IT was another banner year for Winnipeg concert-goers, as local stages hosted some of the biggest and most popular artists in the world.
And we had the privilege of seeing many smaller, hard-working bands who might go on to become arena-worthy in the years to come.
Our local music scene continues to thrive and be one of the most vibrant and exciting in the country with every genre imaginable represented, from jazz to death metal to hip-hop to roots and everything in between. Manitoba acts released more than 150 albums in 2011, according to Manitoba Music.
A new jazz club — Juss Jazz — opened downtown in 2011, there were numerous clubs that were rebranded and with the Winnipeg Jets back in town there are plans in the works for more pubs and restaurants that will provide us with even more entertainment options, and hopefully, more places for musicians to perform. On a sad note, the city lost a valuable music venue when the Royal Albert closed down following a basement flood in May. The bar remains closed, but its owner has vowed to reopen it again.
As usual, there were so many shows in town that it was impossible to see everything, so consider this list a highly subjective and selective chronological look at some of the best/most memorable gigs I’ve seen in the city this year, along with a few highlights from other Free Press reviewers.
Motörhead, Feb. 12, Burton Cummings Theatre
Making their first visit to Winnipeg since 2005, the long-serving bastions of distortion — fronted by the 65-year-old heavy drinkin’, chain-smokin’ Lemmy Kilmister — cranked a set of extremely loud, abrasive RNR filled with nasty characters from the wrong side of the tracks for a raucous, alcohol-infused, sold-out crowd.
When it comes to power trios, Motörhead is one of the most powerful.
Residents, March 24, West End Cultural Centre
Making their first ever visit to the city in their 40-year career, the mysterious costume-wearing trio brought to town its Talking Light Tour, mesmerizing a soldout seated crowd with ghost stories and an epic score that was part horror-movie soundtrack, part electronic noise fest and part avant-garde rock show on a stage decorated to look like a living room Vincent Price would feel right at home in.
John Mellencamp, April 25, Centennial Concert Hall
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Mellencamp and his six-piece band divided their time between newer material and older favourites that received slight to radical makeovers, making it different from every other show he’s played in the city. The chance to hear overhauled or stripped-down versions was appealingly fresh, and seeing it at the intimate, great sounding confines of the Centennial Concert Hall was even better.
U2, May 29, Canad Inns Stadium
I was in Las Vegas at a music festival reliving some punk-rock nostalgia and seeing my favourite Irish band (Stiff Little Fingers) but according to reviewer Melissa Martin (and everyone else I know who witnessed this show), U2 delivered a multimedia spectacle on the world’s largest stage that laid to waste to any doubts that the Dublin group is the biggest, best band on the planet with a set of greatest hits and new material that was the show of the year for many. The 360 Tour was the highest grossing roadshow of the year in North America, grossing $156 million, according to concert industry trade magazine Pollstar.
Rihanna, June 18, MTS Centre
Rihanna’s appearance was part of her Loud Tour, but there were plenty of adjectives she could have used to describe her show, including sexy, daring, glamorous, high-tech and dirty. The 23-year-old Barbadian beauty put on an over-the-top two-hour event filled with almost every concert trick in the book that ranks as one of the biggest arena spectacles since Cher was last here in 2005. It was also the most sexually explicit show of the year, but any parents in the crowd shocked by some of her stunts clearly haven’t been paying attention to her lyrics or videos.
Black Keys, July 2, MTS Centre
Drummer Patrick Carney and singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach showed how a duo can fill up an arena: by cranking it up. The acclaimed two-piece (joined at times by a bassist and keyboardist) serve up a platter of howlin’ blues, gritty garage rock and straight-up rock ’n’ roll filled with grimy guitars and sprays of sweat, according to Martin.
Kenny Chesney, July 13, MTS Centre
A loud, sold-out crowd went so wild during country superstar Kenny Chesney’s first visit to Winnipeg, they almost drowned out the music, Martin said. Chesney’s high-tech Goin’ Coastal tour came in at No. 3 on Pollstar’s highest grossing tour list, with $85 million in ticket sales.
Katy Perry, July 14, MTS Centre
It was hard not to have a good time at this one as California cutie Katy Perry upped her status from pop tart to delicious cupcake on her California Dreams tour built around a Katy Goes to Wonderland storyline and a stage full of cupcakes, lollipops, peppermint swirls and video screens. There were numerous costume changes and each song had its own theme or gimmick. Opener Janelle Monae was almost as impressive with a celebratory set of funky Motowninspired R&B and dance-noir.
Rancid, August 25, MTS Centre
Bay Area-quartet Rancid was the meat of the three-band sandwich (with Blink-182 and Against Me!) and the highlight of the bill with a frenzied barrage of Clash-inspired anthems, ska and street punk covering the band’s entire career dating back to its 1993 debut.
Mudhoney/Pearl Jam, Sept. 17, MTS Centre
Seattle rock veterans Pearl Jam didn’t stick to any script on their first visit to the city since 2005, playing hits, album tracks, rarities and covers during an exciting 27-song, 2½hour set filled with standout moments, including frontman Eddie Vedder’s willingness to share his wine with some members of the audience. Openers Mudhoney were making their first ever appearance in the city and got old-school grunge fans out of their seats with anthems like Touch Me I’m Sick and In ’N’ Out of Grace.
Nomeansno, Oct. 15, West End Cultural Centre
The veteran Vancouver trio is one of Canada’s greatest bands of all time and once again proved why with a perfect setlist featuring an equal mix of new material and classics drawing from punk, ’80s hardcore, thrash and jazz.
Elliott Brood, Oct. 29, West End Cultural Centre
Toronto alt-country group Elliott Brood were mesmerizing and charming as they offered up anthemic roots rock, dark dirges, melodic speedgrass and tender ballads. The show, on the Saturday before Halloween, featured a large number of costumed audience members, including a giant pink Energizer bunny who hopped on stage to play his drum and sing along.
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The much-hyped project of Montreal singer-songwriter Merrill Garbus lived up to its buzz with a goosebumpinducing performance that was intense, lovely and moving, according to Free Press copy editor Jill Wilson. Using loop pedals, two mikes, a snare drum, a ukulele and her strange, powerful voice, Garbus (along with bassist Nate Brenner and two saxophonists) wove a strange spell around her rapt audience. Oh, and there was dancing, too.
Prince, Dec. 8, MTS Centre
Music’s royal purpleness got everyone delirious with a flashy, crowd-pleasing, booty shaking 2½-half hour set of funk, R&B, pop, rock and disco spanning the past 30 years of his career, focusing mostly on the first half, along with a tribute to Sly & the Family Stone on an in-the-round stage shaped like the unpronounceable symbol he once used as his name.
MortonTed, Jan. 22, Royal Albert
Guy Smiley, Jan. 29, Royal Albert
Sadies, Feb. 11, West End Cultural Centre
Death Angel, April 15, The Zoo
Pixies, April 26 and 27, Concert Hall
Elton John, May 7, MTS Centre
Sharon Jones, May 20, Garrick
k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang, July 8, Winnipeg Folk Festival
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, July 27, Pantages Playhouse Theatre