The 20 best Toronto concerts in December 2018

Before the year's over, there's still big hometown shows from Jessie Reyez, Shad and Lil Berete, plus variety shows, mosh-friendly holiday benefits and much more


1. Jessie Reyez

It’s been a big year for Jessie Reyez. Our recent cover star released her explosive sophomore EP, Being Human In Public, collaborated with Calvin Harris and Sam Smith and picked up the 2018 Juno Award for breakthrough artist of the year. To cap off her biggest North American solo tour yet, she’s playing two hometown shows on the Danforth. For those lucky enough to snatch tickets early (both shows are now sold out), expect a set as eclectic as her music: soulful R&B, slick pop and fiery acoustic singalongs. Also, warning to those in the front rows: Reyez loves stage diving and crowd surfing. 

December 3 and 4 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), 7 pm. $25-$35. ticketmaster.ca

2. Jennifer Castle, Jeremy Dutcher

Jennifer Castle and Jeremy Dutcher are two of the city’s best bets to make an entire crowd of people hush in pin-drop-quiet awe. Dutcher did it at last year’s New Constellations tour around this same time, but now with the added cachet of a Polaris Prize victory for this year’s Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, people will come specifically for his breathtaking operatic vocals and sweeping arrangements of traditional Wolostoq songs. Or for Castle’s sparse and gorgeous reverb-ridden mortality meditations. 

December 15 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), doors 7 pm. $20. ticketmaster.ca

3. Lil Berete 

Lil Berete, the pride of Regent Park, had to cancel his debut headlining performance at the Rivoli in April. At the time, the 17-year-old was striking YouTube gold off the strength of a couple of viral anthems, but now he has a debut mixtape (out on the major indie label XL) and some head-turning performances under his belt, like at October’s Collision showcase. Now he has his real hometown debut as a headliner, in his home neighbourhood, no less – and you do not want to sleep on him. It’s a good month for local rappers playing hometown shows, with Killy and CMDWN also doing some big ones.

December 14 at Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East), 7 pm. $15. eventbrite.ca

4. Marie Davidson 

The last time the Montreal techno producer and vocalist played here, it was at a late-night warehouse party on Geary. Her excellent fourth solo album Working Class Woman sees her add more poppy and accessible sounds into her mix of driving industrial and Italo, but just because she’s playing a proper venue with a pre-2 am set time, don’t expect her to lighten up on the after-hours vibes. Get prepared to sweat.

December 7 at the Garrison (1197 Dundas West), 8 pm. $18. ticketfly.com

5. Alvvays, Snail Mail

I’ve always thought of Alvvays as more of a summer band, perfect for dusky end-of-season beach contemplations. But apparently they work just as well in the colder months. Last December the indie pop band played five sold-out shows at Mod Club, and they’re repeating the multi-night stand this year with five at Danforth Music Hall with sonic soulmate Snail Mail. Let them transport you to a warmer clime.

December 6-10 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), doors 7 pm. $25-$30. ticketmaster.ca

6. Shad, Bonjay 

It’s been a good year for the former host of Q. He’s returned for season two as host of the Netflix series Hip-Hop Evolution and put out the concept album A Short Story About A War. Maybe the most ambitious album of the Canadian rapper’s career, it builds an allegory around a fictional world consumed by war, while touching on themes of migration, economics and many of the political issues we’re dealing with right now. Don’t miss hometowners Bonjay, either. 

December 14 & 15 at the Great Hall (1087 Queen West), 8 pm. Sold out. ticketmaster.ca

7. Fucked Up, Metz, WItch Prophet, Joel Eel, Sydanie

The holiday season brings some great benefit concerts, but this one from Toronto noise-and-punk boundary-breakers Fucked Up and Metz might be the mother of them all. Put on by Not Dead Yet, the all-ages show is in support of the Toronto Overdose Prevention Society, whose precarious safe-injection sites have recently been made official by the Ontario government. But the red-tape-filled solution, capped at 21 “consumption and treatment centres,” remains a half measure during the current opioid crisis. TOPS could use the support.

December 22 at Opera House (735 Queen East), doors 8 pm, all ages. $19.50. ticketfly.com, rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com

8. Dilly Dally

The rock band played a release show for their heavy new album Sore while opening for FIDLAR, but this is the headlining hometown show. Expect them to go all out while performing songs from the new album, which is simultaneously darker and more optimistic than the debut that put them on the map. There are doom metal references while the lyrics tackle friendship breakdowns, the struggle of sobriety on the road and, in Bad Biology, a theoretical queer love story free of gender roles that ends in a fantasy of leaving your body. Expect Katie Monks’s trademark raspy howl to be at a full 11. Vallens and P0st3rb0y open. 

December 6 at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), doors 8:30 pm. $16.50. rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com, ticketfly.com

9. The Basement Revue

For 12 years, Jason Collett and Damian Rogers have been throwing CanLit/CanRock variety shows in the basement of venues (first the Dakota Tavern and now Longboat Hall, which is below the Great Hall). Last year, they teamed up with RPM and went out on the nation(s)wide New Constellations tour, which brought together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists and felt like a re-energization of the concept. This year they’re back in the basement for one four cozy weeknight winter revues with surprise performances and collaborations from writers, musicians and speakers, never revealed beforehand. 

December 4, 13, 20 and 27 at Longboat Hall (1087 Queen West), doors 8:30 pm. $25. basementrevue.com

10. Pop By The Rink: Annie

If anyone knows how to stay happy in the winter, it’s the Nordic countries. They did invent the concept of hygge, after all – a sort of convivial coziness. NORDEN festival at Harbourfront Centre will deliver it, with music, arts, food and panel discussions. The coolest part is definitely the free skate night performance by Norwegian electro-pop hero Annie on December 1. Performances by her are not that common here, let alone ones you can skate along to. 

December 1 at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), 8 pm. Free. harbourfrontcentre.com/norden

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Annie

11. Long Winter

It’s hard to believe this music series is now seven years old. At the same time it feels like it’s been warming the city forever. Since moving beyond its origins as a monthly outgrowth of the band Fucked Up at the Great Hall and being taken over by a community of scenesters, the DIY, all-ages music and arts fest has established its vibe: genre-bending and welcoming, roving from room to room, no matter the venue. Highlights on bill for their second edition of the year include eclectic rapper Myst Milano, seriously good local R&B singer Adria Kain and the very fun upstart punk band Rotten Column. Recent Polaris Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher will also be on hand as a guest on NOW contributor Vish Khanna’s talk show, Long Night.

December 8 at Polish Combatants Hall (206 Beverley), 7 pm. $10 at ticketscene.ca or pwyc at the door.

12. Kerri Chandler 

One of house music’s most legendary names, Kerri Chandler headlines a proper rave at the start of the month. This isn’t Chandler’s first stint here – he played at CODA just last year. But this is a chance to see Chandler do his thing in a warehouse setting, with local support from Mike Gibbs and Jamie Kidd going B2B as well as Immigrant Muscle. Advance tickets online are already sold out, but there will be more at the door, so get there early.

December 8 at 500 Keele. 11 pm. $50. residentadvisor.net

13. TiKA with Sydanie, Khadijah Lopez

Now based in Montreal, Toronto R&B singer/songwriter TiKA plays a hometown gig at the Drake, capping off a year that saw her star in the short film Haven and appear on a massive billboard in Yonge-Dundas Square as part of a Sephora campaign. The show will also preview the material she plans on touring in the spring around the release of her debut album, Anywhere But Here, which is being produced with long-time collaborator (and another NOW favourite) Casey MQ.

December 10 at the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West), doors 8 pm. $20, adv $15. thedrake.electrostub.com

14. Rejuvenated Frequencies: VHVL, Korea Town Acid, YourHomieNaomi 

One of Toronto’s most exciting electronic musicians, OBUXUM, flexes her curatorial muscles with a show featuring three emerging artists who all happen to be women. VHVL is the alias of Harlem-based Veronica Lauren, who mixes bright synth tones and hip-hop beats to form her tracks. Joining her are two local artists: YourHomieNaomi, a singer/songwriter with R&B vibes, and Korea Town Acid, the DJ moniker of Jessica Cho, who blends improvised jazz and experimental techno to create her otherworldly sounds. All three performers will play live sets, with projected visuals by Almondmilq.

December 14 at the Music Gallery (918 Bathurst), doors 7:30 pm. $10-$15. musicgallery.org.

15. Operators play Handsome Furs

No matter what a farewell tour might suggest, in today’s touring landscape you almost always get another chance to hear the songs you love performed live. Not even a divorce can stand in Dan Boeckner’s way. Despite the Canadian indie rocker’s 2012 split from bandmate/partner Alexei Perry, he’s bringing back the Handsome Furs for one night (well, two the other is in New York City). His new band Operators use a similar electronic-meets-indie-rock palette as Handsome Furs, so you can expect these songs – released between 2006 and 2012 – to be performed faithfully. Or as faithfully as they can be with one half of the band missing. 

December 15 at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), doors 8:30 pm. $17.50. ticketfly.com, rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com.

16. Keys N Krates, Shagabond 

It’s rare these days to see an electronic/hip-hop act release a live album, but that’s exactly what Keys N Krates have done with their new Live In Toronto. That’s because the group puts so much emphasis on their live show. And if you haven’t seen it, you can catch it in rare intimate form at Velvet Underground as part of their Closer We Get tour. 

December 8 at Velvet Underground (508 Queen West), doors 10 pm. $20-$25. ticketweb.ca

17. Stars, My Brightest Diamond

You might not have noticed it, but Stars have been low-key playing holiday shows in Toronto every year for the last while. This year you can expect to hear their new song Are You With Me?, which is inspired by co-leader Torquil Campbell’s late-night texts to Gord Downie. Don’t miss openers My Brightest Diamond, either, for an old-school warm-and-fuzzy indie rock holiday bash. 

December 12 & 13 at Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth), doors 7 pm. $37-$42. ticketmaster.ca

18. 54-40 celebrates the Horseshoe’s 71st birthday

The mainstay Queen West venue went all out for its 70th birthday last year, with a handful of legends playing multiple nights. This year is considerably scaled down, with three nights by one band: alt-rock CanCon heroes 54-40, who’ve graced those checkerboard floors many, many times. But so have we, and there are fewer places we’d rather while away December. 

December 6-8 at Horseshoe (370 Queen West), doors 9 pm. $39.50-$49.50. ticketfly.com, rotate.com, soundscapesmusic.com

19. Home Alone in Concert

It’s hard to believe that Home Alone came out 28 years ago, but the Christmas classic about a kid who accidentally gets left at home over the holidays and must ultimately defend his family’s house from a couple of bonehead burglars is enjoyable with every viewing. Part of that is thanks to John Williams’s delightfully memorable score. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, joined by Resonance Youth Choir, performs the songs live – along with a screening of the 103-minute film – December 6 to 8 at Roy Thomson Hall. It’ll put you in a holiday mood and leave you humming the tunes long after the season ends.

December 6-8 at Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe). $36-$136. tso.ca

20. THE OC: Covering Their Tracks – Chrismukkah Edition

If you had the pleasure of growing up with both Christian and Jewish parents, you probably celebrated Chrismukkah – or something like it. The bi-religious holiday combining the words “Christmas” and “Hanukkah” was popularized thanks to the early-aught TV drama The O.C. On December 20, feel nostalgic for Seth, Marissa, Ryan and Summer when the Baitshop Backing Band plays songs from the show at the Horseshoe. The lineup also features local heroes like Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham, Charlotte Cornfield, Kandle, Lydia Ainsworth, DCF, Sam Cash and more. All proceeds benefit SKETCH Working Arts and the Children’s Book Bank.

December 20 at Horseshoe (370 Queen West), doors 8:30 pm. $20-$25. ticketfly.com

Check back next week for a full list of Toronto’s best New Year’s Eve parties for 2018.

@nowtoronto

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