D'ANGELO at the Sound Academy, Friday, May 31. Rating: NNNNN
It's been more than a decade since D'Angelo performed in Toronto, but when the reclusive R&B powerhouse strolled onstage brandishing a bright pink guitar, it was as if time had stood still. Although R&B has recently moved in a chillier direction, D'Angelo continues to bask in warmth - all the more remarkable considering his descent into addiction and 12-year career hiatus.
His Toronto comeback attracted a near-full house at Sound Academy (including local superstars Drake and Feist) that buzzed with equal parts anticipation and skepticism. Opening with a lively call-and-response take on Left & Right, he guided his eight-piece band through lengthy psychedelic funk reworkings of his back catalogue.
The biggest change in D'Angelo's music is his emphasis - and proficiency - on the guitar. There was a clear classic rock influence in two of the three new songs he performed. He saved the heartthrob histrionics for the encore. Returning to the stage alone, he sat at the keyboard smoking and teased Untitled (How Does It Feel?) note by note, pausing a ridiculous number of times to soak up the ensuing shrieks.
YOUNG GALAXY at Lee's Palace, Friday, May 31. Rating: NNN
In the years since their 2007 self-titled debut, Young Galaxy's sound has become more and more electronically focused, thanks in part to the influence of Swedish producer Dan Lissvik. But they're still framing their live show around a more conventional guitar-driven rock lineup, with a laptop filling in synthetic elements better played by machines.
The problem with backing tracks is that they give a show a bit of a karaoke feel and a sense that the band is just playing along. It took a few songs for Young Galaxy to loosen up, but paradoxically, it wasn't until they started playing their more overtly electronic material and began tweaking knobs and jamming with the sequenced elements that it felt more organic.
Once they found that groove, they had no trouble hypnotizing the crowd with their shimmering dream pop, and even inspired some gentle pogoing during the more upbeat moments (not a minor feat for a band this ethereal).
TOKYO POLICE CLUB at Sugar Beach, Sunday, June 2. Rating: NNN
Tokyo Police Club's 2006 EP, A Lesson In Crime, was one of the best debut records from a Toronto band. Catchy and hook-filled, with a running time that didn't overstay its welcome, it brought TPC to festivals like Coachella before any of its members had turned 21.
The Newmarket four-piece played a generous helping of A Lesson In Crime at a free Sunday afternoon show at Sugar Beach, including fan favourites Nature Of The Experiment and Citizens Of Tomorrow, which still hold up live. The bad news? The band wasn't nearly as emotionally or physically invested in their newer material, including tunes from 2010's Champ and two new songs from a forthcoming LP.
Livelier were openers Dinosaur Bones, fellow Torontonians who make indie rock that's at least partially influenced by Tokyo Police Club. Their set was cut short when the skies opened briefly on the Red Bull-sponsored bus that converted to a stage. The rain was short-lived, though, and didn't quell the crowd's energy.
SKELETONWITCH at the Annex Wreck Room, Sunday, June 2. Rating: NNNN
Since when are black metal bands so posi? Looking like an inked-up cross between Charles Manson and Russell Brand, singer Chance Garnette made broad overtures to ingratiate himself to the crowd: thanking everyone (multiple times) for coming out, offering shout-outs to the pot-smokers, beer-drinkers and other hell-raisers, and even complimenting Toronto's female metal fans. (Uh... thanks?) It was nice and everything, but where's the evil?
Really, Skeletonwitch's connection to the U.S. death and black metal scenes feels tangential. They're more a NWOBHM/thrash band with black metal vocals. It's like if Municipal Waste were a black metal band. Except with more solos. Garnette's abundant positivity and generosity helped whip the crowd into a sweaty frenzy as the band worked through cuts like Repulsive Salvation, Beyond The Permafrost and This Horrifying Force as well as a few from their forthcoming record, Serpents Unleashed. Heads banged, horns pumped, a circle pit broke out and there was even some late-show stage-diving. It felt very much like an old-school heavy metal show.