The Internet at Virgin Mobile Mod club, Friday, August 10
THE INTERNET at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Friday, August 10. Rating: NNN
A small but devout audience crowded around the Mod Club stage for the Toronto debut of the Internet, an experimental neo-soul outfit fronted by Syd the Kyd of Los Angeles hip-hop collective Odd Future.
Earlier this year the band released an album of druggy love songs and meandering jazzy instrumentals overlaid with misty pop melodies and named after an acid tab: Purple Naked Ladies. A four-piece band that included producer Matt Martians on keys whipped the record's porous sound into a surprisingly muscular but bland variety of twinkling, loungey funk that kept the crowd on their toes but lacked the atmospherics that made the LP so alluring.
Syd is just as cool and self-assured at the front of the stage as she is when hanging in the back as OF's beatmeister. Her voice is soulful and dusky, but singing - as she put it - "all falsetto 'n' shit" required a little more effort. Despite her cocky rep, she maintained a chatty rapport with her shrieking fans that would've better suited a more intimate venue.
CHROME AND THE ICE QUEEN as part of SummerWorks Opening Night at the Great Hall, Thursday, August 9. Rating: NNN
There was no shortage of stimulation at the SummerWorks opening night party: free food, performance art, dance lessons, four bands, a DJ and more. Amid all the distractions, it was easy to overlook the bands, and the chilled-out sounds of promising acts like Chrome and the Ice Queen didn't make the impression they might at a less action-packed event.
Featuring members of sprawling, moody pop outfit Del Bel, Chrome and the Ice Queen milk a minimalist lineup - bass guitar, drum machine, horns, sparse keys and female vocals - for maximum results. Scaling back really lets the arrangements shine, and every note seems carefully placed.
Portishead comparisons wouldn't be out of line, though the band is hardly a trip-hop revival act. Too bad their stage presence wasn't strong enough to capture the chatty theatre crowd's attention. Nevertheless, definitely a local act to watch.
SONNY & THE SUNSETS at the Silver Dollar, Saturday, August 11. Rating: NNNN
It initially appeared that the Silver Dollar had cleared out before San Francisco's Sonny & the Sunsets took the stage, which had frontman/guitarist Sonny Smith joking that "sometimes you need a little privacy to express your deepest emotions." But it was just a trick of the room. As he and his band launched into their set in earnest, the crowd drew in closer.
Their new breakup-inspired album, Longtime Companion, is a quieter, countrier affair than fans are used to, and as the Sunsets played the new songs, people whispered in anticipation about how awesome last year's album, Hit After Hit, was.
The set list was haphazard - jumping back and forth between upbeat numbers and mellower ones, with a psychedelic spoken word transition thrown in to make things weirder - but the playing was spot on, and Tahlia Harbour provided rich backup to Smith's slightly nasal delivery.
Smith plays like he's discovering new expressions of subway-style guitar, and the set, which started off a bit shaky, ended in a glorious dance party.
ALL CAPS! 2012 at Artscape Gibraltar Point, Saturday and Sunday, August 11 and 12. Rating: NNNN
Rain and high winds forced the show inside for day one of the All Caps! Island Festival, creating an intimate vibe inside Artscape Gibraltar Point as Toronto dance-pop trio Triple Gangers warmed up the crowd with synchronized dance routines and naive lyrics.
Punk rock ruled the day, with Detroit's Tyvek playing impassioned straight-up proto-punk that sounded like a messed-up car engine spewing tough, sweet love and surprisingly positive messages.
The evening veered in a completely different direction with the arrival of Choir! Choir! Choir!, who nearly doubled the size of the crowd. They did excellent covers of Talking Heads' Psycho Killer, Big Star's Thirteen and TLC's Waterfalls, with Maylee Todd guesting on Left Eye's challenging rap section. The choir returned the favour by sitting in on some of Todd's awesome percussive soul-funk.
A power outage onstage delayed but didn't stop Montreal's Yamantaka//Sonic Titan from delivering their headlining set. A simple white backdrop augmented the arty, psychedelic folk-metal band's music and dramatic, intense performance. They lived up to the hype.
Sunday was both quieter - Toronto Island native Ivy Mairi's lovely opening set - and louder. Better weather allowed bands to alternate between outdoor and indoor stages, with hip-hop acts Canadian Winter and Isla Craig's new project OG Melody out on the "sunset stage" and rock bands like Young Mothers and Lioness playing at (much) higher volumes inside.
Young Mothers impressed with jazzy sax explosions, tight rhythms and forward momentum, while former DD/MM/YYYYers Absolutely Free got big love from the crowd. Next came Lioness's dark disco dance vibe and singer Vanessa Fischer's huge soul vocals. It all culminated in an ear-shattering, almost terrifying show by Brooklyn band A Place to Bury Strangers, surrounded by smoke and lights.
The location meant festival-goers could wander freely, check out artists' studios and outdoor installations and dip their feet in the lake.