The BSR Top 11 Music Moments of 2017

At first, I didn’t think I could find 11 albums I truly, truly LOVED this year. It felt sparse this year.

But then again, I didn’t really look. My health took a stubborn turn over the year, and I had to bail out of a lot of things that would have made me happy – like having enough energy to read, listen to and find all the things.

But now that I look back, there were actually more than 11 albums that I loved: Grandaddy’s Last Place, the Afghan Whigs’ In Spades, The National’s Sleep Well Beast, Luna’s A Sentimental Education, Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh’s Spooky Action, Public Service Broadcasting’s Every Valley, Baxter Dury’s Prince of Tears, The Mountain Goats’ Goths, Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins, Algiers’ The Underside of Power, War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding, Neil Finn’s Out of Silence and even the goofy Lotta Sea Lice album of Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile…were all pretty aces.

But the moments that stand out to me are always the moments when the sights and sounds leaped outta the headphones and into real life. So herewith, my Top 11 moments of 2017:

11. Seeing (and meeting) Roni Size nearly 20 years after the first time. Back in the 90s, I was deep in the jungle. Drum n’ bass still is my preferred electronica, and back then, Bristol’s Roni Size and his Reprazent crew were heroes to me. Their genre-defining album New Forms still holds up, at the time, I was living in Toronto. Braved the cold of a March night, waited until after midnight, then danced my ass off. But I’ve never seen him since. 19 years on and that changed – Size DJ’d the club around the corner from my flat and at 1am on a Thursday night in late June, after he ordered trays of brand shots he gave out to the crowd, I got to tell the man hisself how much his music had influenced me. Meet your heroes, it’s fun.

10. Public Service Broadcasting live in Seattle in September, very nearly didn’t happen.Even though we very much did happen to drive three+ hours down south and across a border, because PSB’s bookers seem to overlook Vancouver as a tour date. But once we got there, hoo boy. The venue’s gear wouldn’t work, or was missing, and the mad scrambling to fix it all meant the interview I had scheduled didn’t happen, and folks were left queuing outside for hours. But it all worked out in the end, and PSB, my favourite U.K. instrumentalists/samplers whose last album was about solely about miners in southern Wales, put on a brilliant show.

9. Nardwuar’s 30th anniversary. Nardwuar, my friend and everyone’s favourite cult interviewer/music promoter/punk/general eclectic celebrated the 30th Anniversary of his radio show on Vancouver station CiTR with a night of celebration, featuring old, amazing clips of his interviews, readings by local author Grant Lawrence, a special guest appearance by rapper Lil B The Based God (whose energy was really great, you can fast forward a bit here and see my video) and a show by his punk band Evaporators. Nard even made me tear up a little bit when he told the all-ages crowd that it didn’t matter if you came in last in school events – he said he loved it when he did – because if he could come in last, and still end up doing what he loved in life, then that’s all that mattered. Here’s to you, you beautiful human.

8. Hearing “Everything Counts” at Depeche Mode in October. In and around grade 9, I had a few superstitions before taking or studying for big tests or exams. I’d take a photo of me and Jamie Stewart, formerly of the Cult, with me and I’d listen to two Depeche Mode songs, a rare B-side called “Ice Machine” and their 1983 crowd-pleaser, “Everything Counts.” I hadn’t seen Depeche Mode live since 1987’s Music for the Masses tour but splashed out on a ticket to their latest arena go-round. And while the show was decidedly average (though the on-screen visuals were great), the standout moment was hearing “Everything Counts” live again.

7. Taking Mama BSR to see Billy Bragg. I’ve been a lifelong Bragg fan and in the early 90s, mom and I saw him together and she loves him, so this gig was going to be a surprise for her. It was a perfect solo set, and he brought a tear to my eye with his positivity and optimism. “That’s the job of music. My job is to make you feel like you’re not alone…I’ll be in another town tomorrow, but you will be here, and you can keep fighting. My job is to fire up your activism. This is my faith in your ability change the world,” he said from the stage of the Commodore Ballroom, before launching into “I Keep Faith.” So I do, I keep faith. Thanks for the reminder, Billy. Needed it.

6. Getting a Daniel Johnston print signed by Daniel Johnston. It was a gig I thought I would be away for, so missed out on tickets. Then couldn’t find one for love or money. So I tagged his Twitter account in a plea for extra tickets, and WOW! His people reached out. They’d put me on the list, no problem. That was thrill number 1. Thrill number 2 was seeing a rickety Johnston croak through a few of his best, including the set ender “True Love Will Find You In The End” backed by the kind and patient guys in Built to Spill. Thrill number 3 was walking past the alley on the way home at exactly the same time that Johnston came out for a smoke. And I managed to get him to sign my print, and take a photo. He doesn’t look best pleased, but he was actually lovely. Timing is everything.

5. Seeing the Damned 40th Anniversary tour. When I was a teenager, I nearly wore down the tape on my The Light at the End of the Tunnel compilation. But I’d never seen Vanian, Captain Sensible et al live, and this was gonna change that. The April show at the Commodore Ballroom was INCREDIBLE, despite the fact that Vanian had a dislocated left shoulder. It was EVERYTHING to hear a 21-track setlist of all the hits. No “Grimly Fiendish” alas, but everything else was there, and they were perfect.

4. Clowning around with The National’s Matt Berninger. Splashing out on not one but two nights of the National live is never a bad life decision,and the 2 sets I saw in early December at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre were both tremendous (with a first-night encore including rarity “Rylan” and the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Mother Away”). Also tremendous? Getting a chance to goof around with Matt Berninger in front of my camera for blurry shots, and talk wistfully of WOXY (a now-defunct internet radio station based in Ohio), before he hopped into his van. That man is some sexy mofo.

3. Teenage Fanclub (with a bonus half a Luna) in Seattle: What do you do when two sets of your friends -Teenage Fanclub and Britta Phillips (with guitar support of hubby Dean Wareham of Luna) – go on tour together? Well, you get on a goddamn bus and you go and you hug all your peoples. And you hear beautiful Fanclub songs and beautiful Britta voices that make you smile, and you remember why you travel for music, and how important it really is in your life.

2. Nick Cave in June at the Queen E. Where to even start? Was it being front row so the impeccably dressed force of nature could sweat on us or touch us? Was it narrowly missing having my teeth knocked out by a flung mic? Wasit the remarkable strength and presence of Warren Ellis, making his electric violin practically burn? Was it the perfection of the Bad Seeds? Was it the 100% commitment Cave gave to every single note, and every single song, and every single move, and every single time he stared an audience member in the eyes? Was it the sheer delight he took in the guy standing next to me in a headband who reminded him of Saturday Night Fever? Was it the OH GODS IT’S SO AMAZING feeling of “Weeping Song” or “Tupelo” or “Red Right Hand” or the tender sadness and beauty that made me cry in “Distant Sky”? Or was it when he invited us all up on stage to join him, which I did, and got to stand behind a live music GOD, facing a rapt and delirious audience while he sang “Stagger Lee” and “Push the Sky Away”? Was it the fact that this was the best live show of the year, if not the last few? Yes, it was all of those things.

1. A 2.5-hour dinner with a Pixie.  Several years ago, Charles Thompson – aka Black Francis/Frank Black of the Pixies – started following me on Instagram and on Twitter. I was going through a messy divorce and vulnerably sharing the details of my break up and subsequent depression, online. Charles would comment here and there, on this photo or that and one night, reached out privately to ask if I was okay. We became friends. Since then, we’ve met a few times in person: wine, cheese and yoga chat in Vancouver, and tour bus hangs in Toronto.

In December, the Pixies (or as Charles calls it,”the college rock show”) returned to town. And because the Pixies trust their techs to set them up for soundcheck, Charles had loads of free time before the gig. So plan we did, and off we went to Vancouver’s delightful Belgian restaurant Chambar, and spent hours talking about family, art, life and music. All my favourite topics, in one wonderful meal, with one wonderful person. Charles reminded me of what it is that I love so much about music: I find the musicians themselves, and the live shows where the music we love comes al equally fascinating.

So it appears, after all, that it was a very good year. Here’s to more for us all of that goodness, in 2018.\m/

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