A Year Of Music 2017: One Concert A Month

 Mac Demarco at Danforth Music Hall (photo credit: Louise Gleeson) 

Mac Demarco at Danforth Music Hall (photo credit: Louise Gleeson) 

As we head into a new year of music, I'm so happy to share my personal playlist of favouirte tracks from last year's one-concert-a-month artists. 2017 brought a lot of nostalgia and reflection about our <ahem> age, even though we do our best to ignore rules about what music we should be listening to...but more about that later.

Like I was saying, 2017 was a fantastic throwback year for us. We kicked it off with Matthew Good's Beautiful Midnight album from 1999. The show was a run through of the album and we enjoyed his soaring vocals and witty candour about taking his kids to Disneyworld — because oh-my-god-you-guys he's doing that kind of thing now, too. 

Feist (FINALLY!) returned to the stage with a show at Massey Hall and it was incredible: goosebumps, tears and laughter. Her newest album has been playing on repeat here, and the song I included on my playlist is my new personal anthem (the video I snuck because we had amazing front row balcony seats is below). Actually, all of the songs on her new album, Pleasureare relatable (seriously, if we're of a similar age grouping, go listen to Any Party right now and just try to keep yourself from nodding in agreement). 

Feist, Baby Be Simple, at Massey Hall, Toronto, 2017

Massey Hall was the venue of the year (which is what will make 2017 one of our most memorable). We saw Alt-J (from amazing seats in the gallery), Grizzly Bear (my ears were ringing for two days afterwards), Jenn Grant (another Canadian songbird), Joan Baez & The Indigo Girls (please let me be half that amazing when I'm in my 70s), Wilco (so many guitars), and glorious, glorious PJ Harvey (another gobsmackingly nostalgic show for us). 

 Jenn Grant at Massey hall (PHoto credit: louise gleeson)

Jenn Grant at Massey hall (PHoto credit: louise gleeson)

Shows like Charlotte Day Wilson, Alvvays, and Mac DeMarco were great for people watching, since we're pretty close to being old enough to parent most of the kids that were in the crowd (kids! put those lighters away! fire is dangerous!). Sidebar: I'm so lucky to be on this concert tour with a partner who treats music with so much care and reverence. He's always looking for and reading about new bands. And neither of us worry about being too old to be at these shows. Maybe the kids think we're important music journalists, who knows

Another highlight moment for me was being invited, as one of her long-time fans, into Canadian songbird and über-talent Sarah Slean's home for her new album launch (read about my other-worldly experience here). I was so nervous, I had to call three friends from my car for pep talks before I could muster the courage to go into the party. Her album Metaphysics makes me cry (just like all the albums before) and it was lovely to be able to end 2017 with another full scale concert in December. Sarah's talent is extraordinary, and we are so lucky to call her ours. 

 Canadian songbird Sarah Slean (+ me!)

Canadian songbird Sarah Slean (+ me!)

We also had tickets to see The Cranberries in September, but the show was cancelled due to Dolores O'Riordan's health problems at the time. It was devastating to learn of her death earlier this month. The music she created is such a part of my history and coming of age — I've included one of my favourite tracks in this playlist to express my deep respect for her talent. 

This past year also gifted us with a lot of time spent with our siblings at various shows. All of them were memorable, but Wolf Parade and my first listen of I'll Believe in Anything were a highlight for me. I was going through a stressful time and the band's poetic lyrics and beautiful harmonies surprised me. Make sure to give that track your ear.

Here it is: 2017 in a personalized playlist. There were big venues and small bars; full bands and string quartets, old bands and new ones, and so much incredible Canadian talent (k d Lang left us speechless).

I hope you find a song that speaks to your heart, too. 

1) Matthew Good + Strange Days; 2) Wilco + Misunderstood; 3) Sarah Slean + Book Smart, Street Stupid; 4) Constantines + Young Lions; 5) Weaves + Scream (feat. Tanya Tagaq); 6) PJ Harvey + To Bring You My Love; 7) Charlotte Day Wilson + Work; 8) Mac DeMarco + Watching Him Fade Away; 9) Timber Timbre +  Hot Dreams; 10) Hannah Georgas + Don't Go; 11) Joan Baez + Carry It On; 12) Indigo Girls + Everything In Its Own Time; 13) The Cranberries + No Need To Argue; 14) Jenn Grant + Lion With Me; 15) The National + Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks; 16) Grizzly Bear + Knife; 17) Angus and Julia Stone + A Heartbreak; 18) Alvvays + Forget About Life; 19) Alt-J + Every Other Freckle; 20) Wolf Parade + I'll Believe In Anything; 21) Feist + Baby, Be Simple; 22) k d Lang + Wash Me Clean; 23) Skydiggers + Pull Me Down

 

Sarah Slean: And What Her Music Means To Me

sarah-slean

I'm supposed to be making dinner so I can rush out the door and get my tiny pianist to his lesson. But I've made the mistake of putting a Sarah Slean vinyl on the turntable in our front room. 

There's always music playing as a background soundtrack to the activity vibrating through our home. Tonight, I wander away from my bubbling pot and closer to the sound of Sarah's voice and the gorgeous strings that rise and fall like a tide that can't decide whether to come in for the night or run away from the sun. 

The curtains are still open in the front window and the light is starting to fade outside. I know my neighbours can see me, but I close my eyes, raise my arms and move them with the music anyway — as though I'm the one conducting the musicians. I'm not graceful, but it doesn't matter. I am only moving for myself and because of what I feel when I hear those sounds. 

I brought my youngest child to the symphony for the first time when she was four. During a particularly moving piece, I glanced over to see her head tilted back on the seat, eyes blinking rapidly, and lower lip quivering. There were tears sliding from her eyes. I reached for her hand and she whispered, Mama, I'm starting to feel a little bit sad, because the music is so beautiful.

I understood what she meant. It's what I've always appreciated about Sarah's music — every song is an invitation to step into the emotions and thoughts too easily lost in our busyness. And each time I listen to her songs, they call me back again: to learn something new, to reflect on something past, to forgive, to let go, to love. 

It's been a 15 year journey for me and in honour of the value she places on generosity, when it comes to creating and sharing her music, Sarah chose some of her long-time supporters to attend an intimate performance for the launch her of her ninth studio album, Metaphysics. You have to choose those who choose you, she told us. I am without the right words to describe what it was like to sit inches from the beautiful string instruments and to watch Sarah perform on her beloved childhood piano. 

Sarah released her first EP, Universe, at age nineteen. If that doesn't hint at her extraordinary talent, then let me share that she is not only an accomplished poet, artist, songwriter and pianist but also an accomplished string composer, who has written four original scores for 21-piece string orchestras as well as two string quartets. The strings on her double album, Land & Sea are absolutely exquisite and it seems we will be treated to more of the same on the newest album

Sarah Slean is, in the words of TIME magazine, one of the most compelling acts Canada has to offer and you shouldn't wait another minute to hear for yourself. 

I've created a playlist of my favourite songs to date. This list will grow in a matter of days when the album is released on April 7th (I'm already drawn to Loved Well). You can pre-order the album on PledgeMusic until the 1st.

Canada needs to celebrate its artists and you won't go wrong with Sarah.

Repeater: Bird Of Sorrow

glen-hansard

Grief came first like an earthquake. Shaking and tossing everything we knew and leaving us shattered. But we did the work you are supposed to when things are broken. We picked up the debris and did our best to put everything back in place

But grief hides and waits. And it came back. First with aftershocks that we walked over and around until the tsunami swept over us and left devastation, despair and a landscape that was unrecognizable. 

We stood in the place we once held sacred and strained our eyes trying to find familiarity. We watched helplessly as bold and dark brushstrokes crisscrossed the painting we wanted to fill with light. But we keep painting anyway, each of us taking turns at the easel. Until finally, finally we stood back and saw the final masterpiece was no less beautiful. 

+ + + + + +

This song helped me. 

It played on repeat while I stood in place.

It played on repeat while I kept painting the landscape of our life together. 

It played on repeat while I loved and loved even when I was scared. 

It plays now and reminds me of sorrow.

It plays now and reminds me of vulnerability.

It plays now and reminds me of us. 

+ + + + + + 

Even if a day feels too long
You feel like you can't wait another one
You're slowly giving up on everything
Love is gonna find you again

Love is gonna find you, you better be ready then

You've been kneeling in the dark for far too long
You've been waiting for that spark, but it hasn't come
Well I'm calling to you, please, get off the floor
A good heart will find you again

A good heart will find you, just be ready then

Tethered to a bird of sorrow
A voice that's buried in the hollow
You've given over to self-deceiving
You're prostrate, bowed, but not believing.
You've squandered more than you could borrow
You've bet your joys on all tomorrows
For the hope of some returning
While everything around you is burning

Come on, we gotta get out, get out of this mess we made
And still for all our talk, we're both so afraid
Will we leave this up to chance, like we do everything?
Love is gonna find us again

Love is gonna find us, we gotta be ready then

Tethered to a bird of sorrow
A voice that's buried in the hollow
You've given over to self-deceiving
Your prostrate bowed would not be leaving
You've squandered more than you could borrow
You've bet your joys on all tomorrows
For the hope of some returning
While everything around you's burning

But I'm not leaving you
I'm not leaving you
I'm not leaving
I'm not leaving, yeah, yeah
I'm not leaving
I'm not leaving, yeah, yeah
I'm hanging on
Hanging on
What's gonna come?
I'm hanging on now
Hanging on, hanging on, hanging on
Hanging on, hanging on, hanging on

With the faithful
With the faithful
I'm hanging on
What's gonna come?
What's gonna come?
Hanging on
Hanging on

~Glen Hansard "Bird of Sorrow"

7 Songs From the 80s: When Angst Was A Good Friend

80s-songs

I was recently asked by a friend — with whom I spent a lot of time in the 80s — to share seven memorable songs from that time. I enjoy any chance to think about music and how it has shaped me. And it would be no surprise to anyone who looked inside my journal from that decade to see these songs are all about longing and angst and heartbreak. I've always felt connected to others by music and knowing others felt the same way was comforting. 

Nothing magical happened to me during those years. I never got the boy, I wasn't popular, I wasn't all that memorable. It was hard then, but I'm glad went through it. I remember those days as a time I was caught between two versions of myself: the nervous observer the outer world saw and the dramatic and bold girl who only made herself known inside the sanctuary of a candy-coloured bedroom. I spent a lot of time on my own, writing the lyrics to songs in my best cursive and folding them over and over on themselves, so I could glue them into that journal. Maybe I thought it was better to let someone else tell my story during that time; it was easier than trying to figure out how to tell it myself. 

In that way, not much has changed. I am still the kind of music fan that identifies with and becomes attached to lyrics and storytelling in songs. I still fall head over heels in love with moody, sad songs and play them on repeat until my family begs me to stop. As for which version of myself I eventually became, I think I landed somewhere in the middle. And I'm glad about that, too.

I've listened to these songs in cars with the windows rolled all the way down, in darkened school gyms during awkward dances, and on repeat through the foam-covered headphones of my Sony Walkman.

In the 80s, I was the same age as my two oldest children are now. Hearing these songs today, I don't feel any regret it wasn't a more spectacular decade for me. I've kept the journal to remind myself it's okay to be confused about who you are, and it's okay to spend time alone figuring it out. I look at it sometimes to remind myself how big my feelings were, when I'm trying to help my kids navigate their own big feelings. And I always feel such a sweet gratitude for these songs when I see those handwritten lyrics.

They knew the words when I didn't and they invited me to sing along.

CARS: Who's Gonna Drive You Home? (1984)

BILLY VERA & THE BEATERS: At This Moment (1981)

HEART: Alone (1987)

DEPECHE MODE: Somebody (1984)

BANGLES: Eternal Flame (1989)

PETER GABRIEL: Don't Give Up (1986)

KATE BUSH: This Woman's Work (1989)