7 shows that made NOW critics cry this year

As it turns out, our hearts are not made of ice


Kate Tempest as part of NXNE at Adelaide Hall, June 17

I went for Tink but arrived in time for Kate Tempest. Her set opened with a dense collage of electronic clatter, slowly rising to a speaker-clipping crescendo. Suddenly it dropped out completely, and in the ensuing moment of dramatic silence, three things happened with big-bang velocity: 1) Tempest started rapping furiously and torrentially, almost without pause, for the next 25 minutes 2) the energy in the room surged, galvanizing around her arresting stage presence 3) tears streamed down my face before I could even process what was happening. 

It wasn’t so much an emotional reaction as a kind of transcendent stupefaction, the epiphany of seeing a peerless artist at her very best. She must have rattled off something like 80,000 words before she stopped, and for the first 20,000 or so I just could not deal. Mark Streeter

Stars of the Lid as part of Unsound Toronto at Hearn Generating Station, June 19

Many performers during this year’s Unsound festival shook the Hearn to its exposed girders, but only Stars of the Lid revealed it to be the post-industrial cathedral it really is, and it was truly affecting. I wasn’t prepared for the waves of fragile ambience to hit me as hard as they did. Michael Rancic

Angel Olsen as part of NXNE at the Mod Club, June 20

Angel Olsen left her band at home, but the North Carolina songwriter’s searingly intimate NXNE set – which left a jammed Mod Club in rapt silence – proved that sometimes the quietest sets are the most powerful. Her songs swerve headlong into the tenderest, most awkward crannies of heartbreak, and the audience went there with her, helped along by her idiosyncratic between-song charm and huge smile. When she forgot the words to Unfucktheworld, she shared a real, vulnerable moment: the crowd carried the tune for her. Sarah Greene

Hayden as part of Dream Serenade at Massey Hall, October 17

Father Time waits for no one. I took in Hayden’s Dream Serenade through an older but not necessarily wiser lens this year. When he played No Happy Birthday solo, with a slow-motion video of his non-verbal daughter projected in the background, the emotional weight completely moved me. Years ago I would have cringed at that sort of heartstring-pulling, but this time the fragility of life hit me hard. Joshua Kloke

Neil Young as part of WayHome at Burl’s Creek Park, July 24

They say the waiting is the hardest part. Shortly after my wife and I tied the knot after nine years together, we celebrated with this three-hour Neil Young set. Uncle Neil was one of the first musicians we’d ever agreed upon, but we’d yet to see him live. When he calmly strode onstage for a solo After The Gold Rush, our anticipation hit a boiling point. A lifetime of memories came flooding back at what felt like the largest campfire we’d ever been a part of. JK

Janet Jackson at the Air Canada Centre, September 15

Janet Jackson’s Control and Rhythm Nation albums were my first introduction to the political and personal possibilities of music. She channelled similar themes into this year’s excellent Unbreakable album, and the accompanying tour heavily referenced Rhythm Nation-era’s rallying cry for collective action through the army of backup dancers onstage. Not only had the pop icon come back sounding and looking good (the volume and magnitude of her hair alone were practically eye-watering), but with a great album and clear sense of purpose. The audience at the Air Canada Centre was definitely feeling it. I fully expected to cry when she broke into Again, but tearing up during the When I Think Of You chair dance routine really caught me off guard. Kevin Ritchie

Tanya Tagaq at Massey Hall, December 1

Admittedly, most of Tanya Tagaq’s recent Massey Hall show was too frightening to induce tears, but for sure it made me feel more than any other show this year. Pure vocal and physical ferocity and extreme experimentalism set against quieter, achingly joyful moments and the murmurs of a 60-person choir…. My stomach muscles refused to unclench or my heart quiet down. Carla Gillis

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