Annuals’ Mike Robinson (left), Donzel Radford, Kenny Florence and Adam Baker battle sound issues at the El Mocambo Saturday.
Fri, Jan 23
JOSH MILAN at Suba Rating: NNN
The dance floor at Suba was appropriately dark and bass-heavy for Josh Milan's DJ set. He's best known as half of iconic New Jersey soulful house production duo Blaze, and Milan's tunes have found their way into many a DJ's crate over the years. He's no slouch behind the turntables himself.
For the first half of his set, he favoured lots of deep percussion-fuelled tracks mixed with a few vocal anthems, and after last call he moved into the classics, dropping underground disco, soul and Afrobeat crowd-pleasers of eras past.
Milan delivered pretty much exactly what this crowd would want from him, but you couldn't quite shake the sense that we've heard it all many times before. Good times, but not exactly memorable.
HARBOURCOATS and TUSKS opening for the FEMBOTS at the Horseshoe Rating: NN
In most cases, the hired talent has the requisite crowd-control skills to get the attention of a noisy audience, if not completely win them over. Tusks seem to have no such ability. Instead of trying to break through the chatter, the passive foursome were content to play their ho-hum set of Steely Dan-bent math rock with vocals just as they'd practised it, oblivious to the fact that they were onstage before a live audience.
Since the Harbourcoats are led by singer/guitarist Bry Webb of the Constantines, you'd figure they'd do much better with the uninterested audience. Nope. Webb softly crooned his sombre Tindersticksy tunes over gobs of reverb as if Harbourcoats were trying not to interrupt anyone's conversation. The audience size shrank as their dull performance continued.
Sat, Jan 24
JOAQUIN "JOE" CLAUSSELL at Footwork Rating: NNN
For his DJ gig at Footwork, NYC producer/DJ Joe Claussell decided to forgo his usual Afro-Latin and jazz influences to concentrate instead on his techno tendencies. Fans who've been following him for a while will know that he's always been prone to juxtaposing synthetic and organic sounds, but hearing him focus on the former was a novelty.
He still doesn't sound like a standard techno DJ, though. Claussell's taste and mood transcend whatever genres he's playing, and he attacks the mixer and the EQ similarly whether he's playing disco classics or futuristic beats.
He did a decent job of winning over the crowd, but compared to past Toronto appearances, the night lacked intensity and passion. Still more exciting than your average techno-head, but not nearly as mind-blowing as he's capable of being.
ANNUALS with JESSICA LEE MAYFIELD at the El Mocambo Rating: NNN
Watching North Carolina's Annuals walking around the chilly El Mo on a seriously frigid evening with their jacket hoods over their heads, you almost had to feel sorry for them. But they didn't exactly help the situation.
Annuals love genre-hopping, mostly based in Americana but with detours to emo rock and jazz, but it often leaves you cold. There's never a hook to hang onto, and while singer frontman Adam Baker has a voice that soars, it wasn't able to rise above the two drummers, riffing guitars, keyboards and bass. Perhaps there were sound issues, considering the six-piece requested monitor adjustments after every song.
Acoustic-guitar-toting Jessica Lee Mayfield upstaged her counterparts. The doe-eyed, diminutive 19-year-old folkie played moaning heartbreak songs that drifted solemnly before exploding with noisy guitar solos and thrashing drums, a huge and emotive sound emitted by just three players. Annuals should consider such economies.
Sun, Jan 25
ROCKIN' THE CRADLE at the Tranzac Rating: NNNN
Music-loving parents had a lot to cheer about this weekend, between Saturday's Totsapalooza at the Gladstone and Sunday's Rockin' The Cradle at the Tranzac. The latter, a new afternoon music series, saw kids as young as four months grooving to indie rockers the Leonids. (Woolly Leaves, sadly, were a no-show.) Picture 20 toddlers tottering in front of a Telecaster-toting band, wiggling their Pampered rumps, grabbing one another's heads and gleefully shaking tambourines. Can you say "adorable"?
Organizer (and new mom) Sarah McGaughey made the event as easy on parents as possible, with a change table in the back room, a box of glittery scarves and percussive toys close by on the stage and a make-your-own-shaker table. The Leonids, too, were considerate of their audience, using brushes instead of sticks and keeping their amps low. A cover of the Velvet Underground's Beginning To See The Light went over best, though the band was upstaged by a small boy who escaped from the changing room without his pants.