PEACHES at the Drake Hotel, Friday, September 14. Rating: NNN
To promote her film Peaches Does Herself at TIFF, the Berlin-based Toronto expat took over all three floors of the Drake for a puzzling evening of transgressive raunch and electro-punk. The film is based on her cabaret show, but the event was more performance art than theatre, and dispensed with the narrative.
Instead of a remount of the pansexual love story, elements of the stage production popped up throughout the night, including appearances by NYC cult stripper/comedian Sandy Kane (aka the Naked Cowgirl) and trans porn star Danni Daniels (who was eventually wearing less than Kane).
As the action moved from room to room, there was a lot of waiting around, and capacity issues meant that many missed most of the performances. The heavy presence of photographers mixed with the Saturday-night Drake crowd, meanwhile, made it less like a celebration of sexuality than an excuse to gawk.
On the other hand, the confusion (and, in some cases, fear) that a bare-breasted 60-year-old and a buck-naked Amazonian transsexual provoked might have been the point of the whole exercise.
MADONNA at the Air Canada Centre, Wednesday, September 12. Rating: NNN
Few pop stars play the role of villain as convincingly as Madonna. With a bottle of hooch on a mini-motel-room set during the first of two gigs at the Air Canada Centre, the 54-year-old gleefully gunned down masked male assailants as ear-splitting shots of Gang Bang rang out and bloody brain matter splattered across a series of giant hydraulic video screens.
While the Material Girl can be counted on to bounce across the screens flanked by backup dancers in Gregorian monk get-ups and sparkly stilettos, she's equally captivating at the foot of the stage leading fans in a singalong of Holiday.
But she gets in trouble when tinkering with older hits. Minus the ABBA sample, Hung Up sounded dried up, and watching a sultry torch ballad version of Like A Virgin performed atop a piano was tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.
On the up side, a jubilant drumline reworking of Express Yourself and a high-octane majorette dance routine were charming, as was a percussive re-arrangement of Open Your Heart by Basque trio Kalakan.
LILY FROST at the Rivoli, Saturday, September 15. Rating: NNNN
The temperature might have dropped outside on Saturday night, but it was good vibes and warmth inside the Rivoli for the launch of Lily Frost's new album, Do What You Love.
Backed by five musicians, including By Divine Right's José Contreras, Sheezer's Laura Barrett and backup vocalist Lindsay Fitzsimmons, Frost cut a mesmerizing figure. She was joyful, goofy, theatrical and sultry, with disarming pitch-perfect vocals that carried the show.
The new album is largely shiny indie pop, full of handclaps, bah-bah backups and memorable choruses. But it was the show's darker moments that really won us over: the eastern Europeanish Grenade; the Dido-esque Stand; shuffling No Promises, with its tough anti-commitment lyrics; and, most of all, Forest Fire, from 2009's Viridian Torch, whose vivid lyrics Frost brought to life while working dramatic magic over a theremin.
But quieter moments worked, too. The band grew hushed for I'm On Fire, another standout, while the encore duet with Contreras, Frost's husband, was pure sweetness.
LORETTA LYNN at Massey Hall, Saturday, September 15. Rating: NNN
Tickets didn't sell well for this show celebrating the 50th anniversary of Loretta Lynn's debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Perhaps the buzz has worn off since her 2004 collaboration with Jack White on Van Lear Rose. She also hasn't made a new album since, though she's currently at work on one with T-Bone Burnett.
And though it's wonderful to see Lynn at all at this point in her career (she's 80), it was a rough show for her. She said so herself, complaining of a hurt foot and taking a while to warm up her vocal cords.
Once she did, she treated us to career-spanning material, including You Ain't Woman Enough, Fist City, The Pill and Uncle Sam, holding off on Coal Miner's Daughter until the end.
At times her too-loud eight-piece band seemed to rush her, and they did a schmaltzy mini-set to give her a break. But Lynn's still got it: a big voice, songs with titles that say it all and charming stories from her life. Fans ate it up, disregarding house rules and pushing close the stage for the finale.