WATAIN and IN SOLITUDE at the Opera House, Saturday, October 12. Rating: NNN
Swedish black metallers Watain brought out a not huge but mighty legion of fans for their Toronto stop in support of August's The Wild Hunt. The crowd chanted and moshed from the first note onward, even though the Opera House's acoustics buried the complex songs' nuances and lead guitar, and the set felt overly long.
Those expecting the kind of spectacle for which the band is known - buckets of animal blood, the smell of burning flesh - might've left disappointed. Neither were seen or smelled; the venue has allegedly banned the use of either on its stage. But we did get inverted crosses, an unsettling backdrop and smeared grey makeup that makes the members look like they're rotting.
Openers and fellow Swedes In Solitude, who also joined Watain when they came to Toronto a year ago, were the real highlight. Lithe and energetic, the Mercyful Fate-loving five-piece walloped us with tunes from their fantastic new Sister LP, which brings more post-punky dissonance and moody atmosphere into the traditional metal formula. Riveting singer Pelle Ahman enhanced the former, and burning incense the latter.
J. COLE AND WALE at Massey Hall, Tuesday, October 15. Rating: NNNN
Toronto-loving DC rapper Wale cut a fine silhouette in front of a giant, bulbed light screen, executing 45 minutes of high-energy rhymes including Rotation (complete with onstage blunt-smoking in a designated National Historic Site of Canada) and twerk anthem Clappers.
Massey Hall is an interesting choice for a rap show, and the gamble paid off. When J. Cole appeared at 9:15, the stage had been transformed, with a proper live band and a screen showcasing visuals selected and arranged by Cole himself. His show began with a (fake) news report of a critically injured Cole, setting the scene for a theatrical journey through the MC's dream-like reality.
Tracks from Born Sinner were spat back at him, but the crowd liked mixtape tunes Blow Up, In The Morning and Lights Please just as much - if not more - and the show bounced along at a solid clip. Ninety minutes seemed like 45. Too soon, he slowed things down and closed out with two of his biggest hits, Crooked Smile and Power Trip.
KAE SUN at the Rivoli, Thursday, October 10. Rating: NNN
People try to categorize Kae Sun's music. His latest album, Afriyie, has elements of folk, R&B, reggae, soul and pop. Sometimes he gets tagged as "urban-folk" or "neo-folk" or "folk-soul." Or something.
Thursday night at the Rivoli, backed by a five-piece band and two laptops, the genial Ghanaian-Canadian singer produced a variety of sounds wonderfully difficult to pin down.
With so many people on a small stage, the band at first seemed to dwarf him (and drown out his vocals). But by song two, Sun was in command - loud and clear on the upbeat Heart Healing Pulse and for the rest of the set, sounding like a vocal hybrid of Ziggy Marley and Ben Harper.
The band came alive on Ship And The Globe, a tune with a singalong chorus and grabby bass line that had almost a grunge quality.
Nothing could top Blackstar Rising, though, an achingly pretty song Bob Marleyan in its music and message. As far as genres go, Sun eventually clarified it for us: "It's music. Pure and simple."
GOBLIN at the Opera House, Friday, October 11. Rating: NNN
Throwing up metal horns at a Goblin show is an odd thing. The Italian electro-prog band best known for their soundtrack work on 70s horror films Suspiria, Profondo Rosso and Dawn Of The Dead seem only tangentially connected to metal, mostly through a genealogy of T-shirts.
Broadly speaking, the same kind of person who likes heavy metal likes classic zombie and giallo movies, and Goblin allows hardened heavy music fans to unself-consciously enjoy layered synth lines that veer precariously close to straight-up disco.
This incarnation, technically called "New Goblin" but always referred to as just "Goblin," has long-time members Massimo Morante, Claudio Simonetti and Maurizio Guarini reunited for their first-ever North American tour, playing their greatest hits: Mad Puppet from the Profondo Rosso soundtrack, the themes from Phenomena, Dawn Of The Dead and Suspiria (accompanied by a whirling ballet dancer).
Most of the crowd-pleasers were stacked toward the end, which had everyone shifting around all "When are they gonna play Suspiriaaaa?" before then. But when it came, Simonetti led the audience in a guttural singalong, and it felt more or less worth the wait.
FLATBUSH ZOMBIES at Wrongbar, Sunday, October 13. Rating: NNN
Toward the end of their set, Flatbush Zombies cut their own music and played Kurt Cobain's anthem for disenfranchised youth, Smells Like Teen Spirit. An apt choice for the Flatbush, Brooklyn crew - rappers Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and producer/sometime rapper Erick Arc Elliott - who make scrappy, mosh-pit-inducing hip-hop imbued with punk spirit.
In three years together they've aligned themselves with rising rappers including A$AP Rocky (Bath Salt was a highlight on the otherwise mediocre A$AP Mob mixtape Lords Never Worry) and Danny Brown, but don't expect to hear their songs on the radio. Playing a selection of tunes from their two mixtapes - 2012's D.R.U.G.S. and the recently released BetterOffDEAD - they had the audience crowd-surfing and spilling their drinks with reckless abandon. Unlike Walking Dead zombies, the three would rather have a cornucopia of drugs than brains, which made for a highly energetic, though slightly repetitive 40-minute set.
It might have been Canadian Thanksgiving, but the trio brought Amerikkkan Pie (a BetterOffDEAD standout) for dessert.