La Roux at the Danforth Music Hall, June 1.
LA ROUX at the Danforth Music Hall, Sunday, June 1. Rating: NNN
A lot has changed since electro-pop duo La Roux burst on the scene in 2009. In particular, co-founder Ben Langmaid is no longer involved, leaving vocalist Elly Jackson to continue as a solo performer. That might be for the best, though, since the retro synth-pop feel of their self-titled debut album doesn't sound nearly as fresh as it did back then. The new songs Jackson previewed from her upcoming release, Trouble In Paradise, felt much more vibrant in comparison.
Considering the extended hiatus that preceded the album and tour, it made sense that she didn't seem especially thrilled to be revisiting some of her older songs. Unfortunately, because the new
record isn't out yet, she still had to base her set around that material, which the fans seemed more excited to sing along to than she did. Jackson and her touring band really came to life on the glammy new disco-rock jams, which often felt like a surprisingly effective
combination of LCD Soundsystem punk funk and Young Americans-era Bowie.
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS and STEVE GUNN at the Phoenix, Wednesday, May 28. Rating: NNN
A Kurt Vile show is a lot of mellow goodness but not a ton of engagement. There are few spikes in energy or volume, despite the Philly rocker's moving constantly between acoustic and electric guitars and his three-piece Violators churning out a full sound.
Bringing last spring's terrific Wakin On A Pretty Daze album to Toronto, Vile unsurprisingly focused on its tunes throughout the 90-minute set, coasting on stoner grooves and punctuating the sprawling songs with mesmerizing guitar leads, frequent hoots and drawn-out "yeah"s.
He only broke loose near the end, during Freak Train from third album Childish Prodigy, which upped the crunchy fuzz and saw Vile screaming the vocals and his bassist switching to sax. Earned him an encore, naturally.
Fellow Philadelphia (but Brooklyn-based) musician Steve Gunn was the perfect opener, an even more fluid, hypnotic guitarist than Vile, and with a fingerpicking style all his own. Water Wheel and Lurker from 2013's Time Off were standouts, and word is he's got something new coming out this fall.
JIM BRYSON, EVENING HYMNS, ANDREW VINCENT and ANDY SHAUF as part of KELP 20 at the Horseshoe, Thursday, May 29. Rating: NNN
Twenty years of music from Ottawa indie label Kelp Records is plenty to celebrate.
Evidently, it's also ample time to forget lyrics and chord changes. A spirit of bashful forgetfulness messed with nearly every brief, revue-style set and was met with forgiveness and laughs. (Folkie Andy Shauf is too young for the excuse, yet even he bailed on one of his songs because he couldn't recall some of its words.)
Like You've Changed, the label that celebrated its fifth anniversary at the 'Shoe last week, Kelp is a community. In this case, however, it's a community of ball-cap-wearing dudes who are pretty friggin' great at playing their guitars and yet oddly self-deprecating about their musicianship. (Jim Bryson, I'm looking at you.)
Evening Hymns' Jonas Bonnetta ended his set with the looped refrain "Women of the world take over / because if you don't / the world will come to an end," which raised the question, "Where are all the ladies?" With the exception of Guelph's Jenny Mitchell (who stepped in on bass for one brief, rocking song during Andrew Vincent's loose but brilliant set), all the musicians were men. Here's hoping that changes by Kelp 25.
CHLOE CHARLES at Yonge-Dundas Square, Monday, June 2. Rating: NNN
Yonge-Dundas Square is a hard space to command. There are no walls, no roof. People are milling, meandering and loitering. So it says a lot that folk-soul singer Chloe Charles had a pretty firm grip on those who attended the free weekly Lunchtime Live! series for the hour she was onstage.
The Uxbridge-raised singer/songwriter/guitarist and a five-person band performed new tunes from a forthcoming album (recorded last week), old favourites (including the first song she ever wrote) and two excellent covers, though she could have used better acoustics on Carole King's So Far Away. Still, her smokey vocals were solid and versatile in both her highest and lowest registers. Equally impressive was the honesty expressed in her very literal lyrics - whether she was singing about a one-night stand or her dad abandoning her to "raise glasses with Mick Jagger."
The crowd, which had doubled to around 100 (not counting all the others dipping in and out), wasn't going anywhere till it was over. At one point there was even a baby playing along with a maraca. It sounded like it belonged on the record.