Shows that rocked Toronto last week


Thu, Feb 5


Oh, the musical talent that lies waiting to be discovered inside small, dark, empty bars. Thursday night at Mitzi’s Sister starred musicians who’ve kicked around for years and whose craft is achingly well hewn because of it. But just a few dozen people came out. My Divine Light is José Contreras’s moniker when his By Divine Right cohorts aren’t around, and though he struggled with a bad cold and poor onstage lighting that prevented him (and his wife, guest musician Lily Frost) from easily reading the piano charts, he saved the set from disaster with charming banter and tender, dreamy acoustic tunes.

Hopeful Monster, Jason Ball’s long-standing chamber pop project, gave a confident performance that showcased Ball’s terrific voice and melodic knack. Best were the sparser tunes in which Contreras, who plays guitar in the band, harmonized while Ball pounded away on Mitzi’s stage piano. A brand-new song called New Start was so good – and appropriately hopeful – it hurt.


Fri, Feb 6

FAN DEATH with PARALLELS at Sneaky Dee’s Rating: NNNN

Dandi Wind of FAN DEATH.

Photo By Zach Slootsky

With the British press tripping over their hyperbole to proclaim the glittering disco ladies of Vancouver’s Fan Death the next band of the minute, there was a palpable mix of curiosity and suspicion in the air at their T.O. debut.

Fan Death mostly lived up to their hype, thanks to the transfixing presence of frontwoman Dandi Wind, whose boundless disco aerobics pleasantly distracted from FD’s mid-set lag. Marta Jaciubek-McKeever – the group’s Martin Gore to Dandi’s Dave Gahan – provided understated cool behind her keyboard, adding Moroder melodies and husky vocal backups.

But the show wouldn’t get such a high grade had it not been for the slaying set by openers Parallels, the hugely promising local band we should be fawning over in the most excitedly British way possible.


LYKKE LI with WILDBIRDS & PEACEDRUMS at the Phoenix Rating: NNN

The reason Lykke Li brought Wildbirds & Peacedrums on tour was obvious a few seconds into their opening set. The Gothenburg duo of hard-pounding percussionist Andreas Werliin and singer Mariam Wallentin are everything Lykke Li wants to be, only less.

The weaving of Wallentin’s whooping vocal bursts with Werliin’s aggressive battering was much more complex and compelling than anything the headliner and her hired band of plunkers could deliver. However, Lykke Li did a much better job of connecting with the audience and selling her clubby tribal jams, which are essentially a dumbed-down and amped-up version of what Wildbirds & Peacedrums are doing.


Sat, Feb 7

KENNY BOBIEN at Revival Rating: NNNN

Given all the buzz surrounding electro and indie dance music, it’s easy to forget that Toronto continues to have a passionate audience for dance music’s more traditional, soulful side. This was clear at Revival, where New Jersey gospel house singer Kenny Bobien had the crowd singing and clapping along with his impressive back catalogue of underground hits.

In past appearances, Bobien relied on local live house/disco band King Sunshine to back him up. This helped avoid the whole karaoke vibe but didn’t quite represent the songs the way we remember them from the records. This time around, he stuck to singing over the instrumental versions, and for a change the backing tracks were loud enough to work.

As usual, the big man with the high voice delivered exactly what we wanted.


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