SHUGGIE OTIS at the Phoenix, Sunday, April 14. Rating: NNNN
Shuggie Otis was only 21 when he disappeared from the public eye in the mid-70s after the release of his influential third album, Inspiration Information.
Since then, that record has gone on to be seen as a cult masterpiece of psychedelic soul music, and the reclusive singer/guitarist has emerged to tour behind a reissue of the legendary disc and a compilation of unreleased material he's quietly recorded in the decades since.
Otis grew up playing R&B onstage with his father as part of the Johnny Otis Show. But his obvious shyness and awkward stage patter between songs at the Phoenix suggest that he never got used to the spotlight - which perhaps explains his lengthy absence from show business.
Once he picked up his guitar and started singing, though, he seemed at home. Balancing cosmic funk, elegantly arranged soul and bouncy blues jams, Otis kept the hip-hop nerds head-nodding and the grey-haired hippies playing air guitar until the house lights came up.
KILO KISH and DISCLOSURE at the Hoxton, Thursday, April 11. Rating: NN
Kilo Kish's charm lies in her trials-of-young-love lyrics and concise, childlike delivery. She's groovy and funny and unselfconsciously honest.
Unfortunately, her conversational rap and experimental pop didn't transfer well to the Hoxton at 12:20 am.
She opened with her spin on Justin Timberlake's Suit & Tie, which elicited an appreciative roar but seemed a random choice. Following with Navy and Crosswire from her Homeschool EP, she lacked energy in delivery and stage movement.
A half-hearted version of BusBoy ("Girls hate it when you don't respond / Girls hate it when you live with Mom") had none of the recorded version's "oh-snap" zing.
At least her banter with the audience was gracious and good-natured, which was better than headliners Disclosure. The British electronic duo delivered their brand of bass music with all the flair of an unflinching Royal Guard.
Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence are very young (Howard is still a teen) and their sound has a youthful zip, harking back to 90s R&B, garage and hip-hop. Their soulful, consistently peppy songs defy you to stand still, so it was disappointing to be bored halfway through.
LES SANS CULOTTES with the SPHINXS, PATTI CAKE and the 8½s at the Silver Dollar, Friday, April 12. Rating: NNN
Four bands are a lot to take in in one night, but luckily all of these female-fronted (or co-fronted) garage, rock and soul groups were danceable.
Brooklyn's Les Sans Culottes - the fake French headliners of the evening - were sandwiched between Toronto's Patti Cake and the Sphinxs, which meant that the latter's raunchy triple-guitar torch soul set felt late and a little brief, which was too bad.
With the best time slot, the best crowd and the best hair (a wig?), Patti Cake all but stole the show. Singer Kritty Uranowski's got a voice so big that her first belt came as an eye-popping surprise. And the band has a rare ability to take the crowd into their wacky musical world.
Les Sans Culottes are 15-year-plus veterans of their campy brand of 60s French garage pop, complete with over-the-top Franglaise banter courtesy of lead man Clermont Ferrand. Their irony's hard to get a handle on, but their appreciation for Serge Gainsbourg, boy-girl vocals and wailing guitar solos is for real. So it didn't really matter what was real or fake about the performance - it was all fun.
RHYE at the Great Hall, Saturday, April 13. Rating: NNNN
Before Saturday night, Rhye were a mystery. A half-Canadian, half-Danish duo are the musicians behind Woman, one of this year's buzziest albums, and the lead singer sounds a lot like Sade. So it was a shock to many when a six-person, male-fronted band arrived onstage.
Confusion gave way to awe when Toronto-born Mike Milosh sang his first note. This was definitely the Rhye we'd been slow-jamming to for the past couple of months, but far better in person than on record. Unusually, there was seating at the dimly lit venue, and candles illuminated the stage. All this and Milosh's angelic singing lent a spiritual vibe.
Alt R&B is a term often applied to their genre-defying sound, but it didn't make sense until the live show, when a soulfulness in Milosh's voice I hadn't heard before suddenly put him in the same conversation as Prince and the Weeknd. The band's harmonies (most notably on The Fall) were chill-inducing, the musicianship flawless. The string section contained only the electric cello and a violin, but sounded symphonic. Milosh's jazz background was apparent, most notably in Last Dance and Hunger when the cellist swapped her instrument for a trombone.
Forty minutes is skimpy for a concert, but no one left feeling shortchanged. Milosh is a still-semi-secret Toronto treasure, and seeing him intimately in this habitat felt like discovering a new species in the Amazon.