1 TALIB KWELI (Phoenix, August 30)
This man truly can move the crowd. In years past he’d demand almost too much from his fanatics, but now Kweli is in the zone, shifting from deep-thinking griot to b-boy apostle to dignified romantic with effortless skill, overcompensating for the non-Mos Def-ness and edutaining heads like a modern KRS-One.
2 DAFT PUNK(Arrow Hall, August 5)
If you didn’t go, you’re probably sick of hearing about it. If you did, you haven’t shut up about it and people hate you. However, the sight of robot DJs towering in a laser-light rock-disco pyramid, sending thousands into a euphoric dance trance is an experience not easily moved on from.
3 MIA (V-Fest, September 8)
Despite performing ridiculously early in the day, MIA rocked the main stage as if she were the headliner. Much to the dismay of security, she invited the crowd up onstage to join in the party. She managed to make her set feel more like a sweaty club gig than a big, impersonal festival.
4 JUSTICE(Circa, October 18)
The dance music producers of the year were a perfect fit for the most hyped-up club in recent memory, turning the packed dance floor into a loved-up mosh pit with their electro-disco-metal anthems. Laptops and Marshall stacks, together at last.
5 NAS (Kool Haus, April 17)
The Hip Hop Is Dead show was one vicious contradiction, since Nas resurrected the art form with grace and power. With a catalogue as thick and well-rounded as Beyoncé’s hips, the QB G.O.A.T. took us on a fantastic voyage down memory lane.
6 SPIRITUALIZED (Phoenix, November 17)
Ignoring the shouts from a few angry louts unaware that this Phoenix show was part of the Spiritualized Acoustic Mainlines tour, Jason Pierce got on with the business of reinventing his group concept, accompanied by keyboardist, string quartet, gospel trio and his own gentle guitar strum. A quietly entrancing display that bodes well for the new Spiritualized album.
7 SLAYER(Molson Amphitheatre, August 10)
There’s no more metal experience than being surrounded by thousands of really scary-looking dudes getting wasted on a hot summer afternoon while yelling “Slaaaayyyyyyer!!!” After more than 20 years, Slayer can still put on a massively tight and heavy show. Insane solos, rapid-fire drums and sheer volume all contribute to the band’s stellar rep.
8 MABEL JOHN & THE HONEYDRIPPER ALL-STARS(Phoenix, September 10)
Much more entertaining than your average TIFF soirée, this after-party for the film Honeydripper, John Sayles’s juke-joint blues reverie, turned out to be a blast when Mabel John (yes, Little Willie John’s sister) got onstage at the Phoenix with her fellow cast members – saxophonist Eddie Shaw, harp honker Arthur Lee Williams and guitarist Gary Clark Jr. – and ripped through a set of the raucous blues and old-school they’ve been playing together forever.
9 RUFUS WAINWRIGHT (Danforth Music Hall, June 11)
It’s no surprise that a Rufus Wainwright show sounds amazing. The Montreal musician’s voice was pitch-perfect, and his song selection was top-notch. But it was his hilarious banter, his outlandish costumes (lederhosen at one point) and a brilliant dance routine for which he dressed up as Judy Garland that made this show one of the best of the year.
10 CHROMEO(Spin Gallery, July 11)
Excluding a dull Exclaim tour and their Beasties supporting slot, Chromeo’s Spin Gallery date was the official coming-out party in Toronto for a group that’s made enormous strides this year. You knew this show had to be a hot one when the line snaked around the block and even ticket-holders were being waved away while the loft throbbed.