FLEET FOXES at Massey Hall, Thursday, July 14. Rating: NNNN
Few bands are as well suited to Massey Hall as Seattle's Fleet Foxes. Their impeccable harmonies, skilful playing and attention to dynamics - they'd probably sound okay in a concrete bunker - were pristine in the venerable concert hall. That didn't go unnoticed by the band, who first headlined it in 2009. Upon taking the stage, singer Robin Pecknold expressed his gratitude by saying that the way the room is arranged feels "like a hug."
The good vibes carried on throughout the 90-minute set. The band even responded with good-natured sarcasm to some audience members' inane between-song comments. Pecknold led the six-piece through songs from both albums, with the set weighted in favour of this year's Helplessness Blues. While their voices and Pecknold's guitar-playing always get lots of credit, drummer Josh Tillman and keyboardist Casey Wescott went above and beyond with their playing, adding expert flourishes to the layers of sound.
THE DIRTBOMBS at the Horseshoe, Friday, July 15. Rating: NNN
Since kick-starting the Detroit garage rock scene in the 90s, Mick Collins has earned the right to do pretty much whatever he wants. He and his Dirtbombs exercised that right at the Horseshoe, spending the first half of their set reprising Party Store, their 2011 out-of-nowhere album of classic techno covers.
Hearing those retro-futuristic synthetic songs recreated on rock instruments was an interesting novelty, but their repetitive groove-based structures became taxing, especially on tunes that plodded past the eight-minute mark. And while the guitarists looked to be having fun adding droney psychedelic noise-rock in the spaces between the dance beats (a rare genre splice that probably hasn't been done before), the two drummers seemed increasingly bored.
As unique as the experiment was, the audience came alive when the band segued into its party-rock guise. And the Dirtbombs returned that energy, even sending a drummer into the crowd for the blowout encore. It almost felt like two performances.
MARACATU MAR ABERTO as part of UMA NOTA 4TH ANNIVERSARY at the Gladstone, Friday, July 15. Rating: NNNN
Every other month, Uma Nota takes over the Gladstone for a unique dance party focusing on Afro-Brazilian, Latin, Caribbean, funk and soul music provided by both live acts and DJs. It's always packed and draws an eclectic crowd that's more than ready to get down on the dance floor. For its fourth anniversary, DJs General Eclectic and Andy Williams both spun great tunes, but the stars of the night were the sprawling Brazilian percussion band Maracatu Mar Aberto.
Their sound is based on the maracatu de baque virado style, but by giving it contemporary context - bits of sampling, for example - the locals prove they're not strict traditionalists. If you're not familiar with Afro-Brazilian music, the modern touches might not be overly evident, but that won't diminish the impact of their thundering drums and soulful vocals. If you've yet to make it to an Uma Nota bash, you're missing out.
PROMISE CHERRY BEACH PARTY at Cherry Beach, Sunday, July 17. Rating: NNNN
The vast majority of outdoor music events in Toronto are as over-regulated as juvenile detention, so it's always impressive to see loosely organized donation-funded weekly events like the Promise Cherry Beach parties continue to thrive. Sure, the crowd is more mixed and less hippyish than it was 10 years ago, but the event still runs smoothly, especially considering the large numbers it draws.
After late-afternoon house music sets by BC's Rachel Sehl and local DJ trio Tripzone, Koen and Cee Cee Cox, Terrence Kissner closed out the party just after sunset with deep atmospheric techno. Too bad Torro Torro cancelled their moombahton set. It would've been a great opportunity to test the emerging sound on an unfamiliar audience. Then again, the music is secondary at Promise, which means it's a good time no matter who's playing.