Opeth on Saturday, April 7, Sony Center for the Performing Arts
OPETH with MASTODON and GHOST at the Sony Centre, Saturday, April 7. Rating: NNNN
It's hard to get wild at the Sony Centre, but the soft-seater venue made up for that with a powerful sound system and knockout acoustics and lights. Sweden's Ghost opened with one of the creepiest shows you'll ever see: transcendent melodies and head-bang-worthy riffs set against a stained-glass backdrop, musicians in hooded robes and singer Papa Emeritus swinging an incense thurible.
Co-headliner Mastodon's incredible lighting rig shot beams of colour into the rafters and out of the eyes of the deer-like beast on their backdrop. Aside from bassist/singer Troy Sanders's gestures of love and gratitude, they didn't engage with the crowd much, though we were too mesmerized by the lights, swirling guitar tones and Hunter-heavy set list to mind.
The beloved Opeth from Sweden were supporting a new album, Heritage, that forgoes their trademark death metal for progressive folk. They focused on that new sound - delicate singing, clean guitars, jazzy rhythms - but seemed to acknowledge how less hard the new songs hit by slaying us with polyrhythmic, throat-scraping old ones at the end.
Equally good? Singer/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt's hilarious between-song banter. Carla Gillis
HOWLER at the Drake Underground, Thursday, April 5. Rating: NNN
It's easy to see why NME writers have been pissing their pants with excitement about young Minneapolis rockers Howler. They sound like a less abrasive Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with a tighter version of the Replacements, with just enough sullen Strokesesque swagger to seem vaguely modern. It's not the most inventive formula, but they do it well and sound as good live as on record.
While many pine for the days when cute musicians with guitars could change the world with a snarl, maybe it's time to let go of that dream. Marketing a band as both teen magazine pin-ups and saviours of rock 'n' roll just isn't convincing any more and forces talented young groups into restrictive, retrogressive identities before they've had a chance to find their own sound.
Howler are good, but when a packed club of curiosity seekers doesn't care enough to summon them back for an encore, maybe the hype is hurting more than helping. Benjamin Boles
LEATHER UPPERS with POW-WOWs and WET DIRT at the Trash Palace, Saturday, April 7. Rating: NNNN
In keeping with the resurrection theme that permeates Easter weekend, Groovy Greg Tymoshenko (who now lives in Montreal) and Classy Craig Daniels brought back the Leather Uppers for a rare performance at the Trash Palace that also featured the stunning Pow-Wows and Wet Dirt (who have to be seen to be believed).
They played a short, fast, out-of-control set that had the audience grinning from the moment the duo walked out in white pants, black shirts and white chiffon scarves. Alternating between drums and guitar, Tymoshenko and Daniels played material from their 20-year history, including a smoking version of Sexy Time and their two rousing odes to processed meat, Carne Mysterioso and Don't Sell Hot Dogs Tonight.
Trash Palace's cavernous, stage-free setting was the perfect venue, allowing Daniels to pull off epic rock moves and Tymoshenko to strut up to the audience and stare into the cameras of the numerous people recording the event. Cameras at shows are often annoying, but the return of the Leather Uppers deserved to be immortalized. Who knows when they'll rise again? Joanne Huffa
PERFUME GENIUS at the Drake Underground, Sunday, April 8. Rating: NNNN
Mike Hadreas's heavy, tumultuous piano ballads are a little less intimidating in person. Although the 31-year-old Seattle-based singer/songwriter - aka Perfume Genius - sings about sexual abuse and suicide with a clenched-jaw intensity that looks painful, his anxious energy and disarming sense of humour between songs add a compelling other dimension to his musical catharsis without undermining it.
"Do you feel like you're in my living room?" he asked the sold-out crowd, which maintained a respectful silence throughout his 45-minute set. "Or my kitchen?"
On his latest album, Put Your Back N 2 It, Hadreas fills out his rough-hewn home-recording aesthetic with polished studio flourishes. The live version keeps the focus on his delicately delivered narrative lyrics, though the most affecting moments came when his keyboardist and drummer gently accentuated his vocals. He's an arresting singer exploring his vocal potential with the same fearlessness he brings to his songwriting. Kevin Ritchie