Pissed Jeans at Sneaky Dee’s, Friday, January 20
PISSED JEANS with ANAGRAM at Sneaky Dee's, Friday, January 20. Rating: NNNN
When Sneaky Dee's gets packed, it feels like the floor might collapse. That was especially true at the oversold Pissed Jeans show Friday, and the Pennsylvania hardcore band did everything in its power to maintain the crowd's intensity. With no real promotional motive for this mini-tour, they channelled their energy into performing at their noisiest, sludgiest and most dissonant.
The set was especially overwhelming for those too thrifty to pay the $2 coat check charge, but the sweaty sardine-tin vibe worked for lead singer Matt Korvette, who adroitly plays the role of caustic, hammy frontman that this kind of band demands. Few acts are keeping up the ear-shredding confrontational spirit of 90s noise rock, but Pissed Jeans would stand out even in a crowded pool.
Toronto has a few of those bands, and one, Anagram, was the opening act. (The other, Metz, opened the last time Pissed Jeans played here). Their chugging, insistent, ominous math-punk was the perfect complement.
MADLIB and J-ROCC at the Great Hall, Thursday, January 19. Rating: NNN
Stones Throw Records' eclecticism has long found favour in Toronto, so it was no surprise that the Madlib Medicine Show sold out.
Noted turntablist J-Rocc opened with a party set: breaks, raw rap and iconic sample flips, plus a reverential showcase of J Dilla gems. We nodded along to De la Soul's Shoomp and a Flying Lotus remix of Slum Village's digital opus Raise It Up, and shouted praise when J-Rocc interpolated the trembling piano loop of Ol' Dirty Bastard's Shimmy Shimmy Ya with its source: Stevie Wonder's Knocks Me Off My Feet.
Madlib emerged from behind the Great Hall's red curtains nursing a glass of wine, his trademark silver cuffs encircling both wrists. Unlike the intensely animated J-Rocc, he played head down, bouncing to his own beat.
He wasn't playing for the crowd, so the mood shifted from playful to geeked-out observation. Most were there, after all, for this curated dissonance of rare, funky and bass, bass, bass. It was a prized glimpse into Madlib's hermetically sealed mind.
ABSOLUTELY FREE at Double Double Land, Friday, January 20. Rating: NNN
Toronto's DD/MM/YYYY broke up in September after eight years of spastic art-punk weirdness but let it slip that four-fifths of the band would reconfigure as Absolutely Free, which debuted Friday at ramshackle Kensington Market DIY space Double Double Land. Too bad they blew a fuse midway through the set, though that's a risk that comes with playing unconventional venues.
Unsurprisingly, Absolutely Free sound a lot like DD/MM/YYYY, but with less punk-rock skronk and more Krautrock drone grooves and funky math-rock riffs. There's greater focus on their mutant-pop appeal, with vocals sung more than shouted. The new emphasis on melody is still a work in progress, and worked better on some songs than others. And as in their previous incarnation, the frequent trading of instruments interfered with the set's flow, though what's gained in sonic variety is worth the occasional prolonged pause.
GHOST and BLOOD CEREMONY at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Sunday, January 22. Rating: NNNN
For those of us who grew up in the Catholic Church, Ghost's first appearance in Canada was a soul-rattling experience. Against a backdrop of faux stained glass windows etched with demons, Papa Emeritus stood before the sold-out crowd dressed as a high priest in terrifying makeup, methodically swinging a chained thurible of burning incense. As our buried olfactory memories came alive, the five nameless, faceless ghouls in black hoods who surrounded him delivered powerful, note-perfect metal.
The Satan-worshipping can come off as gimmicky in videos and photos, but it's profoundly affecting live. Like fellow Swedes ABBA, Ghost are master songwriters, and their tunes have a melodic pop soul hidden inside the darkness. They uplift and slay in equal measure. A glance around the room revealed a crowd with smiles spread across their faces, especially during final song Ritual, when I spotted hugging in the mosh pit. Even the realization that the barely 50-minute set would not include an encore couldn't dampen the feel-good vibe.
Flute-toting tour mates Blood Ceremony played a triumphant homecoming set earlier, full of confidence and playfulness. Alia O'Brien, who has her Ronnie James Dio moves down pat, earned an appreciative cheer when she said, "We've only been out a week, but it feels so good to be home."