Shows that rocked Toronto last week

HOODED FANG at Smiling Buddha, Friday,.

HOODED FANG at Smiling Buddha, Friday, February 21. Rating: NNN

Smiling Buddha hasn’t changed that dramatically since the new owners took over, but just enough work has been done to make it feel less makeshift while maintaining that comforting dive bar feel. The changes also attracted booker Mark Pesci, who kicked off his new gig with a quirky concept show featuring Toronto surf punks Hooded Fang.

The band are big fans of legendary NYC punk-funk band ESG, but that influence isn’t normally audible in their jangly indie pop. So for this gig they did an entire set of ESG covers to pay tribute to their influential underground heroes. While they didn’t attempt to reproduce the originals note for note, they did a great job of approximating the overall sound and feel, and resisted the temptation to dress up the starkly minimalist percussion and bass grooves with unnecessary ornamentation.

Lots of fun, but it made you wish they’d start a side project and explore these ideas in new songs rather than just a tribute show.

Benjamin Boles

BLUE RODEO with THE DEVIN CUDDY BAND at Massey Hall, Wednesday, February 19. Rating: NNNN

It was a family affair. The Devin Cuddy Band, led by the son of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, warmed up the polite crowd with a bluesy set straight from the banks of the Mississippi River. On the home stretch of a lengthy cross-Canada tour, the band was tight but seemed slightly overwhelmed by one of the country’s legendary venues.

Blue Rodeo, meanwhile, acted like they’d played the hall a thousand times, easing the house into a first set largely composed of songs from their newest album, In Our Nature.

Guitarist/lead singer Greg Keelor was particularly verbose throughout the evening, giving the audience a glimpse into the band’s artistic drive.

The evening’s second set celebrated their back catalogue. Keelor owned the spotlight on a delicate solo rendition of Dark Angel, but not before Cuddy shone during a rare performance of Girl Of Mine.

Five Days In May showcased their depth, with extended jams as Cuddy worked the stage, ripping a bluesy solo and even kneeling to pose for photos with fans in the front row.

Finally, Devin Cuddy and his band joined in for the rousing closer, Lost Together.

Joshua Kloke

ILLITRY with KENNEDY CULT at the Rivoli, Friday, February 21. Rating: NNN

Among Hamilton’s current crop of bands making exciting electronic sounds is Illitry. On Friday the foursome impressed with a set of atmospheric alt rock: dramatic drumming, big bass and glitchy pop noises. Troy Witherow’s gentle vocals enhanced the overall dreamy sound and added a cool, neo-soul undercurrent. Even cooler: each member took a turn around a large centre drum, creating an almost ritualistic vibe.

Earlier the room was significantly fuller for Peterborough quartet Kennedy Cult. Members of Rikers, Birthday Boys and A Plot Against Me, the guys brought seasoned rock ‘n’ roll charisma to their new outfit. Songwriter and singer Ryan Kennedy drips stage presence, and his polished vocals are better suited to this edgy 80s-evoking alt pop than the rockier stuff he belted in Rikers. Still, saxophonist Shawn Bradley stole the show. Having abandoned the instrument mid-set, he was met with audience squeals when the brass returned for the last few songs. A solid show boasting two extra-killer songs (Alibi, Forever) that have since lodged in our brain.

Julia LeConte

LETTUCE with KC ROBERTS & THE LIVE REVOLUTION at the Phoenix, Saturday, February 22. Rating: NNNN

Parkdale septet KC Roberts & the Live Revolution are a funk band, sure, but they also crank out rock-star guitar solos, ebullient piano slides and occasional raps. It’s what makes them one of Toronto’s best live bands. At the Phoenix, Roberts’s vocals sometimes couldn’t match the instrumental grandiosity, but that didn’t bother the 1,200 dancing fans, who were also jazzed by phenomenal guest trumpet player Brownman and surprise verses from D-Sisive.

Just after midnight, headliners Lettuce kicked off with blinding white lights that evoked a stadium metal show and dove into a set of Eastern-influenced psychedelic funk. It was pretty trippy, even when they brought out powerhouse vocalist Alecia Chakour for a short run of more classic soul songs.

The band’s hip-hop influences were also showing, from a tribute to J Dilla near the top to a reimagining of the now-famous Niggas In Paris intro near the end.

Julia LeConte

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