Wed, May 16
THE ARCADE FIRE and HANDSOME FURS at Massey Hall
Considering the unforeseen juggernaut of international fame, univeral acclaim and celebrity fans that followed the Arcade Fire 's release of Funeral back in 04 (and the resulting global tours that found them jumping from mid-sized theatres to rocking stadiums with Davids Bowie and Byrne), you could almost forgive the unassuming Montrealers if they decided to rest on their laurels and phone it in for a while.
But based on Wednesday's Massey Hall blowout - the second show of their two-night Toronto stand - nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead of growing complacent in the face of an ever-increasing fan base, the Fire have poured every ounce of their resources into delivering the most intense, exhilarating stage show you're likely to see any rock outfit deliver. Ever.
The 10 members of the band posed and moved with subtle choreography, framed by a beautifully designed stage ringed with neon lights and a forest of lollipop-like screens upon which closed-circuit cameras projected close-ups of their sweat-soaked faces.
Frontman Win Butler couldn't quite contain his elated response to the crowd of dancing, cheering super-fans, but moved briskly through a set that spanned this year's Neon Bible and the bulk of Funeral (plus selections from their debut EP) with minimal banter.
He bellowed and howled while elfin partner Régine Chassagne channelled characteristic little-kid energy. Where she used fill lags in the set with Super Mario theme music, she now hops and dances like a cracked-out Goomba, sometimes while pumping a hurdy-gurdy or bracing herself under the weight of her accordion.
Though the newer material pales in comparison to Funeral and EP tracks on disc, Arcade Fire's dynamic live versions of tunes like the Klaus Nomi-ish Black Wave/Bad Vibrations and call-and-response siren song The Well & The Lighthouse proved that the fault lies not in the band's songwriting, but in Neon Bible's shaky production.
But beyond the delight in (re)discovering the beauty of those new songs, the real joy of Arcade Fire's return was realizing that they haven't abandoned the wholly unselfconscious fervour that's defined their live shows since they were playing to a handful of indie kids at the Rivoli. If anything, their commitment has deepened. Pretty fucking magical.
Fri, May 18
DAMIEN RICE at Massey Hall
Irish folky singer/songwriter Damien Rice has a rabid following these days, a fact revealed by the not-so-subtle onslaught of "We love yooouuuu"s coming from the Birkenstocks- and-baseball-hat-clad crowd at Massey Hall .
With no opener, Rice strolled across a stage sparsely decorated with candles and gear to deliver a lengthy set of crowd-pleasers. There were some emotional moments before Rice, who hadn't said much, regaled the crowd with a funny story about masturbating in his friend's bed after a rough day.
Unfortunately, the show as a whole was inconsistent. Worst was the lame, unnecessary white-acoustic-funk jam they tried to pull off, which would have been tolerable if Rice hadn't let his cellist take over briefly to perform one of her art house rap songs (seriously).
While he's got one hell of a presence, Rice seemed to be reaching to plug holes in the lengthy set list. Maybe with a little more thought next time he'll be even more bang-on.
ABDOMINAL CD release at Supermarket
As a flock of hiphop heads flooded Supermarket for MC Abdominal 's CD launch, pigeon cutouts above the stage brought the cover of his Escape From The Pigeon Hole disc to life. Now a veteran rhymer, Abs (with DJ pal Fase ad-libbing in back to show that shit ain't changed) supplied a steady flow of cynical humour and feats of MC strength.
Abdominal ripped a track about a certain fast food company's hiphop product placement, then bit into a 2-hour-old burger from the chain. He cut himself down with brave rhymes about being much less attractive than his female sibling, later joking that, when they stand back to back, he and Fase resemble a pick-axe.
He busted Pedal Pusher, a tribute to his bike courier days, then got Mayor David Miller to deliver a cellphone intro to his T.O. anthem. Then, as per usual, the MC also took a few deep, deep breaths and deflated through some super-syllabic eight-bar verses. No one was mad that he couldn't kick a full 16 in one shot.
To step it up a notch at the end of the night, Abs was joined by Do Right! labelmate Elizabeth Shepherd , who breathed some low-key soul into the final songs of a gold set.
Sat, May 19
THE CLIPSE at Tonic
Unknown technical difficulties kept Drake from opening, but JD Era kicked off Saturday's festivities well at Tonic .
The loyal audience of 150 or so had elbow room to spare, but the critically acclaimed Clipse brothers entered the stage spitting like they were entertaining thousands.
Momma, I'm So Sorry came first, easing us into their catalogue of Teflon hits. The excitement gradually built for crowd favourites before all 7 feet of Ab-Liva stepped up to represent properly during his three guest spots, and Malice and Pusha T seemed to truly enjoy their Toronto experience.
So why in god's name didn't they perform super-smash hit Wamp Wamp (What It Do) during their encore? Disappointments like that at rap shows will be Grindin' away your sanity.