Death From Above 1979 at The Pavilion, May 6, 2005
Death From Above 1979 at The Pavilion, May 6, 2005

Best. Halifax. Concerts. Ever.

Here are ten of the greatest live shows in the city's collective memory.

Sonic Youth

Thursday, August 9th, 1984
Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Cafeteria

One of the most talked-about shows of the last 25 years. Unfortunately, that talk is about how everyone missed it. Advertised as “killer rock + roll from NYC,” the poster, featuring a photo from Evil Dead, is one of the most elusive of Halifax gig posters. A 1997 NSCAD exhibition, entitled Snapped Crackling Pop tried---to no avail---to track down one of those original posters.

Chronicle-Herald arts reporter Stephen Cooke had just finished grade 11 and was one of the few who attended (he has a poster---though not the Evil Dead version---to prove it).

“It wasn’t a sparse crowd, it was in the NSCAD cafeteria, and I’m guessing a healthy proportion of the student body turned out. There might have been over 50 people there,” he says.

“I remember the room was dark and there were a couple of video monitors on the sides, playing back what appeared to be images from a different show. Even those of us who might not have had a frame of reference for this kind of stuff understood that it was a unique performance. It was a pretty big deal to get any band from outside of the region at that point, let alone a bunch of art punks from New York.”

The best part? The show was completely free.

Green Day

with The Riverdales

October 31, 1995
Halifax Metro Centre

In 1995 Green Day was the biggest band on the planet. Three weeks after releasing double platinum album Insomniac, the trio played Halifax. How could that not blow your teenage mind?

“If you had asked me in 1995,” says Gerry Hubley host of CKDU’s Rocket to Russia, “’Who would you like to see come to Halifax?’ I’d have not hesitated. Green Day was my whole reason for getting up in the morning. I slept out for tickets and then didn’t stop moshing and crowdsurfing the whole time. It was short, fast, fun and amazing, everything punk rock came to mean to me as the years unfolded. The next day my grandmother called my house, telling me that the picture in the Daily News was of me surfing the crowd. I still proudly display that picture of doubt annoying the fuck out of many people below me every chance I got.”

Green Day is arguably responsible for a whole new of generation of kids getting into punk rock and attending all-ages shows at Cafe Ole and The Pavilion.


with Thrush Hermit and The Quahogs

Decemeber 19, 1992, Camaro’s Café

When I asked after the quintessential Sloan gig I expected several different answers. Invariably, one show at Camaro’s---a bar once found on the Gottingen Street strip---shortly after the release of the quartet’s first full-length Smeared, kept coming up. Why?

It could have been the extended rap version of “Left of Centre” that started off the show and contained a timely Kris Kros nod with crowd suggesting, “Warm It Up Chris” to Sloan’s Chris Murphy.

It might have been the set closer, an inspired version of Bad Brains’ “Right Brigade.” Or it could have been the energy of a crowded room where it seemed like absolutely everyone was stage diving and going nuts for Sloan, the city’s biggest band.

“That show and that era, it was a pretty exciting time for us,” says bass player Jay Ferguson. “All the attention, being signed by Geffen, going to Europe and playing sold-out shows.”

If there was a perfect time to see Sloan in Halifax, it was then.

The Halifax Pop Explosion

Whether it was Stereolab at the very first Pop Explosion, Monotonix climbing telephone poles and performing Halifax’s first ever drum kit surf, The Mooney Suzuki replacing an MIA Brian Jonestown Massacre and re-dubbing themselves the Charlie Watts Riots or local bands playing the festival for free so that organizers could afford Yo La Tengo, the festival has had a number of memorable shows. Other highlights have included Pansy Division, Les Savy Fav, K’naan (a show that Waye Mason calls “transformative”), Arcade Fire, Elliott Smith, Jay Reatard (no punches thrown), Chixdiggit and Trans Am. With 948 bands playing every fall since 1993, the Halifax Pop Explosion has left an undeniable mark on the city.

Buried Inside

June 25, 2004
Hunter Street living room

Right down the street and seven years after the Fugazi show, Buried Inside played to a packed living room due to lack of proper all-ages venues. “I Want to Get Evicted” was heard right before the band played. The tenant nearly did.


with The Sebutones

February 28, 1997
The Lord Nelson Ballroom

The cover of Mock Up, Scale Down might just have the best cover artwork of any album to come out of Halifax, but it’s the Slide Show---an album SuperFriendz bassist Charles Austin calls their “prog record”---release show that finds its way onto our list. Showgoers were told to dress up in attire fit for a ballroom. Our “Scene and Heard” columnist Stephanie Johns wore a tiara: “I remember Rich [Buck 65] was wearing a pair of jeans with ‘solid gold’ embroidered on the back pocket...and taught everyone this dance called The Range Rover. Rich started ballroom dancing by himself, trying to get someone to dance with him, but no takers. That could have been because everyone in the front was under 17 and maybe a little intimidated. I definitely liked those jeans though. And The Range Rover is a dance I still pull out to this day.” The SuperFriendz, not to be outdone, looked great in their suits and ties and played to one of the best-dressed audiences in Halifax.


with Equation of State and North of America

July 25th, 1998
Olympic Gardens Bingo Hall

One of the perks of promoting a Fugazi show is being able to have dinner with Ian MacKaye, as Angie Fenwick Gibb discovered. “This was particularly thrilling for my husband, Cliff, a fanatical fan of Minor Threat and Fugazi,” says Fenwick Gibb. “He kept saying afterwards, ‘I ate sushi with Ian MacKaye!’ I’m sure if we weren’t already married, that would have sealed the deal!”

Fenwick Gibb’s co-promoter, Colin McKenzie, explains the importance of Fugazi coming to Halifax. “We took the organization to another level but used all the great skills we had acquired running those events. Today there are a few promoters who have been bringing in some great stuff but not so much back then...what made Fugazi really great was that it blew everyone’s mind that they would actually be playing in Halifax. They were legends and influenced anyone who wanted to be a puck rocker....The band had so much credibility and had created such important music as well as started a great record label, the fact that they would be playing in Halifax---which back then felt like the ends of the earth as far as touring rock bands were concerned---was too good to be true.”

Death From Above 1979

May 6, 2005
The Pavilion

Every time they played, the crowd was larger than the time before. In May 2005, DFA played a sold-out Attic gig and then followed it up with a sold-out show at The Pavilion that saw over a hundred would-be audience members turned away. Fire codes were close to being breached and sweat poured from the walls.


July 25, 2003
The Ceildh Connection

Back before screamo was synonymous with terrible, Alexisonfire played a sold-out show to an all ages crowd at the Ceildh Connection. The line-up for the show was so long that the band did a second set for all their fans who couldn’t get into the first.


with The M’s

July 12, 2006
Alderney Landing

This show, at the outset, gave no indication that it was to be any more memorable than any other Wilco performance. “While I couldn’t fault their performance,” says blogger Iain MacLeod, “The band wasn’t very talkative early on in their set. They seemed to be going through the motions until a slow, melodic train ended up passing by Alderney Landing as they were performing one of their posthumous Woody Guthrie collaborations, ‘Airline to Heaven.’ It was at that moment they perked up and began to acknowledge the crowd as well as the perfect and seemingly planned moment.”

Promoter Waye Mason agrees. “Sun setting, boats with fans anchored watching, a blue sky and perfect weather Jeff Tweedy was in a joyous mood. The train goes by in time to the Woodie Guthrie tune in the encore, so perfect I had a dozen people ask if we arranged for the train. A perfect peaceful day.”

Support The Coast

At a time when the city needs local coverage more than ever, we’re asking for your help to support independent journalism. We are committed as always to providing free access to readers, particularly as we confront the impact of COVID-19 in Halifax and beyond.

Read more about the work we do here, or consider making a donation. Thank you for your support!

Comments (43)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Get more Halifax

The Coast Daily email newsletter is your extra dose of the city Monday through Friday. Sign up and go deep on Halifax.

Recent Comments