PETER MURPHY at Lee's Palace, Friday, May 10. Rating: NN
"There's a lot of black here tonight," Peter Murphy remarked, surveying the sold-out, packed-in, rainwater-on-the-leather-pants-stinky crowd at Lee's Palace. "You don't have to wear black to be goth. I'm wearing blue. I was also never goth."
That was funny. It'd be like B.B. King telling you he was never a bluesman. Murphy's the godfather of goth, the founding member and vocalist of the goth rock band, Bauhaus. His set was entirely made up of Bauhaus songs, marking the 35th anniversary of the English group's formation.
Murphy strutted onstage to chant the lyrics to King Volcano from 1983's Burning From The Inside, then struggled against sound problems to work through greatest hits like Double Dare, Kick In The Eye and the band's signature tune, Bela Lugosi's Dead.
Murphy was charming, if a little hemmed in. It felt like watching a pretty good Bauhaus cover band, which I guess it pretty much was. The sound was noticeably bad: Murphy's mic cut in and out, only permitting certain registers of his rich baritone to pass through, and guitar failures required mulligans on a number of songs.
DRAGONETTE and THE PRESETS at the Danforth Music Hall, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNN
"Stick around for Dragonette!" singer/keyboardist Julian Hamilton called out at the end of the Presets' set. Well, duh. The Australian duo has been closing the shows on this co-headlined North American tour, but not in Toronto, where Dragonette are hometown electro-pop heroes.
The Presets' songs were bloated, but the band still energized the crowd with the mastery of tour veterans, so by the time Dragonette's Dan Kurtz, Joel Stouffer and Martina Sorbara (in weather-defying white jeans) emerged, the rain-dampened kids were legitimately hyped.
Compared to the Presets' seizure-inducing flashing screens, the set-up was modest - just an array of throbbing strobe lights used with some degree of restraint. Sorbara was charming, especially when boogying around to current single My Legs. Her vocals never got lost in the din, and slower jam Ghost gave her a chance to flaunt her singing chops, which often seem secondary to Dragonette's catchy hooks.
They saved the best for nearly last. Even though Hello was one of 2011's most egregiously overplayed songs, when I heard its unmistakable bass line, I couldn't help grinning.
CHARLES BRADLEY at the Phoenix, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNNNN
Charles Bradley is a human time capsule. Everything about his act - his purist soul, throwback funk, showmanship, wardrobe changes, storytelling - recalls the early 60s Apollo Theater and Motown heyday without ever veering into shtick. When he emerged onstage belting Crying In The Chapel, the Phoenix audience who had giddily, anxiously, patiently waited about an hour longer than expected was transported.
Bradley's voice is magnificent: an enormous raspy wail that conveyed pain, pleasure and passion on Confusion, You Put The Flame On It and Golden Rule. He screeched James Brown-style often and effectively and swung his mic stand expertly. He alternated between sensual shimmying, the robot and unselfconscious freestyle, crouching down and raising his arms into a heart shape. The six-piece Menahan Street Band were marvellous without ever stealing the show. (With a frontman as genuine as Bradley, this is impossible.)
You can get a sense of his incredible life story by listening to his lyrics or watching Soul Of America, the documentary that tracks his six decades of struggle and recent success. Or you can just look at his face when he sings Why Is It So Hard, a bring-the-house-down ballad he saved for the finale before descending into the crowd.
THE BREEDERS at the Danforth Music Hall, Saturday, May 11. Rating: NNN
The Breeders have done everything they can to recreate their hit album Last Splash live in celebration of its 20th anniversary. Everybody's participating, including violinist Carrie Bradley; bassist Josephine Wiggs switches to drums for a song, as she did in the studio; they sample the Minimoog used on the record. "We even brought the wind chimes," frontwoman Kim Deal told us proudly, pointing toward Jim Macpherson's drum kit.
The attention to detail was endearing, as was Kim's never-fading megawatt smile. Twin sister Kelley Deal also appeared to be having fun, making conversation with herself and gesticulating like a drama kid when not coaxing feedback and riffs from her guitars.
Last Splash is a disjointed record. Playing it front to back resulted in a set with halting momentum that waxed during cheerful, driving tunes Cannonball, Divine Hammer, Saints and I Just Wanna Get Along and waned during the moodier Roi, Mad Lucas and Hag. But Kim's pretty, sandpapery vocals remain some of the best in rock, plenty of songs from their acclaimed 1990 debut, Pod, made the cut, and a cover of the Beatles' Happiness Is A Warm Gun totally hit the mark.