Live shows: a true testament of how good a band really is. Sure all (or at least most) bands sound good on their records, but that’s after multiple takes, edits and production makeovers. At a live show all that gets thrown out the window (with the exception of lip synchers, ie Ashlee Simpson) and bands just have to perform. Seeing a band live can make one go from liking to loving a band, just as well as the other way around. A good show gives you a rush and gets you on a high that lasts the entire time, leaving you begging for more. Many factors come into play that can enhance the live experience, apart from the band itself, most important of which is the venue.                                                                                                                                                                                                         First off we’ll start with the larger venues. I’m not a huge fan of these venues only because their size alone takes away from the intimacy of the musical experience. I do understand why big time musicians need venues of such a size – they have the fans. These venues usually have a general admission standing (GA) area, or floor seating right in front of the stage; a lower bowl seating area and an upper bowl seating area. GA tickets are usually the cheapest, because you’re standing and really only get a good view if you muscle your way to the front or get there incredibly early, mark your territory and wait. The upper bowl seats are obviously the cheapest but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend seeing a show from that far up only because you end up watching most of it on the video screens and so you may as well just watch them on television.
Skydome is my least favourite of these stadium venues because it’s just way too big. I’ve seen U2 there twice  – once with lower bowl seating, where the band felt miles away and once with GA tickets which was definitely better and much more engaging, but I still felt far away.
The ACC is better because it’s smaller. I still wouldn’t recommend getting upper bowl seating, unless it’s set up theatre style – which means the stage is in the center of the stadium but only half the seats are being used. I saw Duran Duran like that and it was much easier to be immersed in the music and enjoy it.
Molson Amphitheatre is unique in that it’s an outdoor stadium. Similar set up with lower bowl type seats, upper bowl type seats, but they also have lawn seats (obviously the cheapest). Their seating is great because the rows elevate the farther you get from the stage, such that you can see from anywhere. The major downside is the weather – the lawns are not covered, so if it’s raining, you will get wet; and although the other seats are protected, if it’s cold, you will feel cold. Otherwise it’s a great way to have an enjoyable outdoor music experience, one I recommend to all.
Ricoh Coliseum, out near the Ex is another venue similar to these ones, but is quite a bit smaller because there’s no upper bowl seating – only GA and lower bowl. A lot of bands that are beginning to gain popularity play shows there and it’s a great way to see them right before they get really big, and move on to other venues.

Secondly we’ll take a look at the more theatre type venues. These venues typically have a stage, a big empty space in front (GA) tickets, and sometimes a balcony as well. There’s no over the top stage production (at the most some intricate lighting), no crazy pyrotechnics, just the band and their music.
The Mod Club Theatre and Kool Haus (part of Guvernment) fall into this category. The key with these places is the earlier you get there, the closer you get to the stage (K-OS dripped sweat all over me once); but the problem is, you have to sit through a slew of opening bands, none of which even remotely compare to the headliner. So there ends up being a lot of standing and waiting, and by the time the headliner comes on, you just want to go home. If you show up later, you will still be able to see, but not if you’re short like me. It becomes much more challenging to get a good view and it always seems like the tallest person in the room decides to stand right in front of you and is too drunk to care and so reasoning with them is out of the question. But if you can get a good view, and keep your elbows up and out to protect yourself, you will have a good time.
The Sound Academy (ie The Docks), Phoenix Concert Theatre and the Opera House are similar to the aforementioned venues, the only difference being they have balconies. I’ve never seen a show at the Phoenix or the Opera House so can’t really comment but I have a love/hate relationship with the Sound Academy. The venue itself is pretty standard but I do not particularly enjoy going there, only because due to my vertically challenged-ness, I can’t see a thing; but so many really good up-and-coming bands play there so I get tempted into going in hopes that maybe this time it will be different. Wrong. The only screens they have are awkwardly positioned and difficult to see. The only saving grace about this place is the VIP section. It’s usually $15-$20 more per ticket than GA, but it gains you access to the balcony area where anyone of any size can see the stage perfectly; for all you shorties out there, I promise you, you will thank me later. Plus there’s a lot less people falling all over the place and pushing you around.
Massey Hall and Queen Elizabeth Theatre (which I’ve never been to) are set up the same way except there’s no standing area. It’s floor seats and balcony seats. Massey Hall is one of my favourite venues because any seat is a good one (though floor seats are a lot closer to the stage) but each row is elevated a little bit compared to the row in front so the stage is always visible. The seats are old school movie theatre style and it boasts 2 levels of balcony seats. No matter where you’re sitting, you really feel like a part of the show. The National performed there and lead singer Matt Berninger comfortably (though I’m pretty sure his obvious drunkenness had something to do with it), walked into the crowd, through the crowd to the back of the floor seats, got up on a chair and extended a hand to a hysterical fan who almost fell off the balcony trying to reach his hand. Freakin’ awesome. The only downside is the acoustics/sound aren’t the greatest.
The Drake Hotel is also a great venue because it is simply a stage and a few seats (which if I remember correctly were folding chairs). I went to see Neverending White Lights there and the seats were full so we decided to sit on the floor in front of the chairs. It totally felt like they were performing at my high school or something. After the show it was incredibly easy to talk to the band, and get autographs/photos, etc. Great spot.

Lastly, we will address the typical dive bars. Most bands start out playing venues like these, just standard bars/pubs that showcase bands trying to make it in the industry. Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and there’s no better place than a dive bar. Cheap cover, cheap drinks and good tunes, there’s no reason not to check these out at some point. The most popular/heard of dive bars, which tend to feature the better live bands are Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace. Unfortunately, I have yet to attend either one of these but have only heard good things. It doesn’t get much more intimate than this – bands who have made it big occasionally come back and play these smaller shows, to go back to where they started. Either one of these places is recommended if you’re looking for somewhere to have a few drinks and listen to some good tunes. Who knows, you may be witnessing the next big thing.

Concerts play a huge role in the overall package of a band. Bands who sound good on their album don’t always sound good live, but a lot of bands sound better live than on their albums. A live show should be different from the album: different versions of the songs, more solos, anything that will justify paying to see them live as opposed to just listening to their album at home. So if you really like a band, check them out live and I guarantee you will definitely experience them in a whole different way. Plus it never hurts to live a little.

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