This has been the most epic, action-packed year of concert-going in my entire life so far. 2017 saw me completely blow my previous personal record of most concerts attended in a year out of the water, with over thirty shows attended this year. I have to thank all the artists, promoters and media companies who approved my media credentials for many of these shows, which freed up the budget for larger shows small blogs like this don’t get approved for. This is the first time I’ve been to so many concerts that I couldn’t review them all, but I still wrote a hell of a lot of reviews this year. It was tough narrowing these down to a top ten, but here’s what I feel are the best shows I went to in 2017.
Click here to check out 2016’s Top 10.
(All shows were in Toronto, Canada, unless otherwise noted)
*indicates a show I did not write a review for
Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):
Madchild at The Rockpile
Pete Rock/Hip-Hop Karaoke’s 10th Anniversary at Revival
Talib Kweli at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
Papa Roach at The Danforth Music Hall
Apathy & Celph Titled at Smiling Buddha
Ab-Soul at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
Manifesto Festival at Echo Beach (Jidenna, Isaiah Rashad, The Internet, Majid Jordan)
NXNE Port Lands Festival (Talib Kweli + The Soul Rebels, Kaytranada, Post Malone)
Shad at FCP Park
Gorillaz at the Air Canada Centre
Unity Festival at David Pecaut Square (Main Source)
The Liverpool 4 at Lake Muskoka*
Sean Paul, Brandy & Ginuwine at Echo Beach*
Hans Zimmer at the Air Canada Centre*
Centuries of Decay at Coalition*
R.A. The Rugged Man at Club 120
Caine at Less Than Level in Oakville, ON*
Nas & Lauryn Hill at Budweiser Stage
Robbie G at Less Than Level in Oakville, ON
& Joey Bada$$ at Echo Beach
¡Mayday! at Adelaide Hall
Necro & Madchild at The Rockpile
Slaine & Termanology at Nocturne
Otherwise Known at Salto
10. Nardwuar & The Evaporators at The Drake Underground*
(second of three shows)
The last show of the year was a room full of proud music nerds celebrating the 30th anniversary of Canada’s ultimate music nerd being in the business. Known for his in-depth, insanely well-researched interviews, Nardwuar took fans through his Video Vault filled with clips of his most iconic moments with artists like Snoop Dogg, ?uestlove, Pharrell Williams, and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He also showed off his musical talent, performing with his punk rock band The Evaporators, and demonstrated that the research he does for his interviews can also be applied to performance techniques. This was the ultimate fan experience, as Nardwuar’s Video Vault presentation was personal, his performance was extremely interactive, and at the end of it all he took the time to meet and sign autographs with every fan in the building.
9. Kendrick Lamar at the Air Canada Centre
(both shows in July & August)
Kendrick Lamar is now one of the biggest rappers in the world, and The DAMN Tour was one of the biggest Hip-Hop events to see this year. It stopped in Toronto twice, with Travis Scott opening on the first show and YG opening on the second, and both times were lit. Just as you’d expect of a mega star like K-Dot, the production was high budget, with multiple jumbo screens, two stages, and stunt performers. After performing at the ACC as an opener for Kanye West back in 2013, Kendrick took what he learned and made his own epic performance for his first headlining shows at this venue. Welcome to the big time, Kendrick.
8. J. Cole at the Air Canada Centre
J. Cole is in a very similar situation to Kendrick Lamar, with his fame and accolades soaring to the point where he headlined two of his own shows for the first time at the ACC. Both Kendrick’s DAMN Tour and J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only Tour were epic, and with both of them hitting Toronto within the same week, you can’t help but compare the two. Kendrick’s show had cooler visuals and more energy, but J. Cole proved to be the better performer, actually rapping and singing every word to his verses, interacting with the crowd enough to get everyone to vibe with the different moods, and having a well thought-through set list. It’s a really enjoyable experience to see an artist perform their entire album from front to back, with a few throwbacks thrown in the mix, and it’s a format I’d like to see more artists follow.
7. Oddisee & Good Compny at Lee’s Palace
While bigger artists tend to have their live bands off to the side somewhere, backing them as they dominate the stage, Oddisee’s band Good Compny is the show. They had the crowd moving to their funk tunes before Oddisee even joined them on stage, and their synergy brought back memories of seeing The Roots perform live. Even when Oddisee had microphone malfunctions, the band was able to improvise and keep the party rocking while the technical issues got fixed. It’s rare to see an emcee with the breath control to flow consistently on beat with a live band backing them, and for that band to have amazing synergy, but Oddisee & Good Compny definitely pull it off.
6. Havoc (of Mobb Deep) at The Rockpile
With a legacy that goes back over twenty years, Havoc did an admiral job carrying the torch for Mobb Deep after the passing of his partner in rhyme, Prodigy. Despite having a multi-decade career, seeing Mobb Deep tour in Canada has been a rarity, and so this would be the closest many fans would get to ever seeing the group perform live. Joined by long-time collaborator Big Noyd, Havoc took the fans through every era of Mobb Deep’s music, celebrating Prodigy’s life by rapping all of his verses with the crowd, as well as his own. The timing of this show is what made it special, as it was a tribute to a fallen legend that Havoc absolutely did not have to do, but did it anyway for the fans.
5. Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
Arguably the hardest working independent rapper in the world, Tech N9ne returned to Toronto on yet another tour, this time bringing fellow Strange Music artist Stevie Stone along with him and Krizz Kaliko. As usual, Tech & Krizz showcased elite skill when it comes to performing live, with perfectly executed timing, choreography, and energy. They both effortlessly spit their rapid-fire verses without missing a beat, and keep the crowd energized for the entire show. Many artists pull off the double and triple-time flows in their studio recordings, but few are able to execute them live the way Tech N9ne does consistently on every tour.
4. Jay-Z at the Air Canada Centre
In another career year for Jay-Z, fans filled up the Air Canada Centre for two consecutive nights to experience the tour surrounding his most intimate, personal album yet. As with most artists who get to perform in the ACC, Hov had an extravagant stage with shifting jumbo screens and a choreographed light show, but it was the performance itself that made this a special one. Not only did he get into his deepest songs from the new album, but he also took fans back through several of his older classics, including a few Reasonable Doubt cuts that rarely get performed live. Highlights from this show include Jay rapping a verse from “Dead Presidents II” over the beat from “Allure,” returning to his rapid-fire flow over a Drake beat just for Toronto, and of course his tribute to the late Chester Bennington with “Numb/Encore.”
3. Run The Jewels at The Danforth Music Hall
Killer Mike & El-P’s star power continued to rise this year after dropping their third album together, RTJ3, and their subsequent Run The World Tour was one of the hardest shows to get tickets to. With their high-energy music to go along with their mic skills and stage presence, it’s no wonder Run The Jewels were able to sell out the Danforth in mere hours, with demand high enough for them to book a second show if their tour schedule wasn’t so hectic. This show was a great way for fans to experience the new album while it was still fresh, as the stop in Toronto came around two months after RTJ3 hit the internet. It also came with the added bonus of Gangsta Boo opening for them, which meant she got to perform her guest verse on “Love Again” with the duo.
2. The Made In America Festival in Philadelphia, USA
My road trip to Philly had to make it onto this list, with this two-day festival being the largest concert I’ve ever been to. Between the six stages spread out throughout the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, we caught many of the same artists who had already come to Toronto, including shortened versions of sets on this list by J. Cole and Run The Jewels. Other highlights included J.I.D and EarthGang performing together, and Solange Knowles putting on a soulful set in the rain, but best of all would be Jay-Z’s first performance in North America since releasing his new 4:44 album. His headlining set was similar to what he would later do in Toronto, but with this being his festival that he curated himself, he made it special by bringing out guests Damian Marley, Just Blaze and Meek Mill, and doing an encore set full of deep album cuts on a second stage. Cheers to the people of Philly.
1. Method Man & Redman at Beer Fest – Bandshell Park
Day 1 of Toronto’s 2017 Festival of Beer was the ultimate Hip-Hop celebration. With hundreds of beers beings served cold under clear, sunny skies in the middle of July, the atmosphere was perfect for an outdoor concert. Besides iconic legends Method Man & Redman putting on an elite performance at the end of the night, you also had Toronto legends Saukrates & Choclair performing during the day, perfectly complimenting the late 90’s/early 2000’s vibe TFOB was going for. Method Man & Redman did their thing, taking fans through the decades of classics between them, and at the end of the night, Redman spent an extra half hour at the edge of the stage signing autographs. With nothing but happy, positive vibes to go with the all-time classic Hip-Hop being performed, this was definitely the best show of the year.
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
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