Music 2008: Full house

She may have been on tour for a while, but our Scene and Heard columnist is on top of all the big shows, closures and prizes. Stephanie Johns slams the door on 2008.

Neil Young, KRS-One, Black Mountain, Leonard Cohen, Christina Martin, Old Man Ludecke, Monotonix, The Maynards, Jay Reatard.

Two-thousand-eight: The Year of Unexpected Touring Bands.

There was the influx of old-school hip-hop (Nas, KRS-One, ?uestlove, Naughty By Nature, Method Man, Redman and Raekwon) and oldsters that sold out in minutes (Neil Young, Elton John, Bob Dylan). The kids weren’t forgotten, either, with Deerhoof, dd/mm/yyyy, Summersonic, Antigonish’s mega coup with !!! and Battles coming to town for Evolve, and the Pop Explosion’s potent cocktail of Jay Reatard, Brutal Knights, Monotonix and about a hundred million other bands. It was a good year, no? Despite venue closings, that is.

JanuaryJanuary tried to save the Speakeasy (with a benefit show from Aquestrya, Severed Reign and Black Moor) and unfortunately failed. The Attic took a powder. The bleakest month of the year took a beating on the venue front---a trend that, sadly, has continued in Halifax all year. This was the same month that Blue Moon started having shows, though, and it’s flourishing in a reasonable way that doesn’t suggest it will burn out soon. It’s good to have a little give-and-take in life, but I think Halifax is providing a little more “take” than “give.”

FebruaryA lunar eclipse and a leap year set February’s mystical stage for Black Mountain to prove to Halifax that being witchy shan’t always be looked down upon. Or was that being a stoner? Either way, we were looking at our day-glo wizard posters and learning something new, right? On a personal note, I started a puzzle depicting a dragon attacking a castle that plagued me for the early part of the year.

MarchAfter last year’s concerts from Biz Markie and Afrika Bambaataa, another hip-hop great came to town. KRS-One took to the University of King’s College with a talk after his show at the Marquee. While his show was somewhat less awesome than expected, planning a talk with a veteran hip-hop star shows insight. One of my favourite bands in Halifax had their first show this month, Tongan Death Grip. Please play more shows, please. NSCAD’s Wearable Art Show featured Windom Earle, who gave students a run for their money with their own inspired stage costumes.

April?uestlove, The Proclaimers and Necro were April’s big names---a mixed bag, for sure. Lords came all the way from Louisville, Kentucky to complain about the price of beer and cigarettes and bust some eardrums with riffy hardcore. Old Man Luedecke released his epic CD this month, and gave a soundtrack to the melting snow. Considering that he just appeared on the cover of The Coast a few weeks ago, the album is showing considerable longevity, and with good reason.

MayA heavy flow month---music-wise, I mean. Leonard Cohen sold out two shows (and added three more) at the Cohn in the blink of an eye, Nas played a two-hour long medley (meh), Bob Dylan came back to town (bringing out-of-towners and scalpers) and the all-mighty Obey Convention brought, among many others, Toronto’s Career Suicide and Vancouver’s Shearing Pinx, while Halifax’s own Be Bad played their last show and a window smashing at Gus’ Pub rounded out the weekend. dd/mm/yyyy played two transcendental shows at the North Street Church and Gus’ Pub (with Baltimore’s Video Hippos) before touring North America with Crystal Castles.

JuneIn a similar case of good timing, Halifax got Calgary’s Women, who later took Canadian college charts by storm. The band went on to tour North America (including some stellar shows with King Khan and BBQ)---if you got to see them, you were in the right place at the right time. José González played at St. Matthew’s Church, reminding people what a lovely time can be had in a church. It’s strange but true.

JulyPride Week and Canada Day were only two of the major events in July---for music fans, there was Evolve, Deerhoof and Summersonic to make a month that was already full of house parties and barbecues even busier. Evolve brought in !!! and Battles, forcing every music nerd to hitch a ride up to Antigonish and park their ass in a tent for a weekend. Deerhoof played my favourite show of the year at the Marquee with Rich Aucoin and Dog Day. I lost it, like, to an extreme amount.

AugustSteve Earle came to town, prompting people who saw him in the street to mistake him for Bubbles’ sponsor. Sappyfest drove the throngs to Sackville, New Brunswick, and felt like a weekend-long summer camp. The long lines at the Bridge Street Café may have been the breeding grounds for a few musical collaborations, right? The Pavilion celebrated their fourth anniversary and Rockstorm had their last show, having only released their CD a month prior. Thrashfest brought a lot of noise to Halifax and I left for a three-month tour with my band, so I’m relying on gossip and gossip alone to recap the next three months.

SeptemberElton John came here in September. The Right Good Lord Sir Elton John. So did Bloc Party, but do they have the same pedigree as Mr. Crocodile Rock? Halifax received a visit from yet another band from away riding the crest of a national craze: The Pack AD played Halifax as a part of their Canada-wide wooing that had their album Funeral Mixtape on the college charts for 16 weeks. Bananas! 6015 Willow screened in Halifax for the first time and everyone got to point out their friends on the big screen.

OctoberIt’s hard to see anything past Pop Explosion, but the city did function all the while: The Husband and Knife LP came out, and was lauded nation-wide for the sad and sensitive songs. Bad Religion made a Halifax stop on their Canadian tour, prompting more punk nostalgia on the heels of September’s Lagwagon show at the Marquee. Method Man, Redman and Raekwon all came to town. Hellacaust and Fall Horsie released CDs and Burton Cummings played the Casino on Halloween (not joking). But seriously, what did we come here for? October is Pop Explosion month. In the stand-out show of the festival, Monotonix made Halifax show history and set the bar for energetic live gigs.

NovemberNovember was fairly busy: Naughty By Nature! Beatnuts! Stars! Feist! Nova Scotia Music Week! But the month was sort of overshadowed by two major events---Neil Young and news of the Marquee getting ye olde axe. Now mid-range Canadian bands have another reason to pass over Halifax, as if the 12-hour drive from Montreal wasn’t enough.

DecemberDecember had more tears, in the form of James Blunt (but possible early Christmas presents were covered for lucky mothers across the city), while The Maynards’ CD release for Date and Destroy gave away the single largest dance contest prize ever to be awarded at Gus’ Pub (and will likely never be topped in Halifax music history): a Honda Civic. BA Johnston’s meat raffle the month prior was big news too, but you can’t drive a ham up a tree, now can you? North of America killed two birds with one stone by coming back to Halifax for Christmas with the fam and celebrating their 10-year anniversary with two (soon to be legendary) shows (at the Marquee and the North Street Church).

When you make your resolutions for the new year, please make a little wish for me. Wish that 2009 brings more venues, more new bands and the same kind of steady action from touring bands that is prompting me to consider opening a punk rock hostel.

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