Demo’s Best Live Acts Of 2015

It’s impossible to do a great concert justice just by talking about it, but we’re going to give it a shot here. Whether it’s an underground house show or a packed stadium concert, there’s too much going on in Toronto to declare a clear winner, but Sufjan Stevens’ run of intimate theatre shows in support of Carrie & Lowell deserves a mention. Our contributors take you through a year of concerts in the city and beyond.

Ariel Pink at the Phoenix, February 19

Nominated by Alekzia Hosein.

Sleater-Kinney at Sound Academy, March 2

Nominated by Ayla Shiblaq.

St. Vincent at Danforth Music Hall, March 3

St. Vincent crowdsurfed over me. Twice. I came into contact with my deity. #fangirl — Georgia Morris

Yob at the Opera House, March 19

Yob opened for black metal legends Enslaved, but there was no question for me that they stole the show. The doom metal trio is living proof that small bands can pack a huge sound. Highlights included a reading of an Alan Watts monologue and their closing 20-minute performance of “Marrow” where I swear I could’ve felt my bones rattling and the roof slowly collapsing from above me. — James Li

Sufjan Stevens at Massey Hall, April 29

I used wonder if, as a performer, you could have your cake and eat it too: overwhelmingly intimate, unbelievably loud; thoughtful, articulate, raw, immediate emotional connection; utter devastation, warmth and humour; inhuman talent, completely human fucking up a Neil Young cover. It’s the kind of daydream you have to let go of because it just isn’t possible. Sufjan knew otherwise. He proved it possible. Then, just before heading out on the road in search of the next eleven labours of Hercules, he gifted us with another rendition of “Chicago”, which he must be sick of by now. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to that song; I still cried. — Stuart Oakes

Sufjan Stevens at Place des Arts (Montreal, Quebec), April 30

Nothing could really prepare me for seeing Sufjan Stevens live. A truly spiritual experience, Stevens’ show was the perfect compliment to the poignant and heartbreaking Carrie & Lowell. Heavily centered around themes of childhood and nostalgia, Stevens created a night of beauty and incredible musicianship. Stunned by the general perfection of Sufjan, I’m unashamed to say that I shed a few tears that night. — Carey Roach

Tame Impala at Massey Hall, May 19

Nominated by Jamil Fiorino-Habib.

Father John Misty at Field Trip Festival, June 7

Nominated by Jennifer Hyc.

Marina and the Diamonds at Field Trip Festival, June 7

It was my first time seeing her live and even though it was raining on us, she still managed to give a great show. — Yasmine El Sanyoura

The Kooks at the Phoenix, June 15

I think of the concerts I went to this year, this was my favourite because of how thoroughly I enjoyed the opening acts. Young Rising Sons, while evidently immature (the lead drinking Jack Daniels while singing just a little to gimmicky for me) were fun. They’re essentially pop music, somewhat closer to a boy band than a band, and the lyrics as simple and predictable as expected, but despite that, the lead has a pretty great voice and their energy amped up the crowd and really, what more can you ask from an opening band.

Joywave on the other hand, blew me away with their enthusiasm and charisma and attitude. The lead looks and dresses like a dork but has an unexpectedly great voice. Their music was loud but not annoying, their lyrics almost incomprehensible but in the best way. Their last song was an a cappella singing of “O Canada” with the audience and the lead was unapologetically wearing a Canadian flag shirt. To me that just summarizes the humour and light-heartedness of their performance and the entire energy of this band.

And as for the Kooks, the lead singer was so amazingly sassy in his dance moves and his facial expressions, and his voice so captivating that I couldn’t look away during his performance. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the rest of the band looks like and I usually make it a point to pay attention to the band as a whole. — Anisha Rohra

Willow Smith at Danforth Music Hall, June 18

This show was probably one of the weirdest nights of my life. It was almost too intimate- the hall wasn’t even a little full. I stood in a crowd amongst some of Toronto’s cooled high schoolers, anxiously watching Willows cool friends open with techno freestyle sets before she finally came on stage.

I remember the second she came on I was reminded of how young she was. She was baby faced and grinning, dressed in a blue silk kimono, jumping around, waving her arms, pausing every once and a while to mutter “oh my gods” and touch hands in the crowd. Her performance was stellar- she was extremely vocally impressive, and sang with an easy grace. There was such a good vibe going in the room as this space child sang in front of projections of stars about flowers and philosophy. It really felt like something special.

And just like that, it ended. Literally. After not even 20 minutes and at most, five songs, Willow said thank you and left the stage. I was dumbfounded. The tiny crowd chanted her name but she never came back. Without even overpriced merch to remember her by, myself and the crowd left disappointed. But at the same time, I can’t deny that that short amount of time where she was on stage wasn’t pure magic. I’d never seen a performer more genuine, or so chill and happy. The fact that she managed to create such a buzz and vibe in her short time on stage really speaks to her music and performance. Thinking back on it, it was actually an awesome little set, and definitely something I’ll always remember, for better or for worse. (Mostly for better.) — Savana James

Run the Jewels at Wayhome Music Festival (Barrie, Ontario), July 24

Probably the best human beings on the planet right now and definitely the most fun bromance. They bring an intensity and playfulness to the stage that few acts, let alone hip hop acts, are able to do. All of this they are able to do despite a lack of a full band. The twenty to thirty years of experience from both El-P and Killer Mike shows in their comfort on stage and with the audience. — Jacob Dalfen-Brown

Caribou at Pomona Fairplex (Pomona, California), August 2

A girl vomited in front of me and this was still my favourite show of the year. Dan Snaith’s set stretched into the hour as if it were one seamless song. — Will Goldie

Caribou at Pier 4 Park (Hamilton, Ontario), August 7

Nominated by Mubashir Baweja.

BØRNS at the Filmore (Detroit, Michigan), August 11

The best part of seeing BØRNS at The Filmore in Detroit was that not only did my best friend and I buy the tickets two days before, but that we weren’t even there to see him. He was the special guest that night for Charli XCX and The Bleachers’ American tour “Charli & Jack Do America.” My best friend nor I had ever heard of him and both of us instantly fell in love. His set featured all of his songs off of his EP as well as covering “Benny & the Jets”. BØRNS vocals were outstanding, even almost better live. It was so unexpected to discover a new artist and have their set be arguably better than the two headliners who we originally attended went to see. — Samantha Capaldi

The Zolas at the Phoenix, September 12

Nominated by Victoria Prepelita.

A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator at TD Echo Beach, September 25

Nominated by Daven Boparai.

Wavves at the Opera House, September 27

Partly, because of the beer, partly because I was front roll and mostly because I stood next to Nathan Williams on numerous occasions as I was diving into the crowd. I was always able to return to my original spot in the front and get ready for the next round. FIDLAR at the Horseshoe on May 2 is a close second. — Kalina Nedelcheva

The Districts at Lee’s Palace, Sepetember 30

The performance was spectacular; they played almost all of their top songs, and I was able to stand in the front row to witness everything first hand. After the concert, my friends and I stuck around, and were actually able to have some life chats (and pictures) with Rob Grote, the lead singer. He was nice enough to stick around and say hi, which was pretty cool. Overall I was super impressed with their concert, and they surpassed expectations. — Anna Trikas

The Front Bottoms at the Mod Club, October 27

Their new album definitely fell short, but The Front Bottoms played enough of their older repertoire that this show was my favourite of 2015. The lyrical eminence of their earlier works meant I screamed my lungs raw and sustained a few minor injuries from other impassioned fans. The only thing that could have made it better is if they had played “Flashlight”. — Gwen Reid

Patti Smith at Beacon Theater (New York, New York), November 10

It was the 40th anniversary of her album Horses, and it was hands down the best performance I’ve ever gone to. The whole theatre was shaking with energy, and she almost glowed onstage, it was out of this world. — Liana Ernszt

Beirut at Danforth Music Hall, November 13

Nominated by Emiko Hunt

Pleasure Leftists at Smiling Buddha, November 13

Nominated by Sophia Luu.

Frankie Cosmos at Smiling Buddha, November 13

With All Dogs opening, Frankie Cosmos performed an incredible show at the Smiling Buddha. Engaging with the (very large) crowd and incorporating both new and old material, they created an enjoyable atmosphere. — Harry Myles

Fuzz at the Hoxton, November 18

This show may have been the craziest show I’ve ever been to. Didn’t even participate in the mosh pit but I left with bruises like i was throwing it down all night. Definitely did not expect Ty Segall’s cult I mean dedicated audience of fans to be so energetic (I think aggressive is a better word). From start to finish, Fuzz ripped through the best of their garage-rock repertoire as the crowd crashed in waves against the stage, the occasional stray stage diver showing no concern for kicking the front row in the face as they soared into the sea of sweaty lightwash denim-clad fans. My beer-soaked post-concert depression was very real after this. — Dora Boras

King Crimson at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, November 30

Three drummers (Bill Riselin, Gavin Harrison, and regular collaborator Pat Mastoletto) playing circles around each other; band mastermind guitarist/songwriter Robert Fripp shredding on a stool, as usual, a lot of old people; a set consisting of primarily 1960s and 1970s material, pushed into the future. I almost cried, it was beautiful. — Adam Piotrowicz


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