MAJOR LAZER at Sound Academy, Thursday, February 28. Rating: NN
On record, Major Lazer's take on dancehall veers toward a playfully left-field revision of the genre's many iterations, from bone-rattling bangers to bubbly riddims and ballads. But at the inaugural show on the group's Free The Universe tour, that worldly eclecticism was eclipsed by choppy pacing and blandly corporate showmanship.
When producers Diplo and Jillionaire took their posts atop a stack of speakers, the crowd instantly erupted, but by the end, frontman Walshy Fire would be the one begging for an encore. What happened? The show started to lose momentum when Fire paused to orchestrate a shot for a Harlem Shake video. (We didn't get it right the first time, so they did a retake.) After that, his banter was stilted and his audience participation bits painfully disorganized.
To compensate, Diplo and Jillionaire whizzed through anything mid-tempo in favour of an unevenly paced mix of rave buildups, numbing big beat and no-brainer hits like Jump Around and Drop It Like It's Hot. Sure, dramatic builds and top 40 are great for instant reaction, but after a while everything about the gig felt lazy and unrehearsed.
BEACH FOSSILS at the Garrison, Wednesday, February 27. Rating: NNN
Toronto was in the grips of a late February snowstorm Wednesday night, but it didn't deter people from coming out to Beach Fossils' sold-out show.
While there's no denying comparisons to fellow buzzed-about NYC indie rockers DIIV - frontman Zachary Cole Smith was even their former guitarist - Beach Fossils' post-punk tendencies are more pronounced, especially on new song Generational Synthetic, highlighted by Tommy Gardner's brisk drum rolls. Singer/guitarist Dustin Payseur's lyrics are apathetic and cutting, but the music managed to transport us to a warmer place.
"Even though it's a Wednesday and it's shitty out, you can move around a bit more," urged Payseur halfway through, upping the activity. The lack of movement wasn't totally the crowd's fault, though; the Garrison was packed wall-to-wall, suggesting that the quartet are capable of playing bigger venues. And considering they just released a second album, an hour-long set seemed a bit stingy.
BOB MOULD at the Horseshoe, Friday, March 1. Rating: NNN
Bob Mould worked through a jukebox playlist of favourites at a sweaty, sold-out Horseshoe, starting with the first side of Sugar's 1992 debut, Copper Blue, in its entirety.
While it's great to hear the semi-legendary guitarist/songwriter for formative American alt-rock acts Hüsker Dü and Sugar persuasively rip through A Good Idea and Fortune Teller - and a mix of Dü standards (I Apologize, Hate Paper Doll) - it was a shame so little attention was paid to his more recent solo work.
Last year's Silver Age is easily the best record in his spotty post-Sugar output. And the energy he, bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk) poured into Silver Age tracks The Descent and Star Machine matched the tight rock trio perfection of early Sugar. Maybe Mould's toured enough as a solo artist to know that sold-out crowds come to hear the hits.
Considering the depth of his back catalogue, a show clocking in at under an hour - plus the requisite double encore - felt slight. But a cover of the Viletones' Screaming Fist (with T.O. music journalist/MTV Canada host Sam Sutherland on vocals) almost made up for it.
AUTOMELODI, KONTRAVOID, DREAM AFFAIR, DARK AGES and TIERS at Comfort Zone, Saturday, March 2. Rating: NNN
Comfort Zone is mostly known for its infamous Sunday after-party, but the grimy basement venue was a surprisingly good fit for Pretty Pretty Records' first-anniversary bash. Bands that rely heavily on electronics and drum machines often sound tinny at rock clubs, but the Zone's banging dance club sound system easily coped with the dark coldwave and synth-punk beats.
Minimal stage lighting meant the musicians had to work hard to make an impression. The creepy black hood worn by Dark Ages singer Michael Countryman while they cranked out techno/industrial/punk sounds helped with that, and they got the biggest crowd response of the night despite being relatively unknown. Strangely, both NYC bands, Tiers and Dream Affair, were the most reserved, which didn't help their gloomy post-punk cause.
Due to a late start, the crowd was already starting to thin by the time Kontravoid and Automelodi hit the stage. Nevertheless, their goth/hipster crossover vibes appear to have more legs than anyone could have predicted.