Wednesday, August 11
PS I LOVE YOU with DIAMOND RINGS as part of SUMMERWORKS at Lower Ossington Theatre Rating: NNN
Considering that most blocks on Ossington are now littered with clubs, bars or prohibitively expensive restaurants, it's a head-scratcher why there's no decent-sized live music venue on the strip south of Dundas.
The Lower Ossington Theatre filled this void admirably when new Paper Bag players PS I Love You opened a double bill with best bud John O'Regan of Diamond Rings as part of SummerWorks. While the space feels meant for performing arts, the blazing J Mascis-style solos by PS shredder Paul Saulnier clearly punctuated the duo's heartfelt lo-fi rock anthems. Still, you couldn't help think what a bass player could do behind those killer solos.
Patrons abandoned their seats for a closer look at Bowie-makeup-wearing O'Regan, who disappointingly relies on a laptop to back his glam electro-pop. No wonder the best part of the night occurred when the two groups joined forces for several closing songs, filling the room with a big, visceral sound. They should just form a band already and call it PS I Love Diamond Rings.
Friday, August 13
PARKAS and BEN GUNNING at El Mocambo Rating: NNNN
"And so it begins, my life of crime," sang Parkas' Michael Brown, after being called onto the stage by bassist Mark Rhyno. Kicking off the set with their hit was a brave move, but the briefly reunited rock band pulled it off with characteristic low-key swagger.
It was good to hear these scruffy London/everywhere Ontario guys rock out again. The band - including brothers Mark and Greg Rhyno (their parents were present), Brown, who now lives in Alberta, and guitarist Paul Thompson - was in great form, especially considering they've been on hiatus. Fans swayed with lighters in the air by the second tune, and the set moved quickly through songs like Don't Say No and Raggedy Ann. The wolf rug omnipresent at earlier gigs was missing, but they did briefly project the image of a wolf behind them.
A great opening set by former Local Rabbit Ben Gunning plus effortless rock 'n' roll moments (Brown knocked the microphone stand over by accident) made up for the night's early ending and lack of an encore. Hopefully, they'll do this again.
MASIA ONE with TWENTY MILL and KYARA at Lambadina Resto Lounge Rating: NNNN
A shirtless Twenty Mill was in good spirits. The stroke of midnight made it the rapper's 23rd birthday, which he announced between charged renditions of songs heard on his 2009 mixtapes From The Bottom To The Top and How You Go Stop Me Now.
It was the first edition of Tika Simone's recurring Intimate & Interactive Open Mic at Lambadina Resto Lounge near Bloor and Ossington, the kind of night where you'll catch the germination of young talents like Mill and soul singer Kyara, whose smouldering voice sounded decades older than her 17 years.
Masia One headlined, and the intercontinental rapper's charisma and melodious songs elevated her set above an unceasing heckler near the stage. Then an intermission was called to allow Simone to interview Masia about how to succeed in the music industry - no doubt a valuable lesson for the young artists in attendance.
Saturday, August 14
ARCADE FIRE with JANELLE MONAE and the SADIES on Toronto Island Rating: NNNN
Anyone lamenting the lack of festival-type shows in Toronto's economy-challenged summer concert scene would be satisfied by Arcade Fire's Toronto Island blowout. Riding a wave of ubiquity sparked by the startling success of The Suburbs, the NOW cover stars delivered an outdoor fete worthy of "event" status.
But first it was up to local alt-country institution the Sadies to get the mini-fest started. Showcasing a number of tracks from their Polaris-shortlisted Darker Circles, the dapper quartet displayed a newfound predilection for noisy psychedelia that fits well with their distinctive surf-rock sound.
Making her Canadian debut, bizarro soul singer Janelle Monáe played a jaw-dropping set of hip-hop/R&B/glam funk that was as mesmerizing as it was confounding. For a lesser headliner, it would be a hard performance to top, but this is The Summer Of Arcade Fire, and the band won't be upstaged. Leading the musical catharsis of an island full of people, the indie-cum-arena-rockers put everything they had into every song.
We've now had a chance to fully absorb the highs and lows of The Suburbs, but it's still the one-two Funeral punch of Neighbourhood #3 and Rebellion (Lies) that floors capacity crowds. Say what you will about overwrought earnestness or lyrical naïveté, but there's something primal and ineffable about 20,000 people chanting the refrain of final song Wake Up.