BLOOD CEREMONY with HOLLOW EARTH at the Silver Dollar, Thursday, February 21. Rating: NNNN
Only at a Blood Ceremony show are devil horns the correct response to a triumphantly raised flute. There's an obvious element of camp inherent in playing songs about witchcraft, human sacrifice and the demon Astaroth, and the doom rockers have no problem playing it up.
At previous shows Alia O'Brien seemed a bit too timid to convincingly sell her band's mix of doom riffs, occult lyrics and dark psychedelia, but at the Silver Dollar this time around, the singer/flautist/organist demonstrated colossal stage presence to go with her massive vibrato wail.
Despite the tight musicianship of guitarist Sean Kennedy and the rhythm section, O'Brien commanded the audience's attention with her intense showmanship, even transforming her flute into the ultimate metal stage prop. A few debut live performances of songs from their upcoming third album (which Ian Blurton, who fit right into the heavily bearded crowd, just finished mixing) proved their spin on 70s heavy metal is far from just a retread.
Openers Hollow Earth share a similar affinity for prog rock meandering and lyrics that dabble in fantasy, but their point of reference is more Rush than Sabbath. It's exactly the type of band dexterous musicians join to indulge their nerdier impulses: skewed time signatures, hammy stage moves, lyrics about gnomes, and solos galore. Like Blood Ceremony, their unabashed commitment to that over-the-top concept completely sold it.
RICH AUCOIN at the Drake Hotel, Thursday (February 21). Rating: NNNN
He might call Halifax home, but Rich Aucoin has certainly played the Drake Hotel often enough to qualify for dual residency. That's why the Nova Scotian musician was the perfect choice for the hotel's ninth birthday celebrations.
Backed by his older brother Paul Aucoin on drums, he started his set dressed in an impeccable suit over which he draped a Maple Leafs flag, and ended clad only in pants and a sweaty tank top. If you've seen him live before, you know you can count on highly danceable pop songs, enthusiastic call-and-response singalongs and the occasional YouTube video of a goat yelling like a man. He expects - nay, demands - 100 per cent audience participation, and the packed room was only too happy to oblige.
He mentioned that he's working on a follow-up to his 2011 debut album, We're All Dying To Live, and debuted one of the songs.
While his best shows are the ones where he has room to move, he made the most of the close quarters, frequently jumping into the crowd and standing on tables. The hardest-working man in Canadian show business? Could be.
SOLANGE at the Danforth Music Hall, Friday, February 22. Rating: NNN
A huge part of Solange's appeal is her relaxed, low-key vibe. While that regal restraint is exactly why we love her, it's a mixed blessing when it comes to live performances. She's got charisma galore, and her casual, un-choreographed dance moves are just as adorable in person as they are in the video for her latest single, Losing You, but the overall vibe Friday night was so chilled-out that it came uncomfortably close to sleepy.
A big part of the problem was the muddy mix that made everything sound like it was emanating from the other end of a cave. The Danforth Music Hall could become one of the best venues in the city, but the room's very boomy and reverberant. It often felt like we were listening to ambient remixes of Solange's already laid-back soul songs.
Still, she's incredibly charming and shows great potential. All she needs is a few more tours under her belt.