The Scene: The Elwins and Ariana Grande

Shows that rocked Toronto last week

THE ELWINS at the Hoxton, Sunday, March 8. Rating: NNN

The Elwins employed all manner of tricks to keep everyone moving on the hazy dance floor at the Hoxton for the release of their sophomore effort, Play For Keeps, including unleashing massive amounts of bubbles and a stellar cover of Beyoncé’s Countdown.

They came out swinging, with a guitar blast that slid into a user-friendly brand of catchy, treble-heavy jangle-pop that would buy the loyalty of an average frosh week participant. The hour-long set was rife with energy and handclaps, and lead singer Matthew Sweeney refused to stop and catch his breath until the end of single So Down Low and the encore break. 

The Toronto band is seasoned and seems ready to take on bigger stages, though the set was a tad scripted. “We’re gonna keep playing some new ones if that’s okay with you guys,” said Sweeney to a chorus of cheers. “Sick. So convenient that worked out.”

Despite some growing pains, the Elwins are a sharp, well-oiled machine, and their new batch of tunes, though a bit similar-sounding, are all party-starters.

Matt Williams

SPRINGTIME CARNIVORE and THE DODOS at the Horseshoe, Tuesday, March 3. Rating: NNN

So full of bounce and pep, Springtime Carnivore are. The Chicago four-piece bopped away on the Horseshoe stage during their first-ever Toronto show – an opening gig for San Francisco two-piece the Dodos, who delivered a solid, highly syncopated but often too abrasive set of effects-fuelled indie rock. Whereas the Dodos were all about urgent intensity, Springtime Carnivore’s sun-kissed psych pop lightened the early crowd’s spirits and helped the miserable slushy streets become a distant memory.

Greta Morgan is perfection, basically. She’s got the singsongiest of voices, strong and playful at the same time, and she nailed every note while rarely ever glancing down at the chords she was strumming or the keys she was plunking. She smiled and shimmied, her three-piece band giving off equally friendly vibes as they played most of the songs from their fuzz-and-reverb-soaked self-titled debut album. 

As much as the band rocked it, there was something extra-special when Morgan played Other Side Of The Boundary all on her own. So assured. So engagingly mellifluous. They saved Supremes-esque standout Name On A Matchbook for last, but had won us over long before then.    

Carla Gillis

ULTIMATE PAINTING and ARMY GIRLS at the Silver Dollar, Friday, March 6. Rating: NNN

As Ultimate Painting‘s breezy, pretty tunes enveloped the crowd at the Silver Dollar – which had thinned out by the time the UK band took the stage after midnight – my date for the evening leaned over and whispered, “They make me wonder what it’d be like to live in London.”

Ultimate Painting’s London is all overcast afternoons spent lazily drifting through flower markets and browsing 1960s psych-pop rarities, a sense of relief and relevance taking hold when you finally recognize an LP – The Velvet Underground. 

Led by Veronica Falls’s James Hoare and fellow Londoner Jack Cooper of Mazes, the band relishes all aspects of 1960s revivalism, from jangly guitar riffs to self-indulgent instrumental breakdowns. Songs from their recent debut album were more animated than the studio versions, as Hoare and Cooper’s joint vocals blissfully energized the sometimes monotonous melodies. 

On the other hand, Army Girls, who played third in a stacked bill alongside Bamboo and Deliluh, burst with vitality throughout their entire set. Even the “slow burner,” as co-leader Carmen Elle called it, had moody anticipation and a guitar freak-out. Which leads to the question: when are Army Girls going to release a new album?     

Samantha Edwards

ARIANA GRANDE at the Air Canada Centre, Sunday, March 8. Rating: NNNN

Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Ariana Grande has accomplished much in her short musical career: a Broadway stint several Nickelodeon shows a 2013 debut album, Yours Truly, that devoured the Billboard pop charts last year’s My Everything, which saw the 21-year-old explore more mature themes and genres without alienating her teen audience.

She hit the stage at a near-sold-out ACC to loud applause, opening with the one-two punch of Bang Bang and Hands On Me. Was there a seven-piece band with strings? Yes. A Great Gatsbythemed set, complete with dancers in ties and tails, and the singer perched on top of a massive chandelier? Check. High-tech gloves created by Imogen Heap that allowed the pop star to manipulate sounds by waving her arms? Naturally.

Video cameos came from rappers Childish Gambino, Mac Miller and Grande’s boyfriend, Big Sean, though Toronto’s the Weeknd (who guests on Love Me Harder) was noticeably absent. The ponytailed singer apologized for having a cold but had no trouble hitting the high notes on ballads Be My Baby and Honeymoon Avenue.

She saved the confetti and two of her biggest hits, Break Free and Problem, for last, and the former’s dubstep-influenced drop was as seismic as both songs’ themes of empowerment, messages not lost on the young crowd.   

Max Mertens

Brand Voices

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