The local playlist

Jon Bruhm wades through the fog to come up with the five biggest stories in the musical landscape this year.

photo Chris Smith

Jam band of the year

After months of speculation, our fair city—once dubbed The Next Seattle—got a taste of the old guard as west coast grunge gods Pearl Jam rolled into Halifax on September 22. While “cross-country tours” often end in Montreal, this month-long trek actually earned the title, visiting 15 major cities between Vancouver and St. John’s. Tickets sold out in a matter of hours, and scalpers were reportedly asking—and getting—upwards of five times the original $60 price, but even that would have been worth every penny. With a 30-song setlist that true fans have deemed one of the finest of the tour, Darth Vedder and company were joined by red-hot Oregonian trio Sleater-Kinney, who also graced the cover of The Coast that week. And, as an added surprise, PJ recruited local heroes Wintersleep to lead the charge during their tour-ending two-night stand in St. John’s a few nights later.

Someone looked at a map

Pearl Jam wasn’t the only big-name act to visit Halifax in 2005. In fact, there was a little something for almost everyone, whether your interest lies in Can-rock dinos (April Wine, Blue Rodeo, The Rheostatics), Can-rock of the ’90s (Sloan, The Tea Party, David Usher), Can-rock of today (Broken Social Scene, The Constantines, The Weakerthans), country/ (Cuff the Duke, Dolly Parton, The Sadies), dance/DJs (Derrick Carter, Jelo, Roger Sanchez), dance-rock (controller.controller, Death From Above 1979, The Stills), hardcore (Alexisonfire, The End, Unsane), hip-hop (50 Cent, The Game, k-os), jam bands (Bootyjuice, The New Deal, Vorcza), mainstream (Avril Lavigne, Sarah McLachlan, Simple Plan), melodic punk (Rise Against, Silverstein, Strung Out), metal (Anhkrehg, Motorhead, Suffocation), songmen (Michael Bublé, Andy Stochansky, Hawskley Workman) or songstresses (Keren Ann, Sarah Slean, Tegan & Sara). And, with the upcoming Juno Awards and current confirmations from Alice Cooper, Hilary Duff, Feist, Motley Crue and Willie Nelson, Halifax could be in for some major treats in 2006.

Where were the kids?

While the influx of touring bands is a good thing for showgoers in search of something a little different, the overload, in a way, has been taking its toll upon our hot and cold all-ages scene. Two years ago, it was bone-dry following the closure of The Pavilion, but now that the club ritually offers two or more shows per week, combined with frequent all-ages offerings at other clubs, high school battles of the bands, and coffeehouses and even matinees at The Marquee Club have saturated the market. Pavilion honcho Chris Smith says that attendance is down pretty much across the board at his club. “We’re in a lull right now,” he says. “There’s been a flood of shows and there’s only so many that youths can afford. Look at what happened with all of the licensed bars—a year ago, there seemed to be a big resurgence in live music downtown, but now, it appears that many have closed, declared bankruptcy or are open with ‘new management.’”


Indeed, it’s been another particularly rough year for Halifax’s venues. The Marquee Club closed its doors in mid-February, but it wasn’t long before the room was open again, albeit infrequently, for private parties and periodic performances by bigger bands. Another one of Victor Syperek’s stomping grounds has also shifted gears—the down n’ dirty Seahorse Tavern held its last regular rock show in November, as did The Thirsty Duck, and after several incarnations, Club 5171 has morphed into a country-rock club. To further the blow to the indie rock scene, The Khyber Club will reportedly shut its doors again on February 19 after an issue arose concerning municipal taxes. Still, it’s not all sour news for music showgoers—Gus’ Pub, North End Pub and One World Cafe have been picking up the slack as of late; The Attic, Stage Nine and Reflections are among the slew of clubs that still put on weekly shows, and it’s rumoured that The Seahorse has already started booking live acts again for the new year.

The awesome parade

As a whole, 2005 has been a great year for many of our hometown heroes. Matt Mays & El Torpedo took the nation by storm with their hit album, music videos and coast to coast tours. Joel Plaskett returned from Arizona with his critically acclaimed La De Da in tow and continues to be one of the biggest draws in town. Bluesman Garrett Mason snagged a Juno Award and continues to bridge the gap between the blues and rock communities. Wintersleep spent nearly nine months on the road in both Canada and Europe, releasing a red-hot album and a slick new video in the process. Sharp Like Knives taught us how to rock, screech and dance at the same time; Burdocks unleashed another album full of gems and toured their pants off, while side-project Dog Day’s debut EP has become an instant classic. Jenn Grant is quickly becoming the local darling and recently joined The Heavy Blinkers (who caught Brian Wilson’s ear earlier in the year) on a tour of Europe. Veteran DJ JoRun released what could very well be the final album of his 15-plus year career. Finally, rapper Jesse Dangerously is becoming a hot commodity, while Classified continues to establish himself as one of the finest MCs in the country.

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