Playlist: Ode to the opening act

The lot of the opening act is a tough gig.

On the one hand, travelling with an established band, especially one of similar aesthetic, can bring a new or lesser known musician or band some much needed exposure. On the other, if it’s not thought through, the results can be disastrous and ego-battering. I’ve heard stories of great and talented artists booed, heckled, and worse, made the targets of beer bottle tossing. There have also been cases where bands of mutual respect have decided to team up for a tour, leaving their collective fan bases somewhat confused and terribly mixed, and yes, I’m thinking here of a certain Public Enemy/Sisters of Mercy tour back at the beginning of the 1990s.

Far too often, though, these hardworking and earnest opening acts are simply ignored. Audience members will show up late, often in the middle of the set, choosing instead to pre-drink at a nearby waterhole rather than pay the often exorbitant fees at the concert venue. Or these same folks will show up early with their general admission tickets to carve out a sweet spot right at the front of the stage for the headlining act and rudely spend the whole opening set talking loudly with their friends. I’m not sure which would be worse, though, an empty room or a simply disinterested one.

I always try to make it a point to head out to the show early to catch and show support for these opening acts. There have been times, of course, where the openers have not been my cup of tea and I just focused on drinking (and spending) more. However, I’ve more often than not enjoyed these sets. In fact, I’ve discovered many a new favourite amongst these support acts.

So yes, this month’s playlist goes out to all those opening acts out there. It is twenty songs by bands I’ve seen in the early slot in my many years of concert going. To be fair and to limit things some, I’ve not included any bands that I’ve seen in lower card time slots or on side stages at festivals, though there have been many of these as well. For each act in this list, I’ve provided the date of the show and the headliner, some sentences of context, and where possible, chose a song from that time period. As you’ll see, there are bands that made of me a bigger fan with their set, some that were brand new to me and won me over, and others that actually drew me to the show more than the headlining set. Some of these bands are huge now and some even became bigger names than the ones they were supporting. Check it out.

1. Chapterhouse “She’s a vision”
Opened for The Wonder Stuff, February 20, 1994: When I arrived at the tiny Toronto venue to see my favourite band at the time for a measly $10, I was surprised to learn that many of the people I was meeting at the show were more excited for the opening band that I was considering a bonus. Let’s just say that when Chapterhouse, with whose albums I was already familiar, hit the stage, I was mesmerized.

2. Primal Scream “Rocks”
Opened for Depeche Mode, June 20, 1994: This one’s a bit of a cheat because both the Primals and Mode were preceded by Stabbing Westward, who was to be honest, a yawn. However, Primal Scream and their 1991 album, “Screamadelica”, were what finally drew me to see Depeche Mode live and incidentally, it was the first concert I went to with my future wife, Victoria. Were the Primals great live? You betcha!

3. Weezer “Undone (The sweater song)”
Opened for Lush, August 21, 1994: The song chosen is the one song I had only barely heard before seeing Weezer, who would later become a household name, open for Lush, an iconic shoegaze band remembered now in just a few circles. They were really fun, yet I think I was the only one amongst my friends who was really paying them any attention.

4. Pulp “Do you remember the first time?”
Opened for Blur, September 28, 1994: None of us had really heard much from Pulp before that show but the very next day, it seemed, my friends and I all went out and bought “His ‘n’ hers”. Frontman Jarvis Cocker was engaging, charismatic, and exciting, while the rest of the band, well, they collectively blew our minds.

5. The Dandy Warhols “Not if you were the last junkie on earth”
Opened for The Charlatans, September 26, 1997: The Dandys were another band by whom I was only barely familiar with the one song (again, the one chosen) before seeing them live. Victoria was unimpressed but I loved them and purchased their next release, “Thirteen tales from urban bohemia“ a couple of years later. The rest is history.

6. Spiritualized “I think I’m in love”
Opened for Radiohead, April 12, 1998: These guys are the only reason I’ve ever seen Radiohead live. After seeing Spiritualized blow the doors off a much smaller venue, I just had to see them again when they swung back through town on the same tour, this time warming up a much larger venue for Thom Yorke and the boys. Jason Pierce’s set was great and I was super glad that I stuck around for Radiohead.

7. Billy Bragg “Accident waiting to happen”
Opened for The Lowest of the Low, August 2, 2001: Another cheat because this card was actually led off by Winnipeg’s own, The Weakerthans, but I’m giving Bragg the nod here for returning after his set to perform the song included on this playlist with headliners, The Lowest of the Low. It was fun watching the local heroes falling over themselves and going fanboy over the Bard of Barking.

8. The Sid Hillman Quartet “No perfect world”
Opened for Neil Halstead, April 20, 2002: It was weird seeing Slowdive and Mojave 3 frontman, Neil Halstead, do a show at a tiny, tiny club in Ottawa’s Byward Market but the bigger surprise came when I was even more impressed by the previously unknown to me, alt-country singer/songwriter, Sid Hillman.

9. The Polyphonic Spree “Light & day / Reach for the sun”
Opened for David Bowie, April 2, 2004: We walked into the Corel Centre a little late and found our seats a few songs into the opening set, but the twenty-odd-piece band dressed in flowing robes (that included a harpist, a theremin player, and a choir) certainly made an impression. The very next day at home, I went digging on the internet to track down their debut album.

10. Ambulance LTD “Heavy lifting”
Opened for The Killers, October 9, 2004: There were two bands opening for The Killers at that tiny club in downtown Ottawa but the dream pop/psych rock band from New York definitely made the bigger impression. Ambulance LTD’s self-titled debut has become a favourite of mine from that era. Sadly, they never made another record.

11. Arcade Fire “Rebellion (Lies)”
Opened for U2, November 25, 2005: I finally acquiesced to seeing U2 with my wife when they played a show at the Corel Centre at the behest of friend and then Canadian prime minister, Paul Martin. At that time, it was the most I’d ever paid for a concert ticket but when Montreal’s Arcade Fire were announced as headliner, I stopped complaining. Arcade Fire made a lot of new fans that night in the capital and shortly afterwards, got so big, they were assuming headliner spots at venues of that size.

12. Richard Ashcroft “A song for the lovers”
Opened for Coldplay, March 17, 2006: Much like my Radiohead and Spiritualized story above, I might have never seen Coldplay live if they hadn’t brought Richard Ashcroft along on their X & Y tour. Victoria and I were two of only a few pockets of those standing and singing and dancing along to his whole set amidst a sea ambivalent talkers. He peppered in a bunch of Verve tunes with his solo work but when he played “Bittersweet symphony” as his final song, the rest of the crowd joined us on their feet.

13. The Essex Green “Don’t know why (you stay)”
Opened for Camera Obscura, January 30, 2007: I had never heard this Brooklyn-based indie rock band before the show but based on their performance, bought the CD at the merch table and went back to find their earlier album later on. Unfortunately, they went on hiatus not long after this tour and finally returned last year with a new album that made an appearance on my best of the year list.

14. Young Galaxy “Outside the city”
Opened for The Besnard Lakes, October 13, 2007: This is actually the first of two times I saw Young Galaxy as an opening band (the second time was when they supported Austra in 2011) and I’ve actually seen them two other times live. Indeed, they are one of my favourite ever bands. However, their set supporting The Besnard Lakes seemed perfect, a dream pop/psych rock band doing support for another. Although Young Galaxy moved on to a more electronic sound, this era was my favourite of theirs.

15. Small Sins “We won’t last the winter”
Opened for Secret Machines, November 15, 2008: Small Sins were the short-lived synth pop project of Thomas D’Arcy that released three albums in the late 2000s. D’Arcy later released work under his real name and has found success in production work on some very successful Canadian rock albums. His opening set that night was incredible.

16. I Break Horses “Winter beats”
Opened for M83, May 6, 2012: I’ve already written on these pages about how I Break Horses (pictured above) was the bigger draw for me than M83, for whom they were opening. Well, M83 were eye-opening but the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck didn’t disappoint in the least either.

17. John Grant “Pale green ghosts”
Opened for Elbow, May 17, 2014: I had never heard John Grant before seeing him open for Elbow at the famed Danforth Music Hall but his deep baritone vocals and dramatic presence was certainly a welcome warm up and both my wife and I took notice.

18. Gateway Drugs “Friday’s are for suckers”
Opened for Swervedriver, May 5, 2015: This band of newcomers impressed me enough to pick up their debut album at the merch table, their performance being my first exposure to their dirty and noisy glam rock. Their silence in the years since has been a surprise to me because I was sure they would make a name for themselves but it’s not too late: a sophomore album is forthcoming in October.

19. Tess Parks “Somedays”
Opened for Ride, June 2, 2015: I had to rush the whole lot of friends and friends of friends who had amassed to pre-drink before the first Ride show in Toronto in decades to finish their beers just so I could see her set. Tess Parks was tentative but the strength of her songs carried her. She has since collaborated with Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe and I expect there’s more good tunes coming from her soon.

20. Japanese Breakfast “Everybody wants to love you”
Opened for Slowdive, May 6, 2017: I was at first quite surprised to see all the young people that were at the Montreal stop on shoegaze legends Slowdive’s tour. But then, it occurred to me that they were probably there to catch buzz act and next gen dreampopper, Japanese Breakfast. I had only given Michelle Zauner’s debut a cursory pre-listen but really enjoyed her set.

Now that you’ve perused and perhaps listened to the embedded playlist below, I’d just like to sum up by saying: Next time you go to a show, remember this playlist and the fact that you might be missing out on your next favourite band. Come out early and join me near the front of the stage. I’ll be there with a beer in hand, trying not to be annoyed by the loud talkers standing in front of me. Cheers.

For those of you who are on Spotify, feel free to look me up. My user name is “jprobichaud911”.

Best albums of 2008: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Now that we’re firmly into 2018, I thought it time to start back in again with these album of the year series. If you remember the scoop from last year, I finished off my list of 2017’s best albums in December and then, in the new year, I travelled back in time, decade by decade, from 2007 and 1997 back to 1987 to deliver my favourite ten albums of each year. And yes, the plan is to do the same over the course of this year.

The year 2008 was very memorable for me musically because it marked the year I went to V fest (at which the above photo was taken) on Toronto island for the first and only time. Believe it or not, this was also the first music festival I ever attended (check my list of concerts here if you are on the not believing side). Of course, this is the flurry that started the avalanche. The following year, I attended two of the days of Ottawa’s Bluesfest and the year after that, I attended a full week of the same festival and also put in an appearance at Winnipeg’s renowned folk festival. I’ve attended some sort of outdoor music festival every year since. There is just something about being out in the elements, in a field or forest with a beer or two in your hands, wandering from stage to stage and soaking in the music.

And yeah, the music. Let’s get back to that.

This year 2008 was also a great one for releases. So many great albums that it was difficult narrowing things down to just the ten. However, I persevered. Below you’ll find albums ten through six of my favourite albums of 2008 and for the next five Thursdays, I’ll be posting the next five albums until I get to my favourite album of the year. Enjoy!


#10 Fleet Foxes “Fleet Foxes”

I remember being at Toronto’s V fest in September of 2008 and this album playing between live sets. I recognized it but didn’t immediately put a name to it. I felt more compelled to do so when my friend Mark asked me about it, noticing that I was tapping my foot. I described Fleet Foxes to him then as the current ‘it’ band, which was accurate, given that praise was being heaped on this self-titled debut from all corners. It is all deserved, of course. Robin Pecknold and his band of merry men seamlessly blend old and new, minstrel music wrought with acoustic picking, big band sounds, and all for one harmonies. This particular blogger feels this album ushered the indie folk genre to the masses.

Gateway tune: White winter hymnal


#9 The Submarines “Honeysuckle weeks”

I came across this Los Angeles-based indie pop band by way of the soundtrack for “Nick and Norah’s infinite playlist”, which I loved on first watch and listen. They formed in 2006 around the duo of Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti, a married couple who met through a friend but stayed for the music, and are rounded out by Jason Stare and Scott Barber when they perform live. “Honeysuckle weeks” was the album I first listened to by the band, tuned in on the strength of “Xavia” from the aforementioned soundtrack. It is ten songs of shiny happy pop goodness, reflecting the yellow, sunny days of summer, the season in which it was recorded.

Gateway tune: You, me, and the bourgeoisie


#8 School Of Seven Bells “Alpinisms”

I’ve already told the story on these pages of how Secret Machines guitarist Benjamin Curtis met twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza of the band On!Air!Library! and they decided to form a band. Well, “Alpinisms” was their debut album and of course, I had to check it out immediately after I learned of it to see what it was that could coax Curtis away from such a promising band. It turned out to be a good choice because this is some great stuff. A little bit more electronic than his former work but no less dreamy and hazy and beautiful and the twin vocals by the Deheza sisters are mesmerizing. The whole package is rife with magic and mysticism and otherworldly sounds.

Gateway tune: My cabal


#7 Glasvegas “Glasvegas”

It’s a bit unfortunate about their name and the fact that their second and third albums lacked the punch of the debut because this self-titled album by Glasvegas was fantastic. It is ten reverb-drenched and fuzzed out tracks that scream for a Phil Spector encore and paired with frontman James Allan’s emotive and passionate delivery in his thick Scottish accent, they become that much more beautiful and vibrant. And other than positing that this album might just suggest enough romance to celebrate today with, that’s all I have to say about that.

Gateway tune: Geraldine


#6 Spiritualized “Songs in A & E”

The two albums that followed Spiritualized’s “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space” were slight (and slighter) disappointments around these parts but there were likely doomed, given the lofty expectations heaped upon them. So when Jason Pierce resurfaced after a five year absence and a near death experience in 2005 (that inspired this album’s name and overall theme), the fact that his sixth album as Spiritualized was so good was a bit of a pleasant surprise. It is less rock noise and more orchestral expansion and gospel salvation. And yet at 18 tracks, it is just a hair over three quarters of an hour in duration. The album also gave me one of my first “I’m getting old” moments back in 2008 when I saw Pierce and company performing at V fest: I was standing beside a father and his toddler child, who sang loudly along with every word to the song below.

Gateway tune: Sweet talk


Check back next Thursday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2018: #4 Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”

I’ve been following Spiritualized for well over two decades. I became aware of Jason Pierce’s work in the early 1990s but really dug into it with 1997’s “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space”, which some of you may remember hit the number one spot in my best albums list for that year back in May. That album is still considered the group’s high water mark by many (including myself), though they have since put out five more albums, each pretty consistently great.

Spiritualized was formed by Jason Pierce in Rugby, England in 1990 when his band with Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember, Spaceman 3, split up. Their early output sounded like a continuation from the earlier band but very quickly Jason Pierce established his own style and sound that mixed elements of psychedelic rock, noise rock, free jazz, and gospel into something he has called “space rock”. In the twenty eight years since their formation, Spiritualized has only put out eight albums and each with a different set of backing musicians. And though Pierce is the creative force and only constant, he has never sought all the attention, as evidenced by his placement at the side of the stage, just one of the players, when the group performs live. It appears, though, that his new album was completed solo, just him, a laptop, and a handful of hired guns.

“And nothing hurt” was a rumoured release for a number of years, word being that it would be the final Spiritualized album. I was beginning to think it would never come when Pierce finally broke the continued silence by posting on several social media outlets in the spring, teasing images, sounds, and Morse code messages. I pre-ordered the standard edition on Amazon immediately but am now wishing that I busted out a few extra dollars for the deluxe edition. As an album, it’s my favourite by the group in quite some time. It’s the closest Pierce has come to replicating the magic of “Ladies and gentleman” and at the same time, it’s more mature and controlled. It riffs on his usual themes of love, drugs, and religion but there seems to be an added sense here of his own mortality.

“And nothing hurt” is as sad and uplifting and beautiful as you could hope for from a Spiritualized album and you get the sense that this could be the end. But you hope it’s not. Have a listen to my three picks below and let me know what you think.


”A perfect miracle”: “I’d like to sit around and dream you up a perfect miracle”, Pierce sings at the beginning of the album opener. This, over top of the gentle strum of a ukulele and with synths and sampled strings, the hint of happiness. He starts each verse with this very line and goes on to suggest he’d do anything for the object of his affection but then, at the chorus, it is all upended with excuses as to why he can’t (or won’t) see her. It goes without saying that it is all lushly arranged, reverting from quiet to loud, though it never really gets super loud, and Pierce just singing the words sadly and almost grudgingly.

”Let’s dance”: This one also starts slowly and quietly but it definitely feels like a builder, right from the first note. The title suggests a nod to David Bowie but this is Pierce, it’s not a proper dance in a dancehall. Sure, it’s the end of the night and he’s a tired and “lonely rock ‘n’ roller” so he seems to be implying a slow, swaying dance that’s more tight embrace for safety than true movement to song. However, the twinkling keys and light tap on the cymbal do eventually give way to a trademark Spiritualized cacophony, albeit one that feels more controlled. Pierce is tired, right?

”I’m your man”: Along with “A perfect miracle”, “I’m your man” was our first glimpse into this new album and the video released for it showed Pierce wearing a spacesuit, which inferred to me a return to the themes of “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space”. The song title, much like “Let’s dance”, feels like a reference to another classic song. Indeed, Spiritualized’s “I’m your man” is like a response or repudiation to the one by Leonard Cohen. Where Mr. Cohen suggests he will be anything that his lover wants him to be, Pierce says he could do all that but if she wants someone “wasted, loaded, permanently folded”, then, and only then, he’s her man. The music is a bluesy, slow dance number performed by a big band, complete with horns and wistful guitar solos, and Pierce is singing at the side of the stage, tie loosened and top button undone, ready to pack it in for the night. Just awesome.


Check back next Friday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. David Byrne “American utopia”
9. James “Living in extraordinary times”
8. The Limiñanas “Shadow people”
7. The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”
6. Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”
5. Middle Kids “Lost friends”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.