JACQUES GREENE the Great Hall Black Box Theatre, Saturday, February 2. Rating: NNN
Montreal DJ/producer Jacques Greene has built impressive buzz in both indie and dance music circles over the past year thanks to his hazy, R&B-influenced tech house grooves. When he hits his mark, he captures the moody, restrained feel of the edgier end of contemporary soul, but with dance-floor-friendly uptempo rhythms. When too many of the rough edges get filed down, however, his sound comes across as generic grown-up club music.
There's a fine line between subtle and sleepy, and Greene came too close to the latter this time around. Everything was tasteful and smooth, but there was a shortage of memorable moments and drama. Despite backup by vocalist Ian Placentino and a brief surprise appearance by Azari & III singer Starving Yet Full, the energy level was inexplicably low. This good party could've been great had the mood not been so mellow.
THE DIRTY NIL at the Horseshoe, Friday, February 1. Rating: NNNN
Due to Toronto's reputation for being blasé at rock shows (we'll tap our feet, clap along when instructed and roll our heads back and forth - but not too much), it's always refreshing to witness an audience unafraid of showing a band lots of love. That's what happened when Hamilton's Dirty Nil brought their catchy garage rock to the high-energy masses at the Horseshoe.
The trio whipped through a short but sweet set of songs from their two recently released 7-inches, including the fuzzy, very loud Little Metal Baby Fist. They also threw in a Replacements cover and a snarling rendition of Teenage Wasteland.
They lack a full-length, but they've got lots of fans. When singer/guitarist Luke Bentham dedicated a song to his "ex-girlfriends - I hate you so much," a dozen or so guys screamed along, arms draped around each other's shoulders, jumping in time to the crashing drums. If Bentham is at all heartbroken, at least he's got company.
BAAUER and JUST BLAZE at the Hoxton, Friday, February 1. Rating: NNN
Baauer is Harry Rodrigues, the 23-year-old Brooklyn producer behind last year's dance anthem Harlem Shake and several high-profile remixes. Just Blaze is Justin Smith, one of the most successful producers in rap, having worked with Eminem, Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar.
However you want to view their current co-headlining tour - promising rookie co-signed by an established producer, or seasoned veteran looking to introduce himself to a younger audience - the billing makes sense. Baauer's sound is decidedly more electronic, but growing up in an era of rap largely shaped by Just Blaze's beats has clearly influenced his music.
Just Blaze's opening set was more like a best-of karaoke session than an actual DJ set, and the crowd let him get away with it, singing along to Jay-Z's Public Service Announcement, Kanye West's Touch The Sky and Dead Prez's Hip-Hop.
This set the stage for Baauer, who opened with Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise before deftly moving between trap staples (Major Lazer, TNGHT), contemporary hip-hop and early 2000s pop (Justin Timberlake). The young producer's greatest strength is his ability to juggle genres without losing control. His full-length, due later this year, should be worth picking up.
SIMPLY SAUCER with LIDO PIMIENTA, JAY DOUGLAS & THE ALL-STARS and THE HIGHEST ORDER at the Garrison, Friday, February 1. Rating: NNNN
Interest in independent Canadian music is at a high, but it's still not well represented in record store chains or on streaming services. The Ontario Independent Music Archive, an online database that aims to document new acts and "historically significant" forebears, was designed to remedy that.
If the launch party at the Garrison was an indicator, the service will look beyond indie rock tunnel vision to include a wide range of musical styles both established and emerging. A band like Simply Saucer stands to benefit most from a service like OIMA. Underappreciated in their time but re-evaluated in the last few years, the spacey Hamilton proto-punks have developed a mystique. Their headlining set made a good case for revisiting their old stuff online, their trademark drones augmented by three guitars and a theremin.
Earlier, psychedelic country band the Highest Order (the new band formed by Simone Schmidt and Paul Mortimer of One Hundred Dollars) teased their new album, 23-year-old Colombian/Canadian singer/songwriter Lido Pimienta played an experimental set of percussive dream pop, and R&B/reggae legend Jay Douglas entertained the crowd with a set of originals, Bob Marley tunes and a cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.