Thurs, July 5
THE POLYPHONIC SPREE at the Phoenix Rating: NNNN
If the CIA started organizing covert rock concerts instead of creating clandestine prisons, their set-up might look like a Polyphonic Spree show.
For Thursday's roll through the Phoenix , all 23 Spree members - including leader and ex-Tripping Daisy vocalist Tim DeLaughter - donned black, military-style garb and basically shouted their way through a passionate two-hour performance.
The night kicked off with Feist-wannabe Jesca Hoop , who was clearly out of her element. With just a guitar in hand, she played through a series of quiet, unimaginative tunes, then berated the audience when their chatter grew too loud.
The Spree's multi-musician army didn't have to worry about distracted fans. The band kicked off the show with Running Away, the second track from their recent The Fragile Army disc, and proceeded to play a fair number of songs from both The Beginning Stages Of... and Together We're Heavy.
But the best thing about the show, nearly 120 minutes of music that included a cover of Nirvana's Lithium, was the band's blistering performance. DeLaughter posed godlike on a monitor, walking into the audience to high-five fans, and mid-set the band changed into their cultish robes. Intense, engaging and plain old fun.
VAN MORRISON at the Hummingbird Centre Rating: NNN
Since Van Morrison and his sizable band were booked to play the Montreal Jazz Festival Tuesday (July 3), it just makes sense that he'd want to pick up another gig in Toronto before flying the whole crew home to England. And with the "cheap seats" for his Hummingbird Center show going for $175 (the tickets were $221 if you wanted to be sure Morrison heard you hollering, "Hey Van, you're the man!" during each lull), he stood to be well compensated for any food and/or spirits expenses incurred during the trip.
A fit and trim-looking Morrison, a wide-brimmed straw bluesman's hat pulled down over his eyes, strode forth to the tune of Talk Is Cheap, during which he seemed to savour the song's admonishment to "lay your money down" and repeated it with gusto.
His string-heavy orchestra was exceptionally well drilled and clearly familiar with the evening's set list. They didn't miss a beat while moving from one classic song to the next, leaving Morrison little room for freestyling. In fact, they kept everything running so tightly that there was no need for Morrison to fill time with entertaining anecdotes about growing up in Belfast's back streets or even to introduce the songs or his band members.
He did briefly break his silence to mumble that the next song could be found on his Greatest Hits, Volume 3 disc , but soon he was back to rushing through the song list, capitalizing on the momentary audience misdirection provided by a guitar or fiddle solo to steal a glance at his watch.
When time was up, he nodded thanks and split, leaving the band onstage to pause for a moment before launching into Gloria as the crowd-pleasing closer. On cue, Morrison popped back to voice the requisite encore and was gone again before the applause stopped.
THE WHITE STRIPES at the Molson Amphitheatre Rating: NNNN
When did the White Stripes turn into the soundtrack of beer-drenched frat boys? Sure, they're on a major major label now, and you'd have to be an idiot to expect the bulk of Jack and Meg White 's fan base to resemble the same kids who dug the duo when they were opening for Sleater-Kinney.
But, perhaps because the advertised door time for the show was a full hour and a half before even opener Dan Sartain was skedded to go on (leaving lots of time for concertgoers to chug Big Gulp-sized cups of beer), audience members were unusually wasted and out of control by the time the Whites went on around 9:30 pm.
Security guards had their work cut out for them; rarely does one see so many dudes get ejected so early in a show. And even if you're losing your shit cuz you're seeing your favourite band, 6-foot-tall Oakley Shades Man, it is not okay to grab a girl's boob! Invading personal space is bad enough; molestation is unforgivable.
It's a shame so many fans behaved badly, cuz the Stripes' show itself was stellar. Though the venues they play may be exponentially larger, the pair maintain their investment in a raw, clean aesthetic that informs both their music and their set-up.
Other bands might go haywire with added-on touring members and pyro, but the White Stripes' power lies in their minimalist art direction - they played against a giant red backdrop broken up by raised platforms that Jack occasionally mounted to play guitar god - and thundering, stripped-down delivery of both old bluesy material and newer cock-rock assaults.