PHEDRE with HOODED FANG and DOLDRUMS at the Great Hall, Friday, February 24. Rating: NNNN
The Daps Records Revue at the Great Hall was a launch party for the new local label but also an anticipated first look at Daps supergroup Phèdre, made up of Hooded Fang and Doldrums members. It was the band's first show, but from the moment they took the stage it was obvious why they were headlining. Phèdre take the best elements of both bands and add a layer of surrealist spectacle and theatricality.
Singing over electronic backing tracks isn't normally a recipe for excitement, but it definitely works when you add in gold-painted interpretive dancers, glitter-filled condom balloons, feathers flying through the air, copious amounts of costume jewellery bling, cheeseburgers (?!) and the rest of the band's absurdist opulence. The only problem was that their set made Hooded Fang seem conservative and Doldrums sound sloppy by comparison.
Phèdre may have started as a casual side project, but you can expect them to become the stars of the Daps Records empire.
CROCODILES at Lee's Palace, Thursday, February 23. Rating: NNN
Until promoter Dan Burke pulled some strings to bring Crocodiles in from San Diego to triple-head his bloc of shows at last year's NXNE, the band had never played Toronto. Since then, they've graced at least five local stages. You'd think they'd have built up quite a following, but they're apparently still growing their network. The crowd was noticeably thinner than at their last appearance opening for Dum Dum Girls at Lee's Palace in October, but the band didn't let that spoil the fun.
Dressed in his typical skinny jeans/sunglasses-at-night combo despite the low-light set-up, lead singer Brandon Welchez brought his repertoire of stage moves, no doubt cribbed from all the most charismatic frontpeople of the last few decades in rock. The arena-reaching gestures fit the band's heavily stylized garage aesthetic but made less sense without the wall of adoring fans. They also focused more on big pop hooks than on spacey drone, but if you prefer the other side of Crocodiles, well, chances are they'll be back soon.
KINGDOM with DUBBEL DUTCH and YES YES Y'ALL DJs at Dim Sum King, Friday, February 24. Rating: NNNN
The top billing of Fade to Mind honcho Kingdom and Texan selector Dubbel Dutch caused a crush at the ground-floor entrance of Chinatown's Dim Sum King on Friday. Three floors up, things were just as frenzied, as over 700 people danced into the corners of the resto-rave.
The remnants of dancehall and Mya that closed Dubbel Dutch's set were a good primer for what Kingdom's known for: blending the accessible (like new Beyoncé and old Ciara) with the weirder, more niche end of dance music. It's important to note that Kingdom rinses 90s/00s pop cultural ephemera in a non-ironic way. The familiar swatches mentally anchor dancers submitting to his tastefully strange, sometimes dissonant soundscape, which spans grime, gay house, UK funky and more.
He looped The Wire's Omar growling, "You come at the king, you best not miss," over aggressive hard style and, 10 minutes later, rolled the ethereal dance of Fatima Al Qadiri into Kelly Rowland's Motivation. Later still, he stepped back and bobbed to his own songs, which, like his sets, reinterpret the familiar.
WHITEHORSE at the Winter Garden Theatre, Friday, February 24. Rating: NNNN
The last time I saw Luke Doucet play, in the fall of 2010, I wrote that the onstage chemistry between him and his wife, Melissa McClelland, was so strong that they should form a band. While I'm sure I wasn't the only critic to say that, I'm taking some credit for their impressive new duo project, Whitehorse.
They kicked off the set playing acoustic guitars huddled around a single mic, which brought to mind a Johnny Cash and June Carter routine, but it wasn't long before they brought the classic-country/blues vibe out of the past and into the future with help from looping pedals and a stage full of eclectic instruments.
A little of their experimental take on roots music came through on their self-titled debut EP, but live it jumps to the foreground. And once the novelty of watching the pair build up layers of percussion and textures wears off, you realize that the stars of the show are still the rich interplay of their voices and Doucet's twangy guitar heroics.