AZARI & III at the Hoxton, Friday, April 13. Rating: NNNN
Introducing the euphoric tribal banger Lost In Time, vocalist Starving Yet Full summed up Toronto four-piece Azari & III's mandate: "We want you to step outside of your body and watch yourself dance."
Easier said than done. The Hoxton was so crammed for the band's first proper hometown headlining gig since conquering European festival stages that the wild, interpretive raver moves best suited to their nostalgic acid-house sound were almost physically impossible to do.
Azari & III came up playing Toronto after-hours jams and gay clubs, and giddy fans from both worlds were well represented. Fashion-forward frontmen Starving Yet Full and Fritz Helder carried the show with their glammed-up voguer styles and playful vocal interplay, while producers Dinamo Azari and Alixander III provided monstrously sleazy beats and dizzying vocal samples that added an element of psychedelia.
They ended with a tripped-out reworking of Adonis's house classic No Way Back and their soulful pop-house track Into The Night. It felt like a cathartic moment for the hard-working group, whose bowel-emptying bass lines will require a bigger room next time around.
LIONESS at the Horseshoe, Friday, April 13. Rating: NNNN
Maybe it was her feline-yellow contact lenses and chain-mail vest or the fact that Lioness have been emerging from a rejuvenating low-profile period, but something was giving singer Vanessa Fischer the confidence to claim her spot on the stage and bring the crowd into her world.
Entering in a long black veil and sequinned skirt (drummer Jeff Scheven and bassist Ronnie Morris were more casual in all black and skull masks), Fischer seemed primed to spend the night peering from behind the gauze. But it wasn't long before she cast it aside, gazed into the faces crowding the stage and danced, bringing newfound theatricality to Lioness's set. The flames lighting up the backdrop didn't hurt either.
The set list introduced songs from just-released album The Golden Killer, yet many devotees were singing along to every word. By the time the band played single The Night, the Horseshoe's dance floor was a mass of writhing bodies.
BAHAMAS at Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Friday, April 13. Rating: NNNN
We're happy about the success that Toronto soul-folk performer Bahamas (aka Afie Jurvanen) has enjoyed lately, but we had doubts about whether his low-key, cosily intimate live show would translate at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club. Though his soft-spoken stage patter and quieter acoustic moments had to compete with loud talkers at the back, his artfully restrained songs filled the space gorgeously and came alive through the crisp sound system.
Green, leafy plants covered the stage, which, along with Jurvanen's casual charisma and stories about his mom, made the place feel more like someone's house than a venue that often makes use of lasers and smoke machines. We're going to miss hearing him in tiny rooms, but seeing him effortlessly rock a big stage feels like vindication for long-time believers. Even a rowdy bachelorette party was stunned into silence by an unamplified interlude showcasing backing vocalists Felicity Williams and Carleigh Aikins.
WHITE LUNG at Duffy's Tavern, Saturday, April 14. Rating: NNN
White Lung looked uncomfortable from the moment they took the stage. The female-dominated Vancouver punk band spent the first few minutes appealing to an apparently non-existent sound guy before playing a note, and drummer Anne-Marie Vassilou had broken her rented kick pedal by the end of the first song.
Things only got worse from there. Early in the set, an unrelenting heckler got under lead singer Mish Way's skin. "You think you can sing better than me? Go right ahead," she challenged, and the alcohol-fuelled shit disturber took her up on it. They stopped the fan-sung experiment after a minute or so and kicked the cynic to the curb.
Frustration isn't necessarily a negative trait for a punk band, and it certainly didn't detract from White Lung's noisy yet tuneful sonic assault. Way's melodic, scratchy vocals were a highlight despite her obvious annoyance.
The packed-in crowd kept up the energy in the brimming back room of old-school Duffy's Tavern, even succeeding in bringing the band back for a reluctant encore. We'd never suggest an audience deliberately aggravate a touring band, but it did the trick this time.