Wed, Nov 7
THE WEAKERTHANS at the Phoenix Rating: NNNN
It wasn't so very long ago that Winnipeg indie rockers the Weakerthans were playing the Rivoli and Lee's Palace, drawing small but committed crowds to shows that walked a fine line between intimate and rocking. Not much has changed in that department, except they aren't just your little secret any more.
This show confirmed the band's strengths in connecting with the audience and good old-fashioned showmanship. Running through the songs everyone knew by heart off older discs like Left And Leaving and Reconstruction Site, they were a good six songs in before the band - led by the calm, almost Zenlike John Samson - attempted anything from their latest.
His laid-back presence was balanced by local bass god Greg Smith , who bopped and rocked while adding a cool, soulful edge to the material. Just like their records, the show was a perfect mix of sleepy-eyed introspection and energized volume.
Thu, Nov 8
THE POLICE at the Air Canada Centre Rating: NNN
For Police fans who bought tickets to every Toronto show, the band's third ACC gig (their first two were back in July) might have been a bit disappointing. Sting 's voice is still as good as it was in the 80s, and the band is as tight as ever, but the set was almost identical to the previous shows, with only a couple of changes.
The group ran through all the hits, Message In A Bottle, Roxanne, Every Breath You Take and the so on, in pretty much the same order. And the performance was gesture for gesture, too. Andy Summers and Sting stood back to back at the same parts, the solos didn't deviate from the script, and even Stewart Copeland 's crazy percussion kit was played exactly the same way it was months ago.
Of course, none of this mattered if this was the first time you saw them. It was a big rock show, and when people are paying hundreds for tickets, you don't mess with a good formula.
Fri, Nov 9
BAND OF HORSES with the DRONES at the Phoenix Rating: NNN
"Is this normal for Toronto? " asked Drones singer Gareth Liddiard , peering out to a mostly empty club, his band nearing the end of their supper-hour set. The spastic Aussie was referring to the Phoenix 's puzzling decision to start many shows at the stroke of 6:30 pm, a murderous time slot for opening bands trying to turn heads.
The Melbourne noisemakers soldiered on nevertheless, mixing Sonic Youth spells of controlled feedback into plodding Neil Young jams. They saved their best song for last, a wise move considering it was the only time they had ears to play to.
Seattle beard rockers Band of Horses weren't affected by the premature curtain call, since the joint had quickly filled up by the time frontman Ben Bridwell sat down at his lap steel and smoothly soared into Monsters, from Everything All The Time.
Looking like yacht rockers just shaken out of their tour-bus cabins, the six-piece promptly gelled, winning over the crowd with their introspective epics, some of them Southern-fried and others in the Northwest indie rock vein. When the crowd roared in the first moments of Is There a Ghost?, Bridwell joked about what great audience we were to be so hyped at 3 in the afternoon.
Sun, Nov 11
CAETANO VELOSO at Massey Hall Rating: NNN
Considering that Brazilian icon Caetano Veloso has put out three studio albums since Universal released the 40 disc Todo Caetano box set in 2002, the prolific 65-year-old singer/songwriter had no shortage of material to draw on for his long-overdue Toronto debut.
But rather than marking the historic occasion with a retrospective performance, Veloso chose to use his youthful three-piece backing unit to plug more recent prog-rock material with a crowd-blinding light show.
He could've eased off sales pitch for once and spent the night revisiting his stellar early compositions, his well-loved Tropicália songs, those twisted sonic experiments of the early 70s and his popular soundtrack work of the 90s (including Pedro Almodóvar's Talk To Her) but that wasn't in the game plan. Any dipping into the past was dispensed with quickly during the first half of the 90 minute show.
Imagine if Paul McCartney made his first-ever appearance in Toronto this week and decided against performing any Beatles tunes, tossed off maybe two Wings numbers and all the rest was post-Off The Ground solo material? The crowd would've torn the place apart. But the audience who came to see Veloso flutter about seemed thrilled that the denim-clad legend had finally deigned to make a royal visit and sent him off with a standing ovation.
Mon, Nov 12
STEVIE WONDER at the Air Canada Centre Rating: NNNN
Forget the dry ice and the costume changes. There were no frills at the ACC on Monday as legend Stevie Wonder played three hours of his hits - just the man, his keyboards and harmonica and a kick-ass band.
Okay, it wasn't perfect. Who needs audience participation when you could be listening to one of the world's most inspiring geniuses?
We could have heard more from Wonder's backup band, especially Morris O'Connor on guitar. Instead we got Glenn Lewis , who didn't really know what to do with himself. He may sound a bit like Wonder on his own, but side by side there's no comparison. Wonder's vocals are powerful, flexible and laden with virtuosic licks. The guy's like one big, beautiful vibration. Wonder obviously likes spontaneity. He changed up the set list a couple of times, calling out the key to the band, so things weren't always super-tight. But is that a problem when you get Sunshine Of My Life, Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing and Signed, Sealed, Delivered? Uh, no.