MATT & KIM at the Phoenix, Friday, October 5. Rating: NNNN
Keyboard power pop duo Matt & Kim have graduated to bigger stages and now bring their own video screens and fancy light show, but their core appeal remains the same: an incredibly contagious projection of pure joy that audiences can't help but get caught up in. Seeing them onstage feels like watching a happy pair of puppies manically running around a dog park with giant goofy grins on their faces. It can't be easy to summon up that level of positivity every time they hit the stage, but if they're just acting, they sure are convincing.
When they blew out some breaker switches midway through the set, it became crystal clear how unnecessary the video screens, lights, pre-recorded transition music and confetti cannons were. Unshaken, Matt continued playing his one remaining working keyboard, and Kim took the opportunity to walk on top of the audience's outstretched hands. Had you not been paying attention to the stage patter, you wouldn't have noticed that anything had gone wrong.
JACK WHITE at the Sony Centre, Wednesday, October 3. Rating: NNNN
After spending more than a decade working within the limitations of a duo, Jack White now has a wealth of musicians to bring his vision to life. Using two alternating touring bands (the male Buzzards and the female Peacocks, who played with him Wednesday night), he builds his set list from old and new material. Even songs as familiar as Seven Nation Army are given new sparkle.
Dressed in a black suit and white T-shirt, White was the central figure on a stage surrounded by incredible musicians wearing demure white or pale blue dresses. He didn't speak often, but did cryptically mention that he'd spent many nights in Mississauga when he was younger. Mostly, though, he tore through song after song.
While all the Peacocks plays with skill and style, backing singer Ruby Amanfu was particularly noteworthy. Her voice brings a velvety layer to White's wilder tones, and she makes the tambourine look like the sexiest instrument around.
HOW TO DRESS WELL at the Great Hall, Thursday, October 4. Rating: NNN
Joni Mitchell once sang that laughing and crying are the same release, a sentiment that could explain Tom Krell's onstage comportment. During the first gig of his North American tour, the lanky R&B belter better known as How to Dress Well often cracked a goofy smile before unleashing a heartbreaking wail.
Vocally, the Janet Jackson fetishist (lyrics from her ballad Special are inscribed on his tour shirts) runs the gamut of classic 90s R&B, from feathery whispers to shrieking falsettos that contorted his face into pained intensity - reminding us that, unlike Janet's, his vibe is anything but effortless.
The set's first half was heavy with sparse ballads from his new Total Loss LP, subduing the mood of the modestly sized but rapt crowd. Two musicians tackled synths, samplers and violin, and a visual artist projected film clips, but Krell's voice was the main attraction. He dazzled on the finger-snapping & It Was You and the affecting Set It Right before stirring us to life with throwback jam Ready For The World and an a cappella rendition of older song Decisions.
CHANGE OF HEART at the Horseshoe, Friday, October 5. Rating: NNNN
I'm a few years too young to have caught Change of Heart in their prime, but according to a conversation I overheard in the basement of the 'Shoe, the poster for the reunion show, featuring all the people who were in the band over the years, could easily have been for an event happening 15 years ago if not for the date on it.
But that was the point of the reunion - to take people back to Change of Heart's heyday.
As it turned out, Ian Blurton spent a good chunk of his minimal banter affectionately berating the crowd for being old, fat and up past their bedtime.
If the vibe in the audience wasn't quite what Blurton was looking for, the energy onstage made up for it by being both impressive and sustained. Starting around midnight with the Steelteeth lineup, the set told the story of Change of Heart in reverse until the original 50 Ft. Up lineup was onstage, and then the Steelteeth guys returned for a few more.
In all, three bass players, three drummers, a percussionist, a keyboard player and Blurton (the only guitar player) contributed to a well-orchestrated, and by the sound of it, well-rehearsed set that illustrated how different the various incarnations of the band were.