BANKS at the Hoxton, Tuesday, June 10. Rating: NNN
The last time Banks was in Toronto, she played Massey Hall in an opening slot for the Weeknd. In a couple of years she'll probably be headlining the famed venue herself.
The 25-year-old California native doesn't even have a full-length out yet, but she's already attracted a massive fan following obsessed with her not so unique brand of sultry R&B. They screamed in anticipation within the first few coos of Waiting Game, a single off her London EP, released last fall. When her shaky voice struggled to stay afloat over the heavy, reverberating bass of her backing band, the audience sang along to every word.
When she did manage to out-sing the beats, however, Banks sounded powerful, vulnerable and heartbroken. And she looked even more comfortable covering Aaliyah's Are You That Somebody? when she could play with coordinated dance moves.
The Hoxton was absolutely packed. The only chance anyone shorter than 6 feet had of seeing Banks slink around the stage was to shove their way through the crowd or view the show through the glowing iPhone screens snapping away all night.
JUNGLE at Lee's Palace, Sunday, June 15. Rating: NNNN
Translating a studio project to the stage can be a gamble, especially for a group who've been so invested in remaining faceless and anonymous in their early stages. In the case of UK soul pop band Jungle, their first live shows led to accusations of appropriation when it turned out they were actually a couple of white guys and not the ethnically diverse collective portrayed in their promo photos, which turned out to be just shots of dancers in their videos. Luckily, their live show is so tight that the quality of the music overshadows the controversy.
The four-piece band that played Toronto is considerably smaller than the seven-member group that appeared in previous performances, but they wisely avoided relying too much on backing tracks, keeping the energy level high for the entire set. Initially it felt distracting that the two lead vocalists had windscreens attached to their mic stands, covering much of their faces, but in some ways that helped put the emphasis where it should be: on the lushly arranged unison vocals and sensually laid-back disco rhythms.
RICK ROSS at the Guvernment, Sunday, June 15. Rating: N
Toronto ran out of patience for Florida rapper Rick Ross, who arrived onstage nearly 90 minutes past his scheduled set time. He only managed to transform irate booing into indifferent silence by the end of his 45-minute set.
Initially, it seemed Ross's glimmering gold presence was enough to quell the restless crowd. An opening volley of bangers had the frat boys pogoing, but it quickly became apparent that the set was going nowhere.
After rapping the first verse of most songs, he would then hang back and expect the audience to rap along to the guest features (they didn't). He cut short more popular songs only to dial down the mood with introspective newer ones such as Thug Cry. Eventually, even the women dancing on the speakers stopped reacting audibly.
On Mastermind, Ross showcased conscious material and vulnerability alongside his usual hard-hitting bass and Mafioso braggadocio. Ironically, his attempt to show his more meaningful side to an impatient 1 am club crowd only emphasized his obliviousness. Ross is more compelling in the studio than on the stage because you can't see him for what he is: a gifted rapper whose image has become a crutch.
ZIGGY MARLEY and SIERRA LEONE'S REFUGEE ALL STARS at David Pecaut Square, Saturday, June 14. Rating: NNN
Luminato's penultimate evening brought reggae from West Africa and Jamaica to downtown Toronto.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars (who met in a Guinean refugee camp during Sierra Leone's civil war) were up first, playing an hour-long show that included campfire-suited tunes from newest album Libation. The stripped-back jams harken back to the band's early days but seemed a little mellow for the massive Luminato stage.
Headliner Ziggy Marley, Bob's oldest son, kicked up the energy level with his 10-person show and remarkable charisma.
Opening with Love Is My Religion, Wild And Free and I Don't Wanna Live On Mars - one song from each of his last three records - Marley played a crowd-pleasing 90-minute set that touched on all the highlights of his career, including his family band days with the Melody Makers.
A handful of songs from his latest album, Fly Rasta, got their Toronto debut, and while the crowd certainly responded to those gently psychedelic tracks, nothing matched the excitement whenever Ziggy mined Bob's catalogue.