THE ST. ROYALS at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club, Friday, August 22. Rating: NNNN
As well as playing most Mondays at the Drake Hotel, Toronto's soul/funk/Motown ensemble St. Royals - who perform in various formations (three-, seven- and nine-piece, for example) - do weddings, private events, and, sometimes, pretty special tribute nights.
On Friday, their 17-piece superband (four vocalists, six horns and a seven-piece rhythm section) paid tribute to the King of Pop in their Rhythm & Soul Revue: A Tribute to the Music of Michael Jackson.
The first half of the show was a set of Motown covers - Sly & the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder-type crowd pleasers from top to bottom;
while set two was dedicated entirely to the memory of MJ. Kicking off with I Want You Back, the group covered a lot of great early Michael (Blame It On The Boogie, The Way You Make Me Feel, Thriller), as well as, somewhat surprisingly, his newer fare, plus mid-career classics such as (my favourite) Black Or White. Though expertly sung by Gary Beals, a late-set performance of Human Nature slowed down the proceedings a little bit, but an encore of Billie Jean (finally) and Man In The Mirror hit the mark.
The thirteen backing band members were exuberant and skillful, infusing energy into the proceedings, even the set's lesser known or less vocally impressive tunes like Get On The Floor or Janelle Monáe's Tightrope. Unfortunately the Mod Club's sound system didn't do them justice. It was often tricky to pick out individual instruments, and they sometimes sounded like a jumbled blur.
Each of the four lead singers was exceptional: Ania Soul and Joanna Mohammed's inexhaustible power pipes on Dance To The Music and Respect; Cat Lewis's take on Justin Timberlake tunes (including the recent Timberlake/MJ release Love Never Felt So Good). But special mention has to be made of Beals (yes, the former Canadian Idol runner-up). I can't remember what he was like on the show, but he's found his groove in this outfit, channelling equal parts James Brown, Joe Cocker and Carl Anderson from Jesus Christ Superstar, bringing down the house with each of his lead vocal turns. He lost to Ryan Malcolm? Seriously?