Tue, Apr 17
NAS at the Kool Haus
With no opening act, the packed Kool Haus was eagerly anticipating one of the greatest MCs ever to defend (and thus discredit) the statement put forward by his Hip Hop Is Dead album tour. Onstage, the decks were set up behind an enormous black coffin, setting the scene for DJ Les, who hyped the crowd all night alongside a solo Nas. Though Nas missed the occasional rhyme and had the odd lyrical glitch during the non-chronological presentation of songs from his many eras excited everyone - for a while. T.O.'s notorious apathetic vibe kicked in three-quarters of the way through, but Nas wittily countered with "Wake up, Toronto!" before launching into the Kanye West jam Still Dreaming. Later, he fired off a seemingly impromptu six-verse encore over a mix of random standout guest appearances and pleasant-surprise album cuts, ending with Thief's Theme. It might have been the best concert Nas has ever put on in this city.
Fri, Apr 20
FEMBOTS with NATHAN LAWR at the Music Gallery
Good things come to those who wait, right? Let's hope so. We were totally stoked to see perpetually underrated local junkyard roots outfit the FemBots make their rattletrap magic inside the Music Gallery, since it seems like it's been forever since Dave MacKinnon and Brian Poirier played a proper show here. More to the point, we were itching to hear what new material they've dreamt up since releasing their conceptual musical love letter to Toronto, The City (Paper Bag) back in 05. Much to our disappointment (and likely that of the packed crowd), the 'Bots didn't offer much of a preview. After a solid set by Nathan Lawr, whose ragged roots rock tunes took on an almost carnyish tone thanks to a tight brass ensemble, MacKinnon and Poirier swung through a chronological overview of the Fembots catalogue, from 2000's Mucho Cuidado through to The City. Admittedly, it was great to hear the old tunes soar in reconfigured arrangements, and the pair's expanded backing band (Lawr replaced frequent percussion sidekick Jason Tait and lent the services of his brass crew, and vibraphone genius Paul Aucoin was on hand) was a bonus. Still, we were left wondering what's next for the low-key pair.
Sat, Apr 21
THINK ABOUT LIFE with GERMANS and CRYSTAL CLYFFS at Rancho Relaxo
Things got severely crazed up at Rancho Relaxo from the instant Think About Life frontman Martin "Dishwasher" Cesar went from shaking it on the floor to solid sets by Montreal-based openers Crystal Clyffs and Toronto's Germans to hitting the muggy venue's stage. Calling for folks to scream into the mic, his band cranked out hellish high-tempo riffs while the crowd erupted in cathartic shrieks and wails. It seemed even Cesar's leather jacket was sweating as the idiosyncratic vocalist, under the strobe of flashing cameras (which he worked like a hungry Kate Moss), tried to out-scream his fans for the next half-hour.
Spending much of the performance leaning out into the crowd, Cesar jokingly but insistently introduced his band as Sunset Rubdown, and later sarcastically shouted out "the Arcade Fire!" Between Cesar's guttural vocals and Think About Life's serrated punk disco steez, the band practically blew the walls apart on the shoebox-like stage. Show promoter Eric Warner looked more concerned that they'd actually burn the walls down, though, when "Dishwasher" set fire to the band's set list and swung from an important-looking pipe above the stage. A few people even got to hang 10, surfing the packed crowd despite the low roof and whir of the ceiling fan.
BUDDY GUY with JACKIE GREENE at Massey Hall
Now into his 70s and having outlasted most of his Chicago scene contemporaries, blues guitar great Buddy Guy seems to be growing accustomed to his role as elder statesman. Instead of using his Massey Hall show to let everyone know how he inspired guitar gods Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, he offered a crash course in the innovative moves of Muddy Waters, Albert King and John Lee Hooker. Guy even threw a little Albert Collins into the mix by stepping offstage, walking down the centre aisle, up the stairs and into the first balcony without losing the groove. Accompanied by a burly backing band who could've passed for the defensive front four of the Chicago Bears, Guy proved he's still got that stinging Strat attack. Unfortunately, all that time spent on the work of others left little room for any of his own Chess, Delmark and Vanguard label classics.
Mon, Apr 23
DEERHUNTER at the Horseshoe
Apparently, Deerhunter main man Brandford Cox isn't anorexic, though that's likely what everyone in the Horseshoe crowd thought when the Atlanta indie noise rock band first took the stage. Cox, dressed in a white dress and wearing a long black wig, looked like a goth Holocaust survivor holding court as his band blasted out a bevy of top-notch tunes from their new record, Cryptograms (Kranky). It was tough to take your eyes off the frontman, who suffers from Marfan syndrome; he's as engaging as he is frightening. As the band brought their maniacal sounds to a climax, Cox flopped around the stage fellating the mic and switching rapidly between singing and screaming. It's tough to say whether the half-full 'Shoe warmed to Deerhunter's performance, but this was no doubt one of the more memorable gigs of the year so far.