THE SHINING PARTY with ABSOLUTELY FREE and ALX at the Overlook Hotel, Friday, September 7. Rating: NNN
What better use for a cursed venue than to play the part of a haunted bar? After standing in line in the dark alley behind Sneaky Dee's, we were ushered up a dark staircase into what appeared to be a spooky abandoned nightclub, frozen in time, complete with an actor playing Jack Torrance. The venue most recently known as the Rochester, which went out of business after less than a year, was perfect for a Shining-themed party thrown by the Young Lions Music Club.
It definitely wasn't your typical TIFF after-party, though the performances seemed secondary to the theme, and the makeshift sound system didn't do anyone any favours. ALX - essentially Allie Hughes exploring her electronic side - brought some drama, and dressing like the film's frightening twin girls was a nice touch. It still feels, though, like we've caught Hughes in an awkward period of transition. Absolutely Free - DD/MM/YYYY with one less member - have been honing their art-damaged psychedelic punk, but even an unofficial TIFF party seemed a little too fancy for them.
2 CHAINZ at the Phoenix, Tuesday, September 4. Rating: NNN
Not everyone likes 2 Chainz's non-sequitur-filled, nonsensical, sometimes non-rapping rap, but over the past two years everyone's gotten to know him, thanks to a slew of slurry, seductive summer hits. Infamy is no doubt the end game for someone who's on record saying, "When I die, bury me inside the Gucci store."
But in a rap landscape of proselytizers, pop goofs and 1 percenters, 2 Chainz makes radio-friendly songs with enough personal bravura and weird self-awareness to appeal across demographics. Yes, for all his deliberate misogyny, flagrant inanity and proclivity for True Religion clothing, it's kind of hard not to like the dude.
Backlit by a bitmap-style logo, limbs flailing like a Muppet, he was boisterous, dramatic and surprisingly self-effacing. He's his own court jester, rapping silly commands to get everyone stupid, hearkening back to the original MC-as-hype-man. Throughout a barely 50-minute set of feature verses, hooks, clipped songs and bellows of his patented slogans - "TRUUU," "TWO CHAAAAAINZ" - the rapper pulled off a solid, hammy performance with no outside help. That is, Drake didn't show to perform his bit from No Lie.
LISA BOZIKOVIC and KITE HILL at the Music Gallery, Friday, September 7. Rating: NNNN
This double CD release party felt like a musical family reunion. Many of the musicians have been collaborating for years and played during both sets.
Opener Ryan Carley's Kite Hill was in its expansive incarnation, with nine or 10 musicians onstage including a clarinetist, string players and extra percussion. Sean Frey's projected drawings, which moved in time to the music, provided a visual narrative and beautifully augmented the melancholy but lush orchestral pop.
Decked out in a white gown, Lisa Bozikovic called the evening a wedding in which she got married to her sophomore album, This Is How We Swim. She and band played it in its entirety and in order, which worked well, growing dark, intimate and quiet near the end.
Most moving was when she played Fever Dream alone at the piano while Frey and his team dimmed the lights and did a shadow show behind a curtain. For the encore, she offered up autumnal and solemn No Denial from her debut before finishing with a heady, upbeat cover of Fleetwood Mac's Everywhere.
JOHN K. SAMSON at 918 Bathurst, Thursday, September 6. Rating: NNNN
John K. Samson songs are fine-tuned musical poems that balance loneliness and tenderness, wordiness and heart. In his small and distinct voice, he negotiates the fraught landscapes of both solitude and coupledom, referencing ampersands, Gestetners and Foucault along the way. He's brainy but keeps the language plain, and always offers a vivid setting - a wintery Winnipeg sidewalk, a solitary bus ride - for us to navigate.
All of this usually comes in the form of Weakerthans music, but lately he's been touring his debut solo album, Provincial, which takes the folk-punk volume and power chords down a few notches. At 918 Bathurst, he played energetically for nearly 90 minutes on an acoustic guitar, while opener Mike Feuerstack (formerly Snailhouse), switching between lap steel and electric, added distorted bits, stirring fingerpicking and atmospheric swoops.
Samson was smiley and warm, amusing us with facts about songs old and new. At the end, he perched precariously and bravely - there was hesitation and a thwarted first attempt - on a high stool for a rendition of Virtute The Cat Explains Her Departure. We cheered hard.