TAME IMPALA at the Kool Haus, Saturday, March 9. Rating: NNNN
Years ago, when Spiritualized played the Skydome as part of the Rollercoaster tour, it was surprising to see people stage-dive to their trippy jams. Fast-forward two decades and it's totally absurd to watch girls in designer leggings pass flannel-shirted doofuses over their heads while psychedelic Aussies Tame Impala shuffle along, attempting to blow minds.
Singer and main Impala Kevin Parker led the band through the fuzzed-out bliss heard on last year's Lonerism, while also making time for spacious numbers from 2010's Innerspeaker. Considering how quickly they've ascended to Kool Haus-sized venues, it's impressive that they've kept pace with the audio requirements. The five-piece is loud, but each instrument remains crisp and well balanced - all the better to hear Julien Barbagallo's pristine drum fills.
A too-small screen played Spirographic images and fractals along to the beat, switching from black-and-white to colour during sexy foot-stomper Elephant. In a room where few people beyond the first five rows can see the band, it's nice to have something else to look at.
ERYKAH BADU at Kool Haus, Tuesday, March 5. Rating: NNNN
Sphinxy, beguiling Erykah Badu is one of America's best musicians (in the rockist sense of "best"), so despite the $70 price tag attached to the hastily announced Baduizm retrospective show, it had a significant turnout and easy vibes.
Instead of playing that Grammy Award-winning debut, though, Badu ran through 2000's Mama's Gun. It's a jazzier, more complex and confessional record - and therefore less accessible than the clear-eyed soul of single-heavy Baduizm. Dressed simply in a skirt and loose grey T, hair piled into a cream tam, she moved playfully through the first side, taking her time by teasing out each song. Easing into the clarion top of her range, she skulked toward the night's centrepiece, Orange Moon. It was a two-hour set, and she performed only her pre-New Amerykah output.
It's a dream to find a musician as commanding as Badu in such a leisurely, unencumbered state. She conveyed something contemplative, moving and genuine; her songs have the kind of timeless, dignified conviction now heard in young artists like Frank Ocean.
PATTI SMITH at the AGO's Walker Court, Thursday, March 7. Rating: NNNN
At her early-evening 1st Thursday performance at the AGO, Patti Smith paused several times to read from her memoir Just Kids and to dedicate songs to the dead artists and poets honoured in her Camera Solo photography show. But rather than disrupt the evening's musical flow, the words enhanced it.
On a small stage in the cavernous Walker Court, the personable punk rock icon began with Grateful after telling us how grateful she is to have an exhibit at the AGO. Shaking her hands and raising her arms, her voice deeply resonant, she worked through spirit-summoning tunes Ghost Dance, My Blakean Year and Beneath The Southern Cross, with Tony Shanahan on acoustic guitar and harmonies and her daughter, Jesse Smith, on piano.
Despite the crowd's restraint and Smith's microphone coming unplugged, the show reached an emotional crescendo with Pissing In A River and Because The Night, which followed her reading of a letter to Robert Mapplethorpe that he didn't get to see before he died. It all sounds sombre on paper, but witnessing the remembrance of the dead by someone so defiantly alive - she ended with People Have The Power! - was nothing short of goosebump-raising.
OMAR S at Blk Box Theatre, Saturday, March 9. Rating: NNNN
The Foundry series has a lot going for it that other festivals might want to pay attention to. It's stretched out over the month of March rather than crammed into one weekend, which means partiers don't have to make difficult decisions about which headliners to miss, and also means it can all happen at one good venue. More importantly, though, the decision to invite promoters from various scenes to program showcases helps build connections between communities.
That last aspect was particularly evident at the Breakandenter-hosted Omar S gig Saturday night. The reclusive Detroit producer/DJ has a dedicated cult following among the older school of house and techno heads, but this setting ensured that some newer dance music fans also became converts. Like many Detroit DJs, Omar S has an eclectic approach, bouncing from hard, minimalist techy elements to smooth emotional soul tangents, and his set spanned decades of underground club sounds. Long-time fans, meanwhile, who'd been waiting years for his return to Toronto left satisfied.