Tag Archives: Massey Hall
There are bands that are at their best live, and there are bands that are better on the album. Bon Iver is definitely a live band.
Tuesday night I lucked out and had the chance to see Bon Iver for free when my sister decided to attend a work meeting instead of using her ticket to the show. I myself never purchased a ticket because – and I know I will be booed for this – I never really got the hype surrounding Bon Iver. I remember downloading For Emma, Forever Ago when it came out in 2008 after everyone and their mother told me I had to, and I liked a few songs but Justin Vernon‘s falsetto singing seemed quite forced and it just never really stuck for me, so I called it as another over hyped Pitchfork made career I could safely ignore.
When Bon Iver, Bon Iver came out this year, I honestly didn’t even want to listen to it. Of course, when I decided to see this show I finally picked it up, but upon listening found it disturbing in the way that church choir music is at a funeral. It depressed me, almost making my skin crawl as I played it alone in my dark apartment, and I had to turn it off at one point. It lacked what I did like about For Emma - the imaginative lyrics and simple melodies that told a story we could all relate to were replaced with obscure themes and an abundance of manipulated sounds.
After seeing Bon Iver live, my opinion completely changed. If I didn’t like listening to their albums because they made me sad or uncomfortable in a way that I had never felt before (despite being deeply obsessed with musicians like Elliott Smith), hearing them live was the complete opposite. Every song became life affirming in a big way.
If music can cause such a strong emotional reaction in me that I have to stop listening to it, that means there is something big there that I have to explore, and this show helped me figure it out.
What I came to discover was that the reason so many people love this music, is the same reason it scared me. It is god like, larger than life. Listening to the albums takes my mind to a place I’ve never been, far in the future, an old and wrinkled lady looking back on her life.
Watching it live though, placed me firmly at that moment in time, at Massey Hall, watching talented people create something incredible in front of my eyes in my favorite venue in Toronto.
The self titled album may be a little too much for me at home, but the songs are so thoughtfully crafted that watching them recreated onstage was akin to an experience I’ve only ever had before at a Radiohead show (the best show I’ve ever been to). The attention to detail and variety of instruments they can all play was astounding.
The show began with the opening track from Bon Iver, Bon Iver – “Perth”, and the audience was screaming louder than I’ve ever heard people scream at Massey before. I was a little unsure of what to expect at that point but the beauty of the song live quickly won me over.
After playing “Minnesota, WI” and “Towers”, Justin spoke to the audience, commenting that they were going to reach into their back catalog, laughing about what an extensive variety of songs they had to choose from with only one other album, and then they started into “Flume”. This was the first song I actually knew the words to and one of the big ones I was looking forward to hearing that night, so at this point I was fully on board. “Flume” is a perfect song, and the one song that I always went back to when I did happen upon For Emma in my iTunes.
Another favorite, ”Creature Fear”, came next – and together with “Team”, the sprawling instrumental that follows it - I would call it the second best performance of the night.
After returning to the new album for “Hinnom, TX”, “Wash.”, and “Holocene”, the band left the stage and Justin did something the audience was waiting for – dedicated a song to ‘Kitty’ aka his girlfriend, Toronto based Kathleen Edwards (who I had just seen a few nights earlier when she joined the Arkells onstage to play “Agent Zero”). The song of course was “Re: Stacks” and there wasn’t a girl in the room who didn’t want to be her in that moment. I don’t think it gets any sexier than singing “your love will be safe with me” to your lady in front of a packed audience at Massey Hall.
More new songs followed, including “Michicant”, “Calgary”, “Lisbon, OH” and the beautiful “Beth/Rest”, allowing me to get lost in the cacophony of sound and really watch what they were doing onstage.
And then came the ultimate moment of the night, when most of the band stood together behind Justin to harmonize, stop their feet and clap their hands on my favorite Bon Iver song by a mile – “Skinny Love” (the best song you’ll ever hear about what too many relationships are based on – nothing more than the desire to not be single).
The power of that many voices singing “my my my, my my my, my my” somehow shrunk Massey down to the most intimate venue in the world. I felt like I was sitting around a bonfire singing along with my best friends, not thousands of strangers.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the encore, but it probably should have been because nothing could top that. After they played it they said goodnight, and came back onstage for the encore which included “For Emma” and “The Wolves (Act I and II)”.
As everyone left the building, one of my favorite songs of all time (“Lover’s Spit” by Broken Social Scene) played over the hall speakers, as if to confirm that – yes, this was exactly where I was supposed to be that night. I feel incredibly lucky that my sister wasn’t able to use her ticket, or I would still be completely unaware of the true power of this band.
The Pixies finally brought their Doolittle tour to Canada, stopping Monday night – the 22nd anniversary of the release of the album – at Massey Hall here in Toronto. I was lucky enough to be in attendance and I’m still buzzing from how incredible they sounded and how great the show looked. It was everything you could ever want in a set from a classic band. They not only gave the audience what they want, but it was obvious how much they still love the album and how much fun they had playing it two years into this tour. To make such an epic album and have the ability to pull in such a diverse audience 22 years later (Kim commented “some of you probably weren’t even born yet when this was released”) is something incredibly rare.
And they deserve every shred of credit they get for it. It is shows like this that remind me of why I love going to shows at all and why music means more to me than most anything else in the creative world. Watching Frank Black scream “Slicing up eyeballs ohh hoo hooo hooo!!” next to Kim Deal sweetly singing “And their aint no light… into the white” is easily one of the best things a music fan can ever witness. That in itself encapsulates the beauty of why The Pixies are still music legends two decades later. Every person in the band brings something so different and yet so necessary to make a sound that only they ever captured. No one else sounds like the Pixies, though many have tried and failed.
This tour speaks loudly to the beauty of the album format. When you create an album as perfect as Doolittle was and continues to be 22 years on, there is no need to distort the track listing or mess with an already perfect thing. That’s not to say they didnt throw other (great) songs into the beginning and end of the show (B-sides including “Weird at my School” “Dancing the Manta Ray” “Into the White” “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)” and Neil Young‘s “Winterlong” and the epic closers “Where is my Mind?” and “Gigantic”) but this is the kind of show that you go to just to have fun because everyone there knows and loves this album and this band. We all know what song is coming next. It’s just like when you play the album at home and dance to it, but SO MUCH BETTER because the band is right.in.front.of.you bringing it to life with perfectly curated videos and lighting to enhance the whole experience and take it to another level.
The in your face screams and yips of Frank scared me away from the Pixies when I was first introduced to them as a teen, but the sugary voice of Kims tracks always pulled me back in. Never is the purity of her voice more compelling than when you see her live. Looking at her, it is hard to imagine that voice is her own. The contrast of a tough looking chick (who helped create the riot grrrl scene with The Breeders) having a voice like that is something else. Kim is easily one of the best female singers in rock history. The way she emceed the whole show was endearing as well. She seemed to be smiling throughout every single song, and she let us know where we were in the album, “almost finished side one!” “Now we get to some deep cuts.” She was having a blast on stage, and that energy transferred onto the other three guys as well. By the end of the night they were all laughing and having fun with it, even the notably quiet Frank.
My favorite performances of the night would be “I Bleed” with blood streaming down on the video screen behind them, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, “Mister Grieves”, David Lovering singing “La La Love You” in his Rush shirt from behind the drum kit, “Hey” with the lyrics scrawled across the screen behind them, “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)” as I prefer it to the album version, “Into The White” where the band was covered in white smoke throughout the song, “Where Is My Mind?” in which Kim’s “Ooohhhoooo’s” made me realize how much damage this show had actually done to my ears, and my favorite Pixies song of all time “Gigantic” closing the night in glorious fashion.
If you get a chance to see them on this tour, you must take it. I can now cross them off my musical bucket list, and know that they lived up to my very high expectations.
Click here to watch an entire 1989 concert from the original Doolittle tour.