Concert reviews – NOW Magazine Everything Toronto - NOW Magazine Tue, 07 Jul 2020 09:14:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Concert reviews – NOW Magazine 32 32 Review: Tory Lanez victorious despite lack of “friends” in Toronto Mon, 24 Feb 2020 17:16:20 +0000 Jessie Reyez was there at Coca-Cola Coliseum, but Lanez didn't have the same A-list set of guests as his other Chixtape Live concerts. Still, he owned his first hometown arena show.

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TORY LANEZ with JESSIE REYEZ at Coca-Cola Coliseum, Sunday, February 23. Rating: NNNN

Hours before Tory Lanez took the stage at Coca-Cola Coliseum, he was already getting acclimatized to the Toronto Marlies home arena. “I know I look like I’m just sitting here chilling, but I’m chilling,” he declared in an Instagram story as he lay on a stage speaker before panning the camera across the empty 8,000-person coliseum. “First fucking arena that I’ve ever sold out,” he concluded with a jubilant laugh. 

The show was the third and final show of his Chixtape Live mini-tour, which was billed as “Tory Lanez & Friends.” During previous stops in Los Angeles and New York, a dozen superstars emerged to show support for Lanez and his nostalgia-packed Chixtape 5, which debuted at Number 2 on the Billboard Hot 200.

In Los Angeles, Snoop Dogg, T-Pain, Danileigh, Chris Brown, Rich the Kid and Ty Dolla $ign stopped by to perform alongside the 27-year-old Brampton native. Days later in New York, Ja Rule, Mya, Casanova, Lil Tecca and Flipp Dinero made up the “and friends” portion of the show. Meanwhile, Megan Thee Stallion and supermodel Winnie Harlow were spotted partying it up in the green room. 

Those megastar appearances made us think some big names were all but guaranteed to show up for Lanez’s triumphant hometown finale. At first it looked like that would be true. As he worked through his catalogue of Chixtape 5 hits, hometown hero Jessie Reyez joined him to perform their joint 2019 hit, Feel It Too. Shortly thereafter, Lanez darted off stage without explanation, which looked like the amp-up to a revelation of other secret guests.  

“Tory said he wants to check the lady energy before he comes back out,” the DJ shouted while blending Mary J. Blige’s I’m Goin’ Down into City Girls’ Act Up. The predominantly female crowd screamed at the empty stage, opening their Snapchat and Instagram cameras in preparation to capture what was to happen next.

“I heard Drake is coming,” one fan shouted above the madness. “Chris Brown is in the building,” added another with a squeal. But when Lanez reappeared moments later, he did so alone. Lanez noticed the expectant energy and attempted to smooth out the tension. “I just want to say, I don’t care how much money I make, my fans are what mean the world to me,” he declared, walking toward the stage pit where hundreds of fans rushed toward him in a wave. “Even if I’m the one on that stage, you’re all superstars too.”

He jumped into the cheering sea of bodies as K Lo K, his hit with rising Brooklyn drill rapper Fivio Foreign, filled the arena with Foreign’s signature “AY AY AY!” The sound, which has become emblematic of Brooklyn’s new wave of UK-inspired drill music, brought fresh energy and seemed to reinvigorate the crowd. 

“Regardless of me being signed to a major label, I’m at this very, very important part of my career right now,” he announced, alluding to the recent financial problems he’s faced with his label, Interscope. He took a moment to soak up the love from his audience in a long pause. “And I feel incredible to announce The New Toronto 3 is coming, and as soon as you hear that album I’m off the label… I’m free,” he declared in a victorious conclusion. “We are owning everything!” 

Later, Lanez continued the celebrations with an after-party at Love Child Social House. He reemerged in a crowded VIP section in a hoodie clutching a bottle of 1942 Tequila. There, he performed unreleased exclusives from The New Toronto 3, including a new song with Toronto rapper NorthSideBenji, and paid tribute to recently deceased Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke, a clear influence on Lanez’s recent drill dabbling, by spinning several of his records.

By the time the party had bled into the early hours of morning, Lanez was still celebrating with fans at the club. He may not have had the A-list celebration of the previous shows, but his energy was more than enough to carry the night to victory. 


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Review: Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien played his first ever solo show in Toronto Sat, 08 Feb 2020 16:53:44 +0000 The English guitarist unveiled his new solo project EOB at an intimate show at the Great Hall, delivering a set full of earnest, open-hearted rock music and a few long jams

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EOB at the Great Hall, Friday, February 7. Rating: NNN

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been nervous about this since Christmas,” said Ed O’Brien, looking tall and dapper in his black jacket after he and his band finished their first couple of songs at the Great Hall. 

You wouldn’t expect someone who’s played to crowds of hundreds of thousands to get nervous playing to a crowd of less than 1,000 people, but this was the Radiohead guitarist’s first-ever solo show. 

It was the first date on a small tour in advance of his upcoming album Earth, under the name EOB, which is due out April 17. And if he was battling nerves, he was in the right environment – this was an extremely sympathetic audience of Radiohead superfans, dressed in their rare merch and carrying records for him to sign, ready to take in whatever he was going to put out. 

Over the course of about an hour and 15 minutes, O’Brien and his band (Hinako Omori, Ross Chapman, Dishan Abrahams and Alvin Ford, Jr.) played what was likely all the songs on the EOB album, plus a couple of covers for good measure.

One of the three songs he’s officially released so far, Santa Teresa, shows off his drifty instrumental ambient side, but if you were expecting the album to sound like Kid A, Radiohead’s most abstract album, this show dispelled that. There were moments of delicate finger-picked acoustic guitar and chunky Just-style chording, but what stood out were the unabashed pop-rock melodies. Radiohead long ago shook off early comparisons to Brit-pop and U2, mostly by following their own more intellectual paths, but you could hear it in the anthemic choruses of O’Brien’s music. 

O’Brien said he’d never felt compelled before to make a solo album, partially because he’s devoted himself to being a dad and partially because Radiohead is creatively fulfilling. But what convinced him, he said, was the responsibility to bring people together during a time of divisiveness. “The most important thing at the moment is for us to be kind to each other.”

There was an unfeigned earnestness in the music that’s often obscured in Radiohead’s 20th century catalogue, and on the solo albums and soundtrack work of his bandmates Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. O’Brien sang about Ponzi schemes and economic collapse, but brought a straightforwardness to the political material that hasn’t been present since at least 2003’s Hail To The Thief. And when he sang about loneliness and isolation, it was in an open-hearted way that didn’t hide behind surreal paranoid metaphors that you could spend hours picking apart on forums. It was all laid out on the table for you.

Sometimes that meant the lyrics slipped into cliché, like the acoustic sketch Long Time Coming’s “all we ever need is someone to say ‘I believe in you’” refrain. Or the Breaking Free pseudo-rhyme of “who knows where we’re going? / who knows where the flow is?” But there was something satisfying in hearing O’Brien embrace that side of himself. For all of Radiohead’s expansion of the language of rock music, their experimentation sometimes comes off as a defense mechanism, and this was music with the guard let down. Still, the songs often felt a bit like first drafts – perhaps they could use a few of Radiohead’s unpredictable left turns. 

EOB only has an album’s worth of songs, and so they often ended with extended jams. O’Brien even joked that they were inspired by Phish – another band you’d probably never expect to be compared to a member of Radiohead. They even got a bit funky, with O’Brien busting out some mini dance moves. That came out in the covers, on the kraut-rocky drive of Ulrich Schnauss’s On My Own, and especially on the groovy final encore, Labi Siffre’s I Got The… (the sample that gives its beat to Eminem’s My Name Is), which even left space for a drum solo 

Despite his purported nervousness, O’Brien seemed confident onstage and was in good spirits the whole time, clearly enjoying himself. It may have been his first solo show, but it’s not like this was open mic night at the local Oxford pub. Still, though he switched guitars almost every song, it was a bit different than what he was used to. His entire crew, he joked, was about a quarter of the size of Radiohead’s lighting crew. 

There were some people in the audience who were clearly thrilled to be this close to a member of Radiohead, and O’Brien spent some time giving out handshakes and high fives and signing memorabilia after the show was over. When he returns in May, it’ll likely be a bigger venue. There’s a good chance you’ll never see another Radiohead-related show so purely fun and casual – especially in Toronto


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Review: Roddy Ricch continued his ascent with a sold-out Toronto show Fri, 07 Feb 2020 15:04:19 +0000 The chart-topping Compton rapper's Phoenix concert proved his viral success is not a mirage – but what will it take to maintain his momentum?

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RODDY RICCH at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, Thursday, February 6. Rating: NNN

Minutes before Roddy Ricch was due onstage for his Toronto debut, a queue of fans braving the snow stretched down Sherbourne. Inside, the Phoenix was packed and weed, flavoured vapes and sweat wafted through the air. 

The anticipation turned into sheer pandemonium as the Compton rapper began his set. High-pitched screams rang through the venue when Ricch asked the crowd if they had ever been to the Boom Boom Room. As a young hypebeast in the audience rapped along to Die Young, a single tear streamed down his face.

Considering the newness of his career and catalogue, it’s impressive how much resonance Ricch has already found. But can the self-proclaimed antisocial emcee parlay this momentum into a career? 

This week, his viral hit The Box celebrated its fifth week at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, topping tenured pop stars like Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber (with Bieber shamelessly and unsuccessfully trying to mobilize his fans to edge it out). It’s a quintessential 2020 pop success, with countless TikTok videos, an out-of-pitch performance on Jimmy Fallon and questionable acoustic covers all over YouTube. It’s one of the first and biggest hits of this young decade, and it’s propelled his album Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial to big numbers too. 

Not one to misunderstand his momentum, Ricch performed the song three times throughout his one-hour set: once at the beginning, once to close the show and again during the encore.


Asad Jessani

While others plead with fans to stream their songs at a low volume while they sleep, Roddy Ricch’s success has been organic. Still, it’s hard to peg what it is about both Roddy and The Box that is so appealing. 

The song’s refraining windshield-wiper adlib is catchy and off-kilter. His sing-songy delivery is layered with cultural references that double as brand shoutouts, from Chanel and Rolex to CashApp and Crisco. It’s a fun song, but it’s also surprisingly political for an out-of-nowhere mainstream hip-hop hit. Ricch raises anti-police sentiments within the first few bars and references jail, which he’s credited as an experience that’s turned his life around. There’s surprising depth in the song, a description that could also be applied to the rapper himself. 

Roddy’s appeal may be in the promise of profundity that his contemporaries lack. He’s spoken out against the fakeness of the music industry and taken advice from mentors like Kendrick Lamar and the late Nipsey Hussle – rappers who fuse artistry with catchy hooks and deeply personal sentiments. And Ricch isn’t afraid to layer highlights of new stardom with tales of his personal hardship. 


Asad Jessani

From song to song, Ricch’s delivery was confident but never over-the-top. Sing-alongs from the audience fell quieter when he dipped into deeper album cuts like Prayers To The Trap God, but the energy never dwindled because he always had banger to sandwich them with.

As he neared the end of his set, he rapped to DJ Mustard’s Ballin, a track where Ricch vividly paints vignettes of his past life and contrasts it to his new lifestyle. Towards the front of the stage, a woman in a puffer coat enthusiastically sang along to the line “used to serve crack” and then, addressing the crowd, yelled, “Y’ALL DON’T UNDERSTAND THOUGH.”

Ricch didn’t banter much with the rowdy audience, but admitted he had trouble making it into Canada and had to call on Drake. 

Whether he can ascend to the same heights is still a question mark, but Ricch has secured his spot as one of hip-hop’s most promising rising stars. 


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Review: BadBadNotGood’s Matthew Tavares and Leland Whitty reunited at Burdock Mon, 13 Jan 2020 16:18:05 +0000 Tavares has left the band, but he's got a collaborative album with saxophonist Whitty on its way – and they played a fully improvised jazz set at Piano Fest to tease it

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LELAND WHITTY and MATTHEW TAVARES at Burdock, Sunday, January 12. Rating: NNNN

Matthew Tavares officially left BadBadNotGood last October, but that hasn’t kept him away from his old bandmates. He first teased an album with BBNG sax-man Leland Whitty two weeks after announcing his departure, and the two teamed up for a full performance Sunday night. Joining them were double bassist Julian Anderson-Bowes and drummer Matt Chalmers, all crowded onto a stage so small that Chalmers’s stool often looked like it was in danger of slipping off. 

The show was part of Burdock’s Piano Fest, the brewery and music hall’s annual ode to all 88 keys. The festival is perfectly suited to the low-key, intimate room and the slow concert season, like an unplugged series but with piano instead of acoustic guitar. (I saw Jeremy Dutcher play a masterful solo concert there in 2018, just before he broke.) And it fit Tavares and Whitty, whose performance was spontaneous and relaxed – and, though they have an album coming out together in March, 100 per cent improvised. 



So yes, this was a full-on jazz show. Not surprising if you know BBNG’s history as a group of Humber jazz students, but the band has recently strayed from its origins, riffing on hip-hop beats to go in a more song-oriented indie/psych/lounge direction, while also becoming a go-to backing band in studio and onstage for rappers and R&B artists like Ghostface Killah, Shay Lia, Daniel Caesar and Kendrick Lamar. Things aren’t so casual anymore – the trio are playing Coachella this spring. 

Since leaving the band, Tavares has mostly focused on his solo project, Matty, and released the lush psych-pop album Déjàvu in 2018. He’s also spent some time behind the scenes with Toronto super-producer Frank Dukes, ending up with unsung cameos on songs by artists as big as Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello. But this show was a chance to return to his roots as a jazz pianist, even if he still carries some of the spirit that got kids moshing at their early shows. 

He showed off his full versatility, slowly tickling the ivories and building up frenzied top-of-the-keyboard excursions and big chord smashes while whipping his hair back and forth like it was a metal show. Whitty, meanwhile, alternated between tenor and soprano sax, blowing hypnotic circular patterns and skronking out wildly. There were a ton of dynamics built into their long compositions, with slow-build ambience and chaotic jamming and moments for semi-structured harmony, locked-in grooves and fully out-there cacophony. 



For all their history making other artists sound good, these guys can really play, and they showed it here. Chalmers and Anderson-Bowes got their chances to shine too, with Chalmers building from slow-brush hits and subtle cymbal work to beating the crap out of his toms. Anderson-Bowes laid down grooves and bowed out melodies, sometimes scraping the strings with abandon. 

About halfway through the set, Tavares pulled out his electric guitar, briefly pushing away from the instrument at the heart of the festival. “This is a song called Smells Like Teen Spirit,” he joked. 



It wasn’t quite the distorted bar chord sequences of Kurt Cobain, but Tavares did let his rock-star tendencies slip out, riffing heavily between vibrato-heavy picking and post-rock textures. It was when he had his guitar that things got the loudest – an intriguing mix of avant-garde jazz and heavy instrumental soul that hopefully signals the direction of the Tavares and Whitty’s upcoming album. 

Considering it was all improvised, the concert wasn’t as much of a preview of the duo’s new album as you may have hoped, but you still might get to hear it. Turns out the laptop sitting between Tavares and Whitty was recording the whole thing. “Maybe we’ll put it online,” Tavares said before they left the stage. 

Let’s hope so. 


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Review: Cartel Madras hinted at big things to come at the Drake Hotel Sun, 15 Dec 2019 17:50:21 +0000 The Calgary hip-hop duo showed off serious energy and charisma in their gut-punch early show – likely one of the last times to see them at such an intimate venue

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CARTEL MADRAS with SUKHA at Drake Hotel, Saturday, December 14. Rating: NNNN

Sometimes you go to an artist’s show just knowing it might be the last time you get to see them in a small room. That was definitely the feeling at Cartel Madras’s “first real Toronto show” at the Drake Underground on Saturday night. It was an early concert, over by just after 9:30 pm (presumably so the Drake could pack in another party), but it showed off the power and charisma that could push the duo to big heights in 2020 – and probably bigger venues with higher ticket prices. 

Cartel Madras are two Calgary-raised siblings, Eboshi and Contra, who make what they call  “goonda rap.” It’s a twist on gangsta rap influenced by their South Asian heritage (they were both born in Chennai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu) and queer identities, bringing in bits of trap, house and grime – all delivered with a punk energy reminiscent of Toronto’s Just John x Dom Dias. Their set was short but exhilarating, a swift gut punch. 


Kate Killet


First, there was an even briefer set from unannounced opener SuKha. The Toronto-based artist strutted around the stage like it was a fashion runway, voguing and (briefly) belly dancing. She spit with a clipped delivery reminiscent of UK grime, rapping about being a goddess and dedicating the song Alien to immigrants and “people who feel invisible.” She only played four songs, but she knew her moment and shot her shot, plugging her Instagram and ending with a full-throated “are you fucking dumb?”

The crowd was sufficiently warmed up by the time Cartel Madras hit the stage, but they turned us up even more. Egging us on by telling us how hard their hometown of Calgary goes and quoting their own song title by urging “Thirsty Thots 2 Tha Front,” they had the audience crowded into the front. The energy never dropped from there. “As you can tell our songs mostly cap out at two minutes,” joked Eboshi at one point. “Anything more than that is too much for my ADHD,” answered her sister. They joked they were trying to go viral on Tik Tok but “that shit’s very confusing.” 


Kate Killet

Contra of Cartel Madras

Cartel Madras only have two EPs to their name so far. Their 2018 free mixtape Trapistan got them signed by Sub Pop and Royal Mountain (with an endorsement from Shabazz Palaces) and they recently dropped Age Of The Goonda on those labels. That caps out at about 24 minutes of material, but they also had a bunch of new stuff to tease, some of which they said they were debuting on stage for the first time. Playing to a backdrop of Cartel Madras videos and anime, they showed off their mix: both chant-along choruses designed to get the crowd moving and also serious bars. 

Even with the new stuff, the set lasted less than an hour. But it was the kind of show that felt like part of an upward trajectory. With a label behind them and a desire to make a statement, their time could be coming soon. “We’ll be seeing you around Toronto,” they said as they left the stage. I don’t doubt it. 


Kate Killet

Eboshi of Cartel Madras


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Review: The 33rd Women’s Blues Revue was a powerful night of music Sat, 30 Nov 2019 16:59:07 +0000 The Toronto Blues Society welcomed a diverse lineup of blues and soul singers including Tanika Charles, Miss Emily, Taborah Johnson, Melissa McClelland and more

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WOMEN’S BLUES REVUE featuring Tanika Charles, Miss Emily, Angelique Francis, Raha Javanfar, Taborah Johnson, Ellen McIlwaine and Melissa McClelland at Roy Thomson Hall, Friday, November 29. Rating: NNNN

The Toronto Blues Society’s celebrated the 33rd edition of the Women’s Blues Revue last night at Roy Thomson Hall. Since 1987, the event has been celebrating women in the genre and has grown into a national showcase, helping launch the careers of Serena Ryder and Ndidi Onukwulu, among others. 

Taking the stage for this year’s revue were Tanika Charles, Miss Emily, Angelique Francis, Raha Javanfar, Taborah Johnson, Ellen McIlwaine and Melissa McClelland, backed by an all-star, all-women house band. On paper it was hard not to wonder how these seven diverse Canadian performers would mesh playing back-to-back, but the result was seamless – a night of raw, leave-it-all-on-the-stage music. 

Part of the smoothness was created by the night’s host, CBC’s Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe. With fabulous wit and timing, she ushered each performer off and on the stage for their three-song set while beguiling the audiences with stories about Johnson’s pre-show pedicure and Janafar’s homemade sauce available for purchase in the lobby


Jag Gundu / Roy Thomson Hall

Miss Emily

Miss Emily, just off the release of her latest album, In Between, got the crowd warmed up with gospel-infused blues tracks Hold Back The River and Sometimes It’s Better To Lose, before tearfully (happy tears) ending off with a raucous version of The Letter. Charles then lit up the stage with tracks off her sophomore release, The Gumption. Her music came alive, reminding us why she’s often called soul’s hidden gem.


Jag Gundu / Roy Thomson Hall

Tanika Charles

Javanfar, normally the leader of Bad Luck Woman & Her Misfortunes, growled and roared like a true rock star. She shouted out the Black blues women who created the genre and inspired her sound and band. The double bass and harmonica playing Angelique Francis was the one performer to ignite a theatre-wide dance party. The Ottawa native oozes star power and has an expressive, meme-ready performance style.

While Francis’s party energy was a hard act to follow, the dirty funk of Ellen McIlwaine did just that, entrancing audiences with brilliant guitar playing that’s earned her the nickname “the goddess of slide.” “Nobody else does this,” McIlwaine said of the long-running event. “I’m so proud of Canada for being supportive of the blues.” 


Jag Gundu / Roy Thomson Hall

The house band.

But the night had one side-eye moment. The entertaining showstopper Taborah Johnson, whose motto is “catch me live or catch me not at all,” had one “know your audience” flub while segueing into her second song, It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine, by shouting out its songwriter, Blind Willie Johnson. “This is a song written by a Johnson,” she said. “Not one of my Johnsons. But you know, n***s – Johnson’s like Smith to us.” The throwaway n-word fell flat despite some chuckles. It felt unwelcome in the room, especially to me, one of the few Black people in the mainly white audience. 

This show concluded with the captivating songs of Melissa McClelland. Performing with the Toronto Blues Society for the first time, though she’s had an open invitation for years, McClelland pulled out tracks she hasn’t performed in years, such as 2009’s God Loves Me. She also had the most memorable moment of the night by unplugging herself and the band, turning off all the lights and singing in the dark amidst the audience. It was an ode to the Toronto summer blackout of 2003, which inspired her track When The Lights Went Off In Hogtown. It was a moving and poignant ending to a powerful night of music. 


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Review: Metric stripped their sound down at “art maze” the Funhouse Fri, 29 Nov 2019 16:47:55 +0000 Playing as an acoustic duo for 200 fans, Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw hearkened back to their origins and reminded us of the rock-solid bones beneath their stadium-sized songs

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METRIC at the Funhouse, Thursday, November 28. Rating: NNNN

Seeing local indie rock powerhouses Metric electrify arenas with their stadium-sized synth-pop anthems over the past decade, it’s sometimes hard to remember how the band started life more than two decades ago: as the duo of singer Emily Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw playing tiny local rooms like the Gladstone Hotel’s Melody Bar with little more than a keyboard and acoustic guitar.

While Queen West Instagram-bait “art maze” the Funhouse isn’t exactly a small club, the last of Haines and Shaw’s four weekly acoustic residency shows there harkened back to those early origins, stripping Metric songs new and old down to their rock-solid bones.

Each Thursday in November, the duo have been playing intimate acoustic sets to audiences of only 200 per night (with last night’s crowd skewing older than their usual audience, likely due to the $99+ ticket price). The setlists were drawn from fan requests and each evening was recorded for a future limited-edition vinyl keepsake.

With colourful streamers bedecking the back of the room and a circus-themed fresco in front, the artful space set the tone for the relaxed, loose tone of the evening. From the very first song – 2015’s Cascades reimagined as a country ballad – it was clear Haines and Shaw were embracing the sheer joy of playing their music in its elemental state and the audience was appreciative of this glimpse into their creative process.


Samuel Engelking

“This is so cool we get to do this together,” beamed Haines, later admitting she’s felt pressure in the arena rock incarnation of Metric to live up to audiences’ expectations. If anything, taking a step away from the big rooms and reminding themselves – and their longtime hometown fans – of their musical roots was a smart move.

The band had hinted in the past of their desire to make a more pared-down album but have instead continued to ramp up the guitars and synths – Metric have never shied away from aiming for stadium love, which has served them well as a successful touring act in the streaming age. But hearing their songs deconstructed into their essential parts, particularly those with Haines on piano and Shaw tearing it up on guitar, was a stark reminder of their remarkable songwriting, not to mention Haines’s pointed lyrics and gossamer vocals and Shaw’s virtuoso guitar chops. (It was also nice to hear Shaw sing, given his backup vocals are often buried in Metric’s supercharged arena mix).

Hearing a huge rock track like Synthetica approached as a jaunty folk tune, or an older classic like Dead Disco reworked as a stark (and strangely timely) soundscape, brought a new appreciation for the pair’s innate creative chemistry and deep connection to their songs. It also made you wonder what an alternate-universe Metric would have sounded like had they remained a duo exploring this type of musical approach.

Then again, they would’ve then had to deal with hometown crowds that talk endlessly even through special experiences like last night’s set (is there seriously nothing that will shut Toronto crowds up?). Still, Metric’s songs find a way to connect with listeners, whether they’re rocking out or turning it down.


Samuel Engelking


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Concert review: FKA Twigs completely owned the stage at Rebel Mon, 18 Nov 2019 15:25:52 +0000 From her gut-wrenching emotion to her gravity-defying pole dancing, the British artist showed why she's a true performer, willing to leave everything onstage

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FKA TWIGS at Rebel, Sunday, November 17. Rating: NNNNN

FKA Twigs is an artist made for the stage. It’s not enough to hear her – you have to see her. Her visual language is as important as her music. 

From the moment the artist born Tahliah Barnett started releasing music as Twigs in 2012, she’s been dedicated to storytelling through videos: there’s the kinky up-closeness of Papi Pacify, the neoclassical grandeur of Two Weeks, the wilderness vogue ballroom scenes of Glass & Patron

The English artist’s live show is like one of those conceptual videos come to life: theatrical, with entrancing dance breaks, costume changes (I lost count after six) and raw, untethered sensuality. 

The crowd at Rebel was frenzied while crammed in and waiting for her delayed set. Screams reverberated off the walls as she emerged through clouds of smoke in a white feathered hat, slick patent leather heels and a patchwork of cheetah and plaid, her voice a whisper as she opened with 2013’s breakout single Water Me. 

New album Magdalene explores the theme of vilified women whose narratives have been written for them, like its namesake Mary Magdalene. Throughout the show, Twigs’ own narrative flipped from all-out performance art to tender vulnerability as she dripped with South London swagger one song and submissive trepidation the next.

But her voice was the highlight. Her airy soprano, often set against jarring heavy, bassy electronic production, is even more haunting in person, and, with dancers not joining till the fourth song, it grabbed the spotlight. 

In a recent interview with Genius, Twigs joked that she’s always seen herself as a court jester, and it was clear that she came prepared to deliver a spectacle, including an intricate Wushu sword-fighting sequence (another of her many skills), reimagined Ancient Greek comedy and tragedy prop masks, pole-dancing – all tastefully executed. At one point she even changed into harlequin print parachute pants, fully committing to the jester role. 

FKA Twigs_WEB-2993.jpg

Samuel Engelking

Twigs has undeniable star power but seemingly zero interest in being a star in the traditional sense. She makes unwaveringly idiosyncratic music and eludes the spotlight whenever she can. But in front of an audience she is a true performer. Unlike many other singers, she challenges her dancers to keep up with her, not the other way around. 

She didn’t banter with the crowd, but instead got intimately close in a way that broke boundaries. While singing Mary Magdalene, she went into the crowd and stopped in front of a fan who had been singing along to every lyric. She hovered inches away from his face, caressed his cheek and made eye contact so intense I started to wonder if she knew him. 

Moments of reprieve, stillness and contemplation punctuated the set, contrasting climaxes like Holy Terrain and Fukk Sleep, her collabs with Future and A$AP Rocky. She sang Mirrored Heart, a gut-wrenching doozy about true love evading her time and time again, in a pin-drop-worthy hush, and began to sob during the last verse as she sang the final line, “They just remind me I’m without you.” 

Finally, near the end of her set, she delivered the gravity-defying athleticism everyone had been waiting for. In jewel-encrusted lingerie and Lucite stripper heels, she got on the pole. A groovier version of Lights On from 2014’s LP1 played as she nimbly threw, contorted and spun herself up and down. 

Twigs learned to pole dance specifically for the Cellophane music video, spending a year training to perform it with the effortless seamlessness she’s known for. But when she got around to singing Cellophane, she didn’t get back on the pole. Instead, she closed the night the same way she’d started it, alone with her microphone – a woman prepared to leave it all on the stage.


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Comic concert review: Charli XCX takes us to the next level Mon, 21 Oct 2019 13:54:35 +0000 The British pop queen played a concert at Rebel in Toronto and we turned it into a comic

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Charli XCX has mastered the architecture of pop, but she’s never fully cracked the mainstream – not even with her masterful, feature-packed new album, Charli. Maybe it’s better this way. She packed Toronto’s Rebel with true stans, all convened in reverence for her laser-precision songs of ecstasy, anxiety and anguish. 

Among them was our comic concert reviewer Eric Kostiuk Williams, who gave the British artist the illustrated tribute she deserves. Read his comic take on her concert below. 

Next Level Charli

CHARLI XCX with SLAYYYTER at Rebel, Monday, October 14. Rating: NNNN














A full-page version of this comic concert review will appear in the October 24 issue of NOW Magazine. Find the full version below. (Control+click or right-click to pop out the image and zoom in.)



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Review: MorMor kept up a screen at Red Bull Music Festival Fri, 18 Oct 2019 13:38:19 +0000 The Toronto artist's songwriting and vocal talent radiated from within his projection cube in the middle of Berkeley Church, even if he didn't let us all the way in

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MORMOR with KELSEY LU and LARAAJI at Berkeley Church as part of RED BULL MUSIC FESTIVAL, Thursday, October 17. Rating: NNNN

Journeying up and down the labyrinthine stairs of the historic Berkeley Church, fans of Toronto’s new prince of melancholy, MorMor, found themselves in a reprieve from the outside world. 

The sold-out event, titled This Is The Place – maybe a nod to his recent EP Some Place Else –kicked off this year’s Red Bull Music Festival, which also includes a warehouse rave with local dance music heavyweights, an intimate concert with rising star Jessie Reyez and a talk with production wunderkind Frank Dukes. 


Maggie Stephenson


MorMor’s openers were New Age legend Laraaji and Blood Orange collaborator Kelsey Lu. Both set the scene for a relaxed, contemplative show. The 76-year-old Laraaji’s meditative songs swathed over the room heavy with smoke and incense as some audience members sat on the ground, reveling in the ambiance. 

Kelsey Lu started her set by laying out silk scarves, as if preparing a ritual space – perfect for a church. She opened with a rendition of Dreams, an already sparse, pleading song about toxic love that she managed to break down even further, isolating every sound and prolonging every note.

kelsey lu.jpg

Maria Jose Govea

Kelsey Lu

Lu’s cello is like another limb. She can convey sorrow, distress or fear with just her bow, fingers and strings. Using a looping pedal, she recorded and layered sounds, one song melting into the next. She stayed away from her more upbeat song and focused more on sonic world-building. She pulled the risky move of changing the arrangement of every song she performed. At points, the voices of people talking in the echoey church competed against her. There’s really nothing conventional about her, down to her vibrant aquamarine eyebrows.

She left the audience with a single message, emphasized even more by the tenderness of her voice: “Fuck the white male patriarchy. Leave your ego at the door.” 

In contrast, MorMor started his set with crowd-pleasers from his well-received 2018 EP, Heaven’s Only Wishful. The audience was immediately at a standstill.


Maria Jose Govea


While his bassist and drummer played on stage, he performed in the middle of the room, isolated and surrounded on all sides by a gauzy screen cube that had abstract designs and colours projected on it. There’s still an air of mystery around MorMor. He doesn’t share a lot, and as he told NME earlier this year, “my instinct is still to pull back a little.” Beyond being a cool set design, the veil between him and the audience purposefully let us into his world, but only so far.

His voice is slick and his songwriting is enthralling. Not a single note was out of key. He’s a prolific instrumentalist who writes, plays and produces all his songs and that talent radiates in a live setting. 

His music crosses the lines between pop, R&B, post-punk, and indie rock. The pop-inflected Waiting On The Warmth provided a nice dance break, bookended by slower, more wistful songs. He finished with new song Won’t Let You, which veers into synthy territory, but the highlight of the night was without a doubt Heaven’s Only Wishful. The catharsis of the shouty final refrain of “you’re the reason I feel this way” reverberated throughout the space.

MorMor’s music is designed to be listened to in solitude, maybe alone in your bedroom on a particularly moody night, but the crescendo of those last thirty seconds demands to be yelled out loud in unison. 


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Review: Tyler, The Creator goes high concept on his Igor tour Sat, 07 Sep 2019 15:23:11 +0000 The California rapper donned alter-ego regalia to perform his most mature, choreographed and biggest Toronto concert to date at Scotiabank Arena

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TYLER, THE CREATOR with JADEN SMITH and GOLDLINK at Scotiabank Arena, Friday, September 6. Rating: NNNN

A lot of artists make music about falling out of love. But there are some emotions that are so ineffable that even music might seem like an inadequate expression. Fortunately, when such circumstances arise there is another outlet an artist can turn to: wearing a wig.

With his fifth solo album Igor, multi-hypenate California musician and rapper Tyler, The Creator became the latest artist to represent a collection of songs with a character. His Igor sports a blond bowl cut, colourful suits and is a solemn and silent type, but prone to wild bursts of movement.

The advent of Igor happened to coincide with the once frustratingly cynical and aggro MC’s ascension to arena-act status. But unlike many pop stars who upsize through templated pandering, Tyler has grown more plaintive, vulnerable and sonically adventurous. On 2017’s Flower Boy and this year’s Igor, he has played up his more classically soulful and jazzy influences while dispensing with standard song structures in favour of unpredictable dynamics.

Igor is a narrative album about falling in and out of love, so it makes sense that the accompanying tour is high concept, with minimalistic staging and precise deployments of brightly colourful lighting. After appearing to roars and chants in full Igor regalia in front of a glittery curtain, Tyler spent two hours performing his most mature, polished and choreographed Toronto concert to date.

“It’s crazy that this happened by just staying weird,” he said at one point in the set, surveying the full-looking house in Scotiabank Arena’s 300 level. “I appreciate it.”

But after his entrance, he remained frozen at centre stage as the buzzy bass synths of Igor’s Theme gave way to the shuffling drums of I Think. The audience sang loudly to the “I think I’m falling in love” refrain while forming mosh circles and bopping around in anticipation of going nuts when a beat kicked in.

They would repeat this pattern throughout the set, mirroring Tyler’s own stage moves. He’d pace around or remain still and then lapse into wild dancing that seemed both freeform but also practiced – like when he dropped down on the floor backward and then impressively propelled himself forward upright onto his feet again.

Tyler, The Creator

Samuel Engelking

The set list was comprised of poppy and sing-songy Igor songs, a dip into Flower Boy (911, Who Dat Boy, Boredom) and his usual live staples of Yonkers, She and IFHY, which he performed while dancing wildly atop a small raised platform as the audience filled in for Pharrell Williams on the silky-smooth chorus: “I’m in looooooooove.”

Tyler doesn’t have a dynamic singing voice, but he was adept at using his instantly recognizable guttural register effectively when it came time to sing heartfelt Igor and Flower Boy songs that are full of vocal effects in the studio versions. He didn’t seem to use any effects, and sang and rapped with clarity – and without the aid of added vocal tracks.

The only instrument onstage was a white piano on an old-school, revue-style riser, though it largely remained unplayed. Many of his pre-recorded tracks leaned into the nostalgic vibe, such as Puppet, which began with schmaltzy keys. A pink spotlight accentuated the lounge crooner effect before he upended it completely by unleashing a ferociously heart-racing flow.

He intro’d Igor’s big hit, Earfquake, by sitting at the piano to play a windy melody that gradually became recognizable and inspired a full-on sing-a-long that he ended with a showy glissando. When the album version came on, the energy in the arena jumped even higher.

It was a rare moment where he extended a track to allow his extremely engaged audience help evolve it spontaneously. The other such moment was the sweetly romantic See You Again near the set’s end, which morphed into a call and response. As his live musicianship expands, it would be great to have more roomy arrangements, especially since his fans seem to know every last word, melody, backing vocal and subtle vocal inflection.

Tyler, The Creator

Samuel Engelking

Even when rapping or singing to pre-recorded tracks, Tyler has become a master of restraint-and-release tension, using build-ups to create huge explosive energy (which he amplified with rhythm-synched pyrotechnic display during Who Dat Boy) without sacrificing the emotional content of his lyrics.

So many rappers (and pop stars) rely on bangers to keep the energy at a one-note high level and then seem unable to just allow a lull in the crowd to pass without asking “Are you still with me?” Tyler has enough confidence to know when the silence is due to engagement and not waning interest. 

Opener and Tyler’s self-proclaimed “boyfriend” Jaden Smith had a similar confidence, which is not surprising given he’s the son of Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Most of his set fell into the realm of on-trend trap-influenced R&B/rap, and the audience pogo’d along enthusiastically. He fitfully sang more romantic numbers, making up for his unpracticed vocals – often swallowed by loud bass anyway – with effortless charisma. A music video accompanied each song, turning his set into a kind of retrospective for his prolific number of candy-acid hair and fashion looks.

GoldLink, who was on first, was the more skillful MC of the two openers. He bookended his short set with his hit Crew to big response. The sparse early crowd reacted more to the more classically bass-y songs of his recent Diaspora album like Cokewhite and Rumble than they did to the housey tracks like Zulu Screams that are increasingly reflective of his sonically expansive repertoire. 

Tyler, The Creator Scotiabank Arena

Samuel Engelking


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Review: Nine days after getting held up at the border, Burna Boy made his triumphant Toronto debut Mon, 19 Aug 2019 18:03:57 +0000 The Nigerian afrobeats singer had a disappointing false start last weekend, but he made up for it with a concert that showed his full star power

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BURNA BOY at Rebel, Sunday, August 18. Rating: NNNN

We weren’t there for the Burna Boy show that never was on Friday, August 9, but we can only imagine the scene: doors had opened at 7 pm, food trucks selling jollof rice had set up shop outside the venue, drinks had been bought, opening acts had performed, but the Nigerian rising star had not yet arrived. 

It wasn’t until 10:43PM that he took to Twitter to announce that he was stuck in Detroit and that the show would have to be rescheduled. It still isn’t clear why he wasn’t able to cross the border for the show and why it wasn’t cancelled until the very last minute, with fans already inside the venue. Promoters and Burna Boy’s management had no comment when we emailed last week. 

Considering the chaos of the cancelled Friday show, the crowd appeared unfazed the following Sunday at Rebel as they (again) awaited Burna Boy’s first ever Toronto concert. There was no residual saltiness – the venue still buzzed with excitement as his set grew closer. The show’s host Emcee Ebone eased the crowd’s antsiness between openers and DJ sets with callouts to different parts of Africa and the Caribbean. The thundering responses confirmed that a big portion of the crowd was West African, like Burna Boy himself. 

The 28-year-old phenom is one of the artists at the forefront of the genre shepherding afrobeats and its many iterations further towards mainstream recognition beyond the continent. This year, he contributed a solo track to the Beyoncé-led Lion King soundtrack, got a shoutout from Elton John on his Beats 1 show, made his debut on the late-night circuit and won best international act at the BET Awards. And it’s felt long overdue. 

“Toronto this shit is emotional,” he revealed to the crowd shortly after taking the stage around 11. “I should have been here years ago.”

Burna Boy_WEB RES-8531.jpg

Samuel Engelking

Early into his one-hour set, it was clear that Burna Boy is an all-around performer: he can sing, dance and put on an interactive and engaging live show. He has cited Nigerian legend Fela Kuti as one of his primary inspirations and there are traces of Kuti’s signature electric stage presence in Burna Boy’s own dynamic performance style, fused with his own blend of hip-hop cool, dancehall flows and West African sounds.

He didn’t talk much, but that didn’t take away from his connection with the crowd. Song after song, the crowd at Rebel sang along like a choir, but when he spoke everyone fell completely silent. When he instructed them to dance, they did so gleefully and didn’t stop until the end of his set.

With backing from a live band, he seamlessly dipped into his past and present discography, including songs from his recent release, African Giant, including Pull Up and On The Low.  He slowed down the lyrics of Collateral Damage for impact so that the crowd could take in his lyrics, which address corruption, greed and patriotism in Nigerian politics.

Burna Boy_WEB RES-8607.jpg

Samuel Engelking

With lyrics flowing between English and African dialects, audience members were singing along regardless of whether either language was their native tongue. There are countless music genres throughout Africa and there’s a risk when one specific style stands in for a diversity of sounds throughout a whole continent. Still, the crossover popularity of afrobeats is special because it directly celebrates the culture that it comes from. There is no erasing the African influence in afrobeats, which is one of the reason Burna Boy’s music resonates so deeply.

The triumphant do-over show echoed the sentiment on his track Destiny, “I won’t let them get the best of me/ Destiny, can’t touch my destiny.” He closed his set with Ye, the standout off his 2018 album, Outside, and the crowd mimicked his baritone as they sang along. The performance was nine days overdue, but it was absolutely worth the wait. 

@nowtoronto | @sumikoaw

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Review: Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington show the thrilling possibilities of jazz Wed, 07 Aug 2019 13:30:28 +0000 At Roy Thomson Hall, both the legend and relative newcomer refused to be confined to a genre, coming together on an exhilarating final jazz-funk jam

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HERBIE HANCOCK and KAMASI WASHINGTON at Roy Thomson Hall, Tuesday, August 6. Rating: NNNN

At age 79, Herbie Hancock is still finding ways to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of musicians. In recent years, he’s collaborated with a number of diverse artists including experimental electronic producer Flying Lotus, bassist/singer Thundercat and jazz/hip-hop fusionist Robert Glasper, all of whom share his reluctance to be confined to a single genre.

“I’m examining their approaches to music, and their use of social media and how they record. Then we begin to exchange ideas,” Hancock told the New York Times in a recent interview. “So it’s not just what I’ve done in the past, but the fact that I’m physically here now and accessible.” Fitttingly, the pioneering pianist and composer is on a co-headlining tour with Kamasi Washington, the Los Angeles tenor saxophonist and bandleader whose sprawling, audacious discography has made him widely regarded as one of contemporary jazz’s current torchbearers.

Kamasi Washington_Herbie Hancock-RTH-2019-Nick Wons-6494-Edit.jpg

Nick Wons / Roy Thomson Hall

At Roy Thomson Hall on Tuesday night, they were both congenial and funny. They preached messages of acceptance and unity to the sold-out crowd, a mix of young and old fans. “Diversity amongst all people on this whole planet is not something to be tolerated. It’s something to be celebrated,” said Washington midway through his exhilarating, catalogue-spanning set.

He made time for the members of his seven-piece band to show off their individual talents. Besides his father Rickey Washington on flute (“The man who taught me everything I know”), he was backed by singer Patrice Quinn, trombonist Ryan Porter, standup bassist Miles Mosley, keyboardist BIGYUKI and drummers Tony Austin and Jeremiah Collier. When he wasn’t ripping through continuum-bending solos, Washington would watch his group in awe. He even ceded the spotlight at one point to Mosley so that the fleet-fingered musician could perform his 2017 track Abraham. Saving the best for last, they played the triumphant Heaven And Earth highlight Fists Of Fury, Quinn’s soulful voice and the shrieking horns ringing throughout the venue.

Kamasi Washington_Herbie Hancock-RTH-2019-Nick Wons-7134-Edit.jpg

Nick Wons / Roy Thomson Hall

Herbie Hancock

Before he even took a seat at his keyboard, Hancock held the audience in rapt attention. “You guys are as crazy as I am,” he joked, encouraging each section one by one to wave their arms. His quartet included renowned session drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Saturday Night Live band bassist James Genus, East African singer and guitarist Lionel Loueke and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin, who were given effusive intros by Hancock after a celestial overture. The latter – who most notably produced Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 opus To Pimp A Butterfly (Hancock also said Martin would be producing his long-awaited next album) – was a particular highlight, effortlessly switching between saxophone, synthesizers and backup vocals.

While he didn’t stray far from his side-stage command centre, Hancock was animated and sharp, whether he was delivering vocoded vocals on Come Running To Me or a mini-sermon about the importance of preventing climate change. Classics like Actual Proof and 1964 Empyrean Isles centrepiece Cantaloupe Island sounded every bit as fresh as when they were first recorded decades ago, with Hancock allowing plenty of room for improvisation.

Despite the 90-minute set proving to be too long for some of the older audience members, those who stuck around until the end were treated to a thrilling rendition of 1973 jazz-funk classic Chameleon, with Washington joining and jamming alongside his keytar-shredding elder. It was impossible to tell who was having more fun – they were both grinning ear-to-ear long after the standing ovation ended.

@nowtoronto | @Max_Mertens

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Review: OVO Fest 2019 was about celebrating the Raptors and squashing beefs Tue, 06 Aug 2019 16:42:27 +0000 In front of a giant NBA championship trophy, Drake welcomed surprise guests including Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Meek Mill and – frustratingly – Chris Brown

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Drake’s star-studded thank-you to hometown fans has been a staple of the summer concert season for nine out of the past 10 years. A lot has changed in that time – onstage and off – but some things are the same.

The Toronto rapper continues to be a steamrolling success, on his way to his ninth number-one album on the Billboard album chart in the U.S. thanks to Care Package, a new collection of singles and loosies that includes some of his most R&B-oriented and self-reflective material. That album only briefly figured into a show that mixed hits old and new and was more about celebrating the Raptors and putting to rest a handful of older media beefs.

After taking a one-year break, OVO Fest returned for two nights: night one on Sunday featured early aughts acts from the Millennium Tour, including Ying Yang Twins, Mario and B2K, but night two was the hottest ticket. Drake headlines “solo” but brings out a roll call of surprise guests. What’s great about the festival regardless of the guest list is that, unlike most big concerts, it’s unpredictable. Though the show has settled into its own template over the years – and if you are astute on social media you can predict a few of the surprises – its wild-card spirit is rare in an age of pre-determined set lists and creates an electric atmosphere.

The intro was all about the Toronto Raptors’ championship win: after a montage, the curtains parted to reveal a giant, glittering gold replica of the Larry O’Brien NBA championship trophy. Of course, Drake – dressed in a vintage Percy “Master P” Miller Raptors jersey – was holding the actual trophy, which he placed centre stage for the remainder of the two-hour-plus show. After opening with Trophies, he went straight into current radio hit Mob Ties and then Yes Indeed, a collab with the night’s first guest: rising Atlanta MC Lil Baby.

The newcomers who Drake has given a signal boost usually appear early at OVO Fest, though BlocBoy JB was a no-show for a pyro-heavy rendition of Look Alive. More pyro accentuated big beat drops throughout a medley of hits – including Over, Headlines, HYFR and Energy – before the first star of the evening: Gucci Mane, who performed in Canada for the first time earlier this summer.

The Canadian border is notoriously difficult to cross for musicians with rap sheets, but Gucci recently secured a temporary resident permit. At OVO Fest, he breezed through two songs, including his Drake collab Both with its prescient line, “I got so many felonies I might can’t never go to Canada / But Drake said he gon’ pull some strings so let me check my calendar.”

Drake dialed back the energy for the extremely brief slow-jam portion of the evening. As in past years, this involves Drake tightly clutching a mic stand, his eyes shut tightly. He sent his signature nasal croon up a key for Care Package cuts Dreams Money Can Buy and Girls Love Beyoncé but the results, though heartfelt, were dicey. Drake hasn’t worked much on the dynamic range of his live singing, but he sounded on-point when he just leaned into his classic nasal delivery and sang the hooks for his bangers.

To his credit, he did the Care Package material without the aid of lead vocal tracks. The rappers on the OVO Fest stage often relied on them to guide them through the overwhelming sub-bass that tends to obliterate any nuance in the productions, and a few went a cappella.

Tyga, one of the smoothest-sounding rappers of the night, was the only surprise guest to switch up the arrangements. During his two-song slot he brought out a five-piece Mariachi band and fellow Compton rapper YG to perform horny club jam Go Loko. The band’s presence was only lightly heard but they at least provided a visual distraction from eye-roll lyrics like “Call me for dick, not Geico.”

A few more Drake hits segued into an appearance by OVO Sound artist Popcaan on Controlla. It was the lone song in the set to reference Drake’s global-pop period from two years ago.

It’s rare for OVO Fest to have more than one female guest – the last time there were two was Lauryn Hill and Tinashe in 2014 – but Drake made up for that this year. “As a gesture to show how much I appreciate women as a whole,” Drake said, “I’m gonna stop offstage and leave you with some of the finest women you’ve seen in your life.”

Enter Megan Thee Stallion, the Houston MC riding a wave of viral buzz after coining the term Hot Girl Summer in the lead-up to her Fever mixtape. She said little, but twerked a lot through a two-song set. Her presence and freewheeling dance moves switched up the energy and provided much-needed counterpoint to the considered macho posturing.

The next guest was perhaps the best received: Philly rapper Meek Mill, who famously beefed with Drake in 2015, leading to a meme montage at OVO Fest that year. Mill has become an activist for criminal justice reform in the U.S. and recently had an 11-year-old conviction overturned in a drug and gun case that landed him on probation for the ensuing decade. After performing his Drake collab Going Bad, he hit the crowd with furious flows in a triumphant rendition of Uptown Vibes – perhaps the only moment of the night when straight lyrical fire whipped the crowd into a frenzy. It probably didn’t hurt that the tech board gave him the full rock-star treatment of wild lasers and strobes, but he was the night’s most impressive rapper.

Mill then brought his labelmate and OVO Fest veteran Rick Ross, who joined him on Ima Boss before leading the crowd in a rap-along rendition of his classic hit B.M.F. Ross has an effortless, leisurely flow and delighted the crowd with an intricate a cappella, but he seemed like he could’ve used an in-ear monitor after going off-beat during the live debut of his recent Drake collab Money In The Grave.

Everyone’s favourite Bernie Bro Cardi B was up next. She had just headlined Veld festival earlier in the weekend, so her appearing at OVO Fest seemed like a safe bet. As with Megan Thee Stallion, Drake disappeared from view as a sign of respect and she took full advantage, hopping out onstage, taking off her shoes, bounding around and doing a bit of banter. “Heeyyyyyy Canaaaaadiaaaanssss!” she said with a big grin. 

Her backing vocal tracks often threatened to drown her out – she dispensed with them only on Bodak Yellow – but again, her infectious, carefree energy and impromptu banter was something the show could use more of. She had the longest set of all the guests, doing her verse to G-Eazy’s No Limit and capping it off by bringing out her husband, Offset, to do Clout.

The final guest of the night was Chris Brown, the pop star whose promising career was sidelined after he pled guilty to assaulting his former girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. His past decade has been filled with legal allegations, angry responses to critics, misogynistic and marginalizing language, lawsuits – he’s in the midst of a civil suit brought by a woman who says she was sexually assaulted at his home by another man in 2017 –  but he’s just earned his third number-one album Billboard debut and is in the midst of an arena tour that is selling well.

His problematic status did not prevent a rapturous reception at OVO Fest. I’m sure everyone is sick of talking and reading about his legal issues – fans and critics alike – but the gig marked his first local appearance in nearly a decade since a 2015 concert was cancelled after he was denied entry into Canada. His recent success has been bolstered by the Drake collab No Guidance, a boilerplate R&B single that he opened with.

The pair have famously beefed, so Drake’s decision to work with him could be seen as a positive step for two men working past differences. But it has also forced some fans to look more closely at Drake’s own track record with women, questionable professional attachments and a mixed track record when it comes to characterizations of women in his music. Personally, I’m not against men who’ve done wrong being able to redeem themselves, but it’s frustrating that the entertainment industry continues to have such a low bar for re-entry.

The list of artists who have worked with Brown over the years is as varied as Brandy, Andre 3000, Marshmello and Joe Jonas. So Drake is actually late to the party. But Brown’s appearance as the final guest at OVO Fest felt like yet another galling example of powerful men willing to brush past hard and necessary conversations about accountability because an artist sells well. If it didn’t feel exceptional that only two women performed at this year’s OVO Fest, perhaps his inclusion wouldn’t be a big deal. So many women artists do not get the same level of marketing and financial support as a mediocre performer prone to juvenile tantrums.

Though Brown’s music of late is pretty thirsty, his stage vibe is hungry. Flanked by four back-up dancers, he did classic MJ-inspired pop-and-lock robo moves but it didn’t feel completely natural. Rather than figure out a range of motion that suits him, he recreates a classic style without adding a personal touch and the result is unwieldy. He was one of the few artists not to use backing vocal tracks, dropping runs and ad-libs, his two-octave tenor flattened by an effect that sounded as robotic as his dance moves looked. 

In today’s pop landscape, it’s rare to see a pop star as big as Brown sing live and dance so fervently, but is also wedded to a formula. You might even say he hides behind it. But that shouldn’t be surprising given the lack of dimension in his short set list, which ended with retrograde 2014 radio hit Loyal that had the crowd singing along to the simplistic chorus, “These hoes ain’t loyal.”

Thankfully, that wasn’t the night’s parting sentiment. As he usually does, Drake finished the show with a volley of hits – Sicko Mode, Nonstop and God’s Plan – but ended before the 11 pm curfew to salute his late friend Mark Krispy with a 10-minute firework display over Lake Ontario. It was a bittersweet end to an eventful, energetic, uneven ninth OVO Fest.

@nowtoronto | @KevinRitchie

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Veld Festival 2019: Cardi B’s clipped set, Jaden Smith’s buzz cut and more Mon, 05 Aug 2019 23:44:08 +0000 The annual EDM mega-fest brought sensory overload, big-name headliners and a nightmare of a time getting out of Downsview Park. Here's what stood out.

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VELD FESTIVAL at Downsview Park, Saturday-Sunday, August 3-4. Rating: NNN

Over two days, three stages and over 30 performances, there wasn’t a moment where all five senses weren’t stimulated at Veld. The incessant scent of weed wafted through the park while strobes, flames and fireworks continuously ripped through the air and a seemingly endless lineup of artists sang, rapped and spun to a crowd clad in full neon fits and pasties. For every bass drop and well-timed pyrotechnic, there were hundreds of exposed butt cheeks and even more body glitter.

It was clear that organizers were aiming for something epic, despite having less competition in a sparse Toronto festival season. The electronic headliners – Tiësto, Skrillex and Kygo – are among the biggest draws in the genre right now, while rapper Cardi B was an eye-popping name at the top of the poster. According to Veld’s Instagram, with over 30,000 people, this year was the festival’s biggest to date.

With many attendees in various stages of wavy, the overall vibe was extremely positive and occasionally overwhelming. Music never stopped playing no matter where in the park you were, and if you weren’t dancing you were an outlier. But despite the upbeat energy, Veld wasn’t immune to hiccups. Here are some of the most memorable moments of the weekend.

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NDK Images

Cardi B nearly missed her set

While cross-genre artists have been integrated into Veld for the past few years, this year’s biggest name, Cardi B, fell well outside the EDM genre the festival is known for. This isn’t a new thing. After all, Migos, Cardi’s husband’s group, played on the main stage last year. But this year drew some backlash from electronic-devotees on Facebook and Twitter when Skrillex, a figurehead for the 2010s post-dubstep genre-blurring brand of big-stage EDM, didn’t close the fest on Saturday. Instead, Cardi was last to perform. Turns out that wasn’t a good thing. 

Her 10:05 pm set time came and went and the crowd quickly grew restless. By 10:30, there were mutterings online that Cardi wasn’t even on-site yet. When she finally touched the stage around 10:45, the Bronx native rushed through only a few of her hits, including her breakout Bodak Yellow, which was interrupted shortly after the 11 pm noise curfew when she was abruptly cut off.

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Maggie Stephenson

Cardi B with baby Kulture

She held her one-year-old daughter Kulture while performing Clout, after explaining that her husband, rapper Offset of Migos, didn’t make it into the country to do his verse. His trouble at the border was clearly settled by the following night, as he joined fellow Atlanta rapper and Quality Control labelmate Lil Baby for his Sunday night set. (Cardi B, Lil Baby and Offset were also back on Monday night as surprise guests at OVO Fest.)

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Jaden Smith

Jaden Smith gave himself an onstage haircut

Jaden Smith, along with his sister Willow, has long been making headlines for their eclectic and unpredictable style. The same can now be said about his performance style, especially after his show on night one of Veld. Mid-performance, Smith got out a razor and proceeded to shave his own head, perfectly in time with the interlude of razor-sounds on his song K from the new album Erys.

This isn’t out of character for Smith, who once made headlines for carrying his own severed locs as an accessory to the Met Gala. But nonetheless, the impromptu haircut brought the screams to deafening levels as he made his way through his Erys-heavy set of post-trap bangers. 

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NDK Images


Kygo’s classical interlude changed the vibe

The energy for Norwegian DJ Kygo’s Sunday night set on the main stage was already high, as it was preceded by an onstage proposal (Over the top? Absolutely). But he kept the crowd’s attention for the entirety of his nearly 90-minute set by blending his own hits, like the Selena Gomez collaboration It Ain’t Me and the posthumous Whitney Houston-featuring Higher Love, with old favourites like TNT by AC/DC. 

The most memorable moment came at the end of his performance. An eight-piece string set took the stage, with Kygo playing piano and Justin Jesso joining him onstage to play their 2017 hit Stargazing. The beautiful moment was visually and sonically stunning, but it seemed incongruent with the turned-up vibe of the festival as a whole. Not that that was a bad thing. 

With a never-ending stream of artists across the three stages, it sometimes felt hard to focus on one thing at a time. It was easy to be distracted, with different stimuli everywhere you looked. And often the different variations of EDM build-ups and drops started to feel monotonous. So when Kygo switched up the vibe for the end of his set, all eyes were on him.

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Leaving was a nightmare

The end of Saturday night felt apocalyptic. Finding a way out of the festival was nearly impossible, with thousands of attendees piling through one exit, walking in the same direction and competing for rides on the same ride-sharing apps. An Uber that would have typically been $30-$40 was nearly $100 and although GO and TTC stops are nearby the park, they weren’t easy to get to immediately after the festival closed.

Understandably, disorder ensued. Keele and Sheppard, the intersection adjacent to the park, looked utterly chaotic as thousands of tired ravers, some barefoot, others with smeared makeup, made a mass exodus. Police blocked off the street towards the park. There were police cars and ambulances driving towards the area but it was unclear if they were responding to a specific incident or just the sheer congestion.

During the festival, the park felt crowded but never felt overly congested. But once attendees left, the size of Veld confronted the infrastructure of the city and it wasn’t ready. With the festival clearly growing, and OVO Fest and the Caribbean Carnival happening the same weekend, you can only hope the city and festival organizers will be better prepared next year. 

@nowtoronto | @sumikoaw

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J Mascis played a surprise set with Matthew “Doc” Dunn at Grasshopper Records Fri, 19 Jul 2019 14:02:48 +0000 The Dinosaur Jr. guitar hero joined the local singer/songwriter for a full set of psych jams for a crowd of 40 crammed into the Dundas West record store

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MATTHEW “DOC” DUNN with J MASCIS, ANTHONY PASQUAROSA and MOUNTAIN MOVERS at Grasshopper Records, Thursday, July 18. Rating: NNNN

Last night, Grasshopper Records, the heady hub of rare vinyl on Dundas West, was the setting for an intimate, impromptu performance from an indie rock icon. Dinosaur Jr. guitar hero J Mascis dropped into the shop for a surprise gig with local music hero Matthew “Doc” Dunn. 

The singer/songwriter – who also plays with the Cosmic Range and on U.S. Girls’ In A Poem Unlimited – was celebrating the release of his stunning 2018 solo LP, Some Horses Run. (He’s since released another new LP, Upper Canada Blues, but he’s putting out albums faster than he can play their release shows).

Dunn’s voice rang out like a shaggy Van Morrison through the small but ecstatic crowd of 40 shop patrons, who yelped, clapped and raised their phones throughout the gorgeous set. And sitting in with Dunn’s band, Mascis added his immediately recognizable sound to a selection of extended jams.

The silver-haired, glassy-eyed Dinosaur Jr guitarist was visiting Toronto to see Hindu religious leader Mata Amritanandamayi, aka Amma, the titular subject of his 2005 album, J And Friends Sing and Chant For Amma.

Mascis is sometimes a larger-than-life character with his neon baseball caps, t-shirts and oversized pink glasses, shredding his way through classic recordings since the early 1980s, but he smiled with humble glee during this 45-minute barnburner. While Dunn alternated between searing solos and glistening 12-string acoustic jangle, Mascis showcased his electric mastery with a Midas touch that has defined the American underground for decades.

Closing with a marathon cover of Neil Young’s freaker classic Cortez The Killer, the fretboard heroes traded solos and twinned guitarmonies until every head in the room was bobbing along.

Anthony Pasquarosa opened the proceedings with a set switching between banjo, violin and dreamily effects-drenched guitar. Finally, New Haven quartet Mountain Movers ended the show with mind-splattering psychedelic rock and one of the most locked-in rhythm sections this side of the Autobahn. For fans of free-flowing sonic explorations and shaggy guitar jams, it was an unforgettable summer night. 

@nowtoronto | @wipeoutbeat

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Review: Heart brought raunchy and raw rock to Budweiser Stage Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:14 +0000 Ann and Nancy Wilson's Love Alive tour hit Toronto with Sheryl Crow in the opening slot

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HEART with SHERYL CROW at Budweiser Stage, Sunday, July 14. Rating: NNNN

Joy is hearing Ann Wilson’s voice reach the crazy heights that catapulted her into vocal rock royalty. You need a gigantic, open-air venue like Budweiser Stage to hold that legendary voice, as well as the fierce guitar playing of her sister Nancy Wilson. 

Officially cemented in 1972 when Ann joined the already created band Heart – her baby sister Nancy joined shortly after – the pair are two of the most revered women in rock and roll history. Their Love Alive tour (a reference to their 1977 track of the same name) saw them reuniting after an acrimonious three-year breakup.

You had to get to Budweiser Stage early to see first opener Elle King and not get caught in the glacially moving hoards. But the sound of Sheryl Crow’s band revving up to play her 1996 hit A Change Would Do You Good sent people racing to their seats, filling out the venue in mere seconds. 

“Without the Wilson Sisters I probably wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing,” Crow said in a quick acknowledgment at the start of her hour-long set. 

Going “way back 25 years,” to 1994’s All I Wanna Do and 98’s My Favorite Mistake, the hits kept coming one after another. And in what is now a tradition, Crow used 1993’s Leaving Las Vegas as an opportunity to mention being fed up with Washington D.C. and wanting to move to Canada – in that sweet-but-naive complement typical of Americans who don’t understand that Canada has its own Donald Trump fans. 

Keeping the audience on their feet for much of the show, Crow sounded as good as she does in the studio and her dancing lit up the stage. There should also be a drinking game created for every time her band switches out guitars. 

Crow’s classics have stood the test of time, but it’s not obvious that the tracks off her upcoming album will prove to be as timeless. Taking a light country turn with new single Prove You Wrong (featuring Stevie Nicks, who was not in attendance) and Still The Good Old Days (featuring Joe Walsh, also not in attendance), a playful song celebrating middle age, it was hard not to wonder if the new material, with paint-by-numbers rhyming lyrics like “Well you might be crazy/I might be lazy/But I like it that way,” will age as well as Strong Enough and the many older songs that she thankfully returned to toward the end of her set. 

While Crow took the audience back 25 years, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers the Wilson Sisters took us back to the 70s and then forward again.  

Appearing onstage to the hard rock classic Rockin’ Heaven Down, which quickly veered into their famously lusty Magic Man, Ann Wilson sang with a thunderous voice that could’ve out-roared Indycar, which had happened throughout the weekend nearby. Over four decades her voice’s raunchy, raw force remains undiminished and chill-inducing. Guitarist and some-time vocalist Nancy’s presence was equally felt as she pounded on her guitar and swung her mass of blond, wavy hair around like a flag. 

The sisters recently overcame a family dispute that saw them temporarily dismantle the band. In 2017 Ann’s husband Dean Wetter was arrested for assaulting Nancy’s teenage sons. During the show, Ann took great pains to acknowledge her sister at every turn. “Me and my sister are together again,” she said, clearly happy to be reunited. 

“Tonight, we’re going to go back to the beginning, all the way through the middle and end up who knows where,” she said to the beat of I Heard It Through the Grapevine. After smoothly morphing the Motown classic into their own 1978 hit Straight On, the rest of the night felt like a free wheelin’ jam session. 

During a rendition of the tour’s namesake song Love Alive, Ann demurely played the flute before unleashing ruckus vocals that created a stunning contrast. The slow and pensive Dog & Butterfly was one of the few times where crowd energy dimmed, but it was quick to return when tracks These Dreams, the slow-burner What About Love and Crazy On You sent the audience into a frenzy. 

An encore included Barracuda and when their 90-minute set ended, the pair left the stage looking like they had barely broken a sweat.


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Festival dete de Quebec 2019: five things you missed Mon, 15 Jul 2019 16:42:41 +0000 Gucci Mane's first performance in Canada, Blink-182's full-album performance of Enema Of The State, Mariah Carey makes it through the rain and more

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The Toronto festival market might be shrinking rapidly, but Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ) just returned to Quebec City for its 52nd edition, running over 11 nights from July 4-14. As usual, it brought huge names every night to the mainstage, each curated around a genre. We were there for the last four nights. Here’s what we caught.  

Mariah Carey makes it through the rain

Mariah Carey is not generally the type of artist to tough it out in hazardous weather. Her live show involves multiple outfit changes (all with sequins), what looks like a national vault’s worth of jewelry, towering high heels and, sometimes, roller skates. The weather is supposed to bend to her will, not vice versa. 

Unfortunately for her, her headlining set on Thursday night (July 11) would have to take place during a downpour. The enormous 80,000 capacity mainstage on the Plains of Abraham is built for the elements, and FEQ rarely cancels a set due to rain. (A rare exception actually happened two nights later when a serious thunderstorm abbreviated Imagine Dragons’ set to two songs.)

The R&B legend did say her favourite concert ever was Diana Ross Live In Central Park, a legendary 1983 show that took place during a storm. And the rain did add some extra drama, and she thrives on drama. But you could tell it was getting to her, as just about every song was followed by a quip about how she felt like she was on a skating rink, getting her footing and, occasionally, even improvised vocal runs referencing the weather (“In the rain or in the sun, you’ll always be my baby.”) She also ran through part of her 2002 hit Through The Rain. 

That didn’t stop her from hitting her trademark bottle-cap-popping high notes and it didn’t lessen the majesty of songs like We Belong Together or her impressive pseudo-rap bars during Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (yes, she didn’t neglect the #JusticeForGlitter section of the show). And even if stage techs had to wipe off the stage with giant brooms between mini-sets like they were the seventh-inning stretch, she still delivered a grand show on that grand stage. By the end, strangers were locking eyes and belting out the songs together. 

Village People’s after-party

This year, FEQ added a new venue next to the mainstage, the Manège Militaire (the Quebec City armoury), which housed artist Q&As during the day and after-party shows at night. After Mariah Carey on Thursday, the After FEQ band was none other than Village People. The festival is known for putting you in front of big acts you thought you’d probably never see, but this one still had me asking “wait, the Village People?”

The answer is yes, sort of. It’s officially Village People, though it’s a version with only one original member, Victor Willis, with a new and younger set of singers playing all the familiar characters: the cop, the cowboy, the construction worker, biker, the “Indian” (the disco era was a different time, but it’s probably time to update) and the army guy – the latter fit well to the venue. Willis and the band vamped out a long set full of songs including Macho Man and In The Navy, but took way too long to get to the song everyone was there to hear: Y.M.C.A. So instead of a non-stop wedding-style dance party, it was mostly a soundtrack to people drinking whole bottles of bubbly bought at the bar… which wasn’t bad either. 

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Renaud Philippe

Gucci Mane

Gucci Mane’s first time in Canada

FEQ has a strange place in the country’s festival landscape. It’s one of the biggest, with the biggest names in just about every genre performing on its mainstage, yet few outside of Quebec seem to know about it. Case in point: how many realized that Atlanta hip-hop legend Gucci Mane’s first ever Canadian show would be taking place not in Toronto, not in Vancouver or Montreal, but in Quebec City?

Drake helped the rapper with his border troubles so he could attend an Eastern Conference finals NBA playoff game in Toronto, and he subsequently planned a mini Canadian tour. Still, it didn’t seem like a done deal until his feet actually hit the stage – especially since his scheduled follow-up act Lil Pump was forced to cancel at the last minute due to his own border issues. But on Friday night (July 12), after his DJ pumped up the crowd with guaranteed hits like Mo Bamba, Thotiana and Old Town Road, there he was, covered in jewelry. He opened, fittingly, with the song Both and its prescient line “I got so many felonies, I might can’t never go to Canada / But Drake said he gon’ pull some strings, so let me check my calendar.”

From there it was all smiles and energy, sing-rapping in a surprisingly high-pitched tone over his biggest hits and collaborations, including Lemonade, Black Beatles and Bricks. It was clearly a special show for Gucci, even if he didn’t quite know where he was. Multiple times throughout the show he asked “Montreal” how they were doing. The young crowd, many of whom seemed to be already disappointed after Lil Pump cancelled, didn’t seem to mind. With Toronto left off his Canadian tour itinerary, Gucci Mane is a safe guess as a surprise guest for this August’s just-announced OVO Fest, but if you got an FEQ pass you could have caught him early. 

The monumental set, weirdly, wasn’t even Friday night’s headliner. That, instead, was Logic, who closed the night off with more than enough nerdy little brother energy to fill a festival night. He didn’t heed multiple warnings that they were past curfew, and played well beyond 11 pm. 


Renaud Philippe

Daniel Caesar

The Toronto acts

FEQ’s giant stage and language-barrier-affected audience is a good barometer for Toronto acts. Seeing them there, you can see their impact unclouded by hometown boosterism. 

Daniel Caesar played right before Mariah Carey on Thursday (July 11) to a crowd that hadn’t quite filled in yet, but was still sizeable by any regular scale. Decked out in an all-white fit (his own Cyanide merch), he tried out some new songs from his new sophomore album Case Study 01. Performing in front of his band and backup singers, it looked like he hasn’t quite figured out the live version of those songs yet, with his hip-hop-inflected delivery on songs like Too Deep To Turn Back and Frontal Lobe Muzik not quite met by stage presence.


Renaud Philippe

The crowd for Daniel Caesar.

That all changed when he dipped into songs off his debut Freudian. Though he was often seated with a guitar, he found the soulful register that makes him special and the crowd connected to already established songs like Get You and Best Part, singing along in communal harmony. 


Longsho Photographie

Haviah Mighty

The next night (Friday, July 12), Haviah Mighty played an early set on one of the smaller side stages. It looked like the word hadn’t spread to Quebec about her fantastic independent album 13th Floor as the crowd took awhile to fill out the area in front of the stage. But you could almost see it in real time, with people from the nearby food trucks and beer gardens drawn over by her magnetic stage presence and big bars. She even showed off some reggae range, filling in for her sister’s part on the summer jam Wishy Washy. She might be on the smaller stage for now, but if she can secure a spot on the upcoming Polaris Prize short list, that could change very soon. 


Renaud Philippe

Jazz Cartier

Over on the mainstage, Jazz Cartier got a more plum time slot than he had originally hoped for after Lil Pump’s cancellation, and he easily brought the energy to set the stage for Gucci Mane. He treats any size stage like the rap version of a punk show, walking on the hands of the crowd and finding new spaces to walk through the crowd and pop up in. Despite the live bona fides, though, his last album didn’t build the momentum like many thought it would, and though he played a few new songs, he said they won’t come out “until my label frees me.” In the meantime, though, he’s still a guaranteed festival hit. 


Renaud Philippe


Blink-182’s nostalgia-fest

Blink-182 were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album Enema Of The State, but it was the band that preceded them on the mainstage on FEQ’s final night (Sunday, July 14) that made it feel like we were trapped in 1999: The Offspring.

Lead singer Dexter Holland hasn’t changed his spiky bleached-blond hairstyle in decades, while guitarist Noodles’ stage banter sounds pretty similar to what it might have been back then (“who wants to make out later?”). And they have a lot of pop-punk hits that still hit a certain nostalgia core of your brain if you grew up while they were popular: Pretty Fly For A White Guy, Come Out And Play, Self Esteem, the list goes on longer than you remember. They even dusted off Why Don’t You Get A Job, which on this occasion was like a movie in which Michael McKeon plays a version of Holland who woke up in a world where no one remembers Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. “We’ve been coming to the same party for 20 years,” said Noodles about the Blink-182 opening slot. 


Renaud Philippe

Aliens Exist at Blink-182 shows.

Blink-182 launched right into Dumpweed, the opening song from Enema, as soon as they got onstage, and for a brief moment, Matt Skiba could almost be mistaken for Tom DeLonge, the singer/guitarist he’s recently stepped in to replace. It’s strange the reunited pop-punk veterans are touring such a Tom-heavy album without him, but nostalgia never rests. They did dedicate Aliens Exist to Delonge “the man overtaking Area 51 in the near future” and threw green alien balloons out to the crowd while they played it. They’re still self-deprecating about the album, with Mark Hoppus introducing their prototypical sad song Adam’s Song as “some real emo shit.”

Tracks like What’s My Age Again? have taken on a whole new tone with the band members now in their 40s, while others feel less like “I can’t wait to grow up” and more like “remember what it felt like when I couldn’t wait to grow up?” Blink-182 have leaned into that with their new songs, like the bittersweet look-back Blame It On My Youth, which they played after they had played through all of Enema. They ended the show with Dammit (transposed with a few bars of No Scrubs) and as streamers fell over the 80,000 fans, the lines “I guess this is growing up” summed it all up perfectly. 

@nowtoronto | @trapunski

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Review: Broken Social Scene’s Canada Day concert had a ton of special guests Tue, 02 Jul 2019 18:08:53 +0000 Back at the Harbourfront Centre after a decade, your hometown band brought July Talk, Charlotte Cornfield, an Arcade Fire cover and Anthems with an actual 15-year-old girl

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BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE featuring CHARLOTTE CORNFIELD, members of WHOOP-SZO, JULY TALK, SHAYE and others at Harbourfront Centre, Monday, July 1. Rating: NNNN

Broken Social Scene are always aiming for big moments. 

When you swing for the fences, you sometimes strike out, which is what can make the band’s more “regular” concerts seem somewhat disappointing. But they’re still power-hitters when it comes to hometown shows.

For Canada Day, they returned to Harbourfront Centre, the scene of some of their most memorable shows, including one of their best-ever 10 years ago. At that decade-ago show, the sprawling band had recently settled into a core lineup that let busy breakout stars like Leslie Feist, Amy Millan and Emily Haines be occasional guest stars, but everyone reconvened for that concert, playing encores until the noise curfew forced them off the stage. 

This time around, they were back to the core members who played on recent double EP Let’s Try The After, with newer regulars Ariel Engle and Lisa Lobsinger in the Feist/Haines roles.



Ariel Engle (left) and Lisa Lobsinger

For BSS that still means there’s anywhere from eight to 12 people onstage at any given time – often four or five guitars, a horn section, sometimes strings, plus drums, bass and a ton of people hitting tambourines or clapping while waiting for their turn to sing. But despite the crowded stage, the band still had some special guests waiting in the wings.



The horn section.

Fans packed into the free outdoor show and even climbed a nearby bridge to get vantage points and occasionally set off Roman candles and waved sparklers, competing with the official fireworks going off in the distance. (“What was the hell was that?” Kevin Drew deadpanned when a firework hit in the gap between their second and third song.) The smell of roasted corn wafted through the air. 

After a handful of newer songs and a couple of classics (7/4 Shoreline and Ibi Dreams Of Pavement), the band brought out local singer/songwriter Charlotte Cornfield, who is also a collaborator and protégé of Drew and Brendan Canning. BSS backed her on her own song, Silver Civic, and it was a pleasant surprise to hear the understated gem on such a big stage. Drew referred to BSS as “your hometown band” a few times throughout the show, and ceding the spotlight to younger artists who can benefit from it is a good way to keep the title.



Charlotte Cornfield

Fellow guests Kim Stockwood and Damhnait Doyle were on the other end of the spectrum – their folk-pop band Shaye actually broke up a decade ago – but they still got the BSS house band treatment on their 2006 song You’re Not Alone. Later, Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay, the dual singers of July Talk, also joined the band for the most prototypically Canadian moment of the night: a cover of Arcade Fire’s Empty Room.



July Talk’s Leah Fay (left) and Peter Dreimanis (middle) singing on an Arcade Fire cover with Broken Social Scene.

Of course, feel-good 00s indie rock is only one conception of Canadiana, and like Drew’s late collaborator Gord Downie, the band didn’t indulge in the patriotism of the day without questioning its meaning. They swelled to 14 people as they welcomed all seven members of London, Ontario, psych band WHOOP-Szo, who were proud to Indigenize the stage, as they put it on Twitter. They said one of the other musicians at the show borrowed one of their members to watch their baby backstage, which Engle joked was BSS in a nutshell. 



WHOOP-Szo joined Broken Social Scene to Indigenize the stage.

They didn’t have Metric’s Haines for what is always her show-stopping moment, the swelling and emotional Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl, but the song was imbued with a whole new meaning. Charles Spearin introduced Syrian musicians Esmaeel Abofakher, Rahaf Alakbanyi, Iman Abdulrazzak and Julia Al Yazji. Singer Al Yazhi, a 15-year-old refugee, gave a shout-out to her father, who was watching a live-stream of the concert from Damascus. It was a powerful highlight, especially given the nature of the holiday. 



Anthems For A Seventeen-Year Old Girl with actual teenagers.

BSS brought everyone back onstage for an encore performance of KC Accidental and Meet Me In The Basement, and seeing and hearing 20-plus people behind the song gave Drew’s grandiose-sounding pseudo-gibberish some extra weight. “We’ve gotta do it for the spirit purposes,” he repeated a few times in a row before everyone took a big bow. “Don’t let them steal your reflection.”

“We’re going to go away for a while because we’ve been around for a while,” Drew said before the set was over. This wouldn’t be the band’s first hiatus or even their first breakup, so it didn’t elicit the shock it might have. But even if they do call it quits, the band will always have the Harbourfront Centre.



Take a bow, everyone.

@nowtoronto | @trapunski

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Review: The Rolling Stones’ Canada Day concert succeeds despite logistical problems Sun, 30 Jun 2019 17:30:32 +0000 At Burl's Creek in Oro-Medonte, Mick Jagger congratulated the Toronto Raptors and referenced Doug Ford as the band ripped through an ecstatic set of their biggest hits

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THE ROLLING STONES with SLOAN, THE BEACHES and THE GLORIOUS SONS at Burl’s Creek, Saturday, June 29. Rating: NNNN

This past March, the Rolling Stones announced they’d be postponing their North American No Filter tour due to Mick Jagger’s health issues, later revealing that the seemingly invincible 75-year-old singer had undergone heart surgery. Fans anxiously waited to find out the status of the British group’s sole Canadian date – and possibly last ever, as some rumours have suggested – at Burl’s Creek in Oro-Medonte. But he was given the doctors’ greenlight shortly after (he proved it with an Instagram video practicing some serpentine dance moves, in case there were any doubts about the emergency affecting his mobility). And so the “Canada Rocks” concert was back on as promised on Canada Day weekend at the former home of WayHome

The crowd was estimated at 70,000 people. The multi-generational fans dealt with a number of logistical headaches to see the Stones’ two-hour, hits-packed set – the band’s first in Ontario since they played the former Air Canada Centre in 2013. There were a limited number of food trucks and outside water bottles were not allowed into the grounds, which meant long lineups. Even worse was the post-show traffic management, which left drivers stranded and frustrated for hours. While hardly Fyre Festival-levels of chaos, it was nonetheless disappointing to witness the staff’s unpreparedness, especially given the amount of lead-up time to the event and Ontario minister Lisa MacLeod’s onstage speech praising the province’s tourism industry.

Those who braved the early afternoon heat were treated to an economical, catalogue-spanning set by Canadian rock mainstays Sloan. Frontman Chris Murphy cracked jokes and enthusiastically encouraged audience participation, and by the time they ended with the 1-2-3 punch of The Other Man, The Good In Everyone and Underwhelmed, succeeded in getting many sunburnt bodies loosened and swaying. Over on the main stage, Toronto’s the Beaches and Kingston, Ontario’s the Glorious Sons gave the bill a shot of youthful energy. Their radio-friendly, retro-inspired rock songs were well-received, if a little on the safe side. Considering the nature of the holiday weekend, would it have hurt organizers to book a more adventurous or diverse undercard lineup? Tanya Tagaq? Fucked Up? U.S. Girls?

The Rolling Stones took the stage shortly after 9 pm in front of four monolithic video screen towers displaying their iconic tongue logo. Kicking off with Street Fighting Man and Let’s Spend the Night Together, the band received rapturous applause. Jagger showed no sign of bodily wear-and-tear as he preened and strutted like a rooster in a blue-sequinned jacket (the first of the evening’s many costume changes, which also included an Evel Knieval-esque jacket and an entire small European nation’s supply of silk shirts). Ever the consummate showman, he shouted out the Canadian trifecta of Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot and congratulated the Toronto Raptors on winning the NBA championship. He even deadpanned that “for the next 15 minutes it’s a buck a beer, courtesy of Doug Ford” to a decidedly mixed response.

Avoiding deep cuts, they stuck mostly to their biggest anthems, while still allowing each member their time in the spotlight. They shook off some early missed cues and got stronger as the night progressed, fleshing out their songs with help from several musicians including keyboardist Chuck Leavell, saxophonists Karl Denson and Tim Ries and backup singer Sasha Allen (whose duet performance on Gimme Shelter was a highlight). After an acoustic mini-set of Dead Flowers and Angie, Keith Richards took over lead vocals for Slipping Away and Before They Make Me Run, the latter of which is a response to his infamous 1977 arrest for heroin possession in Toronto. He also got one of the biggest laughs when he wished everybody a happy Canada Day, dryly remarking “I don’t know if we have an England Day.”

Besides the meat-and-potatoes classics, they tossed in a handful of surprises, including the fan-voted She’s A Rainbow, Steel Wheels track Sad Sad Sad and blues barnburner Midnight Rambler, which saw Jagger getting a harmonica solo and egging on Ronnie Woods and drummer Charlie Watts (the latter didn’t speak a word the entire time but remains the band’s quiet powerhouse). They saved their hugest sing-alongs for last. Start Me Up, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Brown Sugar had the crowd climbing on each others’ shoulders and dancing from the pricey VIP bandstands to the back of the field. After a brief break, the band returned for an ecstatic encore of Gimme Shelter and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction with fireworks erupting around them. Then they took a well-earned bow. 

While it’s hard to guess if they’ll ever return to Canada, unlike many of their contemporaries (looking directly your way Bob Dylan), they proved they’re still capable of delivering a performance worthy of steep ticket prices and extra travel efforts.

@nowtoronto | @Max_Mertens

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Review: Ariana Grande celebrates her 26th birthday at Scotiabank Arena Thu, 27 Jun 2019 18:41:32 +0000 It was a special night for the zeitgeist-capturing pop star, but, for a singer with such a clearly defined sound and persona, something felt missing from her concert

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ARIANA GRANDE at Soctiabank Arena, Wednesday, June 26. Rating: NNN

Ariana Grande is 26 years old. I know this because last night, I was among 20,000 fans in Scotiabank Arena who serenaded Happy Birthday to her.

Standing onstage surrounded by back-up dancers outfitted in matching 90s baggy streetwear with a pink sedan graffiti tagged “Ari 26” behind her, Grande blew out birthday cake candles before kicking into her hit 7 Rings. For a singer who’s emerged as a symbol of strength, optimism and empowerment for young girls and women of the Millennial and Gen Z cohort, it was definitely an Instagrammable moment.

But for a pop star playing a victory lap concert at the zenith of her zeitgeist wattage – on her birthday, no less – something felt missing. 

Coming off the heels of two critically- and commercially-acclaimed albums, Sweetener and Thank U, Next, Grande has established a sound that throws back to 50s doo-wop and slick 90s R&B. While there has been criticism of cultural appropriation, her work with producers like Babyface and Pharrell suggests a commitment and rigour in navigating hip-hop and R&B sounds that carry more weight than her Blackfish spray tan. So it was disappointing that that work wasn’t shown. Instead, the concert’s staging and visual presentation suggested a shallow and superficial engagement with that nostalgia. While Ari the vocalist was present, the stage presence and staging was not fully formed. 

Grande opened strong with Raindrops shifting seamlessly into God Is A Woman in a Last Supper-meets-Burlesque tableau. Strutting along the curved catwalk, she riled up the frenzied Arianators in their oversized tour merch sweaters, thigh-high boots and double buns with her troop of dancers, swinging her high ponytail and clomping in thigh-high PVC platform boots. (Clearly, Madonna isn’t the only pop star with a complicated relationship to her Italian Catholicism.)

Shifting into the moody Bad Idea, the overhead half-globe projection went fish-eyed, showing surveillance-like footage of the performance on stage. This seemed somewhat meta, especially since after the bombing at her 2017 Manchester show, Grande’s concerts have required venues to adopt a clear bag policy. But then the large globe hanging above the audience pit seemed straight out of Drake’s Boy Meets World tour, making me wonder if Director X lent his Nuit Blanche globe to Grande’s tour rider.


Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande at her Sweetener World Tour opener in Albany, New York on March 18.

As Grande breezed through the show, interstitials slowed down the concert’s momentum. They also seemed to be pulled from other artists. The vintage VHS footage of a young Ari talking about Titanic recalled Beyonce’s own inclination towards analog personal archives. During the second act, an entire row of 7-year-olds and their moms sang “I’m so successful, yeah!” during Successful. By the time Grande was in the third act with Break Your Heart Right Back, that same group that was so riotious and enthusiastic seem deflated and tired. (But maybe it was past their bedtime.)

That’s not to say there wasn’t any energy. Grande, who has opened up about her PTSD following the Manchester attack, bravely dived into the audience pit within the circular catwalk, directly engaging with fans in a way other stars would reel far from. By the time she ramped the energy back up with Dangerous Woman, there were girls strutting and boys voguing down in the floor. Even the AV techs manning the sound booth were feeling themselves.

As Grande belted live about feeling like a dangerous woman and doing things she shouldn’t, it reminded me of the recent New York Times profile on Madonna, and her reaction to being told by the interviewer that saw her live as a young girl at one of her mid-1980s Madison Square Garden shows: “I’m happy to hear I was a part of the beginning of your being woke as a female.” There is something undeniably powerful about young girls, women, femmes and LGBTQ folks expressing their true selves for their own selves and one another. It’s a coming of age ritual that may mark their own “being woke” journey. 

In recognizing this journey, stars like Madonna, Beyonce, Rihanna and Taylor Swift have been savvy in creating a throughline from their album personas to the concert stage. Looking back on the Madonna that I had – yes, I am dating my self, it was circa Ray Of Light – it was clear how those earth mother and geisha personas fed into the sound, but also staging. There was a transparency and artfulness in how those references were conveyed for fans to pick up on, an awareness that this platform provides access to all this talent that can shape and grow your aesthetic.

The Ariana Grande brand is strong, especially online. Here’s hoping that this presence translates into the IRL for the next tour.

@nowtoronto | @reeraw

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Review: Cuban legend Omara Portuondo kissed goodbye at Toronto Jazz Festival Thu, 27 Jun 2019 16:45:33 +0000 The Bueno Vista Social Club singer is on the final North American tour of her more than 70-year career, but she's as strong and glamorous a singer and dancer as ever

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OMARA PORTUONDO at Koerner Hall, Wednesday, June 26. Rating: NNNNN

Legendary Cuban cabaret singer and dancer Omara Portuondo is on the final legs of her Last Kiss tour. She’s bidding farewell to her more than 70-year music career, and, in many ways, a bygone era. But, judging by the 88-year-old’s sounds and moves at her Toronto Jazz Festival show, she’s a long way from calling it a day. While it is her final North American tour, it’s clear that Cuban fans, at least, will have many more years of her brilliance. 

Stunning in her signature silk scarf and flowing coral-hued dress, she sat confident and comfortably in sandals as if she was about to grab whisky in her left hand at any moment. Flanked by a virtuoso four-piece band (including pianist and multi-instrumentalist Roberto Fonseca, percussionist Andrés Coayo, bassist Yandy Martinez and fiery drummer Ruly Herrera) and a Cuban flag draped gracefully over the percussion set, Portuondo played with charisma and stamina. Other than a 10-minute intermission midway, during which her band wowed (Fonseca got his own standing ovation), Portuondo performed for nearly two hours, a feat even for artists decades younger than her. It helps that she has such a gorgeous catalog of music, including my personal favourites Lágrimas Negras, Besame Mucho and ¿Dónde Estabas Tú?

Portuondo gained worldwide fame in 1996 as a founding member of Buena Vista Social Club, who formed to revive the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba. The only woman in the group, Portuondo and her strong, elegant and emotive voice became a star in her own right. Though she was already famous in her home country dating back to her 50s vocal quartet Cuarteto d’Aida, the extra exposure led to solo stardom few Cuban singers have experienced.

That voice, robust and glamorous, was on full display. She showed off its full dexterity, moving from hushed and flirtatious whispers to full-chest choruses and even a girlish yelp that hearkened back to her time as a 15-year-old singer and dancer. She remains a fantastic dancer, too, dancing all the way to the ground at one point with the support of Fonseca, who she playfully called her “espouse.” Portuondo sang, shimmied and egged the audience on with her playful attempt at stretching each song into a 10-minute clap- and sing-along. When it looked like audience members were fading, she’d playfully look to them individually and ask coyly, “No?” 

Portuondo remains as captivating as ever. Kisses back to a queen, in the truest sense of the word.

@nowtoronto | @chakavgrier

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NXNE 2019: Raptors energy lifts Killy, Snotty Nose Rez Kids and more Mon, 17 Jun 2019 19:12:52 +0000 Just hours after the NBA championship celebration spilled into Yonge-Dundas Square, NXNE turned it into Festival Village

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GREYS, SNOTTY NOSE REZ KIDS, ANDERS, KILLY and more at NXNE Festival Village, Friday, June 14-Sunday, June 16. Rating: NNN

Day One

Less than 12 hours after the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship win turned Yonge-Dundas Square into a packed-to-the-brim pit of hoots, hollers, spilled beer and drunken chaos, NXNE somehow cleaned everything up and put up two stages in time for its centrepiece Festival Village event. 

Like last year, when it returned to the square after a two-year stint at the Port Lands, the festival eschewed the already-built stage in the square (instead using it as the sparsely attended VIP section) and erected its own right on Yonge looking east. Watching Ontario duo Cleopatrick playing a set of radio-friendly rock music there Friday evening so soon after the victory celebration just added to the uncanny feeling that it almost wasn’t real. 

Yonge was closed from Dundas to Queen and occupied with a handful of sponsor activations – free flavoured water, rolling papers and rock and roll wine – along with a flea market, gaming station, beer garden and a poorly publicized and often empty comedy tent. The stretch gave NXNE more of a holistic festival vibe, even if it felt disconnected from the Club Land series

There was a new second stage at the foot of Yonge near Queen, just in front of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre looking north. The first band to play it was Hot Garbage, and the everyone-in-sunglasses Toronto psych band’s wash of shoegazey guitar and droning synths provided a dazed soundtrack for downtown strollers, many of them sporting freshly bought Raptors championship hats and shirts. One fan took a selfie with a foam finger with the band as her backdrop. 

Greys lead singer/guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani played with the surrealism of the setting and the moment with deadpan dedications to the Shopper’s Drug Mart up the street and sending a thank you to Dundas West Fest. Like Hot Garbage, the local band surely caught some passers-by attention with the volume of their songs, which are not as tightly wound as they once were but still know how to pay off tension with a mighty racket. With their mix of melody and noise, it felt like a vintage episode of the Wedge exploded all over Yonge Street. RICHARD TRAPUNSKI

Anders Yonge and Dundas Sqaure_NXNE 2019_RGB HIGH RES-4726.jpg

Samuel Engelking

The crowd at Yonge-Dundas Square

Day Two

Taking the stage to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, dressed in all black and vintage Iron Maiden and Lil Wayne tees, Haisla Nation hip-hop duo Snotty Nose Rez Kids treated their 6 pm slot on the Yonge-Dundas Square mainstage like a headlining performance, playing material from their critically acclaimed latest album Trapline. The chemistry between MCs Young D and Yung Trybez was apparent and they made full use of the main stage. Backed by a DJ, the duo’s bass-heavy trap beats got the crowd bobbing and dancing and they frequently took turns delivering verses a cappella.

Besides playing fan favourites like Lost Tribe, Crazy and Creator Made An Animal, they took a moment to acknowledge mothers everywhere before revisiting their prior Queen singalong, then launching into Son Of A Matriarch. While Trapline is stacked with guests including Kimmortal, Tanya Tagaq and the Sorority (whose Haviah Mighty was coincidentally playing down the street at the same time – one of many shows she played at NXNE), the duo proved that they’re more than capable of commanding an audience by themselves and no doubt won over at least a handful of curious passers-by.

Slightly less successful at inspiring crowd participation was balaclava-clad Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47, who played next on the same stage, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Sticking mostly to songs off her excellent 2018 album Acrylic, she shuffled and two-stepped with gleeful abandon, bringing out a trio of dancers for the bouncy highlight Money.  

Even though she didn’t gather the same crowd as headliner Santigold later that night, she proved to be a solid part of the festival.  MAX MERTENS

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Samuel Engelking


Day Three

The city’s energy was still sky high by the final day of NXNE, and the all-local lineup of mostly hip-hop performers were happy to capitalize on it. (They were lucky the NBA Finals didn’t go to game 7, which would have coincided with the final night of performers at Yonge-Dundas Square). 

While Just John x Dom Dias played their turn-up anthem Soundboi on the Queen stage and thanked the Raptors (“the best fucking basketball team in the world right now,” said John to big cheers) for using the song in the official We The North campaign, fans at the mainstage pushed to the front to catch a glimpse of Uptown Boy Band. Group members Justin Trash, Joe Rascal and Roc Lee, along with a crew that grew to envelop much of the stage, delivered a high-octane performance that combined punk energy and anti-K-pop-star charisma. For their underground hit Noraebang, they encouraged everyone to jump to the song’s pulsating synth rhythm.

Over on the Queen stage, rapper and R&B crooner Notifi performed his single Wave to a crowd of fans and curious shoppers that stretched up Yonge. Aided by lush atmospheric production from SupahMario (Drake, Migos, Travis Scott) the song follows a familiar brooding hip-hop R&B hybrid sound forged by Drake and the Weeknd. But Notifi brought his own individuality on the hook, singing with conviction and making it clear that he’s ready to forge his own lane in Toronto’s rich R&B soundscape.

The alt-R&B sounds continued when Anders took the mainstage. Clad in a utilitarian black t-shirt, sneakers and jeans, he looked ready to tear up the stage as he launched into a performance of Bad Habits and With Or Without. But midway through the performance, his mic cracked – filling Yonge-Dundas Square with ear ringing white noise. He pressed on. “This shit is going down with or without you now,” he spat, making it clear he wouldn’t let technical problems stand in the way.

On the heels of his new album Light Path 8, Killy closed the festival with menacing melodies and speaker-blaring ad libs. Emerging on stage in a Martian-like getup, complete with oversized sunglasses and a white puffer coat painted in cartoon Dalmatians, he instantly captivated a jam-packed Yonge-Dundas Square with his presence.

When he slid the jacket off to reveal a vintage Vince Carter Raptors jersey, the crowd went wild. “Let’s make some noise for the fucking Raptors!” he yelled.

Fans sprayed sparkling wine into the air as the shimmering synths and piano keys of No Romance and No Sad No Bad consumed them.

Dealing with a cracking microphone and speaker issues of his own, Killy persevered. “This is legendary shit, rock star shit,” he yelled as the crowd raised their hands above their heads to sway to the rhythm of Killamonjaro.

He jumped off stage to grab the hands of fans who had waited for hours to see him, ending the night, and the festival, on a high. CLAUDIA MCNEILLY

Head here and here for more NXNE 2019 reviews. 


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NXNE 2019: Club Land reviews Sun, 16 Jun 2019 16:30:13 +0000 While the Toronto Raptors were completing their historic championship run, our reviewers were catching festival sets by CupcakKe, Le1f, Sir Babygirl, Swamp Dogg and more

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Head here for reviews from NXNE’s first weekend and keep reading for our recaps of Club Land shows from the rest of the festival.


Singer/songwriter and soon-to-be-former Burdock booker Charlotte Cornfield took the reins of this show and introduced us to Nico Paulo’s gently forceful folk and Chiquita Magic’s absolutely bonkers vocal pop. 

Singing was front and centre all night. When Paulo brought up duet partner Tim Baker (Hey Rosetta!) for the last few songs, her music – as yet unrecorded – took on a newfound Fleet Foxesian lushness. Meanwhile, Chiquita Magic (aka Toronto/Montreal’s Isis Giraldo)’s lo-fi electronic layers shot into the stratosphere thanks to two backing vocalists whose high and complicated harmonies built to a disorienting maze of sometimes atonal, frequently soulful, always fascinating weirdness. 

One of those backing vocalists was Felicity Williams, who also added her pipes (alongside Isla Craig) to Dorothea Paas’s increasingly rockin’ band made up of PS I Love You’s Paul Saulnier on bass and Liam Cole on drums. Songs went from intimate to impassioned in a blink thanks to this cast of heavy hitters.

Cornfield looked on approvingly.  CARLA GILLIS

JUSTUS PROFFIT with CHLADNY at the Baby G, Wednesday, June 12. Rating: NNN

L.A. singer/songwriter Justus Proffit headlined this showcase put on by local booker Matt Sandrin and immediately brought some California energy into the room. He brought a refined melodic power-pop touch to sunny tunes that recalled the more upbeat moments of Elliott Smith, early Foo Fighters and Nirvana. Members of his band often referred to the intimate crowd collectively as “Canada” and told us “y’all are tight, sick as fuck” while admitting they’re “intimidated by [our] niceness.”

That banter didn’t quite match the vibe of the small and unpretentious rock show, especially following Chladny. The six people in the band play in a handful of punk bands in Toronto – groups like Westelaken, WLMRT and Luge – but here they brought an endearing Basement Tapesy looseness to country and folk-rock. They were almost comically casual, all crossed legs and tossed-off harmonies, falling somewhere between Pavement and the Band. It felt like six pals having fun, which spread into the crowd too.  RICHARD TRAPUNSKI

SWAMP DOGG at the Rec Room, Thursday, June 13. Rating: NNNN

The set time for this 76-year-old soul legend was moved up at the last minute so as not to overlap with game 6 of the NBA Finals, and the Raptors-induced mania created much confusion at the Rec Room – especially when his show was then delayed. 

Once everyone made their way to the back end of the arcade bar venue, though, Swamp Dogg showed why he’s still such a cult figure of American R&B. In a canary yellow suit and blinged-out gold chain and with the sweetness of a Southern grandpa, he controlled the room from the moment the first gravelly note left his throat. His sorrowful croon and roaring band pumped the small crowd all the way up.

He didn’t play any songs from 2018’s Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) co-produced Love, Loss, And Auto-Tune, focusing more on his R&B standards. This show was for the old heads, like one 43-year-old woman who said she’s been a Swamp Dogg fan since she was 14.

Total Destruction To Your Mind got the wildest reaction, and his band played an extended version that went on for as long as it took Swamp Dogg to greet every person in the room. Even the Raptors fans peeved that his set encroached on their viewing time couldn’t help but be swept up in his charm.  KELSEY ADAMS

ROBIN HATCH as part of CURATOR SERIES: THE ELWINS at the Dakota Tavern, Thursday, June 13. Rating: NNNN

Despite major competition from what turned out to be the Raptors’ championship-clinching final game, pianist Robin Hatch was in good spirits, thanking those who came out to see her as the opening act for the night at the Dakota curated by the Elwins.

The quick-witted Hatch – who you may have seen playing in the Rural Alberta Advantage, Dwayne Gretzky, Our Lady Peace, Sheezer or Whitehorse – used the opportunity to be upfront with the intimate crowd about the inspiration behind each of the songs from her recent album, Works For Solo Piano. Instrumental music can often be abstract, but hearing, for instance, how a song like O’Blivion took its name from Videodrome and is meant to conjure Cronenbergian images of the cityscape rooted the song’s dreamy, surreal energy in something more tangible. We came away with an appreciation not just for Hatch’s art but her process.  MICHAEL RANCIC

RADIANT BABY and RUSSELL LOUDER as part of LISBON LUX SHOWCASE at the Rivoli, Thursday, June 13. Rating: NNNN

With only a handful of singles under their belt, Russell Louder had a lot to prove in their 40-minute set. Straight from Prince Edward Island, or what they lovingly call “a sandbar,” the synth-pop artist made quick work of winning the crowd over with their confidence and a killer vocal performance to back it up. The assistance of a live bassist helped bring their lithe, hook-forward songs to life and the crowd ate it up and danced in response.

Montreal’s Radiant Baby (a.k.a. Felix Mongeon) wisely chose to wait until the Raptors game had ended to start his set, which made the artist (backed by guitarist and drummer)’s melodic new wave elation feel like the best way to start off what would become a night-long victory party.  MR

SIR BABYGIRL and NYSSA at Monarch Tavern, Friday, June 14. Rating: NNNN

Towards the end of her midnight set, New York City-based Sir Babygirl – a.k.a. Kelsie Hogue – took a moment to catch her breath. “I didn’t think I’d ever play these songs live,” she said about her frenetic bumble gum alt-pop anthems. “I didn’t think anyone would even listen to them.”

But there she was, just months after her debut album, Crush On Me, performing to an equally amped-up crowd at the Monarch. Playing over a backing track of bouncy synths and shredding her guitar, Hogue belted like a 90s pop diva or an unhinged Britney or Christina, singing about lousy parties that feel like haunted houses or how flirting is equally akin to butterflies fluttering and skinning your knee. She’s clearly a lover of 2000s pop, remixing snippets of Vanessa Carlton’s iconic piano hook of A Thousand Miles and Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boi in-between songs.

Hogue has a feverish, positive energy on stage that’s contagious. A gang of 20 or so in the front row were basically her backup singers from the get-go, and by the end of her hour set she had pretty much the venue dancing with her. Her performance also felt like an unofficial kickoff to Pride month. Hogue, who identifies as non-binary and bisexual, did a roll call – “Where are my gays at?” “Where my trans boys and girls at?” “Where my non-binaries at?” – as a flurry of waving hands and hollers filled the room.

While thanking opener Nyssa, Hogue gushed, “in one year, she’s going to be all over the billboards.” And if there’s any justice in the music world, she will be. The Toronto electro-glam artist’s powerhouse voice was instantly spellbinding over shimmering synth-pop backing tracks playing from a laptop. In an interview with NOW last year she said she liked playing with the compact set up, where she doesn’t have to “rely on anything other than myself,” but I’d love to see the energy a full band could bring.  SAMANTHA EDWARDS

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Samuel Engelking


CUPCAKKE with VAUGHAN at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, Friday, June 14. Rating: NNNN

When Chicago rapper CupcakKe posted an Instagram story of an airport tarmac with the caption  “Toronto meet me @ the Phoenix theatre tonight @ 10pm” – fans listened. Hundreds queued up at the concert hall for her anticipated arrival as Toronto DJ Vaughan played an upbeat danceable mix of Destiny’s Child, Leikeli47 and City Girls that heightened the crowd’s energy.

But by 11:45 pm, our patience had begun wearing thin. “We want CupcakKe,” the crowd chanted as Vaughan, four hours into a tireless set, assured us that she’d be there soon.

When she finally arrived just shy of midnight, she wore thigh-high lace-up boots and a pink chiffon mini-skirt. She strutted across the stage to deliver the absurdist comical bars of her 2018 hit Duck Duck Goose. “Cut the dick off, took it home with me/ ‘Cause any dick that long, it belong with me,” she spat with a coy smile.

She graciously accepted dildos and lacy underwear from fans standing near the front, transferring them to the DJ booth before performing her synth-pop ballad LGBT. The song transformed the concert hall into a booming pre-Pride celebration.

“Ya’ll’s energy is amazing,” she said, beaming as she wiped a towel between her legs and threw it into the crowd.

By the time she walked off stage at 12:30 am before rushing off to Stackt for a second surprise set, no one cared that she was late.  CLAUDIA MCNEILLY


When Berlin-based DJ Nico Adomako and Toronto-based curator Kazeem Kuteyi (of New Currency) first collaborated on a party at Paris Fashion Week in 2018, they knew they wanted to see more of each other. They continued their cross-continental meet-ups by working together on parties in Berlin, Paris, London and now Toronto. 

The party began with sets from Dre Ngozi and Abscvnd before Adomako took over the decks to spin a seamless selection of dancehall, baile funk and electronica in the back room of Miss Thing’s. Nearing 2 am, local heroes Just John, Dom Dias and Chippy Nonstop could be spotted standing at the tiki bar, complete with a roof made of Caribbean palm thatch tiki grass, as Adomako closed his set with a slippery chopped and screwed version of Lily Allen’s 2006 hit Smile.

Nonstop reinvigorated partiers with a surprise MC performance alongside Myst Milano to finish the night. The crowd gathered at the DJ booth to dance and cheer her on in an uplifting display of Toronto talent and culture.  CM

HUA LI and LE1F at the Garrison, Saturday, June 15. Rating: NNNN

Kicking off the Garrison’s Saturday night bill promptly at 9 PM, self-described “Canada’s only half-Chinese, half-militant, half-rapper” Hua Li proved in an all-too-brief set that she has no shortage of charisma. 

Despite a low turnout, the Montreal artist’s deeply confessional R&B songs and braggadocious party-starting raps quickly won over the audience. If recently released single Since U Been – which she dedicated to her mother – is any indication, her forthcoming debut album Dynasty (out this fall) should be well worth the wait.

No stranger to playing NXNE in the past – including a particularly memorable Toronto Island performance in 2014 – Le1f’s headlining set was a reminder of how influential his experimental club rap sounds have been on both mainstream and underground artists today. Acting as his own DJ and one-man dance squad, he wasted no time whipping the crowd into a frenzy, turning the venue into a vogue runway. His blue sheer shirt drenched in sweat, he towered and prowled the stage, running through selections from his deep catalogue.

He played swaggering tracks like Koi and Grace Alek Naomi from his 2015 album Riot Boi alongside newer cuts off his 2018 EP Blue Dream. Le1f gave fan favourite Wut new life by mixing in instrumental snippets from songs like Clipse’s Grindin’ and Rihanna’s Work. For the finale, he had everyone form an enthusiastic circle around him on the floor, before ending the night rolling on top of the bar.  MAX MERTENS


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Review: American Football brought a lot of feelings to the first weekend of NXNE 2019 Mon, 10 Jun 2019 17:19:46 +0000 Plus: more early NXNE reviews of Haviah Mighty, Dizzy and others

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AMERICAN FOOTBALL with ELLIS at the Opera House, Sunday, June 9. Rating: NNN

In the opening line of Honestly?, from American Football’s 1999 debut, Mike Kinsella deadpans, “I can’t remember teen dreams / all my teenage feelings and the meanings.” Yet when he shouted it at the Opera House, amongst devoted fans packed in and sweaty, the nostalgia was palpable. 

When cult bands reunite after years apart – as American Football did in 2014 after lying dormant since 2000 – the myth-building interim can lead to reunion shows full of wistful sentimentality. (See also Neutral Milk Hotel, My Bloody Valentine.) At this NXNE show, the audience was mostly middle-aged white men air drumming along to every beat and an energetic legion too young to remember when the Illinois band released their first album but acted as if they’ve been waiting a decade to see them live. 

In their first show here since the reunion, they played a mix of beloved old songs like I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional and Stay Home. They also played cuts from their recently released LP3, including moody Silhouettes, which like the album version, began with a minute of sparkling vibraphone. On stage, lightbulbs flickered in time, before a crush of reverb guitar enters. Throughout the show, trumpet interludes and tambourines added an upbeat element to Kinsella’s intricate, cyclical fingerpicking. 

At times, his voice – a slight yelp as instrumental to the band as any other piece of equipment – was overpowered by the thumping drums and droning ambiance. And it wasn’t until the 45-minute mark that he finally addressed the room, admitting that the break was pre-scheduled by the band’s guitar tech, who writes out the set lists. Perhaps the frontman was chattier the night before when he played another NXNE show as his solo project, Owen, at the Monarch Tavern, a venue one-tenth the size. 

The band capped off the night with Never Meant, which Kinsella said they would be singing karaoke-style. Not that he needed to encourage the audience to sing along. It was a wave of fuzzy clashing guitars, loud drums, a frenzy of shakers and reverb, and hundreds of people drowning out Kinsella. 

It wasn’t a show full of surprises, and that’s okay. The emo pioneers played all the songs Toronto fans have waited years to hear, and that’s what they came for.

Opener Ellis was the perfect counterpoint. Fronted by Hamilton-based Linnea Siggelkow, Ellis’s woozy guitar rock got a gritty overhaul as layers of distortion accentuated her raw, honeyed voice. (The show was a honeymoon of sorts for the band – the day before, Siggelkow got married to Brandon Williams of Chastity.) 

Seeing Siggelkow made me think of music critic Jessica Hopper’s classic essay Where The Girls Aren’t, about sexism in the emo genre. On seeing young women at emo shows, she writes, “I wonder if this does it for them, if seeing these bands, these dudes onstage, resonates and inspires them to want to pick up a guitar or drum sticks. Or if they just see this as something dudes do, since there are no girls.” 

Siggelkow herself has talked about growing up in “dude-heavy scenes with a lot of agro-masculinity” and suffering from imposter syndrome. As she played to a nearly sold-out Opera House, I looked at the young women around me, beaming as they watched her deftly move across the stage, shredding on her guitar, singing about her feelings. 

American Football might be emo forefathers, but I’m more excited about the new cohort.   SAMANTHA EDWARDS

More from the first weekend of NXNE

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Brittany Farhat

Dizzy at Royal Mountain’s Backyard BBQ as Menno Versteeg looks on post-confetti launch.

DIZZY at Royal Mountain Records’ Backyard BBQ, Saturday, June 8. Rating: NNN

With tacos, tall cans of craft beer and at least one audience member holding a skateboard, there was an old-school NXNE feel to Royal Mountain’s sunny BBQ – like SXSW but less overwhelming. 

Playing in the lot behind the Canadian label’s office in the Junction, Dizzy ended in the early evening, punctuating a day that included sets by Haviah Mighty, Dusted and a surprise appearance by Hollerado. As label VIPs (including hosts Raina Douris and Annie Murphy) watched on from the balcony above, the Ontario band played dreamy, emotional indie rock that felt like the right vibe for the sunny party. Echoey guitars glided over dramatic drum hits, and you could tell singer Katie Munshaw – and the crowd – were really feeling the music. 

Toward the end of the set, Menno Versteeg – one of Royal Mountain’s label heads and singer for Hollerado – jumped from the balcony down onto the roof and loaded up his confetti cannon as everyone in the crowd pulled out their phones in anticipation. That part wasn’t so old-school, but it was a celebratory end to a show that raised money for the label’s mental health fundRICHARD TRAPUNSKI

HAVIAH MIGHTY and SYDANIE as part of RAPTORS UPRISING at the Hideout, Sunday, June 9. Rating: NNN

Haviah Mighty wasted no time getting into it at the Raptors Uprising curator series show. She began her set 20 minutes early at 11:40 pm, moments after rapper Sydanie finished performing 999, the title track from her 2018 EP.

Invigorated by Sydanie’s signature bubbly energy, the crowd was ready for more. The hunger in Haviah’s voice was palpable as she spat the opening bars of her single Waves.

Dressed in a white Raptors T-shirt and black Raptors shorts, Haviah made it her mission to continue rising the room’s spirits in anticipation of Monday’s game. 

She weaved through the crowd to dance and rap alongside us, pausing only to bring out her sister, Omega Mighty, as the duo performed Wishy Washy. They launched into a choreographed routine that synched perfectly with the track’s melodious reggae and dancehall production.

Haviah has all the elements of an international superstar. Don’t be surprised if it happens soon.  CLAUDIA MCNEILLY


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Review: Higher Brothers raise questions of cultural appropriation at Rebel Fri, 31 May 2019 18:36:44 +0000 The Chinese rap group brought unwavering energy and undeniable bangers, but their immersion into western hip-hop culture opens up a larger conversation

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HIGHER BROTHERS with RUSSELL at Rebel, Thursday, May 30. Rating: NNN

Though their headlining set lasted nearly 90 minutes, it didn’t take long for Chengdu trap quartet Higher Brothers to establish themselves as bona fide superstars. After their opener, Brampton emcee Russell (formerly known as D-Pryde) warmed up the nearly sold-out crowd at Rebel, Higher Brothers arrived onstage to pure pandemonium.

They were immediately met with unrelenting roars from the audience, only wavering to recite lyrics and giggle along with between-song banter, which seamlessly alternated between English slang and their native Chinese dialects of Mandarin and Sichuanese.

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Samuel Engelking

The foursome have all of the makings of a young, successful rap group. DZKnow (the one with colourful hair), PsyP (the one with dreadlocks), MaSiWei (who sports a Travis Scott-esque braided ‘do) and Melo (the one with a textured fro) have the look, bass-heavy trap sound and on-stage mannerisms that have grown to be common form with all the popular rising hip-hop acts in America. The detail that sets them apart is their ethnicity. Artists from Asia are starting to break out in a big way in North America (see: K-pop group BTS) and Higher Brothers, along with their crew and record label 88rising, have set their sights on filling the void in the hip-hop market. 

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Samuel Engelking

Their efforts haven’t been immune to controversy. Critics have questioned whether Asian rap groups like Higher Brothers’ hip-hop careers are the result of cultural appreciation or appropriation. This conversation is especially timely as anti-Blackness continues to prevail in Asian communities in and outside of the continent.

In person, as a Black person in the audience, the show often felt to me like a performance of Blackness itself. Between the traditionally Black hairstyles, their heavy use of African-American Vernacular English in their songs and stage banter, the dance moves (at least one group member hit the whoa every eight count) and their swaggy outfits, you could feel the influence of the group’s Black peers. But from Rebel’s mezzanine, I only spotted a few visibly Black people in the audience. This is not that unusual at rap concerts in Toronto. But it was interesting to see Blackness all around, with so few Black faces actually present.

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Samuel Engelking

In the VICE series Minority Report, MasiWei cited Eminem as one of his influences. His explanation was translated to say “Eminem is white. It’s encouraging to us because it means that Chinese people can be like white people and make Black people’s music. It made me realize that I can do it as well.” Um, ok.

In an all-caps Instagram essay, Higher Brothers’ translator/North American liaison/blue-haired hype-woman Lana Larkin (aka Higher Sister, who opened the show) dismissed the charge of cultural appropriation along with the concept of culture altogether.

“The concept of ‘culture’ is something we make up, constantly & continuously by the way we talk about it and treat it as if it were a real thing out there in the world,” writes the UC Berkeley masters student. “If I hear the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ one more time I’m gonna vomit!! Why?? It’s a pretty reification of cultural purity!”

While this is a thoughtful defense, it brings back a point often underlying conversations like this: the validity of cultural ownership is only called into question when Black people seek acknowledgment for their creations.

Higher Brothers bring a lot of charm into what they do, which entranced the crowd for the whole set. One fan on the mezzanine was so overwhelmed with excitement that she inadvertently dropped and trampled her own vape pen. It was a whole ordeal.

But in spite of the high energy throughout the show, it wasn’t without ebbs. During each group member’s solo set, DZKnow aka KnowKnow urged the crowd, eerily similar to this Jeb Bush moment, “make some noise for me!” Their solo moments weren’t as dynamic or exciting as they were as a foursome.

Repackaging Black cultural innovations to a non-Black audience, the performance at times felt like a live chatbot aggregation of what is considered cool. It’s impossible to verify the Higher Brothers’ authenticity in their claim to the culture. It’s also pointless to police.

Higher Brothers clearly have a dedicated fanbase, not to mention industry co-signs in the form of respectable features from artists like ScHoolboy Q and Denzel Curry. So while these questions won’t just go away, if this concert was any indication, the group are here to stay. 

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Samuel Engelking

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Samuel Engelking

@nowtoronto | @sumikoaw

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Review: Lizzo proved her star status at Danforth Music Hall Fri, 17 May 2019 14:07:38 +0000 With a bigger Toronto show already announced, the ascending R&B/hip-hop show's concert was like a group hug, or a motivational seminar with catsuits

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LIZZO at the Danforth Music Hall, Thursday, May 16. Rating: NNNN

Lizzo’s musical catalogue is so devoted to the concept of self-love and self-care, it’s practically crossed over into meme status. (Type “Lizzo” and “therapy” into the Twitter search bar if you don’t believe me.)

The rapping, high-note-belting, flute-playing, twerking (occasionally, those last two at the same time) R&B/hip-hop star’s music has always been steeped in themes of confidence and empowerment. That message is writ large on Cuz I Love You, her first full-length release on a major label, which has officially launched her from cult artist to star status. Before the Danforth show even arrived, she booked another show for Rebel on September 19 – which was then, due to overwhelming demand, moved to Budweiser Stage.

The early birds at the Danforth were aware of what a rare treat they were about to enjoy. The artist known as Melissa Jefferson did not disappoint, delivering a boisterous love-in of a set that faithfully brought what people love about the Lizzo experience: the unimpeachable musical chops, the energy, the humour, the bodysuits.



The show began at a joyous fever pitch. The crowd was deafening, and everyone (including me) was beaming. So was Lizzo, who rolled onstage clad in a pink cut-out catsuit and blasted her way, note-perfect, through the searing pop-soul of Cuz I Love You while flashing that signature grin.

After the final climactic note, the music cut out, and she paused, drinking in the roar of the audience. We got louder, she smiled we got louder, she put her hand to her chest, and I momentarily wondered if this was some kind of a bit – but, no, you could tell she was getting a little misty, even from my perch in the back row. She dropped to her knees and hammered the final run of notes home. She had the room in the palm of her acrylic-nailed hand.

Next to arrive onstage were dance team the Big Grrrls and DJ Sophia Eris, who wore an awesome hot-pink flight suit and also joined in on the choreography. They blasted through a tight run of upbeat tunes, which included a fun roller-skating interlude. Some songs got scrunched into medley format, meaning we heard just snippets of Phone and Fitness – Lizzo now has so many bangers she’s forced to condense entire singles into medley bits.

Where that extra stage time went became clear later: earnest, vulnerable, occasionally foul-mouthed pep talks, with nearly every song bookended with supplemental material on the vagaries and struggles of self-love.



Ahead of Jerome, she asked us to pat ourselves on the back for living through heartbreak and struggle: “Not just boyfriends, but coworkers, fake friends, assholes, people who don’t use their turn signals!” Jerome, by the way, is the kind of track Lizzo doesn’t get enough credit for. Hilarious and cutting and laced with genuine pain, it’s a power ballad that lets her play the clown and the diva at the same time. Live, she showed off that ample lung capacity while leading the crowd in a cathartic sing-along.

All that banter might have veered into corny territory if Lizzo wasn’t so fully herself while she was delivering it.

“As soon as I stopped searching for something outside myself… all the blessings started coming to my doorstep like mothafuckin’ Fed Ex,” she said before Soulmate, to a wall of cheers. “Dick be flying in. I’m just standing here catching it” – and then, that awesome machine-gun laugh.

But self-love doesn’t come for free, an idea Lizzo took care to impress on the audience. She shared that she was still recovering from losing her voice at the start of the tour: “People see me smiling, but I beat myself up a lot… Are people gonna get the show they deserve? But under all that self-doubt was self-love, waiting to pick my ass back up.”

She led all us in a mantra: “When you get home tonight, look in the mirror and say: I love you, you are beautiful and you can do anything.” We repeated it back to her, and the last remaining walls of Toronto too-coolness officially crumbled in time for the last leg of the set, where Lizzo stacked some of her biggest, most danceable hits, punctuated by some quality ass-shaking dance breaks. Like A Girl and Truth Hurts were particular crowd favourites, with the entire audience bellowing “I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be your side chick” on cue.

She also took a moment to call attention to the current attack on reproductive rights in the U.S. Maybe it’s my imagination, maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I noted at least two stone-faced, middle-aged white folks bailing from the concert hall less than 10 seconds into her impassioned speech. (Personally, I appreciated the extra room to dance!)



For Tempo, she pulled three people onstage from the audience – absolute legends – to grind with the Big Grrrls (“Sorry if I gave you a boner,” she shot at one particularly enthusiastic dancer as the trio left the stage).

The good vibes carried through the encore – a jubilant Juice and buoyant Coconut Oil, both featuring way-too-brief appearances by Lizzo’s trusty woodwind Sasha Flute. (If there is one major criticism I would make of the set, it’s that there was not enough flute.)

The climactic heart of the show was the set finale, Good As Hell, when she led us all in an honest-to-god deep breathing exercise: “I want you to take all that love that’s in this room, and breathe it right back into your body. And I want you to hold that love right here – between your titties,” she instructed.

The number began with each dancer running in from the wings into a group hug, which is about what it felt like to be there: everyone bouncing, hair-tossing, bellowing “feelin’ good as hell,” even if they were still learning to believe it about themselves.

No, it wasn’t a replacement for therapy, but don’t underestimate the healing powers of a good dance party.

@nowtoronto | @nataliamanzocco

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Canadian Music Week 2019: the best and worst of the weekend Mon, 13 May 2019 15:31:38 +0000 Reviews of Black Mountain, Zaki Ibrahim, Badge Époque Ensemble, Casey MQ and more from CMW

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Find our reviews of the first half of CMW 2019 here

THE MAHOTELLA QUEENS at the Hideout, Friday, May 10. Rating: NNN

The Mahotella Queens were the highlight of CMW’s spotlight on South Africa showcase. Formed in 1964, the treasures have withstood the country’s political and social turbulence, in various incarnations, for decades and represent the pride and glory of its indigenous Zulu culture. Hilda Tloubatla, only 22 years old when the band formed, is now their charismatic centre, performing with Nobesuthu Mbadu and younger later recruit Amanda Nkosi. Harmonizing, their three voices sounded more like seven. It was an instant communal celebration, inspiring audience members to dance, sing and even raise a few tiny South African flags. However, a far too short set and no live band to support their masterful sound did a disservice to an outfit that deserved more. CHAKA V. GRIER

TEKE::TEKE at the Garrison, Friday, May 10. Rating: NNNN

Montreal’s TEKE::TEKE fluctuated between Takeshi Terauchi-inspired Japanese surf rock, flute-infused psychedelia and horror movie soundtrack sounds, easily switching song by song. The first half of the seven-piece band’s set was instrumental, anchored by band founder Serge Nakauchi Pelletier’s riveting guitar-picking, complemented by shoegazey guitar, trombones, keyboards, flutes, cowbells, shakers and a variety of wooden pipes. But the songs felt more alive in the second half when vocalist Maya Kuroki began singing in Japanese, her voice sometimes evoking the sultry sounds of a lounge singer or the demonic protagonist in an anime. Needless to say, she has range. SAMANTHA EDWARDS

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Samuel Engelking

Zaki Ibrahim with her backup singer/dancers James Baley and Kyla Charter.

ZAKI IBRAHIM at Longboat Hall, Friday, May 10. Rating: NNNN

Even with her slightly scaled-back festival set, Zaki Ibrahim’s live show is fully considered and fully realized – a mystical mini-epic. Flanked by two backup singer/dancers in black bodysuits – Toronto’s James Baley and Kyla Charter, both talented singer/songwriters in their own right – the Canadian/South African singer vogued and shuffled through light choreography and belted cosmic electro-soul and funk grooves that recalled both the best of the 80s/90s and some imagined near future. Her magnetic set left the crowd wanting more. Shay Lia – whose set time was flipped with Ibrahim’s last-minute – played next, and unfortunately for the lower-key and vibier Montreal R&B singer, Ibrahim was a tough act to follow. RICHARD TRAPUNSKI

Zaki Ibrahim will play the AGO’s new All Hours party on May 25


Michelle da Silva

Datsunn was a highlight of Subtle Blend’s late-night party at the Drake. 

DATSUNN at the Drake Hotel, Friday, May 10. Rating: NNNN

While electronic music series Subtle Blend’s showcase was packed with talent – elevated by visuals from Toi Whakairo – Datsunn’s 1 am set brought a groove that truly stood out. Blending hip-hop beats, neo-soul synths and velvety vocals, the Windsor-based producer and beatmaker played mostly from his latest release, Familiar Faces, bringing out rapper Zillie Holiday for select tracks including Sad Day, Syke and Heavenly. It’s clear Datsunn draws inspiration from icons Roy Ayers and Marvin Gaye, but he’s creating a new generation of lo-fi funk that’s all his own. MICHELLE DA SILVA


Hip-hop industry leaders gathered for this afternoon panel to discuss the global state of the world’s most popular music genre, moderated by publicist and author Dalton Higgins. A common thread was the way the rise of streaming has made the music accessible worldwide. Grammy-winning producer Bryan Michael Cox recounted the rabid hip-hop fandom he’s found in Copenhagen: “There’s not many of us out there. It’s a very blond hair, blue-eyed town, but they really study hip-hop. They had me Googling facts to keep up.” XL Records A&R consultant Samantha O’Connor, meanwhile, described a thriving hip-hop community in Finland. CEO of Adella Thomas Entertainment Rico Brooks also recounted his experience in Tokyo: “I saw kids rapping along to American hip-hop. But when I tried to talk to them after, I realized they didn’t know English. They just know the words to the songs.” CLAUDIA MCNEILLY

JASMINE JUNE at Amsterdam BrewHouse, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNNN

Amsterdam BrewHouse was a strange venue for Saint Catharines singer/songwriter Jasmine June. She was surrounded by dinner tables and lights far too bright for the soulful music she performed. But despite these challenges, her big band, even bigger voice and passionate stage presence shone through the odd space. Weaving between original music and smart cover choices that she called personally meaningful – like Demi Lovato’s Sober, Shawn Mendes’s Bad Reputation and a moving version of Sam Smith’s Him (Her) – she crisscrossed pop, neo-soul, R&B, even jazz (with some well-placed scats) demonstrating serious talent that suggests big things to come. CVG

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Samuel Engelking

Black Mountain headlined a chilly rock showcase at Yonge-Dundas Square.

BLACK MOUNTAIN at Yonge-Dundas Square, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNN

CMW used to take place in March, but being in May makes Yonge-Dundas Square as viable a venue as for its rival fest NXNE – or at least it should. Temperatures felt more like November as Black Mountain took the stage, and the crowd was sparse. The band’s crunchy stoner rock riffs and soaring synths could have been the perfect soundtrack for a generator-party-style outdoor smoke-out – this was the first festival since legalization, after all – but instead the headlining set of the billed “Rock Out At YDS” felt weirdly haphazard and subdued. Even CMW staff’s attempt to pass out beach balls fell flat. The band’s heavy psych still sounded huge, though, and earned a few devil horns from the impressed crowd by the end. RT

BADGE EPOQUE ENSEMBLE at the Garrison, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNNNN

If the audience’s brains weren’t completely scrambled by the dream local bill of Carl Didur, Isla Craig and Ice Cream, then Badge Époque Ensemble were more than happy to finish the job. The jazzy, progressive instrumental sextet are experts in groove, building each one as a vessel for adventurous melodies that snake from restless funk to wild explosions of dramatic psych. With all of the whooping, whistling responses of approval, song after song, by the packed crowd, it felt like being in the room for a classic live album that doesn’t exist – the kind of show people will regret having missed for years to come. MICHAEL RANCIC

Badge Époque Ensemble will play the Opera House with U.S. Girls on June 8. See listing

CASEY MQ at the Baby G, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNNN

Casey MQ’s Nudes EP hews toward late-night confession while chasing rhythms that sashay through the night. Here, the Berlin-based Toronto singer/producer emphasized those foundations with a series of pop covers and interpolations, opening with a sombre rendition of S Club 7’s Never Had A Dream Come True and a propulsive, pitched-up No Air remix that extirpated Chris Brown so Jordin Sparks could soar, uncomplicated, later re-approaching My Chemical Romance’s Helena and Rihanna’s Consideration. Perfect for midnight in a tiny room, the crowd danced all over it, and Casey MQ even got into the action, stepping into the pit to lean into his own song Glossy Lips. TOM BEEDHAM

PRETTYBOY at the Rivoli, Sunday, May 12. Rating: NNNN

This local alt-rock quartet describe themselves as “bratty punk,” but the label “uninhibited” could apply just as easily. There was something to watch with each member of the group, whether it was drummer Izzy haranguing the kit in front of her or the way vocalist Kirsten made full use of the stage by splaying out over its steps face down while still managing to belt out her lines. They’re a wild and intense bunch and have a strong set of songs to match. MR

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Samuel Engelking

The King Khan & BBQ Show played Yonge-Dundas Square before Black Mountain.


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Canadian Music Week 2019: the best and worst of the fest so far Fri, 10 May 2019 14:05:52 +0000 Reviews from the first few nights of the club-hopping music festival, including Television, Azealia Banks, Rhye, ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and more

The post Canadian Music Week 2019: the best and worst of the fest so far appeared first on NOW Magazine.


TELEVISION at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, Monday, May 6. Rating: NNN

It’s a thrill to see your cult heroes, and Television didn’t disappoint. Their CMW kick-off set focused on their 70s output as groundbreaking NYC post-punks. Although Tom Verlaine’s fading voice remains effortlessly cool, when it comes to Television, it’s all about the guitar interplay. The talkative riffs climbed and staggered, sharp and insistent, with Verlaine needing to pause to stretch his fingers near the end. Jimmy Rip’s fretboard inventiveness was just as dazzling and responsive. Energy waned during the last half due to meandering instrumental excursions that padded out the set, but then the four-piece casually slid to the finish line with masterpiece Marquee Moon. A thunderous version of Friction made for the perfect encore. CARLA GILLIS

VINYL WILLIAMS at the Baby G, Tuesday, May 9. Rating: NNN

Psych-pop band Vinyl Williams – led by L.A.-based Lionel Williams, who happens to be the grandson of film composer John Williams – brought a full band to the second night of CMW. Williams’s signature hazy, hushed vocals swept over dreamy melodies, before the band abruptly switched to harder-edged sounds. While it would’ve been fair to assume the set would be chockfull of winding instrumental indulgences, it was surprisingly streamlined. Not as meditative as on their records, the band was still clearly vibing one another. SAMANTHA EDWARDS

…AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD at the Mod Club, Wednesday, May 8. Rating: NNN

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead hit CMW as part of their 20th-anniversary tour for their 1999 sophomore album Madonna. They played the album in full, but when the American indie band capped off the set with a pair of songs from 2002’s Source Tags & Codes (It Was There That I Saw You and Another Morning Stoner) the earlier album set felt like a bloated warm up. Drifting between chiming atmospheres and frantic explosions while demanding Conrad Keely and Jason Reece repeatedly switch off on guitar/drum/vocal duties, it was a marathon exercise in shifting modes. The toll Source Tags’ opening blasts were taking on the band was clear, and Keely threw in the towel early. TOM BEEDHAM

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Natalia Manzocco

Azealia Banks

AZEALIA BANKS at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, Wednesday, May 8. Rating: NN

Considering controversial Harlem rapper Azealia Banks’s penchant for drama, she got off to a surprisingly static start. Her razor-sharp bars and hypnotic house beats were enhanced by a DJ and live drummer, but the 40-minute set lacked the bold personality that she has shown in interviews and Twitter feuds. She broke up her set with a cappella intros sung in an ailing falsetto and brief reflections on her connections to Canada, like the fact that she used to live in Montreal. The energy eventually picked up at the tail end of her performance and her encore, during which she performed Liquorice and 1991, eclipsed the rest of the performance. But overall, the set came off as uncharacteristically tame. Perhaps she was keeping herself out of trouble and perhaps she has just grown past her days of being incessantly embroiled in controversy. SUMIKO WILSON

EBHONI at the Baby G. Wednesday, May 8. Rating: NNNN

Emerging onstage in a sleek black tracksuit, Ebhoni wasted no time reminding the audience at the UNCDTNL showcase why she’s one of Toronto’s most promising new R&B talents. She strutted across the stage with infectious energy and camp-meets-vamp choreography while blasting through her catalogue of hits, including the dancehall-inflected TGM and bubbly new single Drama. She paused to joke about the venue’s security supposedly giving her trouble at the door for being under 19. “But bitch I am 19, so we about to turn up on a Wednesday,” she said before taking a shot on stage. And turn up we did. CLAUDIA MCNEILLY

RHYE at the Fortunate Fox at Kimpton Saint George Hotel, Thursday, May 9. Rating: NNN

Not technically a CMW show, this invite-only Rhye concert at the Kimpton Saint George Hotel was at least CMW-adjacent. Mike Milosh’s band was a good fit for it – the sound of the smooth and tasteful piano-based songs of Rhye’s new record Spirit (out today, May 10) might best be described as “boutique hotel.” The loungey four-piece band was packed into an unelevated stage area of the hotel bar, which made it hard to see them – but even if you could, you wouldn’t expect that soulful falsetto to be coming out of Milosh, who looks more like the leader of a late-90s post-grunge band. He struggled throughout the set to make his hushed songs compete with the open bar, asking the espresso-martini-clutching crowd to snap and sing along. He made a valiant effort though, improvising lyrics about an oblivious guy schmoozing at the back and at one point breaking into a version of the Game of Thrones theme song. RICHARD TRAPUNSKI

DRE NGOZI at Velvet Underground, Thursday, May 9. Rating: NNN

Although CMW’s schedule promised a 9 pm start, Dre Ngozi didn’t take the decks until 11. But it was probably for the best. The club was still empty half an hour prior, and then it was just a loose gaggle of warm bodies standing idly by. The Toronto DJ raised the temperature with a booming platter of dancehall cuts like Charly Black’s Gyal You a Party Animal and DJ BrainDeaD’s Rewind, then turned to chopping top 40 singles (Bodak Yellow, Feeling Myself, Hollaback Girl) to confident dembow struts. In a crowded warehouse this could’ve been a rager, but here the crowd barely broke a sweat. TB

DIJAHSB at Sneaky Dee’s, Thursday, May 9. Rating: NNNN

After hitting empty venue after empty venue, it was a relief to show up to Sneaky Dees to actually see people. Knowing every word to songs like Chase A Bag and Run My Money, those people were clearly there for local hip-hop phenom DijahSB, who was in fine form. Dijah’s rhymes of choice leaned toward her recent string of singles released in April, culminating in the EP, Rap Til I’m Rich. Thematically, these songs are all about the grind and Dijah’s drive. Live, there’s an impressive weight behind those words. She went a cappella during Manifest, which emphasized her message and skill – just one highlight out of a set of many.  MICHAEL RANCIC

ART D’ECCO at the Garrison, Thursday, May 9. Rating: NNNN

Often when a band or artist attempts a 70s glam rock revival, the emphasis is more on the costumes and makeup than the music. Victoria, B.C.’s Art d’Ecco definitely had the look down, with red high heels, an elegant checkered jumpsuit and a Mighty Boosh bob, but this performance was a reminder that the genre is meant to sound as good as it looks. The echoey vocals, crisp rhythms, handclap breaks and glittery guitar riffs evoked the infectious power pop stomp of classics like T. Rex, Sparks and Joan Jett, maybe even a bit of Billy Idol. RT

Tasha The Amazon CMW 2019 2.jpg

Natalia Manzocco

Toronto’s Tasha The Amazon opened for Azealia Banks at the Phoenix Concert Theatre


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Review: Morrissey breaks his boycott with his first Toronto show in 15 years Sun, 28 Apr 2019 13:20:28 +0000 The legendary singer was as thorny and complicated as ever, with references to Faith Goldy, Marrissa Shen and his own mental health

The post Review: Morrissey breaks his boycott with his first Toronto show in 15 years appeared first on NOW Magazine.


MORRISSEY at the Sony Centre, Friday (April 26). Rating: NNNN

Morrissey returned to Toronto for the first time in over 15 years this weekend, ending his seal hunt-related boycott against Canada with a tour that included two sold-out shows at the Sony Centre. The announcement came as a surprise to his Canadian fans, who, knowing the stubborn singer all too well, had become accustomed to travelling south of the border to see him live.  

Ironically, the former Smiths singer’s boycott has also been turned back on him, with many people debating online whether or not to attend the concert at all. I was unsure myself. Morrissey postponed some of the early dates on this tour, and after publicly confronting my own obsessive fandom in an article titled Why I’m Breaking Up With Morrissey last April, I was secretly hoping Toronto would be added to that list. 

I attended the first of the two concerts, and what should have been a reunion with a long lost love felt more like the potential nauseating unwanted run-in with an ex. GIven the exhaustive history of Morrissey’s public missteps – which has recently included racist statements and defenses of Brexit and Kevin Spacey, among other things – this particular reunion featured a hell of a lot of unresolved baggage. 

Outside the venue, animal rights activists loomed in every direction bearing petitions, which many supporters enthusiastically signed. Inside, various groups, like Toronto Pig Save, set up booths with information, and animal rights activists like Anita Kranjc were also in attendance. It made the context of Morrissey’s boycott unavoidable, but despite all the anxiety and drama surrounding the show, spirits seemed high.

There was no opener. Instead, we waited eagerly through a collection of videos of the New York Dolls, The Ramones and Patti Smith until the man himself finally arrived in darkness with his five-piece band in tow, including original bassist, guitarist and co-writer Boz Boorer.


Samuel Engelking

In top vocal form, and in apparent physical fitness (despite recent health-related cancellations), Morrissey began with a brief and hilarious a cappella excerpt from Céline Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. From there, he wasted no time launching into his 1988 debut solo single, Suedehead. It was a cathartic opener, cracking through the tension, with many fans singing along and embracing, lads smashing beers together and loner nerds singing along with equal enthusiasm. Moz’s apocalyptic world view seems more relevant than ever, and his setlist felt like it was shaped around the general political duress to which we are all captive.

He kept banter to an uncharacteristic minimum, and loaded the set with fan favourites like Hairdresser On Fire, notably altering lyrics to amp up the levels of bitchiness, as if he’d watched one too many episodes of Drag Race. It was also the first song in which he addressed his own struggle with depression, changing the line “You are repressed, but you’re remarkably dressed” to  “I am depressed, but I’m remarkably dressed.”

Always the king of contradictions, he made many sly references to his own struggles while keeping the mood upbeat and the song selections crowd-pleasing. That was most striking during The Smiths’ hit How Soon Is Now?, when he repeatedly chanted, “This is my body, and I am trapped in it. I am trapped in it. I am trapped in it.” Where the duplicity of darkness and comedy is his specialty, the set had a noticeably more pronounced nihilistic undertone. For the first time, I wondered to myself if perhaps Morrissey was not joking.

Regardless, the band sounded thunderous as they ripped through the set, accompanied by an over-the-top light show. There was even a ridiculous smoke machine moment, which filled the entire theatre after the singer asked “does anyone mind if I smoke?” 


Samuel Engelking

You never know how you’re going to feel when you run into your ex for the first time after so long. Then came the reminder: your ex is still a dick.

That moment came when Moz finally addressed the crowd, “I’m cosmopolitan. I’m Christian. I’m very well-travelled. I’ve heard of Faith Goldy.” The reference to the detestable “white nationalist” Canadian political nitwit spurred mostly boos from the crowd. “What? I just said I’ve heard of her. I’ve heard of lots of people!” he replied. It was a classically perplexing Morrissey moment that could be interpreted as comical, but given his sketchy racist blathering in the recent past, seemed to be a questionable move to say the least. 

Later, Morrissey dedicated a song to Marrissa Shen, a 13-year-old girl from British Columbia whose accused murderer is a Canadian resident of Syrian descent. The homicide trial has become common fodder for anti-immigration sentiment in Canada. Instead of a seemingly random reference, it felt like a harsh reminder of so many of Morrissey’s troubling political statements. Why not take the opportunity, for instance, to acknowledge the Bruce McArthur case, wherein the victims were largely immigrants? 

After a bleak yet confrontational rendition of 2006’s Life Is A Pigsty, the show returned to its heavy punk energy with a rare performance of the classic Smiths ripper, What She Said. In contrast to the singer’s usual milking of applause, he retreated into darkness as a visual of a man shooting himself in the head played on loop set while white noise blared for what seemed like minutes as we awaited a return to the stage that never came. It was transgressive to say the least, and also a little worrisome.

As the lights rose, a confounded, elated and confused crowd streamed from the room bewildered, having experienced a reunion with one of the most thorny and complex artists of our time. And, in the end, it was a reminder of just how complicated relationships of any kind can be.


Samuel Engelking

@nowtoronto | @kevinheggs_

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