JASON COLLETT'S BASEMENT REVUE at the Dakota, Thursday, December 13. Rating: NNNN
Soul-folk songwriter/guitarist Bahamas (Afie Jurvanen) was the headliner for the second instalment of the sixth annual Jason Collett-curated Basement Revue, something he didn't know until he showed up. "Jason's serious about the mystery aspect of the night," he said. "He keeps us as in the dark as you."
But first, Collett started with some acoustic songs before inviting Simone Schmidt (Fiver) up to sing a moving song about female inmates at the Kingston Penitentiary forced to live in the horse stables. PEI-born songwriter Al Tuck played a characteristically unpredictable but brilliant set, forgetting some of the lyrics to Stranger At The Wake, circling back to them and then closing with an original gospel song with the refrain "There is a God."
Toronto's Always were the only poppy full band on the bill, and they delivered a tight set of promising tunes from their forthcoming Chad VanGaalen-produced debut album. Jennifer Castle - sounding earthier and more poised than ever - treated us to songs from her upcoming record, while Bahamas closed things down with new material of his own.
MIGUEL at the Kool Haus, December 11. Rating: NNNNN
There is nothing subtle about Miguel. This year, newcomers Frank Ocean and the Weeknd were his closest competitors, but Miguel edges them out with his quintessentially R&B lack of restraint. This isn't about him; it's about you, girl.
In a grey plaid suit, red button-up shirt and sunglasses, two chains sitting just above his Instagram-able pecs, Miguel incited screams and used the room's cumulative estrogen to power his performance. He's outgrown his biggest radio hit, 2009's Sure Thing, and got it out of the way early. New material - Gravity, The Thrill, Use Me, Do You - sounded muscular, 3D and hip-swivellingly earnest.
Older songs were almost better, though, because they're not as conspicuous. On these - All I Want Is You, Girl With The Tattoo, Quickie - he took his time and stood near-still. Well, except for his pelvis.
At one point he Humpty Danced with his players to Tupac, an intimate moment in a persuasive but highly impersonal show. All the while, we wondered, "When will that shirt come off?" It happened during Pussy Is Mine (taking this review from 4Ns to 5).
PINK MOUNTAINTOPS at the Garrison, Tuesday, December 11. Rating: NNNN
At his Garrison solo stop, Pink Mountaintops leader Stephen McBean managed to get a powerful, dynamic sound from just an electric guitar and a sprawl of pedals at his feet. The bearded West Coaster gave the attentive Tuesday night crowd new arrangements - drum machine, sequenced bass and guitar, layers of thick distortion - of psychedelic songs from all three Pink Mountaintops albums, plus some new ones, including the hypnotic You Can Dream.
A disconnect resulted from hearing a full-band sound come from a single musician, and the female voices that add such three-dimensionality to the tunes on 2009's excellent Outside Love were obviously missing. But McBean still held our attention - less with his laconic drawl than with his meandering, blues-rocky guitar solos that turned the fuzz up to 11 and got fans of his heavier Black Mountain project going, "Fuck yeah."
McBean deftly balanced folkier slowcore numbers with roaring uptempo rockers. Surprisingly, material from the band's 2004 self-titled debut album often hit hardest, including Can You Do That Dance? and Sweet '69. It all earned him two encores.
JOEL PLASKETT EMERGENCY at the Horseshoe, Sunday, December 16. Rating: NNNN
Let's face it: the larger the venue, the less likely a rock show will really connect with an audience. This might be why more and more acts are trading giant halls for multi-night residencies at smaller clubs, a common approach before the invention of stadium rock.
The folks at the Horseshoe know the advantages of an intimate room, not to mention how well suited Joel Plaskett is to one, so it's no surprise that they invited the East Coast rocker and his band to play five nights in a row as part of their ongoing 65th anniversary celebrations.
As great as Plaskett is at rocking soft-seat theatres, it's at smaller venues that he really shines. It was a bit of a shock, though, to see the fridges in the back bar covered with plastic, restricting drinking to the front room. Sure, it was an all-ages show, but that doesn't usually stop the back bar from serving to the over-age.
Nevertheless, the dry policy gave the final show in the series an even more wholesome, down-home vibe, even though most of the crowd was way over 19.