Estelle wowed Roots fans at the Sound Academy Sunday.
Sat, Oct 25
YEASAYER with CHAIRLIFT at the Horseshoe
Saturday night was an epic battle of Brooklyn-based buzz bands as Beck tourmates Yeasayer squared off against iPod boosters Chairlift.
Chairlift, kicking off the fight to be my favourite new band, are a three-piece whose sound is a swirling, epic, unpredictable mix of arty 80s new wave and 90s shoegaze that benefits from vocalist Caroline Polachek's classically informed vocals.
Their songwriting - a collaboration between Polachek and guitarist Aaron Pfenning - is a pleasing splash of happy/sad sounds that come off as familiar but not straightforward enough to seem pilfered. Their sullen standout Planet Health could easily score a brat-pack heartbreak montage, while Bruises - a song about handstands that backs iPod spots on TV - shuffles along, sporting eerily Feistish vocals.
I don't want to sound like a Yeasayer naysayer, but I started off cool on this experimental quartet. Early on, their Middle Eastern influence was layered on a tad thick in the guitar and vocal department, giving me bad Jeff Martin flashbacks, but some really catchy three-part vocal harmonies and seriously sick musicianship helped these dudes hold their own. That said, the night went to Chairlift.
Great Lake Swimmers with Kate Maki and Sandro Perri at Lee's Palace
It's a shame when the sound system gets in the way of a terrific gig. Returning to Toronto after stints through the states and Ontario's nether regions, the Great Lake Swimmers were plagued by a static-filled P.A. that rendered the nuances in their unassuming folk rock inaudible. Banjo picking, violin solos, Nord keyboard lines, Tony Dekker's heartfelt lyrics - all fought and failed to find their way to the foreground.
Eight songs in, Dekker apologetically mentioned the problem, prompting the sound guy to replace a microphone. Voilà - the songs came alive. Lyrics could be heard and appreciated (particularly Concrete Heart, an homage to Toronto's architecture). Dekker grew visibly more relaxed, especially when keyboardist/flautist/singer/busiest-gal-in-showbiz Julie Fader patted him on the back, saying, "It's okay now." And it was. A million times improved. Too bad the set was half over.
Earlier, Sandro Perri and Kate Maki gave subdued performances. Maki's included sassy banter about hailing from Sudbury.
Sun, Oct 26
THE ROOTS, GYM CLASS HEROES, ESTELLE at Sound Academy
Elegant and initially reserved, UK soul sensation Estelle made herself at home on the Sound Academy stage in front of the hundreds on hand. Her seven-piece band was airtight. And Estelle was no slouch herself. The ground-shaking thump of No Substitute impressed, while American Boy was reconstructed into Canadian Boy, natch. A delight.
Then the pop-rap-rock-punk-lite molotov cocktail Gym Class Heroes spilled all over the stage with less grace and more aggression.
Some enjoyed the second-cousin-of-Linkin-Park stylings, but Peace Sign/Index Down instantly annoyed with its infantile attempt at uniting rebellious hippies. GCH also offered cheesy beatboxing and a lukewarm disco twist on When Doves Cry. The energy was high, but the depth of melody was light. Critics be damned - their legions loved it.
And the Roots? Another excellent marathon concert. Hip-hop's best live band delivered an abridged version of Illadelph 101, Fela Kuti tributes, Black Thought's lisp-tastic Kool G. Rap/BDK impersonations and blistering ?uestlove percussion. Nice to have Ben Kenney back on the axe; his candy-coated Sweet Child O' Mine cover is probably better than Axl's now. And the sprawling 20-minute version of You Got Me, featuring Estelle instead of Erykah, plus two epic instrument solos, was marvellous.