Wed, May 21
KANYE WEST, RIHANNA, N.E.R.D. and LUPE FIASCO at Molson Amphitheatre Rating: NNNN
Kanye & Co.’s hip-hop hype machine rolled into town ready to test whether the Screwface would believe it or not. The tardy, paltry, three-song/no-stage-show luke-warm-up time given to Toronto mainstay Lupe Fiasco sure didn’t enthrall. But for once, the cool reception he got was inspired more by the rain than the mini-set.
N.E.R.D. was next, led by a gregarious Pharrell, double drummers who punished their kits something wonderful, Chris Brown’s spastic b-boy embellishments and a new album-showcasing set, but it, too, was only seven songs long. And Rihanna upped the ante only slightly, her MJ/Bad-era red leather outfit impressing the audience while she got her Nasty on. She’s grown into her voice, and jumping through her numerous radio hits, while fencing-masked dominatrixes danced along, kept most patrons glued. Of course, Umbrella ended her show, but her faithful cover of Lauryn Hill’s That Thing, plus her backwards bogle, was much more intriguing.
The main event: self-proclaimed king Kanye West on a rising mirror stage through enormous explosions, boiling lava and billowing smoke. West, not so immodestly, refers to this as “the best show you will ever see.” So did it restore my faith in hip-hop like Puff Daddy confessed it did on YouTube? Not so much.
But I will admit that I’ve never seen such an extravagant spectacle of light and sound in the hip-hop realm. Pillars of blue flame, shooting stars, galaxies, planets, aliens, Gold Digger sex-bots and a massive, female HAL-like interactive co-pilot were some of the ingredients of the seamless show.
It’s the closest thing to MJ’s Moonwalker Tour this generation will ever see, plus West convincingly commanded the spacious stage solo the whole time. New King of Pop? West sure thinks so.
Sat, May 24
LAURA VEIRS/LIAM FINN at El Mocambo Rating: NN
“It’s been a while since I last had sex,” declared a beardy Liam Finn before his giggly percussionist added, “Shush, they’ll be worried you’re going to come on their faces.” A lewd precursor to the quiet folk of Laura Veirs, but one the audience – mainly drunken Aussies – seemed thrilled by.
Finn, the son of Crowded House’s Neil Finn, proceeded to shake and shimmy his tiny frame through a series of fuzzy folk-pop tracks punctuated with pointless noisy effects and lots of wailing harmonies. A couple of crowd-pleasing covers (Neil Young and Beatles) felt a bit like watching a so-so cover band.
It should have been a relief, then, to see the nerd specs and straggly blond locks of headliner Veirs. Armed with just a guitar and an array of pedals for looping, the Portland singer rushed through her lovely elemental songs looking tour-weary and uncertain, especially when she failed to make herself heard above the crowd’s chatter.
“If you aren’t quiet, I think I’ll have to take you downstairs and do a more intimate set,” she sighed.
If only she had.
THE SUBMARINES at the Drake Underground Rating: NNNN
Sounding a bit like a West Coast version of the Raveonettes, the Submarines’ boy-girl vocalists John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard showed off their expertise in turning downtrodden subjects like broken hearts into upbeat, totally cathartic pop songs.
Hazard, who took on the role of frontwoman between songs, seemed sincerely stoked to be playing in Toronto, saying, “We were talking at dinner, and we want to move here. Can someone please tell us what’s wrong with this city?” As their set progressed, seated wallflowers began to congregate in front of the stage, won over by the band’s inviting, energetic presence and boundless charisma.
Tight vocal harmonies, sweet melodies and some seriously hooky guitar licks characterize the Subs’ sound; this is bedroom indie to fall in love to. Ironically, the Submarines put on a truly uplifting show.