ve come through Toronto, I’ve missed them and listened to friends rave about them. This time, they were doing a small club show at The Garrison and even though it was late September, it was 40 fucking degrees inside the club. My friend Sabs and I wore the shortest skirts we owned and danced our feet off. If I did not lose 10 pounds in sweat that night, then there is no God.
And I now know why everyone raves about VNV Nation shows. I don’t usually think of electronic/EBM shows as intimate and emotional. That was before I experienced Ronan Harris live – his warmth, his passion, his connection with the audience. The heat is the venue that night due to so much more than just the temperature outside.
Diamanda Galas: I confess that I know more about the legend that is Diamanda Galas more than I know her music. I do know that she has a fanatical and devoted following, and her vocal range and mastery of her voice is unparalleled. So when she announced her first tour in years, I had to go. I like to see artists whose work I’m not familiar with – it keeps me from falling in musical ruts.
I recognized maybe one or two of the songs she performed, but I didn’t care. I was there to experience her voice and her whole presence. Galas’ hair, make-up and outfits are a cross between Cruella de Ville, Maleficent and Victorian deep mourning, and to say that she carries it off majestically is a massive understatement.
And her voice….I’m not sure I can do it justice. She hit impossibly high notes at a pitch that made me wince, and then swooped right down in a low register. And she made it all seem effortless. After the show, someone posted on Twitter that they were sure Diamanda Galas’ voice had opened up a portal to hell. Sounds about right.