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Mastodon at Kool Haus, Friday, November 25
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Prince at the Air Canada Centre, Saturday, November 26
MASTODON and DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN at Kool Haus, Friday, November 25. Rating: NNNN
While Prince dazzled the sold-out Air Canada Centre with dance moves, glitter, backup singers and encores aplenty, nearby at Kool Haus, Mastodon went for a decidedly no-frills visual approach. The stage set-up was classic metal: drum kit high atop a riser, Marshall stacks on either side, huge Mastodon banner stretched behind the hairy, black-clad four-piece. It evoked early Metallica concert footage from Cliff 'Em All, or Accept's Balls To The Walls video.
Aside from some cool lighting (and in spite of a mix that lacked bass and left the guitars fairly indistinct), the Atlanta band's technical precision and heavy, widescreen songs did all the dazzling. The full house banged their heads continuously throughout the 90-minute set, which kicked off with songs from The Hunter and delved deep into their more pummelling back catalogue before returning to the present.
Drummer Brann Dailor took over lead vocals from bassist/singer Troy Sanders on Creature Lives for the triumphant, feel-good finale that saw a few dozen people onstage, including members of Dillinger Escape Plan, who had earlier delivered their brash hardcore with thrilling recklessness.
JAY-Z and KANYE WEST at the Air Canada Centre, Wednesday, November 23. Rating: NNNN
Although hip-hop often emphasizes competition, Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch The Throne tour - much like their joint album - is more like a minimalist study in complement-and-contrast. Through all the lasers, fireballs, stock footage of wild animals and, of course, West's leather Givenchy skirt, the first of their two ACC shows was all about energy and performance.
As a duo, they couldn't be better matched: West is fiery, emotive and self-effacing, while Jay-Z is laid-back, cerebral and precise. The nearly three-hour show began with both ascending on twin platforms to the operatic swells of H.A.M., a backing band tucked behind a spartan set beneath two massive screens. They alternated Throne cuts with solo hits, giving the crowd ample opportunity to take in every nuance and snarl during the 40-song set list.
Jay-Z kept his solo moments punchy, igniting the arena with the massive beats of Big Pimpin. West went heartfelt, singing an extended outro on Runaway while bathed in red light. They ended with a three-peat of bonkers banger Niggas In Paris, and we got the sense that if the crowd had rocked it a little harder, they would've fired it up again and again.
PRINCE at the Air Canada Centre, Saturday, November 26. Rating: NNNN
At part two of a two-night stand at the ACC, Prince played a shorter set than the night before but still gave us two and a half hours of hits and covers. Only an artist with Prince's confidence could throw out a song as powerful and popular as Purple Rain at the very beginning without worrying that the rest would pale in comparison. That's just what he did, showering the audience in purple confetti in the process.
The band was a simple bass, drums, keyboards and second guitar set-up, with three backing singers dressed like space goddesses working the stage as hard as the man himself. The electrifying concert came to a weirdly truncated conclusion. After a high-energy rendition of Kiss that included stunning choreography, the Purple One disappeared beneath his symbol-shaped stage without a good night. The audience cheered for a return until an announcement came over the P.A. that the show was over.
TIMBER TIMBRE at Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Saturday, November 26. Rating: NNN
Timber Timbre's Queen Elizabeth Theatre show, a homecoming of sorts and only their fourth outing with their new drummer, was high on ambience and recent Creep On Creepin' On songs. Surrounding a blue light, the four-piece churned out spooky, carnivalesque music built on Taylor Kirk's low, idiosyncratic vocals and blues-folk guitar lines. Dry ice vapour floated across the stage. A chilling collage of black-and-white photos was projected onto a screen behind the band.
Violinist/keyboardist Mika Posen and multi-instrumentalist Simon Trottier filled the empty spaces with sonic flourishes that evoked horror movie scores. Spotlight-shy Kirk added some levity with a few wry jokes, though technical issues early on seemed to throw him off.
"Nothing's going right tonight," he said before launching into the first of three encore songs - an exquisite solo rendition of Demon Host from their breakthrough 2009 album that left some of us wishing for a bit more of his seriously lonely, less-is-more approach of yore.