JOEL PLASKETT at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Friday, May 18. Rating: NNNN
You could see the security staff momentarily looking panicked when Joel Plaskett's fans started leaving their seats and crowding up front to dance, but it was quickly clear that Plaskett was in no danger of losing control of his audience. His mastery of the performer/audience dynamic is one of the most impressive aspects of his gigs: he's an old-school showman and professional entertainer.
Deploying that classic bag of tricks (like inviting a fan onstage to sing backup vocals) is a rapidly disappearing craft in rock music. If you can make self-indulgent choices like inserting five-minute-long stories into the middle of a popular song, and actually get away with it, you deserve some serious respect.
Without that onstage charisma and confidence, we'd be more tempted to complain about how long the solo acoustic section of the show was, or about how jammy and loose the second full-band set was, but he pulls it off easily. The more cynical among you might argue that some of his shtick is hokey, but when you experience it in person it feels completely natural and convincing, not to mention effective.
IGGY AZALEA at Wrongbar, Friday, May 18. Rating: NN
There were so many high ponytails in the crowd at Iggy Azalea's club show, you had to wonder if the platinum blond Australian MC was selling them at the merch table. That hairstyle is her signature, and during the show she twirled and yanked at her own while spitting fast, fluid and inane rhymes over stripped-down Southern rap beats.
Last year, Azalea became a major label concern after her PU$$Y music video went viral and she joined rapper T.I.'s Grand Hustle roster. She's an energetic performer, but her show has the stage-managed feel of a brand-building exercise. "Does anybody know where the Azaleans live?" she asked, one of many times she invoked the catchphrase for her fan base.
Banter-wise, she sticks to pre-rehearsed anecdotes that précis each song. To intro Beat Down, she recounted the time she opened a can of whoop-ass on "a bitch" who looked at her wrong. Moments later, a woman in the audience lost it and wound up on the wrong side of a headlock, providing a distraction as the twerking competition happening onstage dragged on.
NEXT MUSIC FROM JAPAN, VOLUME 4 at the Rivoli, Saturday, May 19. Rating: NNNN
A Toronto doctor named Steven Tanaka is such a huge fan of Japan's indie scene, he's been flying over acts and putting on money-losing Canadian tours just for the love of music. They have, however, been very positively reviewed, and both Toronto shows of this edition were sold out and packed early, so he's not your average hobbyist promoter.
The Rivoli was already busy at 9 pm when Charan-Po-Rantan took the stage, and they immediately got the audience's attention with their colourful uniforms, amazing technical chops and unique Japanese twist on Gypsy jazz and klezmer.
The high-energy vibes continued with group-inou, an electronic duo who combine elements of chip tune, synth pop, punk, hip-hop and happy hardcore techno. In comparison, the prog-punk weirdness of Zazen Boys was less overtly extroverted but very technically skilled. Occasionally, they'd sound a bit like Fishbone, but then they'd jump into a bizarre time signature for some ridiculously intricate math rock.
After such strong performances by the first three acts, the comparatively straightforward alt-rock of Praha Depart was a bit of a letdown, although on a weaker bill they might have come across as much more impressive.
SANTIGOLD at Kool Haus, Tuesday, May 15. Rating: NNNN
It's usually a good sign when a fairly new record sounds familiar in concert. At Kool Haus, sanguine fly girl Santigold unleashed the full power of her latest, Master Of My Make-Believe, proving that she has the conceptual vision and bountiful energy to be a real force in pop music.
Backed by a three-piece band of soul surfers in printed tank tops and flat-top caps, Santi opened with the brawny Go!, a cherry-bomb start to a set that included 20-plus polyrhythmic, cerebral fight songs, three costume changes (a tropical-floral pantsuit with blue shoulders was the best) and a two-person pony.
The crowd energy was high during old favourites Lights Out and Say Aha, collaborative hits like Major Lazer's Hold The Line and new anthems Disparate Youth and The Keepers. The set climaxed with Creator, when a throng of kids rushed the stage.
The band was tight - bass throttling, guitar skanky, drums riotous - but it was Santi's stoic-faced dancers, executing a collision between high art and fashion with dancehall-queen finesse, who stole the show.