Cass McCombs at the Garrison, Friday, January 27.
CASS McCOMBS and FRANK FAIRFIELD at the Garrison, Friday, January 27. Rating: NNN
Cass McCombs's public image and moniker suggest a single entity, yet the Californian singer/songwriter's Garrison show would've been far less effective without his four-piece band. It was their full, soft-focus arrangements - wafting pedal steel, pulsing drums and bass, dazzling keyboard work (at times easily mistaken for electric guitar) - that brought the tunes to life.
Things got downright jammy at several points, with each member even taking a brief solo midway through the set. This made for some attention-wandering, especially since McCombs is more of a standout guitarist and songwriter than performer (or vocalist, for that matter). The mournful County Line from Wit's End, one of two albums he released last year, got the biggest response.
Opener Frank Fairfield left us gob-smacked but scratching our heads. Switching between banjo, acoustic guitar and fiddle and sitting on a chair placed far from his old-timey microphone, he looked like the mustachioed piano player in an Old West saloon, delivering rollicking blues-folk out of the side of his mouth with the creaky timbre of a 78 gramophone record. The obnoxious crowd easily talked over him until a woman hollered for everybody to shut up.
JULIE DOIRON with RICK WHITE at Saving Gigi, Thursday, January 26. Rating: NNNN
This super-intimate concert by Rick White and Julie Doiron at Saving Gigi began with White introducing himself as Doiron's old boyfriend (he's also recording her new album) and ended with the former Eric's Trip bandmates hugging Love Tara-style in the window of the café.
Doiron is known for anecdotal between-song ramblings and whispered apologies, and this show was no exception. Alone with her electric guitar, she played new songs, a handful from I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day and requests like Sending The Photographs, and little mistakes were met with encouraging applause
White managed to sound psychedelic on acoustic guitar through the power of repetition, and his ghost-story tour song Anna Leigh, written for the Sadies, was chilling. While Eric's Trip material was to be expected, the duo's campfire-song-like covers - an obscure Neil Young tune, the Everly Brothers' All I Have To Do Is Dream - came as a surprise. It was easy to picture them as teenagers learning to sing together in their bedrooms.
A$AP ROCKY at the Opera House, Friday, January 27. Rating: NNN
A convivial vibe gripped A$AP Rocky's Opera House show, his first outside the U.S. Minutes after stepping onstage, he took the first of many dives into the packed front rows. Single Wassup loosened up the crowd, and by the time Rocky cued Three 6 Mafia's Sippin' On Some Syrup, which teased into the woozy Purple Swag, they were game.
Likeable and in command of his fans, Rocky combined lots of quotable shit with city praise - "Toronto's a Crayola box!," "Shout out the Somalians!" - all while kissing the hands of the women pressed upfront. Hooky songs like the meditative Bass and smoker's anthem Get Lit seem intended for crowd participation.
Drake sidled onstage in an OVO Canada Goose, hood up and Nike batting gloves on, to perform Cameras and The Motto while Rocky played hype man. The latter closed with the easy sway and trigger-effect chorus of Peso, and then returned for encore song Out Of This World, delivering the last verse a cappella. A rappy flourish to end a pretty good rap show.
YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN at the Garrison, Saturday, January 28. Rating: NNNN
Working within their invented "noh wave" genre, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan stand out on their sound alone, which effortlessly combines prog rock, metal, Asian pop, Chinese opera, ambient and experimental. Live, the Toronto/Montreal collective manage to take their delightful weirdness to a whole other level, making them one of the few contemporary buzz bands to actually live up to their hype.
The club version of their rock opera vision is more straightforward than the full theatrical one (which you can catch February 8 to 12 at Buddies in Bad Times as part of the Rhubarb Festival), but it's still nothing like a traditional indie show. Besides face paint and costumes, they incorporate masks, a Chinese dragon puppet, dramatic lighting and an inventive set design that all make for an immersive, engrossing show. On paper it sounds like something only conceptual art students would enjoy, yet somehow they turn the chaos into a type of (very strange) pop music.