JANELLE MONAE at Nathan Phillips Square, Friday, June 22. Rating: NNNNN
As we wait for the follow-up to Janelle Monáe's sprawling 2010 LP, The ArchAndroid (she apparently has two albums on the way), the pompadoured Atlanta performer has surfaced to play a string of Canadian jazz festivals.
Her headlining Toronto Jazz Festival set seamlessly fused funk, R&B, folk - you name it - into a breathtaking experience that required the audience to work almost as hard as her 12-piece band.
When Monáe took the stage in a hooded cape and proceeded to spit Dance Or Die's breakneck rap with her back to the crowd, it was instantly apparent that we wouldn't want for drama.
She brought it every song, demanded that we crouch, wave and sing, and ended with a triumphant encore of Come Alive (The War Of The Roses) that included robot dancing, jazz scatting and an epic call-and-response routine.
Though she featured no new material, her covers of Prince's Take Me With U and the Jackson 5's I Want You Back proved that if anyone is poised to inherent the mantle of mainstream pop's most innovative act, it's Monáe.
THE BEACH BOYS at the Molson Amphitheatre, Tuesday, June 19. Rating: NNNN
The Beach Boys have sued each other enough times to know they shouldn't argue over the set list for their 50th anniversary tour. Still, it must have been a challenge.
The iconic California band has three species of fans to appease: those who come for surfin', roarin'-engines rock 'n' roll; those who appreciate the "musical genius" of Pet Sounds and SMiLE; and the kooks in Hawaiian shirts looking for deep-water classics from albums like Surf's Up and Sunflower.
On Tuesday, everyone had fun three times over. Mike Love served up two hammy rock medleys, one full of car songs (Little Deuce Coupe, 409), and the other beach classics like All Summer Long and Surfin' USA. The lovable and aloof Brian Wilson sang lead on I Just Wasn't Made For These Times and Heroes And Villains from their revered mid-60s period.
But the best moment came courtesy of the late Carl Wilson. The band sang two cuts, Marcella and All This Is That, from the underrated Carl-helmed Carl And The Passions album, a well-executed nod to the departed Boy. Good vibrations all around.
DESTROYER at the Opera House, Saturday, June 23. Rating: NNNN
Vancouver singer/songwriter and New Pornographer Dan Bejar changes up his band, Destroyer, on nearly every album, pushing his enigmatic music beyond indie rock's ever-expanding boundaries. In the current eight-piece version used on Kaputt - drummer, two guitarists, keyboardist, trumpeter, bassist and saxophonist - he's found his ideal lineup.
For one, thanks to the newly horn-heavy sound, he's getting invites to events like the Toronto Jazz Festival, host of Saturday's Opera House show. The set was sonically epic straight out of the gate and, over 90 minutes, moved through tunes new and old. The flute-featuring Suicide Demo For Kara Walker from last year's Kaputt and set closer Hey, Snow White from 2002's This Night were particular standouts.
With so large a band, the retiring Bejar no longer plays guitar, which keeps the focus on his rambling, hyper-literate lyrics and unsettling, nasal voice. During the lengthy instrumental breaks, he sat down on the stage. Though the band's inventiveness and musicianship often threatened to outshine him, you get the sense he's probably okay with that.
ROGER WATERS at Rogers Centre, Saturday, June 23. Rating: NNNNN
The Wall is not my favourite Pink Floyd record. While songs like Hey You and Run Like Hell have always elicited in me the appropriate feelings of isolation and paranoia, The Trial has always been, well, a bit of a trial.
Despite the self-indulgence, Roger Waters's historic stage production of the album is astonishing. It takes sheer audacity and plenty of cash to create a spectacle that includes a dive-bombing biplane, a floating wild boar and numerous inflatable puppets, not to mention a wall that spanned the Rogers Centre.
The sound was pristine, with Robbie Wyckoff singing David Gilmour's parts, and guitars by Dave Kilminster, G.E. Smith and Pink Floyd session player Snowy White. Waters switched between bass, guitar and trumpet as the songs required.
Tributes to victims of war, terrorist acts and corruption were broadcast on the wall throughout the night. Waters may be a rich man, but he's far more politicized than most up-and-comers.