Evening Hymns @ Wavelength 13.
DO MAKE SAY THINK, EVENING HYMNS, SARAH NEUFELD, DOOM SQUAD and BERNICE as part of WAVELENGTH 13 at the Great Hall, Saturday, February 16. Rating: NNNN
Thirteen years into its existence, Wavelength still aims to push independent music forward, but its anniversary festival also celebrates its legacy. That was clear on night three at the Great Hall.
The show started with the silky-smooth indie pop of Bernice before getting considerably darker with Doom Squad, whose quasi-mystical post-punk vibe made room for repetitive chants, guitar, flute, recorder and a totally reworked cover of the Doors' Riders On The Storm.
Neither of those bands is incredibly heavy, but Sarah Neufeld still had the challenge of holding up the middle of a rock show with a set of solo violin, but once Colin Stetson added his deep, booming baritone sax, the crowd hushed. Evening Hymns maintained that mood with their stately, yearning pastoral folk-rock.
The problem with packing a bill with five bands is that the headliner is bound to go on pretty late, but that didn't stop many diehards from sticking around for Do Make Say Think. The veteran instrumental post-rock band played in a stripped down five-piece lineup (which, of course, still includes two drummers). Guitarist Justin Small commended the crowd for sticking it out, praising the restorative qualities of the "rock and roll nap." By the time the band swelled to its final crescendo, it felt totally earned.
MO KENNEY at the Rivoli, Wednesday, February 13. Rating: NNNN
Nova Scotia singer/songwriter Mo Kenney's Joel Plaskett-produced debut album was strong enough to spark interest in her, but it was still hard to get sense of who the young artist is. It sounded like folk songs dressed up with overdubs, though not dressed up enough to completely escape the coffee house feel. Her solo performance on acoustic guitar at the Rivoli didn't dispel that first impression, but it did affirm why there's buzz growing around her.
Studio wizardry can make a decent vocalist sound great, but Kenney's voice sounded far richer and more powerful live. She's a strong songwriter, too, but it was her skill as a performer that really made an impact. Despite giving off a chilled-out low-key vibe, Kenney seemed comfortable, displaying a knack for deadpan humour in her stage patter. Hopefully, she's thinking about putting together a band; her show-stopping cover of David Bowie's Five Years could have been even better with a rhythm section.
DOLDRUMS, CADENCE WEAPON, BLUE HAWAII, BLONDE ELVIS and THIGHS as part of WAVELENGTH 13 at the Great Hall's Blk Box Theatre, Friday, February 15. Rating: NNNN
Wavelength's festival is more closely curated than the discontinued weekly series, but the second night of the 13th-anniversary festivities felt a lot like the über-hip Montreal Mile End loft scene had invaded Toronto's Blk Box Theatre - high-waisted jeans, PBRs and all. There was even an after-party at Double Double Land.
I predicted Doldrums would be this year's breakout act, but Blue Hawaii sopped up most of the buzz Friday night. The duo matched ethereal soprano Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Braids) with chilly electronics, but when the beats got heavier it was an instant dance party.
Surprisingly, Cadence Weapon had trouble at first amping up the "mad sedate" crowd, but the Montreal-via-Edmonton rapper did a great job of getting them into it, peppering his clever wordplay and smooth flow with crowd invasions, new material and Grimes samples.
There was a long wait as Doldrums tested their live visuals and half-analog/half-digital set-up. It wasn't the best set from Airick Woodhead and his band, and he seemed to know it, telling the crowd, "We've been soundchecking for, like, three hours, so just pretend it's good." But the dreamy melodies and skewed electro-pop hooks still shone through the off-night performance.
TORO Y MOI at Lee's Palace, Sunday, February 17. Rating: NNN
Many of the subtleties underlying Chaz Bundick's sound don't come across very clearly in concert. The South Carolina musician is best known as a maker of lo-fi ambient synth pop - or chillwave - that has evolved over the years into rhythmically taut re-imaginings of 80s pop, light soul, disco, house and electro funk, with a decidedly modern emphasis on the low end.
Onstage, the driving beats and liquid bass lines that kept the crowd shuffling pleasantly beneath curling clouds of sweet-smelling smoke were satisfyingly robust but also seemed to erase stylistic variation from the set list, which spanned his three studio albums. Even when the tempo reached banger territory on Say That and Low Shoulder, the overall effect was strangely anaesthetizing.
Through it all, Bundick, whose frame is as slight as his voice, stood at the centre of his three-piece band and flickering rainbow light display and sang his winsome melodies with just enough force to add emotional depth to the proceedings.
TESTAMENT at the Phoenix, Monday, February 18. Rating: NNN
For those of us as excited (or more) to see headliners Overkill as we were to see Testament, disappointment was the name of the game at the Phoenix Monday night. The New Jersey thrash legends pulled out of the show - and entire tour - just hours before they were set to take the stage due to lead singer Bobby Ellsworth's walking pneumonia.
Testament did their best to make up for the loss, overwhelming us with flashing lights and fog, speedy virtuosic mayhem and crushing double-bass-drum footwork by legendary drummer Gene "the Atomic Clock" Hoglan, who worked with the band in the mid-90s and appears on their well-received 2012 album, Dark Roots Of Earth.
The Berkeley thrash metal vets' current lineup closely resembles their classic late-80s one, but with a few differences. Long-time guitarist Eric Peterson now solos almost as much as the band's one true rock star, Alex Skolnick, and Chuck Billy's formerly high-pitched vocals have given way to a deeper growl that got buried in the din.
Still, seeing the hulking singer continuously play air guitar on his cut-in-half mic stand made up for that.