ESCORT at the Horseshoe, Saturday, November 10. Rating: NNNN
The Toronto debut of New York City "disco orchestra" Escort has been a long time coming. Dan Balis and Eugene Cho formed the group in 2007 and released a string of 12-inch singles praised for their meticulous, sample-free take on disco's most ostentatiously orchestrated epics.
They then spent three years completing their self-titled debut, while in the meantime their 17-piece ensemble, fronted by Paris-born singer Adeline Michèle, earned a rep as one of NYC's pre-eminent live dance acts.
In concert, live disco can come off as bland session music, but the five-piece touring version of Escort was impressively tight, filling their insistent rhythms, addictive bass lines and conga percussion with an exhilarating energy that spread through crowd, which ranged in age from about 21 to 65.
It's a testament to Escort's contemporary appeal that songs like Cocaine Blues, Caméleon Chameleon and the breathless All Through The Night were as ecstatically received as ESG's punk-funk jam Dance, Machine's underground classic There But For The Grace Of God Go I and a rousing version of Storm Queen's 2010 cult club single Look Right Through that had the heads belting out every word.
Martha Wainwright at the Great Hall, Thursday, November 8. Rating: NNN
Taking the stage in a T-shirt that read "Rufus is a tits man" under a sparkly jacket, Montreal singer/songwriter Martha Wainwright exuded a fiercely individual blend of weariness and sexiness, confidence and vulnerability, that made her seem older than her 36 years and thoroughly rock and roll.
She's been through a lot recently, including the near-simultaneous birth of her son and loss of her mother, Kate McGarrigle. It shows in the new songs from Come Home To Mama, which she focused on at the Great Hall.
Her mother and aunt, the McGarrigle Sisters, set an example of doing what you want to do in music, said Wainwright, and not worrying about commercial success. Her cover of her mother's final song, Prosperina, was room-silencing incredible.
Wainwright was self-deprecating about her own songs, but many of the new ones are standouts, including frank and funny Can You Believe It? and Everything Wrong, a stripped-down ballad for her son. She closed with Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, which long-time fans had clearly been waiting for all night.
Richie Hawtin with Loco Dice, Carl Craig and Ean Golden at the Hoxton, Thursday, November 8. Rating: NNNN
Canadian techno icon Richie Hawtin's CNTRL tour combines early-evening lectures at colleges with late-night parties. The idea is to build links between the younger EDM scene and his generation, but the Hoxton was packed with dedicated fans, few of whom looked young enough to also love Skrillex.
Right away we noticed that the club's normal sound system had been replaced with a rental unit capable of a scary amount of bass. That might seem like a small detail, but it makes all the difference in dance music.
Hawtin mostly concentrated on the stripped-down, percussion-heavy hypnotic grooves he's known for. He shook things up near the end by mixing in Egyptian Lover's 1983 electro anthem Egypt, Egypt and ending with Nitzer Ebb's Join In The Chant, connecting the historical dots between industrial music, early hip-hop and underground dance music.
The CNTRL tour might not end up converting many young EDM fans to techno, but it was still a great party.
TAME IMPALA at the Phoenix, Monday, November 12. Rating: NNNN
It's sometimes nice to go to a rock show and not get pummelled relentlessly by sound. Thanks, Tame Impala. The psychedelic Aussie five-piece are plenty powerful, but they take a dreamy, mellow road to get there, incorporating spacious guitar riffs, hypnotic mid-tempo grooves, hazy keyboards and an ocean of space echo.
It's a sweetly druggy experience that was enhanced at the Phoenix by pulsating geometric wall projections and the thick scent of pot smoke. Plus, bed-headed band leader Kevin Parker's voice sounds eerily like John Lennon's, apparent to anyone who's ever heard them. (The Beatles, in general, are Tame Impala's overwhelming reference point.)
Tunes from their recent second album, Lonerism, dominated the set, with the melodic, swirling Feels Like We Only Go Backwards and the heavy, chugging Elephant the clear standouts. The latter's also a departure: more hashish than marijuana, like a proggier Ozzy-era Black Sabbath tune.
They fearlessly dismantled it partway through, starting with a left-field drum solo and then emptying it out almost completely. When it kicked back in, the feel-good vibes momentarily reached euphoria before mellowing out again.