Robyn. Echo Beach, August 25
RÖYKSOPP and ROBYN at Echo Beach, Monday, August 25. Rating : NNNN
Despite having released only seven songs together, Robyn (the Swedish pop star) and Röyksopp (the Norwegian electronic duo) put on a formidable show, performing separate sets before linking up for the third act.
In matching neon, accompanied by a full band and flashing screen projections, Röyksopp played some of their most infectious, melodic stuff, setting the tone for the dance party that followed.
Kicking off her set with 2005's Be Mine, Robyn brought a primal, sexual zeal to the stage, moving from her pelvis and bringing the best steps from her Call Your Girfriend video. A couple of new songs sounded extremely prom ising, but the most dramatic moments were Call Your Girlfriend and Dancing On My Own, for which the crowd expectedly - and collectively - lost their shit.
As a combo, the two acts channelled a theatrical, abstract vibe. For Sayit, Robyn lay on her back flanked by her collaborators, who each wore a face-concealing mask à la Yeezus tour. Later, for The Girl And The Robot, she knelt on the ground and sang up to either Svein Berge or Torbjørn Brundtland (it's hard to say), who gazed down at her indifferently, wearing an industrial robot head. (I think I speak for the entire venue when I say: I've been there, too, Robyn.)
PS I LOVE YOU with FROG EYES at the Drake Hotel, Tuesday, August 19. Rating: NNN
Frog Eyes frontman Carey Mercer was forced to start playing alone while the band waited for their drummer to "put his pants on." He defused the nervous laughter by fingerpicking a new track on his own before the other members kicked in with The Road Is Long. Mercer's quirks eventually settled into a compelling stage presence. His voice quivered and rose as the band took their cinematic, cabaret-influenced rock in strange directions (but not nearly as strange as his stage banter).
Afterward, guitar and drums duo PS I Love You cranked out a relentlessly loud and fuzzy set. Their playful new track Bad Brain Day worked just as well live as the heavier tracks from their first two records. Its simplicity showcased the naked emotion - inherent in many of the band's songs - that is usually drowned out by feedback.
Guitarist Paul Saulnier blamed summertime pneumonia for making it "hard to sing." His voice did break at times, but he made up for that with his trademark wild pedal work. The crowd had thinned drastically by that point, but the duo sent the last fans into the night with ringing ears.
MR. SCRUFF at Wrongbar, Wednesday, August 20. Rating: NNNN
At a time when so many international DJs coming through town end up playing short one-hour sets at festivals alongside dozens of other performers, it's refreshing to attend a party where it's just one very skilled artist conducting the dance floor from opening to closing time. While Mr. Scruff's albums haven't been consistently great, over the past 20 years the Manchester DJ/producer has built a strong reputation for his wildly eclectic marathon sets, which is probably why Wrongbar was already busy at 11 pm.
In the course of the night, the music ranged from Afrobeat to techno to Latin jazz to breakbeats to house to disco, but the transitions between eras and genres were never jarring. His mixing and cutting were consistently smooth, even when moving between tempos, and his skilful use of EQ and effects added a dubby psychedelic edge. His set was a healthy reminder that the best DJs use their chops to make connections between styles of music rather than just pounding out one type of beat for an hour.
THE ST. ROYALS at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Friday, August 22. Rating: NNNN
On Friday, Toronto's St. Royals (in their 17-piece super-band formation: four vocalists, six horns and a seven-piece rhythm section) paid tribute to the King of Pop.
The first set was Motown covers - Sly & the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder crowd-pleasers - while set 2 was dedicated to the memory of MJ. Kicking off with I Want You Back, the group covered a lot of great early Michael (The Way You Make Me Feel, Thriller) as well as his newer fare and mid-career classics.
The 13 backing band members were exuberant and skilful. Unfortunately, the Mod Club's sound system didn't do them justice, and they sometimes sounded like a jumbled blur.
Each of the four lead singers was exceptional: Ania Soul and Joanna Mohammed's inexhaustible power pipes on Dance To The Music and Respect; Cat Lewis's take on Justin Timberlake tunes. But special mention goes to Gary Beals, who channelled James Brown, Joe Cocker and Carl Anderson from Jesus Christ Superstar, bringing down the house with every lead vocal turn.