This was a big year for rock star mega-tours. From U2 to Coldplay, from Kanye to Fiddy, from Live 8 to Paul McCartney -- we saw enough big-budget stadium shows to make us swear off watery pee-coloured arena beer for good. But the biggest shows of the year weren't necessarily the best; our 10 favourite live gigs of 2005 ended up equally split between rising indie acts and true legends... okay, and Beyoncé. Surprisingly, the usual suspects (Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene) didn't make the cut, though almost a third of this year's top 10 performances were by local artists, underscoring the fact that some of the most exciting music in the world right now is being made by the awesome talents in Toronto.
1 JON-RAE & THE RIVER, FINAL FANTASY, SHAWN HEWITT (Music Gallery, February 12) Most kids go to Chuck E Cheese for their fifth birthday, but the folks at Wavelength chose the acoustically rad Music Gallery for their half-decade throwdown. The space-age soul of Shawn Hewitt, Final Fantasy's in-fucking-credible set of soaring violin loops, hesitant vocals and morphing live visuals, and the suddenly transcendent country-soul of Jon-Rae & the River's haphazard choir made every person in the joint into an instant believer in the spiritual power of indie rock. Magnificent.
2 LORETTA LYNN AND MARTHA WAINWRIGHT (Massey Hall, July 22) A lesser performer trying to follow Martha Wainwright's tour-de-force solo warm-up act might've been unnerved. Not Loretta Lynn. The legendary Coal Miner's Daughter simply strode forth in her Opry-style finery and charmed the crowd into submission by eschewing a lame medley in favour of robust versions of her best-loved jukebox classics. She then delighted long-time fans by boldly attempting to fulfill shouted requests for old favourites and rarely performed recent recordings, demonstrating precisely why she's the queen of country music.
3 EXTERMINATION MUSIC NIGHT (Don Valley Brick Works, October 28) They came by car, by bike and by bus on a pre-Halloween Friday night. Through the woods of the ravine and a gash in a brick wall they found a vast candlelit room. The 10 bands -- including Feuermusik , Singing Saw Shadow Show and the fiery Anagram -- collided beside a generator at the opposite end as flashlight-toting attendees explored the site. The long-held dream of its secretive organizers, a show this unique, this memorable, this exciting couldn't have happened in a bar -- and couldn't have been more perfectly executed. Simply unforgettable.
4 GANG OF FOUR (Phoenix, May 14) The onus was on Gang of Four, the seminal post-punk bros -- popular again after, like, every band co-opted their crooked funk-rock aesthetic in 04/05 -- to bring the heat for their reunion tour stop at the Phoenix. Acting like he'd made a mistake with his prescription, wild-eyed frontbloke Jon King detonated with amazing rock theatrics, culminating by battering a microwave to his band's robust, timeless fuzz.
5 BILLY ROBINSON AND KATHRYN MOSES (Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room, July 16) There was concern about whether Ottawa-based saxophonist Billy Robinson, who said he was suffering from stomach pains, would make it to the Harbourfront gig launching the Ready Or Not CD comp of CBC jazz recordings. Not only did he show up, but Robinson put on a stellar performance that left no doubt as to why Archie Shepp insisted he play on Attica Blues. As the first few notes of The Family were greeted with squealing cheers, you could see Robinson crack a smile. Sadly, his comeback show would also be his last. Less than a month later, Robinson died of a heart attack. He was 66.
6 DESTINY'S CHILD (Air Canada Centre, August 10) Beyoncé , Michelle and Kelly -- the surviving members of Destiny's Child -- know how to go out with a bang. For their sultry August ACC show, the sistas actually said farewell with five or six explosions, not to mention glitter, sequins, confetti, furs, hair, underwear, IMAX-sized vids and lap dances. A fiesta of Bruckheimer-budgeted R&B madness revolving around three independent women who wailed the hits like young, sane Whitney Houstons.
7 CONVERGE, TERROR AND CURSED (Opera House, October 5) Some of hardcore's best and brightest showed up solely to pummel the shit out of the crowd during an almost too intense evening. Converge's choreographed insanity made it clear that you don't need lots of fancy smoke and lights to blow audiences away -- just tons of emotionally charged energy and a frontman who sounds like a bloody machete 'n' chainsaw fight.
8 SADAT X (El Mocambo, October 29) Everyone who slept on the new Brand Nubian album also slept on the group's nasal shining star, Sadat X, when he hit the El Mo in October. It's their loss. Rock rockin' it as part of local MC Masia One and co.'s regular The Academy hiphop function, Sadat honked out his classics with class, as if to say, "I don't care if there's one or five people here - I just wanna rock, man."
9 OKKERVIL RIVER (Lee's Palace, November 7) The Okkervil crew had three strikes against them before arriving at Lee's: drummer Travis Nelsen 's busted hand, frontman Will Sheff 's strep throat and border hassles that found them arriving an hour after the skedded door time. Damned if they didn't beat the odds to deliver an unexpectedly mind-blowing show. Backed by gorgeous pedal steel, keys and ferocious drumming, Sheff's lung-rattling howls so perfectly captured the sound of a man possessed by passion, rage and fear, you could almost see the ghosts of the characters in his songs stalking the dark corners of the club.
10 STARS (Lee's Palace, December 18) For their triumphant homecoming to cap off 2005's big breakout, the hopeless romantics in Stars opted for six sold-out shows in an intimate club over one big-venue blowout. Smart. Tricked out in hanging evergreens and twinkly lights, with Chris Grismer 's video murals on the walls, Lee's became a fairyland that perfectly complemented Stars' swoony music. Coming off tours with Death Cab in the US and Bloc Party in Europe, the band was a soaring, well-greased machine, and the hometown pride was palpable onstage and off. Each show had its charm, but Sunday's finale, culminating in a stunning take on the Pogues' Fairytale of New York (with Amy Millan doing a dead-on Kirsty MacColl) and the sombre lullaby of old track Tonight to send friends and lovers to bed, was Stars at their most magical.