Flying Lotus at the Sound Academy, Wednesday, May 15. Rating: NNNN
You can't put electronic artist/producer Flying Lotus's music in a genre-defined box, so it's fitting that the live version offers unbridled imagery and sounds nobody else is making. He was here in October with his Layer 3 show, a trippy feat of technology that sees him behind one translucent scrim and in front of another while animation swirls around him.
The 3D seemed sharper this time and the projections more varied. It's a remarkable feat made more so by artwork that ranges from psychedelic shapes to animated street scenes to an exaggerated dragon monster reminiscent of Maori rock paintings. FlyLo emerged from behind the scrim a few times, mostly as Captain Murphy, his rap persona.
The openers were fantastic - and on time. Watching Teebs perform is the equivalent of taking a valium: you forget your worries as the orchestral electro washes over you. Thundercat, who joined FlyLo during the finale, is known for his virtuosic bass playing, but his singing was surprisingly stirring. He saved Heartbreaks + Setbacks for last. I declare it the song of the summer.
Boy at the Great Hall, Thursday, May 16. Rating: NN
Since their debut album, 2011's Mutual Friends, came out in Europe, Switzerland's Valeska Steiner and Germany's Sonja Glass have slowly built a following for their pleasant, commercially accessible folky pop.
Now that the record is getting a North American release courtesy of Nettwerk, Boy are on a headlining tour that attracted a quietly attentive crowd to the Great Hall. Many of the highlights on Mutual Friends are powered by joyous hooks and a sprightly bounce, but onstage the duo made do with a stripped-down set-up that naturally favoured their more rambling material.
Often Glass and a second acoustic guitarist would strum as Steiner sang conversational songs about fatal beauty and coffee shop ennui ever so carefully, with a programmed beat or foot drum adding the occasional kick. Oddly - save for an audience singalong - the pair failed to exploit this type of pop act's best asset: vocal harmonizing.
While their presence is likeable, Boy seemed too content to accept the creative constraints of their set rather than find interesting ways to overcome them.
Colin Stetson at the Great Hall, Sunday, May 19. Rating: NNNN
No matter how familiar you are with his work, seeing Colin Stetson perform live still provokes gobsmacked amazement at the sheer virtuosity of his physically demanding approach to solo saxophone.
It's almost distracting seeing his face turn red as he churns out lightning-fast spiralling arpeggios, using circular breathing to conjure up a continuous undulating wall of sound while simultaneously singing eerie counter-melodies into his horn and providing a thumping rhythm section from the clacking of the valves.
In an age when so much music is built from circuitry and computer programming, the novelty of a solo performer basing his approach on pushing the limits of his body is almost gimmicky, were the music itself not so entrancing.
That transcendental aspect is even more apparent in the material from his most recent album, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light, which often evokes the uplifting spirituality of gospel music tackled from an avant-garde angle. If only more experimental music were this joyfully cathartic to experience.
Rae Spoon, Slowpitch, Vanessa and others at the Polish Combatants Hall, Friday, May 17. Rating: NNN
The endlessly creative Rae Spoon is always up to something cool, and Friday night's TV Party was no exception. Inspired by the golden age of cable television, the event featured five teams consisting of a musical act and a filmmaker, each creating a "channel" for us viewers. Actual TVs stacked around the Polish Combatants Hall broadcasting static and exercise videos enhanced the sense of tube-watching.
SlowPitch's set was full of dark artistry - welcome after two lacklustre openers. Sci-fi turntablist and filmmaker Pouyan Jafarizadeh Dezfoulian went for "vintage horror," layering lonely, grainy black-and-white images mostly from 1922's Nosferatu with warped, dropped-pitched sounds that evoked a relentlessly thumping wind. Next, filmmaker Mark Pariselli's scrambled porn video scenes played to Vanessa from Lioness's low moaning and rhythmic gasping, conjuring pain and discomfort rather than pleasure.
Spoon's closing televangelist channel added humour to the night thanks to Leslie Supnet's narrative-driven images of mega-church congregation weirdness: a feverishly twitching woman looped over and over again, for example. Meanwhile, Spoon sweetly sang Old-Time Religion while playing sounds you might find on your grandmother's ancient pedal organ, a fascinating juxtaposition of audio and visual.