JADEA KELLY at the Great Hall, Wednesday, May 22. Rating: NNN
At Jadea Kelly's album launch for her latest, Clover, the Toronto country-folk musician was as sweet and gracious as the crowd was warm and supportive. The Cameron House regular increased her band to a six-piece that included two drummers.
The added musicians brought oomph to the slow to mid-tempo songs, but occasionally the lush arrangements detracted from the songs' simple clarity or flatlined them into pleasant but middle-of-the-road territory.
Kelly really shines when she fully commits to the mournful noir country sound heard on I'll Be, You Had Me and Powell River. For these, she set aside her acoustic guitar for a resonant hollow-bodied electric, slowed tempos to a crawl and pushed her plaintive vocals to the darkest corners of the room. Her unguarded, sincere lyrics rose to the foreground as guitarist Tom Juhas added slinky, atmospheric twang via a bottleneck slide.
A handful of guest vocalists assisted intermittently, including Kelly's roommate, musician Melanie Brulée, whose confident stage presence helped make Violet the night's most electrifying song. It approached near-psychedelic levels, inducing chills.
THE BLOODY BEETROOTS at the Phoenix, Friday, May 24. Rating: NNN
Dance music isn't traditionally a genre based on live performance, but contemporary EDM superstars have been working hard to change that by borrowing heavily from the conventions of stadium rock and mainstream pop. Italian electro house producer the Bloody Beetroots once performed mostly as a masked DJ, but his current show is more like a cross between KISS's campy glam metal theatrics and a full-on rave.
His band all wore the same Venom mask that has long been his trademark, synths were hidden in a grand piano shell, a chrome 50s microphone was waved around (mostly for visual effect), and a giant glowing sign pulsed in the background, just in case you forgot who you were watching. This is not about subtlety: most of the tunes sound like a computerized take on AC/DC, and the audience responds with stage-diving and fist-pumping. Unfortunately, it's still pretty formulaic big-room dance music, in a style that sounds increasingly out of date. Nevertheless, it's big, dumb fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.
CBCMUSIC.CA FESTIVAL at Echo Beach, Saturday, May 25. Rating: NNN
Though the inaugural CBCMusic.ca Festival was sold out, CBC streamed the whole thing live and had pre-posted set times (even set lists!) for all performers, creating an oddly futuristic, incredibly punctual, not-so-spontaneous vibe.
Despite gourmet food trucks and a goofy digital photo booth, the fest never let its hair down - probably because the whole thing was so self-consciously plugged in to Twitter.
Crowds cheered Sloan during a late-afternoon set spanning the band's two-decade career as red beach balls flew over the sand. Elisapie - a Juno Award-winning singer from Salluit (northern Quebec) - impressed on the second stage with her relaxed stage presence and throat singing. Kathleen Edwards got spunky in her between-song banter, explaining that Empty Threat was about following her vagina to America.
Iceland's Of Monsters and Men delivered a theatrical if predictably mainstream indie set to a huge crowd of fans, and the Sam Roberts Band closed the night with swagger and flair (and some really great sax solos), pulling off a series of tunes about love, sex and dancing and delivering the über-Canadian lyric of the night: comparing a woman's hair to a Canadian highway.
ROLLING STONES at the Air Canada Centre, Saturday, May 25. Rating: NNNNN
At the first of two Toronto dates on their 50 And Counting tour, the Rolling Stones wasted no time wowing the ACC with iconic imagery. A gigantic screen projected their signature red lips, retro crowd shots, inventive animation and Jumbotron-sized versions of the band. A tongue-shaped track jutted out, with the luckiest ticket-holders wedged within. Mick Jagger often raced around it, stopping to shimmy, shake, wave and emote, all while worming his torso enough so we could see every vertebra.
Of the many remarkable guest spots, the best was by one-time Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, who delivered virtuosic solos on the epic blues opera Midnight Rambler.
Throughout Miss You, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar and Sympathy For The Devil, Jagger cavorted in his jerky, jutty way, all elbows, knees and, of course, hips. Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards were having a ball. Charlie Watts looked content to be there, more reserved than the rest, perhaps the only one feeling his age.
Nobody minds that the Stones have been performing the same songs for decades. When they closed out with Satisfaction two hours and 20 minutes after they started the show, some 17,000 concertgoers from Toronto, the States and the Northwest Territories (by my row's count alone) left completely and utterly satisfied.