Tues, Aug 28
POISON at the Molson Amphitheatre, Rating: NN
It's safe to say that iconic 80s hair metal/bluesy rockers Poison are way, way seriously past their expiration date. Judging by the dudes walking around the Molson Amphitheatre Tuesday with fake mullets and spandex, the band who once upon a time fucking oozed sexual machismo like they sweated oyster brine and champagne has now completely entered the realm of "bands you might like ironically."
That's not to say there weren't real bona fide fans in the house. They were there, hangin' in the depressingly half-filled sitting area, and they sure seemed to appreciate hearing all the songs they expected to hear (call it the legacy of popping your cherry to Every Rose Has Its Thorn), but, man, did singer/reality TV survivor Bret Michaels ever look and sound tired. Like, struggling-to-sing-after-the-third-song tired.
For a big-ticket stadium show, the whole production was shabby and relatively short. And what was up with the shockingly timid sound system that the band cranked all the way to a dull-roaring five? So the lads in Poison went through the motions, threw in some so-so covers and, sadly, tried to wiggle their tight butts around like they were still 25. Way too mediocre for the fans, and definitely not campy enough for the irony-hunters.
Thu, Aug 30
TALIB KWELI at the Phoenix, Rating: NNNN
A Talib Kweli show is among the most genuine rap concert experiences you can find in the new millennium - his rhyming (and rhythmic) consistency surpassed only by his generous hiphop energy. He's typical only in as much as he's a rapper sporting a plain white T-shirt, but that shirt will be soaked in sweat 10 minutes into an hour-and-a-half-long set.
Chamillionaire's newest video muse, Seazon, prepared the audience at the Phoenix for A-grade Okayplayer edutainment. The rising rapper and his hype man, N.I.F.T.Y., kicked out great Canadian hiphop joints, synchronizing their energetic show with overhead videos. Next, DJ Agile massaged the heads with true school hits before Kweli's DJ, Chaps, took over to drop more contemporary bombs on the crowd of true believers.
Chaps introduced Kweli with old-school flava, and the two demonstrated nearly seamless timing as they brought the MC's rich back catalogue to life. Kweli impressed by sprinkling Nas hits under his own, resurrecting Hi-Tek gems and throwing in selections from Madlib side project Liberation and his amazing new Eardrum disc, but surprise guest Jean Grae - arguably the best female MC in the game - was what really hooked the crowd.
As a bonus, Kweli laid out his excellent unreleased Beatles-sampling Lonely People before busting into an inspirational encore that climaxed with the religion-crucifying hymn Hell, then disappeared like a thief in the night.
You know you're doing something right when Jessica Alba shows up to hear you spit.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT at the Bravo Rehearsal Hall Rating: NNNN
Rufus Wainwright is a flamboyantly confident showman. While this quality can get him into trouble when left unchecked - witness the overly ornate arrangements that weigh down the songs on his recent Release The Stars disc - it also makes for a captivating live show. And Wainwright was in full fierce form when he stopped by Bravo's Queen West digs for a live taping of an episode of the station's Live At The Rehearsal Hall series.
Sporting tailored dandy suits in rainbow variations on a striped-ticking theme and gloriously gaudy massive rhinestone brooches, Wainwright and his minions looked like vaudevillian throwbacks.
Every move was choreographed. The singer waited patiently in the wings while the phenomenally tight band marched through the fanfare intro of Release The Stars, then strode, diva-like, to the centre-stage mic as though he were playing Caesar's Palace instead of a cramped studio.
When a technical glitch broke the spell - a shoddy mix meant they had to redo the entire song - a visibly irked Wainwright faked it well, mustering the same gusto when he punctuated his soaring choruses with hand gestures and performative hair flips.
Happily, perhaps due to the influence of "musical director" Gerry Leonard (a gifted ambient guitarist affiliated with Laurie Anderson and David Bowie), the live arrangements of material from Release The Stars were far stronger than their recorded counterparts. That was partly because of Wainwright's decision to replace sissy strings with a powerful Stax-style horn and woodwind section, which added muscle to Nobody's Off The Hook and Rules And Regulations.
But even when Wainwright quieted down, delivering intense piano versions of older songs The Art Teacher and Pretty Things backed by a single bass, he maintained the same sense of ceremony. He even got the crew to drag in a stool so he could perform teaser tunes from his Judy Garland tour - A Foggy Day In London Town and If Love Were All - like a torch singer in a piano bar.
Wainwright's only curious choice was corralling local songstress Sarah Slean to crow the spoken-word section of Between My Legs. Yanked onstage for the final 30 seconds of the show, Slean gave it her all but looked as perplexed by the throwaway coda as the rest of the audience.
His Live At The Rehearsal Hall segment airs on Bravo October 2 at 10 pm and October 6 at 8 pm.