GRIMES at the Horseshoe Tavern, Tuesday, March 27. Rating: NNN
Initially announced in November, anticipation was extra-high for last night's rescheduled Grimes show. It was Claire Boucher's first time playing the city since NXNE last June when, latent buzz aside, she wasn't yet a critic-sanctioned sweetheart.
It's also a month on since the Montreal-based noise pop gremlin released Visions, a 4AD-backed full-length that's the most accessible of her four released recordings. Proof is in the slick, down-the-rabbit-hole video for Visions' boppy, baby-chorused debut single, Oblivion.
And despite all this - imploded buzz, the solid record, a string of well-received SXSW shows - Tuesday's show at the Horseshoe, the final North American tour date, fell a bit flat.
A disclaimer would be fair: Boucher's been sick. Since much of her music is vox-dependent, hinged on looped layers of her own octave-jumping yelps and shrieks, the performance was obviously going to take a hit.
Still, Boucher seemed in good spirits, smiling at the crush of fans sealing off the stage while setting up.
Swaddled in an oversized camo-print jacket, moon face framed by long, heavy-hanging, mottled-blonde hair, Grimes and her dancing friend, Duffy, started the show just before 11.
"This is what I like to call my industrial intro-and then I'll start," she blurted into the mic, before cueing up a dense mass of sounds. Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U) immediately followed and the high points in the hook prompted some issues. "Fuck, I can't hit it," she narrated self-consciously, squishing her face and straining her voice.
Here she is playing NXNE.
The Horseshoe's cocooning belly lodged the beat and the pulse at gut-level, keeping much of the crowd moving. Only six songs long, the set was center-stacked with 2011 break-out single Vanessa, Oblivion, Be A Body, and Genesis.
Openers, Edmonton-based Born Gold, helped back these songs, adding some needed muscle to what would otherwise be Boucher performing solo on a fleet of synths. But it was difficult not to notice the periodic cut-outs and syncing issues, or the cued vocals in lieu of actual performance.
Obscuring this, to an extent, was the innate amorphousness of much of Grimes' music - creeping omnipresent bass lines perked up by patches of gem-like synths and layers of vocal patterns.
It wasn't bad, just way too short. Boucher compensated with lots of enthusiasm. No surprises, no encore.