Thu, Dec 6
BON JOVI at the Air Canada Centre Rating: NNN
The cougars were licking their chops and readying their camera phones even before the best hair and brightest smile in rock took the ACC stage. No doubt Jon Bon volumizes and uses whitening strips.
But anyone expecting stadium-shaking cheese rock would've been surprised by the Grand Ole Opry-style opener, Lost Highway, the fiddle-and-steel-guitar-driven title track off their latest disc. The recently countrified Bon Jovi has let a whiny, toothless twang creep into his snarl, and it carries over into pop-metal fist-pumpers like Shot Through The Heart, Bad Medicine and Livin' On A Prayer. Not that it -- or depth or range -- matters much when you have an entire audience hitting the notes for you.
Richie Sambora went solo on These Days, cozied up to the hot, leggy fiddle babe on another number and joined Jon Bon for an acoustic mini-set along the ACC players' bench that included the standout ballad (You Want To) Make A Memory.
And the already partisan crowd was won over further still when Jon Bon sported a Leafs jersey during the encore, which consisted of Wanted Dead Or Alive, the surprising Blood On Blood and a heartfelt but ultimately weak cover of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which Jon Bon called the "greatest Canadian song ever written," even if it will forever belong to Jeff Buckley.
Fri, Dec 7
WACO BROTHERS , SHANNON LEE BRIGGS and JONBOY LANGFORD & HIS BURLINGTON WELSH CHOIR at the Horseshoe Rating: NNNN
For a show by Chicago country-rock roughnecks the Waco Brothers , the crowd at the Horseshoe was unusually well dressed, even if it was part of the club's 60th anniversary celebrations.
But soon after the 30-strong Welsh male choir finished their rousing set of holiday faves, the sizable audience thinned out considerably.
By the time local country cutie Shannon Lee Briggs finished her set of Nashville-polished twang pop -- with guitar-picking sideman Moe Berg supplying high harmonies -- there was enough floor space to hold a soccer tournament.
Considering the Wacos were complicit in the previous evening's birthday debauchery, they all looked improbably sober while tearing through their set with a Clash-like focused intensity. A few songs in, the Sadies ' Dallas and Travis Good joined the action.
George Jones's White Lightning and Johnny Cash's Big River were attacked with arm-flailing abandon before Horseshoe honcho Jeff Cohen and sidekick Craig Laskey hopped onstage to shout along with the chorus of the Wacos' Do What I Say.
It was all fun and games until someone accidentally knocked over a microphone stand and the singer got cracked in the chops. Oops. The obviously smarting Jon Langford cut short Marc Bolan's 20th Century Boy in mid-riff, threw down his guitar and stormed offstage. Seconds later Langford returned, rubbing his teeth and glaring at Tracy Dear , picked up his Stratocaster and launched back into the T-Rex rave-up with a vengeance, throwing in a hunk of Pink Floyd's Lucifer Sam at the end for good measure.
Next , MC Lyte and Doug E. Fresh at the Kool Haus Rating: NN
What went down at Kool Haus was a warning. The attending 20-somethings demonstrated the current popularity of 80s hiphop fashion, but didn't equally embrace the beats and rhymes of the legends of that era, including MC Lyte , who was stomping down memory lane.
Repeated pleas to rap along with her and quizzes to see if heads knew Rakim or PE lyrics received crickets from the club audience. Thankfully, Toronto's MC Doomsday rocked Self-Destruction valiantly with Lyte, before Cha Cha Cha, Ruffneck and Paper Thin got ripped.
Doug E. Fresh handled the near-silent screwface malaise with more finesse and warmed up the chilly crowd after a medley of early-90s jams. His "fill in the blanks" rhyme was entertaining enough, until local rising star Blake Carrington enthusiastically filled in for MC Ricky D for an amazing extended version of The Show.
The night finished with a funny version of Rapper's Delight, fading to black with little concern for the irony that the "Retro Rap" party was attended by so few hardcore hiphop heads.
Sat, Dec 8
WE ARE WOLVES at Lee's Palace Rating: NN
About two years ago, it was cool to be a Montreal band with "wolf" in your name. Now it's bear bands (Grizzly Bear, Panda Bear), and there's still a fairly strong deer fixation (Deerhoof, Deerhunter), which is maybe why We Are Wolves felt like a dying species Saturday at Lee's .
In a room where ticket sales were distractingly light, the trio came out full throttle, with Alex Ortiz leading the charge, thrashing his bass and belting vocals through chainsaw distortion. His energy was met with mannequin reactions, except for one hyper-enthused front-rower wearing an ushanka. WAW couldn't spark fire among the frozen faces of folks who looked unconvinced about whether they liked what they were seeing.
While their abrasive keyboard sex rock probably kills at Montreal loft parties, these Wolves aren't much to watch from afar. Upper-tier indie rock fame, where Deerhoof and Grizzly Bear dwell, will likely remain an unnatural habitat.