The best shows of 2012 were by living legends proving they've still got it and young upstarts exceeding hype-fuelled expectations.
1. FLAMING LIPS
Yonge-Dundas Square, June 16
Few indie acts today are as adept at rocking large outdoor stages as the Flaming Lips. It couldn't have been easy to play just hours after the horrific Radiohead stage collapse at Downsview Park, but the Oklahoma psych rockers managed to be mindful of the tragedy and provide much-needed emotional release.
2. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND
Rogers Centre, August 24
If there were any doubts about the Boss's ability to thrill fans like he did in his youth, they was erased by this magical almost-four-hour set. Relying purely on his charisma and his legendary band, Springsteen proved that passion and talent beat the pyrotechnics, lasers and backing tracks of younger rock stars any day of the week.
Lee's Palace, October 25
Experiencing NYC post-punk legends Swans live is an intense, gruelling experience but also gloriously transcendent. Their epic no-frills noise rock marathon left the audience stunned and brutalized. Thirty years of exploring the darker corners of the human psyche haven't dulled their edge. If anything, they're even more terrifying.
4. GILBERTO GIL
Massey Hall, November 19
Seventy-year-old Brazilian guitarist Gilberto Gil took us back to his early influences, giving a lesson in Bahia music history while also getting us dancing in our seats thanks to his band's bombastic percussion work and celebratory sounds. By the end of the two-hour set, Gil himself was seriously cutting loose.
Kool Haus, December 11
Whether the women filling Kool Haus were at the Miguel show for his Grammy-nominated record Kaleidoscope Dream or for his highly Instagram-able body, the L.A. singer proved there's lots of room for his pecs-and-pipes (not that kind) brand of R&B in commercial pop. Engineered for arenas, Kaleidoscope Dream songs wowed, but the more understated older stuff held its own. This, plus his personal wattage, means he'll stick around.
6. JANELLE MONAE
Nathan Phillips Square, June 22
The ATL-ien's jubilant kick-off to the Toronto Jazz Fest played out like a séance to summon the spirits of James Brown, Michael Jackson and Judy Garland. It also included an art lesson and an epic call-and-response routine. Her work ethic, showmanship and attention-to-detail are unrivalled.
7. TY SEGALL
Horseshoe, May 12
Ty Segall tried in vain to calm the sold-out, beer-spraying crowd by suggesting they pogo rather than mosh, but the California fuzz rocker couldn't help but get caught up in the enthusiasm. As stage-divers invaded his space, he hopped down and played from within the sweaty, writhing mass. Security called the show early, but an unceasing "Encore!" chant brought him back for one more song, which he performed hanging upside-down from a ceiling pipe.
8. LEONARD COHEN
Air Canada Centre, December 4 and 5
Leonard Cohen may have ended his original 15-year break from touring for monetary reasons (shady management left him broke), but it was clear from his victory-lap Toronto double-header that he's now performing out of pure joy. The legendary Montreal poet/singer put on an impeccable, nearly-four-hour set that showcased his wry wit, elegant melodies, rich explorations of sexuality and spirituality and surprising showmanship.
9. THE WEEKND
Sound Academy, November 4
Almost two years after gripping Toronto, his hometown, in star-amongst-us fervour, the Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) set up a mini-residency at the Sound Academy with four sold-out back-to-back nights. The homecoming shows felt triumphant for us and him, and Tesfaye - detached, still with the voice of a fallen angel but no longer timid in front of crowds - channelled that elation onstage.
Photo by: Mike Ford
10. YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN
The Garrison, January 28
Many of the Montreal/Toronto art rock collective's 2012 shows could have made this list, but it was their first one that stands out for being the moment when it first became clear they'd have no trouble living up to their rapidly ballooning hype. If anything, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan's wildly inventive stage shows are even better than their amazing debut record.
Photo by: R. Jeanette Martin