RIFF RAFF at the Hoxton, Friday, December 6. Rating: N
Riff Raff returned to Toronto for the second time in six months to play to a pack of rabid, fucking unruly fanboys at the Hoxton. Early this year the Texas rapper somehow turned a modest online fan base into a real-life following of dopey acolytes willing to fund his narcissistic play-career and coke-and-stripper binges.
Live, it's apparent that his act, which some insist on calling performance art, is a joyless, zero-sum game. He emerged almost an hour late in a vibrant print jacket and hot curls, a crew of a million goons behind him, to perform a lazy, 40-minute, lip-synched pantomime.
Riff Raff is an outsized character (a girl armed with hairspray misted his curls onstage, and during the "intermission" he swayed along to Fleetwood Mac's Dreams), but the music, which seems vivid and impactful on YouTube, fell flat. As Twitter follower @terminalave noted, "The best part was when he just played love sosa in its entirety." That's not even his song.
LEONARD COHEN at the Air Canada Centre, Tuesday, December 4. Rating: NNNN
On his newest album, Old Ideas, Leonard Cohen calls himself a "lazy bastard living in a suit," but he was anything but at the Air Canada Centre. The living legend gave the audience their money's worth with a mammoth career-spanning set.
Though he's no longer obligated to be, Cohen is humble, gracious and generous to his fans. And his melodies got to breathe thanks to big, spacious arrangements that let the players share the spotlight (often literally).
The smooth polish of the band threatened to close the crack that lets the light in, but Cohen himself resisted that. As much as he tried to shift the attention, he charmed the rapturous audience, showing through aged grace and winking humour that his personality is as enduring as his songs.
His repertoire of classics is so deep that even after nearly four hours, a few went undusted. Still, it's hard to complain about a marathon performance by a 78-year-old poet known more for his lyrics than his "gift of a golden voice."
JEM COHEN: WE HAVE AN ANCHOR at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Tuesday, December 4. Rating: NNN
Reviewing something as experiential as a mixed-media sort-of movie, sort-of concert - in which an ambient/experimental supergroup composed of Mary Margaret O'Hara, members of Fugazi, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Dirty Three and others performed a live score to American filmmaker Jem Cohen's footage of Nova Scotia landscapes - is a bit tricky. It's like reviewing an orgasm or a shudder. It just happened.
But the highlight was undoubtedly the music - basically Godspeed meets the Dirty Three, tempered by Guy Picciotto's driving guitar and never screeching into too-many-cooks cacophony. If there was a flaw, it was that there wasn't enough music. The band frequently reached intoxicating highs that showcased the Lightbox's impressive acoustics and then tumbled into silence to give Cohen's experimental, multi-format installation room to breathe.
The film itself, while affecting in places, featured repurposed free-verse poetry and folksy, rote images of birds on wires, dilapidated shanties and families in community supper halls. Still, the immediacy of the live score lent an intimate feel to what was onscreen, making the images seem conjured rather than merely projected.
MORGAN GEIST with JEREMY GLENN as part of Breakandenter's 5th anniversary at the Polish Combatants Hall, Saturday, December 8. Rating: NNNN
Toronto's real estate boom has made it harder to find non-bar event spaces. However, there's still healthy demand for a warehouse experience, as promoters Breakandenter have discovered over the last five years of throwing parties in unusual spaces.
Morgan Geist was a slightly surprising choice as headliner for their fifth anniversary party. His DJing style is closer to disco than the tech house flavours Breakandenter are more associated with. But he's influenced by Detroit techno as well, which allows him to effectively straddle the line between synthetic and organic, blending classic and contemporary sounds. In fact, this seemed like one of the more receptive Toronto audiences he's had over his long career.
Warming up the crowd was Toronto's Jeremy Glenn, who dropped some live vocals into his laptop-based set, showcasing the soulful pipes that have fuelled the buzz growing behind him. Definitely an emerging talent to watch out for.