2015’s Toronto concert scene will go down as the year that Dave Grohl performed in a wheelchair, Madonna played a ukulele; Prince finally made good on an intimate show, two in fact, and Taylor Swift was tied to a baseball curse.
Here’s my annual 10 best shows in T.O. in chronological order.
1. Damien Rice, April 11, Massey Hall: For a guy that normally doesn’t say much, this Irish singer-songwriter was “chatty, charming and funny,” before bringing 50 concertgoers on stage to sing Volcano towards the end of his two-hour solo show. Otherwise, his “intense, dynamic, emotional and completely absorbing set,” saw him play on either acoustic guitar or harmonium.
2. John Mellencamp, May 2, Sony Centre: During the second of two shows, the 64-year-old Indiana-born roots-rocker “delivered a high energy, sonically creative set of music that ran just shy of two hours. ... Equal parts heartland rock, blues, cabaret, gospel, soul, country and musical theatre .... there was really never a dull moment.”
3. Prince and 3rdEyeGirl, May 19, Sony Centre: During the first of two shows on the same night, The Purple One FINALLY brought his so-called Hit and Run Tour to Toronto. And the funk-rocker and his core trio of hard-rocking female musicians (including Mississauga guitarist Donna Grantis) seemed determined to make up for any misunderstanding after fans lined up around Massey Hall last November for a rumoured Prince show that never materialized. Two hours with two encores ending with Nothing Compares 2 U did the trick.
4. Paul Weller, June 15, Danforth Music Hall: Middle age suits the always stylish Modfather – i.e. 57-year-old Paul Weller of The Jam and The Style Council fame – who played his “genre-hopping music of the last four decades – retro-British rock, soul, blues, psychedelia, dance and folk.” Weller’s hour-and-50-minute, three-encore show showed off his versatility and ended with the ultimate crowd-pleaser - The Jam’s A Town Called Malice.
5. Foo Fighters, July 8, Molson Canadian Amphitheatre: When head Foo Dave Grohl fell off the stage and fractured his leg during a show in Sweden, he returned a month later for his group’s 20th anniversary tour in a steam-blowing motorized wheelchair. Grohl seemed intent on proving he could still put on a stellar, three-hour rock show while sitting on his behind during the first of two nights.
6. Taylor Swift, Oct. 2, Rogers Centre: Swifty arrived for the first of two nights to play to 50,000 fans – the so-called baseball stadium curse be damned. (Other baseball teams had fallen on hard times after she played their stadiums and the Blue Jays were about to begin the playoffs and, well, we all know how that ended.) However, to the delight of her fans, Swifty’s 1989 World Tour was a big production, multiple-costumed affair with a song-activated colour changing wristband for every concertgoer and a surprise guest in the form of Keith Urban on night one.
7. Madonna, Oct. 5, Air Canada Centre: Now a middle-aged, twice-divorced single mother of four, The Material Girl seemed relaxed and funny for the first time on stage. And the change suited her over the course of two hours and 10 minutes as the 57-year-old Madge continued to provoke with her favourite themes of sexuality and religion. Sure, the white lace panty-wearing nuns on stripper poles were a hoot, but it was Madonna who held our attention “during the Spanish-flavoured standout segment,” or “singing La vie en rose while playing a ukulele.”
8. Mark Knopfler, Oct. 6, Massey Hall: “The low-key but lovely 66-year-old former frontman of quintessential ‘80s British rock outfit Dire Straits let his guitar do most of the talking during a two-hour master class of music. The Glasgow-born, London-based Knopfler played selections from his 35-year-career “that incorporated jazz, blues, country, Celtic, folk, and rock.”
9. Stevie Wonder, Oct. 9, Air Canada Centre: For the second time in a year, the 65-year-old soul superstar brought his Songs in the Keys of Life tour to Toronto, which sees him play his 1976 acclaimed double album from start to finish. I lost track after counting 30 people on stage with him, but Wonder played keyboards, harmonica, standup piano and other instruments over three hours and 25 minutes and broke down in tears while singing John Lennon’s Imagine on what was the former Beatles singer’s birthday.
10. Paul McCartney, Oct. 17, Air Canada Centre: Sir Paul still has a boyish enthusiasm for his job and there was an early moment in Macca’s show where the 73-year-old musician seemed to still be that wide-eyed, teenaged Liverpudlian from 55 years ago as he stood in awe at the reception he was given. His stamina along with an “impressive Beatles, Wings and solo catalogue” propelled him through 41 songs, three hours and two encores.
10 HONORABLE MENTIONS: Sam Smith, Jan. 20, Air Canada Centre; Fleetwood Mac, Feb. 3, Air Canada Centre; Bryan Adams, Feb. 28, Air Canada Centre; Spandau Ballet, April 27, Massey Hall; Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, May 3, Sony Centre; Rush, June 17, Air Canada Centre; U2, July 6, Air Canada Centre; WayHome, July 24-26, Burl’s Creek; Alabama Shakes w/July Talk, Sept. 23, Air Canada Centre; The Weeknd, Nov. 3, Air Canada Centre.