We’ve curated our top concerts and festivals to check out in Toronto this July – and to put it lightly; they’re all over the place. This month, our list features at least one band from every end of the music scene’s spectrum: whether it’s the likes of local GTA/Ontario bands making their mark, or an 80’s classic rock band on their much-anticipated comeback tour. July tends to be the prime month for one-off concerts to ride backseat while festival season takes the forefront, but there are still a handful of noteworthy, can’t-miss local shows. We’re highlighting a couple of indie-folk performances, two of Canada’s biggest festivals (yeah, okay, one isn’t actually in Toronto), two 80’s bands that continue to leave a lasting impression, two local acts successfully finding their place in the Toronto music scene, and finally, perhaps the most recognizable face in Toronto, who also happens to be from our great city.

July 10, Swans at Danforth Music Hall

July kicks off with experimental rock group Swans at the Danforth Music Hall. Swans are a band whose abstract music is difficult to understand until witnessed live, which can also be said for the genre of ‘experimental rock’ as a whole. Originally active from 1982 to 1997, Swans released and recorded a staggering 10 studio albums in a 13-year time span from 1983 to 1996 – along with extensive touring. This hectic work schedule, along with a few interesting caveats to their self-described “soul-uplifting and body-destroying” live show back in the day that would likely be considered illegal in 2016 (e.g. playing painfully loud, turning off the venue’s air conditioning before the set and being violently confrontational with the audience) likely had a hand in Swans ultimate demise in 1997.

13 years later in 2010 – like so many bands are doing these days (there are two more on this very list whom have done such a deed), Swans reformed and have since recorded and released three albums, including The Glowing Man, which hit the shelves just a couple weeks ago. 2012’s critically acclaimed The Seer was the Swans album that found its way to my ears, and their free performance at NXNE 2014 lent a hand in spiking the album’s play counts on my iTunes. 11 tracks, clocking in at 2 hours (with two songs comprising nearly half of that runtime) is most certainly an untraditional album style, which speaks to the avant-garde nature of the experimental rock genre, and the liberties of releasing music on your own terms (Michael Gira of Swans is the founder of Young God Records, Swans label). Through all two hours of The Seer, a beautiful ballad featuring Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stood out the most in my ears.

Choice Cut: “Song for a Warrior (featuring Karen O)” from 2012’s The Seer

When: Sunday, July 10, 2016
Where: 147 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON
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July 11 & 12, The Tallest Man On Earth at The Danforth and The Opera House

I first heard Kristian Matsson, the Swedish singer-songwriter who goes by the moniker of The Tallest Man On Earth in senior year of high school, when Pitchfork Media deemed 2010’s The Wild Hunt worthy of their Best New Music tag. Six years later I am still hooked, and the indie-folk hero has fuelled my appetite by releasing two additional albums and an EP within those years, all of which were stellar and on the receiving end of ever-increasing mainstream acclaim.

The Tallest Man On Earth wears his Bob Dylan-esque inspiration on his sleeve via his rough, harsh folky vocal style. He sounds like a man who shaves with a straight edge blade, in the most complementary way – if that makes any sense. His guitar work is exceedingly intricate and more comparable to the work of Nick Drake, particularly when considering Matsson’s use of open tunings and rhythmic fingerpicking. He has often stated that when recording, he’ll record his guitar and vocals in the same track due to the strength of the connection between the two. It provides his earlier, lighter-produced albums (such as The Wild Hunt) with a more live-off-the-floor feel that one can imagine would seamlessly translate to the live setting. Speaking of the live setting, Matsson tours with a full band as opposed to his early, solo acoustic days, now that his sound has grown to feature additional instruments, in particular on his newest album, 2015’s brilliant Dark Bird Is Home. His live performance is said to be incredibly charismatic with a plethora of crowd involvement.

The Danforth Music Hall seems like the perfect venue to witness The Tallest Man On Earth, and I believe that this show in particular is the 2nd hottest ticket in town this month (the hottest ticket this month, rather ostentatiously, is later on this list). If you can’t score tickets to see Mattson at the Danforth, he’s playing an encore the next night at the Opera House, which would be an equally stunning venue to witness his emotionally powerful music.

Choice Cut: “The Dreamer” from 2010’s Sometimes the Blues Is Just A Passing Bird

When: July 11 & 12, 2016
Where: 147 Danforth Avenue & 735 Queen Street E (respectively), Toronto, ON

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July 16, Guns N’ Roses at The Rogers Centre

Before you scroll past this one, let it be known that this show is literally the hottest ticket in the city this month, perhaps even for the entire summer!

It could be the plethora of baby boomers that reside in Toronto that have drove up the demand for Guns N’ Roses tickets to borderline ridiculous levels, but that’s ultimately where we have gotten to with this show. I do believe that the Roger’s Centre has a capacity larger than 50,000 for music performances, so it’s really not as if a short supply of tickets drove up prices.

Granted, this Guns N’ Roses tour (aptly titled ‘Not In This Lifetime… Tour’) is an extremely noteworthy moment in Rock & Roll history. This tour marks the first time since 1993 that singer Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan have performed on stage together. I suppose that this is where the tour got it’s name, because the odds of this happening ever, let alone ‘in this lifetime’, are slim to none! For starters, Rose, Slash and McKagan are all still not only alive in 2016, but also well enough to tour and perform (which is no easy feat, particularly at their advanced ages). All three have had difficult medical histories in their own independent ways, and the falling out amongst band members in the early/mid-90’s seemed irreconcilable. Whatever happened in 2015 and 2016 for these disagreements to be reconciled (perhaps the need for money, but no need to be pessimistic), GN’R are back with their main band members (though original drummer Steven Adler and original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin remain absent), and apparently their shows have been quite impressive, all things considered.

This may be the world’s last chance (that nobody would have thought to have) to see classic 80’s/90’s era Guns N’ Roses songs performed live by the band’s main brain trust trio, which could be the ultimate reason behind the demand for these tickets. If you have the money, and you’re that big of a classic rock fan, it could be worth your while. It doesn’t appear as though a Guns N’ Roses show in 2016 entails cutting the show early, lateness of taking the stage, and the crowd riots that were a staple of early 90’s Guns N’ Roses concerts.

Choice Cut: ‘Patience’ from 1988’s G N’ R Lies

When: Saturday, July 16, 2016
Where:1 Blue Jays Way, Toronto, ON

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July 22 – 24, WayHome Music & Arts Festival

Featuring Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, The Killers, M83, HAIM, Chvrches, Metric, Arkells, Mac DeMarco, Wolf Parade, Stars, The Arcs, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Kurt Vile & The Violators, Bahamas, A Tribe Called Red, Half Moon Run, Phosphorescent, Vince Staples, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Braids & more!

The 2nd instalment of WayHome Music & Arts Festival shows promise as a new annual tradition for Southern Ontarian music fans that appears to be growing exponentially in terms of popularity. In its inaugural year in 2015, WayHome was a massive success despite a few indicators of potential conflict – particularly regarding noise permits with the township of Oro-Medonte, as well as a handful of late cancellations from billed artists. Through all of this, the show went on and – based on the line up in 2016’s instalment, was engrossing enough for an increased budget on music. I say this because, with no disrespect to last year’s WayHome lineup (which was fantastic AND heavy on Canadian music), WayHome 2016 may be the best festival lineup that I have ever seen.

Three very different headliners in very different positions in their careers will highlight each evening of WayHome this year. On Friday, LCD Soundsystem will perform during their ‘comeback’ tour. This New York City band decided to mutually call it quits in 2011 with a sold out show at Madison Square Garden, which was turned into a live album AND feature film (that even starred pop culture author Chuck Klosterman).

Saturday night will feature Arcade Fire, who are very likely the biggest Canadian band in the world right now – and perhaps one of the biggest bands in the world right now, period. Their most recently album, 2013’s Reflektor, took a bit of heat – but it is meant to be experienced in the live setting. I was lucky enough to see them in Ottawa while they toured the album, and the performance was simply jaw dropping. I have heard that Arcade Fire perform all of their shows are as if it were the last show that they will ever play, that is exactly what I experienced in Ottawa. I have also heard that they’re readying a new album for late 2016/early 2017, so festival attendees may be gifted with a new, never-before-heard Arcade Fire song.

Finally, Sunday night will provide a boost of nostalgia with the Killers headlining. If/When they play their old hit songs, I fully expect their set list to feature the most crowd engagement and singing along. Who doesn’t know all the words to ‘All These Things That I Have Done’ or ‘Somebody Told Me’?

Through all of these awesome headliners, the band I am most excited to see at WayHome this year is Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who will take the stage Friday night/Saturday morning from 1AM-2AM. These Portland, Oregon psychedelic rockers probably special-requested this particular time slot, as the late night atmosphere compliments their oddball, off-kilter classic rock/psych-rock fusion sound. Their 3rd album, Multi-Love is without a doubt the best album that I have heard since it came out May 2015, and their live performance seems to highlight each band members’ elite musicianship. I have been waiting for these guys to come to Ontario since Multi-Love came out, and WayHome has provided the opportunity.

Furthermore, it shouldn’t be forgotten that WayHome also bolsters the great Mac DeMarco, M83, HAIM, Chvrches, Arkells, Metric, Wolf Parade, Stars, Bahamas, and plenty more. Clearly, though the festival has gotten much bigger and more grandiose since its inaugural year in 2015, festival planners still haven’t forgotten the Canadian roots of WayHome, and have demonstrated that by keeping the line up pleasantly occupied by Canucks.

Choice Cut: “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, from 2015’s Multi-Love

When: July 22-24, 2016
Where: Burl’s Creek Event Grounds , 180 8th Line South, Oro-Medonte, ON

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July 28, The Lumineers at The Molson Amphitheatre

Summertime in Toronto entails numerous country/folk shows in the comfortable outdoor confines of Molson Amphitheatre. However, this show in particular features a more indie-centric folk act in The Lumineers. This subtle shift to indie-folk should draw a much more diverse crowd than the straight-up country artists who usually occupy Molson Amphitheatre in plus-25 degree weather.

The Lumineers offer indie folk in fine form – catchy, summery sing-alongs that seem best suited for the outdoors, preferably within eyeshot of a campfire. The Denver, Colorado band broke onto the scene with their self-titled debut in 2012, which bolstered hit songs such as ‘Ho Hey’ and ‘Stubborn Love’. No doubt these singles helped the album reach Platinum sales certifications in 5 different countries, specifically triple platinum with Music Canada. Critically, the album was nominated for Americana Album of the Year at the Grammy’s, and aided the Lumineers in being nominated for Best New Artist at the same awards ceremony. In 2016 they’re back on the scene with their sophomore album, Cleopatra, which featured a more polished, refined and produced sound that should translate into a more upbeat live performance. There couldn’t be a better venue for them to perform at than Molson Amphitheatre.

Choice Cut: ‘Ophelia’ from 2016’s Cleopatra

When: Thursday July 28, 2016
Where:909 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON

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July 28, Kasador + Rebelle, GRAY at Sneaky Dee’s

A local band making their mark on the Toronto and Ontario Music Scene, Kasador formed in Kingston, Ontario in 2012 when they were students with mutual musical interests at Queen’s University. Kasador released their debut EP ‘Late Summer’ in 2014, and have a debut full-length coming soon, as per their website which states that fans can expect something in July 2016. Perhaps – in keeping with the hot trend of 2016, they’ll surprise release their debut full-length, and it’ll be in ears across Ontario before we know it. If the album is anything like recent singles/releases ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Never Alone’, we can expect an album clad with radio-ready indie rock, memorable chorus hooks and trademark Canadian instrumentation.

But why should you go see them live? Well, other than likely debuting a plethora of their new tracks, which by all indications will be great, Kasador yield an upbeat and engaging performance. These guys have shared the stage with The Arkells, Wintersleep and July Talk to name a few, and not by coincidence. The positive vibes protruded from their sound fit perfectly with any and all of the above bands. I have been lucky enough to share the stage with these guys on numerous occasions, in Kingston and Toronto, and their consistency in the live setting guarantees value in the price of admission. So grab a ticket for this Thursday night show and keep an ear out for Kasador for the rest of 2016, as their upcoming new album seems poised to catapult their trajectory.

Choice Cut: ‘Neighbourhood’ a 2015 standalone single

When: Thursday July 28, 2016
Where: 431 College Street, Toronto, ON

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July 29-31, Osheaga Festival Musique et Arts

Featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Ray, Radiohead, Death Cab For Cutie, The Lumineers, M83, HAIM, Future, Half Moon Run, Grimes, Leon Bridges, Bloc Party, The Arcs, Kurt Vile & The Violators, Wolf Parade, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, July Talk, Vince Staples, Classixx, Busty & The Bass & more!

In its 11th year anniversary, this year’s lineup at Osheaga Music & Arts Festival does not disappoint. Sure, this may a monthly list for Toronto shows – but Montreal is only a quick, simple (?) 6-hour trip on the eastbound 401 that I have embarked on this very weekend every year for the past four years. Furthermore, I have heard in the past that at least 50% of Osheaga festivalgoers are from Ontario each instalment, so… there’s also that.

The crown jewel musical act of this year’s Osheaga instalment has to be Radiohead. Back on the road for a massive worldwide festival tour in support of their beautiful new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead’s set list thus far in their tour has been – akin to this list, all over the place. That makes sense when you consider the fact that their discography spans 3 decades, 9 albums, 6 EP’s and multiple different genres. Guitar Jonny Greenwood has stated that, upon completion of the new album and in preparation for this tour, the band practised over 200 of their songs in order to decide which particular songs from their expansive catalogue fit with their newest songs. Fans have been posting their set lists online following every show of their current tour – and there hasn’t been much consistency. Simply put, expect the unexpected for a Radiohead set list in 2016. But also, you can visually expect stunning lights and stage props as they take the center of attention on Sunday night to close out the festival.

It would be prudent to not mention the vast list of additional acts on the bill for this festival. Red Hot Chili Peppers are also headlining and are also supporting ta new album, ditto to M83 and The Lumineers with regards to a new album. Death Cab For Cutie is always a fantastic live act, even without founding member Christopher Walla – who moved on from the band in 2014. It’s a foregone conclusion that HAIM, Bloc Party, Half Moon Run and July Talk will all put on fantastic sets, based on their live performance track records (at this very festival – in particular).

Finally, I may have mentioned that the crown jewel musical act of Osheaga this year is Radiohead, but the crown jewel of Osheaga in its entirety, every year, is the beautiful city of Montreal where the festival is staged. Osheaga, as is probably common knowledge, is not a camping festival, with live music generally ending around 10:30-11pm each evening. A quick (often not the case if you stick around until the very end) metro ride off of the island where Parc Jean-Drapeau is located takes you to the heart of Montreal in a matter of minutes. Secret shows are staged throughout the city’s regular music venues after festival hours. However, if you’re too exhausted from a long day of music for such activities, head down to the classic St. Sulpice patio on St Denis just south of Sherbrooke, grab some cheap pitchers and hang out with what will most likely be a predominantly festival-attendee crowd. If you’re a real winner, check out the Montreal after-hours club scene. Basically, half of Osheaga’s draw is in experiencing the Montreal summer nightlife following festival hours. You wouldn’t be doing yourself any favours by going back to your AirBnB or your McGill friend’s flat and hitting the wool immediately after the festival.

Choice Cut: “The Numbers” by Radiohead, from 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool

When: Thursday July 29-31, 2016
Where: Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, QC

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July 29, Seaway w/ Rarity & Coldfront at Sneaky Dee’s

Seaway are a Canadian melodic pop-punk band from the GTA who have already made their mark on the Toronto music scene, the Canadian music scene and, realistically, the world, with numerous tours in the UK and other continents outside of North America. They’ll be returning from a USA tour leading up to this show, so one can certainly anticipate that they’ll be psyched up to perform for a home crowd.

Its impressive to look at Seaway’s body of work over the past 5 years since they have been a band, especially considering the fact that these guys are all only in their early 20’s. Two full-length albums, four EPs, 6 singles (4 of which in 2015) to their name, and extensive touring all over the world to boot. These guys pride themselves on their live show (watch one of their music videos for confirmation on that sentiment), and I can only imagine that they turn up the intensity at a local show. This evening has all the makings of a can’t-miss event on a Friday at Sneaky Dee’s. 

Choice Cut: “Best Mistake” from 2015’s Colour Blind

When: Friday July 29, 2016

Where: 431 College Street, Toronto, ON

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July 31 & August 1, Drake and Future at The Air Canada Centre

Drake will be at the Air Canada Centre at the end of July AND the beginning of August – but for his own performance instead of his usual role as super fan and Brand Ambassador of the Toronto Raptors. He’s touring North America with Future, and they have two stops at the Air Canada Centre for the summer in accommodation with Drake’s OVO Festival at TD Echo Beach on the same weekend. Drake & Future will also be back in early October, while on the same tour, for another two shows at the ACC!

Drake, akin to the trend of 2016, surprise-released his much-anticipated fourth album, Views in late April, exclusively via Apple Music. ‘Views’ has already gone Platinum in Canada and the USA, has four singles to boot, and has been #1 on the Billboard 200 for 9 consecutive weeks, since its release! If Guns N’ Roses at Rogers Centre is the hottest ticket to Toronto’s baby boomer demographic, Drake & Future is most definitely the hottest ticket to Toronto and the GTA’s age 18-30 demographic, because who in our beloved city doesn’t appreciate Drake for putting us on the map in the manner that he has?

Choice Cut: “Marvin’s Room” from 2011’s Take Care

When: Sunday July 31, Monday August 1, 2016
Where: 40 Bay Street, Toronto, ON

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Ben Labenski

Ben Labenski

Ben is the second writer for Mighty Records. He is the drummer for Wild Rivers, a Toronto-based indie-folk band.
Ben Labenski

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