AQUA with PROZZAK and WHIGFIELD at Echo Beach, Saturday, September 8. Rating: NNNJNCO pants. Light up shoes. Purple tights. Irresponsibly.
AQUA with PROZZAK and WHIGFIELD at Echo Beach, Saturday, September 8. Rating: NNN
JNCO pants. Light up shoes. Purple tights. Irresponsibly rampant smoking and vaping. Up-too-late children hoisted unsafely onto parents’ drunken shoulders. Police wearing shorts. This was a classic Canadian end of summer pop hootenanny. And who better to hoot than Lene Nystrm and Rene Dif, the strangely glossy duo fronting the fantastical Danish-Norwegian pop machine Aqua?
Perhaps only Chris Sheppard, the DJ/entrepreneur who wasn’t physically there, but was there in spiritual and televised form beyond the three pop throwbacks that played the Rewind Tour at Echo Beach, the other hook was an outdoor, big-ticket Much Video Dance party, which 90s high schoolers will remember as the mobile video unit that hosted many a semi-formal dance.
Between acts, Sheppards 1998 Love Inc. hit Youre A Superstar blared at a medium volume alongside Culture Beats Mr. Vain and Darudes tooth-grinding Sandstorm. The crowd was receptive if somewhat lethargic, perhaps infused with melancholy at this chilly outdoor show over the shift of seasons, an inevitable tide washing away our ability to play volleyball and disc golf. We sang along listlessly to almost all of Semi-Charmed Life, a song I had never heard the third verse of until then.
Opener Whigfield (I almost wrote Haddaway!) apologized for “being shitty” due to illness but sounded just fine for the four songs she performed, especially considering it was just her up there, with no band or backing vocals. She performed her early-90s Eurodance hit Saturday Night confidently, and it was received enthusiastically the first of many guilty pleasures fans could check off their concert bucket list over the course of the night.
CanCon cartoon duo Prozzak were up next, and though they were the perfect late-90s time machine when they headlined the Danforth Music Hall last March, they were an ineffective antidepressant on this night. They relied heavily on the screen playing their ancient-feeling animated videos while characters Simon and Milo, their real-life musicians Jay Levine and James Bryan McCollum, and their never-introduced DJ/hypewoman served up awkward stage banter and anemic nods to crowd participation.
In an indoor setting they may have pulled off the mixture of older material like Strange Disease with new ones like Love Me Tinder, but here there was a detachment between crowd and band. Closer Sucks To Be You was one of the only moments that hit the nostalgic highs of the rest of the evening.
At this point, the $60 price tag for the show a portion of the proceeds went to Pride Toronto, which co-presented the show may have seemed steep given what the crowd was receiving, but Aquas appearance immediately made it worthwhile. With backing vocalists and a full band, Rene and Lene bounced onstage, energetic and seemingly untouched by aging, charmingly thrown off by a sold-out crowd.
The deep-voiced Dif handled most between-song banter, thanking their local fans profusely, amazed at the decade-long gap between Toronto appearances. He also conveyed a bewildering cuddly-yet-sexual undertone, all whilst donning a Maple Leafs jersey with a Team Canada tee underneath.
Nystrm was fantastic, with blonde extensions, a wild outfit and amazing vocal form. Original member Sren Rasted was there too, content with keeping things moving while being referenced occasionally by ex-wife Lene. (Claus Norreen is the only original Aqua member not to continue on this reunion).
They played their biggest hit Barbie Girl early, which might seem like poor pacing, but they had many more upbeat and smile-inducing pop hits left in the clip. There were still songs like Dr. Jones, Cartoon Heroes, Lollipop (Candyman) and Sliding Doors’ slow jam Turn Back Time, dropping happiness on the crowd like frogs rained on cars in Magnolia. Ending with a very garbled story in which Dif said Toronto had 33 million people he probably meant Canada itself before playing early single Roses Are Red, Aqua evoked nostalgia and timelessness simultaneously.
As everyone left the arena, summer seemed to end but the pleasure generated will help us persevere until the next one.
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