Thu, Aug 2
THE LUYAS at Sneaky Dee's Rating: NNN
After Steve "the Blankket" Kado's characteristically weird spectacle, which included everything from a tender cover of Dancing In The Dark to the dude's sudden exit midway through his set, leaving the confused crowd at Sneaky Dee's scratching their heads while Kado bolted down a flight of stairs (his track played on), the Luyas' relatively conventional rock act was welcomed with gentle sighs of relief.
After a four-act bill that stretched la-a-a-te into the sweltering school night, you were jonesing for music that'd connect with your emotions and senses - not test the limits of your capacity for critical thought.
The former is the forte of Montreal's Luyas, the three-way love-in between S.S. Cardiac Jessie Stein, French horn innovator Pietro Amato and drummer Stef Schneider (the latter two of Bell Orchestre). Though Stein handles guitar and vocal duties, traditional ground for a frontperson, she isn't a bandleader in a typical sense.
The Luyas are a true collective. Watching them create synchronized warped textures like a three-headed beast added a captivating energy to the group's intense, darkly pretty rock songs. Live, the three are rougher and more aggressive than you might expect from either their recorded output or the sweet-sour pop songs Stein's performed in the past. She ripped open their set with a loud, saw-toothed guitar riff, allowing the noise to settle before adding contrast in the form of her airy treble voice.
Whether or not it's intentional, Stein's girlish singing can compromise the tone of her lyrics. She has a penchant for writing about dark, awful heartbreak and dark, awful death, subjects that don't always translate when delivered delicately. That said, it's more enjoyable to hear a singer's self-possession and playfulness when addressing gloomy topics than to be pummelled with relentless emo self-pity.
Fri, Aug 3
SINGING SANDRA, MACOMERE FIFI, LORD SUPERIOR and more, at Harbourfront Centre Rating: NNN
Another virtually perfect Caribana event went down Friday as members of Caribbean calypso royalty graced Harbourfront with their presence.
Lord Superior, celebrating his first visit to Toronto in 40 years (his last appearance coincided with the birth of Caribana) mixed the mid-tempo shuffling boogie of a good calypso tune with a humble message of self-respect.
The island soul man complemented his sharp black bowler and black-and-white pinstripe suit with snappy stage banter, spouting comedic couplets to keep the crowd energized. The Lord lived up to his name, addressing the abolition of slavery as sagely as he took on the battle of the sexes, before ushering in Singing Sandra, who strode onstage to thunderous cheers.
Between the festive tunes, Sandra bellowed, "I can't wine, but I can slap you with lyrics!" She did, commanding the stage and imparting messages of self-worth and pride to the women ("I'm not a man-basher," she insisted, "just a very observant, rebellious female!"), then went on to disprove her lack of dancing ability, shaking it for her final song, Die With My Dignity, which had the whole audience laughing and living it up.
DJ PRINCE PAUL at State Theatre Rating: NNN
Damn those expectations. Prince Paul tore the roof off Gypsy Co-op more than once in the past, so knowing he was in town for the smokin'-hot Fever DJ showcase at State Theatre had heads expecting to get rocked. And Paul rocked the spot Friday, but not with what you'd expect to hear from the legendary Long Island creator of the hiphop skit.
After DJ P-Plus warmed up the audience with a Detroit smackdown, Paul began a chronological journey down memory lane, seeming to alternate between greatness and today's hits, without a hint of sarcasm or irony to differentiate between the two. It's wonderful to hear Mama Said Knock You Out, then Children's Story, but if you up the ante by dropping Geto Boys' Mind Playing Tricks On Me, no DJ should select Everyday People by Arrested Development next. It just makes no sense.
Paul's energy and timing are as decent as you'd expect from a man who's been making music for over three decades, but his selections left something to be desired. The Prince is a notorious joker, but he doesn't seem to care whether or not the crowd's in on the joke. Case in point: dropping the atrocious Party Like A Rock Star before spinning a Ja Rule record. "Expect the unexpected" never felt like a more appropriate axiom.
Sun, Aug 5
BARRINGTON LEVY at Harbourfront Centre Rating: NN
If any more people had wanted to see Sunday's free Harbourfront performance by superstar reggae crooner Barrington Levy, they would've had to swim in. Whatever the legal capacity of the area surrounding the mainstage, it was stretched to the breathing limit by an enormous crowd that didn't stop expanding throughout Levy's medley-of-hits set.
While the majority were cell-photo-snapping fans who whooped at each familiar rhythm, waved their hands on cue and shouted along to the choruses of Under Mi Sensi and Too Experienced, there were many gawkers who came to find out why the insane mass of humanity had assembled to see some jolly Jamaican bloke who couldn't seem to finish a single tune. The whole frustrating performance was actually just one extended medley punctuated by Levy's shouts of "Toronto, are ya sleepin'?" whenever audience interest waned.
Perhaps instituting a mandatory charitable donation of, say, a toonie for Harbourfront concerts would cut down on rubberneckers wandering aimlessly back and forth in front of those trying to enjoy a show. But while they're working on that, Harbourfront could really use a few friendly crowd control personnel stationed at entrance points to ensure that the number of spectators doesn't exceed safe limits. Their current open-door policy is a disaster waiting to happen.
DAFT PUNK at Arrow Hall Rating: NNNN
It takes a larger-than-life group to make a hangar-sized venue like Arrow Hall feel small.
As the curtains lifted on Daft Punk's eye-popping pyramid spaceship stage spectacle, it seemed that the roof had opened for two robotic extraterrestrials to land their ship and blast us humans with deadly rays of chest-pounding house musique.
After the theme from Close Encounters, the bots kicked it off appropriately with Robot Rock, keeping the lighting grid that framed the pyramid glowing in a minimal colour scheme of red, black and blinding white.
Midway through, as they cut and mashed their way around classics like Around The World and Harder Better Faster Stronger, the pyramid filled with green neon lines and glittering star fields, resembling something out of Tron.
Helmeted Daft pair Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, meanwhile, stood stationary in their console, occasionally showing signs of humanity by pumping their fists (especially during fan favourite One More Time).
The encores included Stardust's Music Sounds Better With You, highlighted by an ingenious moment when the music stopped, the lights went out and the duo were suddenly illuminated as two glowing orange X-ray figures.
A perfect interstellar coalescence of rock, disco and the rapture of thousands.
Mon, Aug 6
THE HOLD STEADY at the Opera House Rating: NNNN
A lot has changed for the Hold Steady in the last year. After Pitchfork gushed over their latest, Boys And Girls In America, music consumers dutifully bought their record and packed clubs across the country. In T.O., evidence of their meteoric rise to indie fame could be seen in their most recent venue choice, the Opera House. It's a sizable step up from last October's Horseshoe gig.
Showing no signs of wear after playing five consecutive nights, the Hold Steady rocketed through hits from their new disc, prompting singalongs, hand-clapping and wild cheers.
Besides having good songs, the Hold Steady know how to perform. Animated singer Craig Finn's bizarre hand gestures and ADD-like banter brought a frantic energy to the show, while Franz Nicolay's accordion and harmonica solos were a nice touch.