YAMANTAKA//SONIC TITAN at the Garrison, Friday, January 18. Rating: NNNN
I'm not exaggerating when I say that Yamantaka//Sonic Titan are one of the most exciting bands on the planet. Their music is a stunning balance of heavy and soft, aggressive and fragile, conceptual and emotional, experimental dissonance and pure harmony.
While songs from their masterful 2011 YT//ST debut album packed a punch at their sold-out Garrison show, it was the new ones that mesmerized. Many began as nebulous, hypnotic soundscapes or small, eerie ballads before growing into dramatic beasts that set Ruby Kato Attwood's gorgeous soprano against Alaska B's fierce drumming and Ange Loft's keening howls.
Plus, you can't take your eyes off the six-piece Montreal/Toronto collective. In white-and-black face makeup and black garb, with their black hair swinging, they looked straight out of a Noh theatre production. Visual flourishes came from Kato Attwood's Japanese fans and crown of white plastic straws, while Loft stomped around and shook the life out of some sleigh bells.
The guitar sound lacked definition, and the band clearly needs to move to a bigger room, but you heard no complaints from the impressed crowd.
The Bicycles and Tusks at the Horseshoe, Thursday, January 17. Rating: NNNN
The Bicycles - the band that got the indie kids dancing to their hyper, bubblegum pop in the mid-2000s - are back after a three-year hiatus. At Thursday's gig at the Horseshoe, organized by Tusks' Samir Khan, the Bikes previewed songs from their upcoming third album, Stop Thinking So Much, due in April.
Someone in the crowd yelled, "Never break up again, please!" but the group has actually benefited from time apart and the process of coming back together. Their new songs are mellower, more diverse and more collaborative, with most of the members taking turns singing lead, sometimes switching up mid-song. And they haven't stopped being fun - they've just branched out and matured.
Earlier, Tusks played a tight set that sounded - and I mean this as a huge compliment - much like their recent album, Total Entertainment. Except on the album, Steve McKay didn't take a few minutes out to fix one of his cymbals while Khan improvised stage banter about his day job and listening to Purple Haze.
BETA FRONTIERS, PRINCE INNOCENCE and BOY BITCH at Play, Thursday, January 17. Rating: NNNN
It's not often that local bands get to play in a bar full of chandeliers, opulent white curtains, padded ceilings, naked mannequins on the walls, spotlights and banquette seating, as they did at Play, the new nightclub on the first floor of Queen West swingers club Wicked.
That created a few strange juxtapositions. The night's opener, Boy Bitch, sang Euro-flavoured electro-pop while two dancers vogued up and down a catwalk and pelted barely flinching plaid-clad drinkers with glow sticks.
Blank Capsule had to cancel, but Prince Innocence picked up the slack. Josh McIntyre held down keys and electronics while singer Talvi Faustmann stood forward, strikingly statuesque in high heels, a vinyl jacket and red tights. Aided by a venue that suits their vibe, the act finally seems to be gelling onstage.
Beta Frontiers closed the night with a brighter set of fuzzy sci-fi dance music that fell somewhere between Air, Justice and Daft Punk. The duo did a lot of knob-twiddling and not much talking, but the live, neon, vintage-looking projections lent the act some visual presence.
Christopher Owens at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Friday, January 18. Rating: NNN
If you saw Christopher Owens play live with his former band, Girls, or if you've read reviews of his current solo tour, you got no surprises at Virgin Mobile Mod Club Friday night. He barely acknowledged the crowd and came across as extremely introverted, just the way he did in Girls. That's unfortunate, since his fans clearly want to make a deeper connection, but that's who he is. Hopefully, someday he'll get dragged to see Bruce Springsteen playing with the E Street band and discover his inner extrovert.
If you were hoping to hear Girls songs, you were out of luck. His solo routine so far involves Owens and his band reproducing the Lysandre album pretty much note for note, and then returning to play an encore of covers. While it's interesting to hear him tackle songs like Cat Stevens's Wild World, he needs to bring more to his performances if he wants us to keep coming out. He sounded great, but that's not enough.
PYPY with MODERN SUPERSTITIONS and LOOSE PISTONS at the Silver Dollar, Saturday, January 19. Rating: NNNN
While it was nice to see a show at the Silver Dollar without being smooshed against the bar or stuck in a corner, there should've been a line around the block for Saturday's triple-header featuring Montreal's PyPy and Loose Pistons and Toronto's own Modern Superstitions, who are ready for the big stages.
Loose Pistons singer Hugo Chartrand looks like he could've stepped outta New Jersey around 1973, and the fact that his harmonica and some other gear had recently been stolen didn't stop the band from delivering punchy rock 'n' roll.
With the moves of Hawkwind dancer Stacia, a stare as chilling as the twins in The Shining and howling vocals fed through ample reverb, PyPy's Annie-Claude Deschênes is in the running for most engaging performer in Canada.
In contrast to her beefy male bandmates (members of Duchess Says and Red Mass), the tiny Deschênes writhed, screamed and often seemed to be undergoing an exorcism during PyPy's psychedelic art rock set. What any of that has to do with the veggies and dip painted on their banner is anyone's guess.