Jessica Darling’s soulful pipes helped the Herbaliser shine at Revival Thursday.
Thu, Nov 13
HERBALISER with GRAND ANALOG, MORE OR LES at Revival Rating: NNNN
Oh, those cheeky Brits. After Grand Analog dropped bombs, Herbaliser came waltzing into a full house at Revival, all dignified and dapper. Then they launched into some sweaty, slinky live funk like it's nobody's business - seven pieces of classic instrumentation assembled to assault boogie-down Torontonians.
Herbaliser mostly stuck to performing from their cinematic, slept-on new album, Same As It Never Was. Their nimble turntablism tucked into the crevices of midtempo walking funk, and vocalist Jessica Darling became increasingly more impressive with each song. Add in the two numbers by More or Les, including a stunning exercise in jazzy, double-time syllable gymnastics, and this showcase slowly achieved greatness.
IRON WINE, BLITZEN TRAPPER at the Phoenix Rating: NNN
Judging by the large number of beardos in the long line outside the Phoenix Thursday, the audience favoured Iron & Wine, led by the well-whiskered Sam Beam.
But his Sub Pop labelmates Blitzen Trapper seemed determined to win over some of the hairy horde with sweet three-part harmonies and a three-pronged keyboard attack indebted as much to Five Man Electrical Band as to early ELO.
Their cheery opening onslaught was actually much more entertaining than the maudlin lullabies sensitively crooned by Beam, who stood stiffly alongside his wispy-voiced violinist sister, Sarah Beam. But that lack of movement didn't stop a certain segment of the crowd from squealing with giddy delight after the first few notes of each tune.
After playing five songs to a similar reaction, Beam wanted to know whether the thrilled screams were inspired by the music or just a call for attention, so he tried a little experiment. He played a bar from a well-known Lynyrd Skynyrd number in his own gently picked style. Cue the same delirious screams, to which a grinning Beam responded by singing the opening verse to Free Bird to an uproarious roar of laughter from everyone but those busted.
That's about as entertaining as it got until the rest of the band joined in and started hammering out lengthy jams, moving in unexpected directions from swamp rock to West African highlife and even reggae. Through it all, Beam somehow managed to barely move a muscle.
MAKE YOUR EXIT with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CORDUROY? and GREEN SPLAT at the Drake Underground Rating: NNN
The seventh instalment of Suckerpunch (not to be confused with the early 90s punk band of the same name) showcased three local indie bands vying for attention. First up were electro kids Green Splat. Sporting a mean club-noir sheen, Green Splat sometimes tread too close to Crystal Castles territory, but these up-and-coming youngsters have a bright future ahead if they can make their live set as tight as their MySpace tracks.
Whatever Happened to Corduroy? were definitely tighter, but doing something far less interesting, informed by radio-ready emo rock. Things went from boring to worse when they busted out a mandolin and harmonica.
Closing out the night was Make Your Exit, a three-piece who played some solid, thoughtful indie rock to a clutch of devoted fans.
Fri, Nov 14
LIONESS at Wrongbar Rating: NNNN
You know something is going on when the release party for a local band's debut EP manages to pull a capacity crowd. The fashionably late, who ended up stuck outside frantically texting their friends inside, will just have to show up a bit earlier next time to hear Lioness's stripped-down garage rock disco.
The trio have a good formula worked out: overdriven bass guitar growling out of a wall of amps, swirling analog synth bubbles controlled by the drummer's free hand, pumping disco beats and the commanding blues-punk wail of singer Vanessa Fischer at the centre of it all.
They do need to take care when recording a full album to expand from that winning formula, maybe try some other rhythms and moods. But they've obviously found a strong starting point from which to grow.
Sat, Nov 15
DANNY KRIVIT at Revival Rating: NNN
For Garage 416's 10th anniversary of soulful house parties, they brought in NYC legend Danny Krivit, a DJ and producer whose career stretches back to before disco sucked. Krivit has the credibility and history to get away with pretty much anything, so it was odd that he chose to play an unfocused set of anthems in the later half of his set.
There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the floor-fillers he dropped on the crowd, but it often felt like he was trying too hard to sell them, overworking the mixer and changing direction too frequently.
Still a good night of sweaty dancing and singalongs, it lacked the magic we hope for when someone of his stature plays.
Sun, Nov 16
THE NIGHTWATCHMAN with BOOTS RILEY at the Opera House Rating: NNN
Tom Morello went to Harvard. He's a bright guy. He knows he's not going to fill clubs with rabid Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave fans, play the Nightwatchman's (Morello's folky alter ego) acoustic-based protest tunes and have beer-hoisting ball-capped dudes standing quietly basking in the minimalism.
Morello's gig at the Opera House was a lot of give and take. The Rage guitarist would bargain for silence before playing new solo acoustic songs like the post-Katrina Midnight In The City Of Destruction or the Guantá namo-damning King Of Hell by promising "heavy metal thunder" later in the show with his backing band the Freedom Fighters Orchestra.
He certainly kept his word. When Morello did plug in, dazzling all the Guitar Magazine subscribers with his skills, the energy level escalated immediately. He brought out political MC and opener Boots Riley (The Coup) to "Canadian premiere" their new project, Street Sweepers, a rap-rock hybrid that's aggressively more Rage than Slave, to a huge response. You can't blame Morello for trying, but this crowd craved amplification.