DJ BAMBII, THEESATISFACTION, JUSMONI and AYO LEILANI as part of BLACK WEIRDO: THE PARTY at the Steady Café, Friday, January 10. Rating: NNN
A crucial misstep at Black Weirdo: The Party, hosted by Catherine Harris-White - one half of Seattle alt hip-hop/R&B duo THEESatisfaction - was pushing back live performances until just before 1:30 am. Of course, it's hard to blame DJs White and DJ Bambii (Toronto's Kirsten Azan) for not relinquishing their spinning powers; those in attendance were lost in a blur of hip-hop and R&B classics.
After six successful Black Weirdo nights in Seattle, Oakland and Brooklyn, White knows how to make a party pop, even if this one was confusing. (The performers and DJs could have been introduced and hyped a lot more formally.) The pre-performance highlight of the night was the collective bounce when Bambii dropped Queen Bey's Flawless.
When they finally did appear, singers JusMoni and Ayo Leilani were both solid, so it was a shame they played to a half-full venue as people left to catch the TTC. Those who stuck around were treated to JusMoni's sultry, longing-filled soundtrack for cuffing season, while Leilani made the case for headlining an evening solo.
RAE SPOON, HIDDEN CAMERAS, WEAVES and B.A. JOHNSTON as part of LONG WINTER at the Great Hall, Friday, January 10. Rating: NNNN
Long Winter is beginning to feel like a mini Nuit Blanche. So much happens in so many different spaces, and an endless flow of bodies floats from room to room to see it all.
Amidst the gorgeous smell of Christmas trees (actually an "Xmas tree installation" by Chris Foster), Rae Spoon played tunes from their latest release. Solo, Spoon sounded like a full band and demonstrated the same self-assurance they have in smaller spaces. Later, Toronto's Hidden Cameras brought nine musicians onstage to preview their new album, Age. The collective liveliness contrasted with lead singer Joel Gibb's sombre baritone vocals, making for an engaging show.
Down in the restaurant, a topless B.A. Johnston made sure everyone could get up close and personal as he flailed through the crowd and jumped on the bar.
Meanwhile, the Conversation Room's white walls changed colour with reflective light. Sadly, it had the worst sightlines, but the masses didn't seem to mind. They packed in all night, especially for Weaves' 12:30 am set.
FRESH SNOW, MASS and DEL BEL as part of THE CLASS OF 2014 at the Silver Dollar, Saturday, January 11. Rating: NNNN
Considering the diversity of independent bands on display at the Silver Dollar, it would be easy to wax poetic about Toronto being one of the world's great music cities. The packed house was already aware of this, of course, and the bands let their music - clichéd as it sounds - do the talking.
Del Bel's jazzy set took time to get going but eventually built toward a climactic finish. Easily the most endearing act of the evening, they've honed their craft with precision.
While the beauty of Del Bel's music lies in its subtleties, thrashing punk rockers MASS bludgeoned the crowd with a driving set. Eschewing crowd interaction, the Ottawa expat four-piece polarized with their relentlessness. If you could hang on tight, their Hot Water Music-esque vibe was plenty powerful.
Well past midnight, the crowd was good and liquored up for recent NOW cover stars Fresh Snow. Curiosity abounded and, as per the night's running theme, the band shut up and rose to the occasion. Inspiringly cinematic, the instrumental rockers explored haunting sonic depths and overwhelming highs - all the while dancing between genres and tags with abandon.
NEIL YOUNG and DIANA KRALL at Massey Hall, Sunday, January 12. Rating: NNNNN
The atmosphere was charged at Massey Hall on Sunday night. Outside the storied venue, members of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation drummed and chanted as a crowd and police gathered. The point was to draw attention to Honour the Treaties - an org battling oil sand corporations and the Canadian government, which are allegedly ignoring Treaty 8 promises while wreaking irreparable damage on ACFN lands.
Inside, Diana Krall tickled the ivories ahead of a short silent film of aerial shots of the oil sands' extent and destruction. But the political focus instantly gave way to a musical one the moment Neil Young appeared. He made a show of throwing away his set list and then delivered From Hank To Hendrix, On The Way Home and Helpless on acoustic guitar.
At ease and conversational throughout the formidable near-two-hour solo set of deep cuts and "hits," Young recalled the 70s Yorkville folk scene and gave brief histories of the pianos and guitars he wandered between onstage. Mellow On My Mind, on banjo, was the liveliest; Southern Man the most riveting; A Man Needs A Maid the most awesomely strange (ominous synth juxtaposed with elegant grand piano); and a cover of Phil Ochs's Changes the most moving.
A few barbs got through. In Pocahontas, Young changed "Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me" to "Stephen Harper, Pocahontas and me" and sang of broken treaties. He also alluded to upcoming renos at Massey, where he recorded his legendary 1971 live album (which NOW chose as best Toronto record of all time). "Don't let them change this place," he said.