SWANS at Lee's Palace, Thursday, October 25. Rating: NNNN
Swans are the E Street band of noise rock. On a purely musical level, there couldn't be two people more different than Bruce Springsteen and Swans main man Michael Gira, but they share some surprising common ground.
First of all, endurance. Both frontmen are 60ish, but that hasn't stopped them from playing epically long (and in Swans' case, extremely loud) shows. Neither needs help from a fancy lighting rig to maintain the energy. In fact, they seem to want the house lights to illuminate the audience rather than the band.
Both have some roots in the blues, although in Gira's hands that sounds like a brick in a clothes dryer. Both are fond of the jazz hands move, which seems less gospel-inspired in Gira's case. At his band's Lee's Palace show, there was also an unexpected spiritual aspect to the abrasive wall of sound. If you survived the gruelling assault, you left with an oddly transcendent feeling not unlike the afterglow of a Springsteen love-in.
MYKKI BLANCO at Play, Friday, October 26. Rating: NNN
Mykki Blanco does not rest. Fresh off high-profile appearances at last week's CMJ fest in New York City, the 25-year-old NYC-based gender-fluid rapper made her Toronto debut at Play, a new club on the main floor of Wicked on Queen West. (Think A Clockwork Orange's Korova Milk Bar meets a ballroom.)
It's not easy to stand out in a roomful of people dressed as Wes Anderson characters, woodland creatures and Frida Kahlo - or to compete with two female backup dancers on swings - but Blanco made it look simple. Wearing a black toque, spandex pants and nothing else, the rapper made full use of the catwalk, crawling, dancing and twisting her limbs like a contortionist.
The short but energetic 30-minute set included tracks off her upcoming mixtape, Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss, and fan favourites Haze.Boogie.Life and Wavvy. When the sound system started acting up, Blanco commanded the DJ to cut the music, then rapped verses a cappella, thrilling the crowd.
RODRIGUEZ at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Thursday, October 25. Rating: NNN
Thanks to the recent documentary Searching For Sugar Man, 70-year-old Mexican-American Detroit folksinger Rodriguez - little known in the U.S. but popular in South Africa - is experiencing a comeback. The tightly packed Virgin Mobile Mod Club proved that.
As if to shield himself from the gawking gazes and raised iPhones, Rodriguez put on a hat and sunglasses after getting onstage. He started with The Establishment Blues before introducing his sideman, Toronto guitarist Tim Bovaconti, whom he'd met at lunch that day.
They played many songs from his 1970 debut, Cold Fact, and a few from 1971's Coming From Reality. His hordes of fans were vocal and appreciative, singing along to Sugar Man and I Wonder, but unfortunately overpowering Rodriguez's smooth, gentle voice.
"I know my crowd," Rodriguez joked. "You say you love me, but it's the booze."
There were magical moments, and Rodriguez and Bovaconti played well, but old jazz and rock 'n' roll covers and audience chatter diffused the focus. Rodriguez should play folk festivals instead.
HELLALUYA, RITUALS, ELL V GORE and DENTATA at the Silver Dollar and Comfort Zone as part of DEATH TO T.O. 2, Saturday, October 27. Rating: NNNN
Since they became a full-time touring band, Fucked Up seem to have ended their annual Halloween festival. Thankfully, Ell V Gore's lead yelper, Elliot Jones, has been filling the void with Death To T.O., which sees a dozen local bands dress up to play cover sets as their favourite groups.
Given the packed, rowdy, creatively garbed crowds at the conjoined Silver Dollar and Comfort Zone (admission was cheaper for those in costume), many bands chose to turn up the volume. Hellaluya invoked Nine Inch Nails' aggressive angst against flashing strobe lights, Rituals stuck to the noisier side of Nirvana's legacy, and Ell V Gore played a raucous set of Damned tunes while spraying the crowd with whipped cream (and getting faces full of beer in return).
Best was the unannounced final set: Dentata as Marilyn Manson. No stranger to shock rock antics herself, lead singer Dana Wright performed topless, covered only by black tape that formed the letters "M.M." But what caught the crowd's attention even more was the band's eardrum-wrecking version of The Beautiful People.