Britain's music invasion may have happened 40 years ago but the current crop of musicmakers from across the pond are still making major noise if the Top Ten concerts of 2006 in Toronto are any indication. Half of the artists on the list hail from England -- including The Who, who were part of the original invasion. Here's the best of what yours truly saw on the Toronto concert scene over the last 12 months: James Brown (Jan. 6, Casino Rama): An old-school soul revue was energetically delivered by the 72-year-old Brown who showed men three times his junior how to work the stage. Backed by an 11-piece band, Brown's vocal shrieks and trademark slippery dance moves were back in top form, after he underwent cancer surgery in December 2004. Before his untimely death on Christmas Day, the Godfather of Soul was scheduled to return to Casino Rama for two sold-out show on Jan. 5-6. Refunds are now available at point of purchase. STAGE BANTER: "You will not be able to relax because the funk will make you move!"-- James Brown Donald Fagen (March 13, Massey Hall): Steely Dan's singer-keyboardist embarked on the first solo tour of his three-decades-plus career and it paid off. The 58-year-old Fagen delivered an hour-and-50 minutes worth of polished, sophisticated jazz-pop with the help of a talented nine-piece band. Fagen "oozed a quirky charm and a genuine playfulness, hunched over his keyboards like a cross between Richard III and Quasimodo, (and) would raise either one or two fingers or a clenched fist dramatically to signal the end of each song."
STAGE BANTER: "I'm feeling groovy, baby."-- Donald Fagen
Coldplay with Richard Ashcroft (March 22, Air Canada Centre): The first perfect concert of the year -- rated five out of five -- featured an exciting Brit-pop matchup that doesn't get much better, although the Arctic Monkeys opening for Oasis earlier in the week at the same venue came awfully close.
Both Coldplay's Chris Martin and Ashcroft, formerly of The Verve, are riveting performers and didn't disappoint in the first of two sold-out shows. Coldplay, in their third visit to Toronto in less than a year, obviously felt comfortable in our city, too, filming both ACC performances for a DVD.
STAGE BANTER: "I'm a sweaty bastard." -- Chris Martin
Kris Kristofferson (March 26, U of T's Convocation Hall): The 69-year-old country-folk-rock troubadour made a rare live solo appearance before a sold-out crowd in support of his first studio recording of original material in 11 years, This Old Road. And while "his deep, husky voice and simple guitar playing may not rank among the finest, his stories and songs surely do. Not to mention the man's obvious heart, character and charisma."
STAGE BANTER:"I don't hate George Bush. He's just the hood ornament on a machine run by a bunch of right-wing ideologues going over a cliff." -- Kris Kristofferson
The Flaming Lips (April 4, Phoenix): Probably my favourite concert of the year. The irrepressible energy of Lips' frontman Wayne Coyne was infectious, whether he was swinging a lamp over his head, tossing confetti out of his goody bag, throwing a steady stream of large, multi-coloured balloons from the stage, operating a smoke machine, a streamer launcher, a tiny camera attached to his microphone or an animal noisemaker.
All this and dancers dressed up as either Santa Claus or green-faced aliens.
Some 23 years after forming, this Oklahoma pop-psychedelic group has never been more popular and for good reason: They're tremendous live performers. Another perfect score.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs (April 10, Kool Haus): Every once in a while a female frontwoman comes along in rock that makes you sit up and take notice. Karen O of dynamic Brooklyn avant-punk rock trio Yeah Yeah Yeahs is one of those women.
The compelling and stylish O (whose real last name is Orzolek) is a sight to behold, with her "long limbs, bowl-cut brunette hairdo, smear of bright red lipstick, and out-there stage makeup and extravagant clothes."
Otherwise, she sounds like Chrissie Hynde and jumps, skips and dances around the stage like a cross between Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux. Meanwhile, guitarist-keyboardist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase sound amazing and are happy to let O's freak flag fly. Five outta five.
STAGE BANTER: "Sorry I've been kind of shy tonight. But I'm going to look you in the eye and say we really f-----g love you guys!" -- Karen O
Radiohead (June 7, Hummingbird Centre): The last time this British art-rock act played in Toronto was a massive show at Rogers Centre in 2003 when it was still called SkyDome. So you can imagine the excitement over seeing the critically acclaimed Oxford quintet in an intimate theatre setting during the first of two sold-out shows. "Radiohead's sharp-sounding musicianship and talent for creating an exciting, interesting atmosphere combined with the wealth of new tunes made those in the crowd feel as if they were witnessing something truly special. Both lead singer Thom Yorke and lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood were in particularly good form." Another night of musical perfection.
Pet Shop Boys (Oct. 11, Hummingbird): Whether it's an emotional, verging on operatic ballad, or a wildly campy, even dramatic dance anthem, British electro-dance-pop veterans Pet Shop Boys know how to deliver the goods live. "Singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe treated an enthusiastic crowd to their astonishing, still vibrant 25-year-old catalogue" on a stage dominated by a screen that later revealed itself to be a rather inventive series of moving cubes. Backed by two male dancers, two male backup singers and one powerhouse female singer, Tennant wasted no time beginning what would become an elaborate parade of sequined costumes and hats that recalled almost vaudevillian musical splendour.
Noel Gallagher (Nov. 7, The Danforth Music Hall): Consider yourself blessed if you were lucky enough to get a ticket to this rare Noel Gallagher solo, mostly acoustic, concert. There was definitely a feeling of occasion as the Oasis guitarist-songwriter-and-sometime-singer, accompanied by Oasis guitarist-organist Gem Archer and drummer-percussionist Terry Kirkbride, played a rare show on his own to support the Oasis' best-of-collection, Stop The Clocks. Scalpers were getting upwards of $250 per ticket and before a note of music was even played, the often-hilarious, black-and-white rockumentary, Lord Don't Slow Me Down, filmed during Oasis' last tour, got its Canadian premiere.
STAGE BANTER: "There's no reason to shout out song titles. I have prepared a set list which I'm not going to deviate from." -- Noel Gallagher
The Who with The Pretenders (Dec. 4, Air Canada Centre): Truthfully, I was as skeptical as the next person about The Who still touring after endless farewell tours not to mention the absence of original bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon. Yet singer Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend -- now in their early sixties -- pulled off a "powerful and passionate" night of music. "Delivering their trademark moves, whether it was Daltrey swinging his microphone around or Townshend's signature windmill guitar playing and scissor kicks in the air." And of the current Who backing lineup, it was Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums who stood out with "some monster playing." Otherwise, enduring '80s act The Pretenders delivered a no-frills but polished opening 50-minute set with formidable frontwoman Chrissie Hynde still in top-vocal form at age 55.
STAGE BANTER: "This is the probably the favourite city of mine in Canada.... partly because when I used to drink, I used to have such a good time here." -- Pete Townshend
JANE'S FIVE CONCERT RUNNERS-UP OF THE YEAR
1. Oasis with the Arctic Monkeys (March 20, Air Canada Centre)
2. Beth Orton (April 6, The Carlu)
3. Sam Roberts (April 27, The Phoenix)
4. Arctic Monkeys (June 17, Kool Haus)
5. The Killers (Oct. 20, Kool Haus)
By JANE STEVENSON
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