ALLIE HUGHES at the Drake Hotel, Wednesday, February 9. Rating: NNNN
Musicals are a pretty divisive genre, despite the inexplicable popularity of Glee. Allie Hughes has been associated with the art form, but judging from her over-the-top Valentine Wedding Spectacular at the Drake, she's not worried about being lumped in with the theatre crowd.
There were costumes, characters, skits and a plot line about being stood up at the altar by Chad Leonardo Von Galen II, played by Sweet Thing musician Nick Rose. Despite the distractions, Hughes's commanding vocals were the centre of attention. Her newer songs have a bit of a Queen-inspired stadium rock vibe that allowed her to show off the more powerful side of her voice and the versatility of her tight backing band.
Yes, the extravaganza was goofy at times, but also incredibly entertaining. When so many performers seem reluctant to put on much of a show, it's refreshing to see someone hold nothing back.
HEART at Massey Hall, Friday, February 11. Rating: NNNNN
I won't pussyfoot around this: Heart at Massey Hall was the best show I've ever seen. All the elements came together, with astonishing results. First and foremost, the Wilson sisters were in inspired form, particularly Ann, whose mighty, expressive howl makes her, without question, the best vocalist in rock. She prowled the stage in head-to-toe black, throwing her curls around while foxy Nancy, tomboyish in a Heart jersey, leapt and spazzed out on her guitars. Did I mention they're 60 and 56 years old?
The set was full of 70s and 80s classics, a few impressively rearranged, like These Dreams, in which they beautifully harmonize, and a stripped-down Alone, which showcased Ann's voice so powerfully that she got a mid-show standing O. The newer songs, meanwhile, are the heaviest of their career. Big lights, big volume - the show had the epic quality of an arena concert but with the goosebump-raising intimacy and sonic clarity of Massey. And the crowd? Joyous, adoring, on its feet, pooled upfront by the end, age be damned.
Now can someone please tell me why Heart are consistently left off those overwhelmingly male best-of-rock lists?
CATL and STEAMBOAT at the Horseshoe, Friday, February 11. Rating: NNNN
The Horseshoe often hosts buzzy touring bands, but on Friday it was home to two of Toronto's more solidly consistent, underappreciated live bands.
Steamboat's Dad-rock influences aren't particularly hip, but the band's immaculate musicianship and upbeat Festival Express vibe are perfect for a Friday-night party. Veering between southern-fried classic rock and blue-eyed soul, Steamboat expanded to 10 players by the end, including two organists, a full horn section and a guest spot by frequent scene-stealer Maylee Todd, whose high vocals pushed a few songs into Jackson 5 territory.
Catl share Steamboat's affinity for sounds of the past, but that's where the similarities end. Where Steamboat fetishize 70s AM rock, Catl prefer grittier, stripped-down early blues. The trio picked up momentum as they sailed past last call, attacking primitive blues riffs with the energy and abandon of classic punk.
THE TWELVES and PANIC BOMBER at Wrongbar, Saturday, February 12. Rating: NNNN
Excitement for the Twelves was palpable, but no one looked more psyched than Panic Bomber (aka Richard Haig). The dance floor quickly filled up, and 10 minutes into his opening set he could have been mistaken for the headliner.
Playing to the biggest crowd I've seen at Wrongbar, the energetic Haig furiously worked his laptops and mesmerized by singing and manipulating his own vocal samples overtop his genre-defying tracks. The crowd went crazy for his punched-up cover of Britney Spears's Toxic.
When Brazilian remix gods the Twelves (aka João Miguel and Luciano Oliveira) began their set, the party hit overdrive. Hovering over laptops, the duo transformed familiar indie rock tunes into electro fist-pumpers. Vocal samples from Phoenix, Gossip, Daft Punk, even Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, received their slick, mass-appeal treatment. They lacked Panic Bomber's wild energy, but we devoured their reconfigurations anyway.