KISS and Def Leppard a blazing double bill: review

Both bands repeatedly thrilled the sold-out Amphitheatre crowd of 16,000.

 Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Aug 13 2014

KISS and Def Leppard
3.5 stars
At the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Aug. 12.

Does Gene Simmons’ fire-breathing swordplay, bloodied mouth shtick and ever-undulating serpentine tongue ever get old?

Not if you’re a member of the KISS Army. The larger-than-life, cartoon-costumed, makeup-sporting hard rockers have entrenched the routines so heavily into their modus operandi for the past 40 years that replacing them as this point and time would be akin to the surgical removal of a vital organ.

So Tuesday night’s double bill of KISS with Def Leppard at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre wasn’t so noticeable in terms of the new stuff as much as flaunting the familiar, something that both bands are very good at doing since they’re approaching their greying years, though sporting the energy and vitality of artists who are 20 years younger.

In a continuation of the happenstance “Headbangers Week” theme that began Sunday at the venue with the Mötley Crüe/Alice Cooper concert, nostalgia played a key role in the KISS/Def Leppard pairing, with both bands repeatedly thrilling the sold-out crowd of 16,000 that had gathered to witness their heroes.

With Def Leppard, it was less about flash and more about substance, performing an incredible string of wall-to-wall hits over the course of 70 minutes culled from their heyday era in the ’80s and early ’90s.

In what amounted to a firsthand demonstration of the Mutt Lange classic song parade — the famous South African producer who co-wrote and meticulously arranged the most popular albums of the Def Lep catalogue and propelled them past 100 million in sales — such rock anthems as “Let’s Get Rocked,” “Love Bites” and “Armageddon It” revealed Lange’s Midas Touch: Throw in a fairly powerful, steady, simple beat (ably handled by Rick Allen, the band’s one-armed drummer), add in a strong melody with an irresistible chorus, and pile on the scrumptious harmonies.

And Def Leppard delivered, as if the passage of time had been indefinitely suspended: Lead singer Joe Elliott, 55, has lost none of his range or prowess; the dual guitar attack of Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen is as potent as ever, and the stacked backing vocals that added in bassist Rick Savage remain undiminished, causing the Leppards to receive thunderous ovation after thunderous ovation.

“We’re two-thirds through our tour, and we’ve had some good crowds, but nobody has been as awesome as you,” Elliott told the crowd, and he seemed heartfelt with his comments.

Then again, with a song list that included “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Rock Of Ages,” “Animal” and a morphing acoustic/electric rendition or “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak,” how could Def Lep fans react otherwise?

Which brings us to KISS, who pretty much offered a retread of last year’s Monster tour that included the combo lighting rig and an impressive hydraulic stage setup known as “The Spider.”

But what may have been a retread to some wasn’t to others: when singer and guitarist Paul Stanley asked for a show of hands of those attending their very first KISS concert, almost half the crowd raised theirs.

In the meantime, dressed in oversized platform boots, black-and-silver leather get-ups and sporting the makeup that should have secured them all MAC sponsorships a long time ago, Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer offered a spectacle that almost seems rote in the annals of KISStory.

For the opening “Psycho Circus,” three of the four descended from the Amphitheatre’s rafters on the descending Spider, camouflaged by a colourful fog, while drummer Singer, whose drum kit was set on his own separate stage, rose 20 feet or so into the air.

An explosion of fireworks rocked the stage, and as “Psycho Circus” melted into “Deuce,” small fireballs were shot into the atmosphere. For the next 80 minutes, the visual Razzle Dazzle didn’t subside, as a gigantic back panel video screen covered every gesture and every one of Simmons’ comical facial contortions.

There was the expected fire-breathing segment from Simmons that concluded “Hotter Than Hell;” the “flying” Simmons — who bloodied his mouth and performed “God of Thunder” after being elevated to the hovering Spider — and a zip-lining Stanley, who hovered over to a B-stage in the middle of the venue to deliver “Love Gun” and the first few words of “Black Diamond.”

The setlist was a good mix of ancient and somewhat recent material spanning 40 years: robust performances of “Shout It Out Loud,” “Lick It Up” (which, for some reason, contained a snippet of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” echoed by Def Leppard in their earlier set) and “Calling Dr. Love” set the stage for the two encore/finales: “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock And Roll All Nite,” and the requisite explosions and fireworks that accompanied them.

And both Def Leppard and KISS vow that the party for both of them will continue far into the indefinite future.

KISS and Def Leppard a blazing double bill: review | Toronto Star

A Nick Cave concert so riveting, it gets five stars out of four

Nick Cave repeatedly ventured as far into the crowd as his microphone cord would let him, staring deeply into the faces he was serenading.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Aug 01 2014

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, July 31, 2014

How transcendent were Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds on Thursday night?

Let’s put it this way: there are singers who are passive, who prefer to stand behind a microphone and let their voice do all the heavy lifting, and there are singers that work the stage with a touch of athleticism and a strong helping of charm and charisma.

And then there’s Cave, the restless renegade Australian with his roguish baritone who fearlessly thrusts himself out into his admirers, venturing eight to 10 human rows deep, grabbing hands and beckoning his audience to join him on this animated two-hour journey as if he’s trying to absorb them into his very skin.

This wasn’t a gimmick or a one-time ploy: as Cave and his six Seeds twisted the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts inside out with a riveting performance that veered wildly between soft sentiment and eardrum-decimating fury, the dark-haired singer repeatedly ventured as far as his microphone cord would let him, staring deeply into the faces he was serenading and ending songs like “Tupelo” and “Stagger Lee” perched on top of a seat hundreds of feet from the stage.

Although his songs reference religion as often as romance, his public pulpit finds him playing the role of master storyteller. And Cave knows his own music so well that he adds dramatic impact through his body language.

When the concert kicked off with the slow beating drone of “We Real Cool,” Cave would stalk the stage and suddenly leap and dance between phrases, waving his arms to accentuate his mood and to partially conduct the band.

Occasionally he would plop himself down at the piano and play a few bars before jumping up and returning to the job of entertaining the audience, his attention-deficit disorder with the instrument lasting until the midway set, when he finally played a trio of songs that kicked off with No More Shall We Part’s tender ballad “Love Letter” and concluded with the same album’s “God Is in the House,” where Cave altered a line to humorously localize the flavour and include a reference to “a crackhead mayor.”

Cave wasn’t the only engaging performer worth his weight in performance gold: the Rasputin-like fiddler and flautist Warren Ellis had a few tricks of his own, like tucking a bow into his shirt collar while plucking his instrument then withdrawing it from behind his neck to revert to bowing. Ellis also sent the occasional bow sailing into the Sony Centre rafters, replacing it with a new one whenever the arrangement called for it.

Cave also won brownie points by refreshing his arrangements so they weren’t carbon copies of the record: “From Her To Eternity” took a more aggressive stance, and “Jubilee Street” exploded into a fire of calamity and cacophony about halfway through the number, thanks to the adept accompaniment of Bad Seeds Ellis, drummer, keyboardist and xylophone player Barry Adamson, drummer Jim Sclavunos, keyboardist Conway Savage, guitarist George Vjestica and bass player Martyn Casey.

As newer tunes like Push The Sky Away’s “Higgs Boson Blues” and vintage numbers such as “Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry” reminded the crowd of Cave’s extraordinary knack for incorporating rich imagery and master storytelling within a song, they simply couldn’t get enough of him, remaining on their feet the entire show, applauding and cheering him on and eventually being rewarded with a pair of well-deserved encores.

Nick Cave is one of those exhilarating, show-stopping performers that should be mandatory study for anyone considering a career in music performance and added to everyone else’s “must-see” list.

That’s why this show warranted the extra star added to its rating: Cave and his Bad Seed brethren earned it.

A Nick Cave concert so riveting, it gets five stars out of four | Toronto Star

Katy Perry is pure spectacle at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre

California pop goddess Katy Perry literally used every shade and hue on the colour spectrum – and maybe even invented a hue or two – during a visually stunning two-hour spectacle that was actually better eye candy than ear candy.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Jul 19 2014

Now, that was colourful.

California pop goddess Katy Perry literally used every shade and hue on the colour spectrum – and maybe even invented a hue or two – during a visually stunning two-hour spectacle that was actually better eye candy than ear candy.

Not that the music she serenaded the 6-to-60-aged crowd at the Air Canada Centre for the first of three shows on Friday night (Saturday and Monday follow) was lacking in any way: with the exception of “Waking Up In Vegas,” Perry managed to squeeze in every chart-topper she’s thus far generated as well as a generous portion of her latest No. 1 album Prism.

But channeling her inner Broadway gene as she did, Perry unleashed a multi-costumed, multi-wigged, video-dominant, inflatable-filled extravaganza that will rank as an unforgettable experience for the estimated 14,000 in attendance, including her legions of dedicated fans, the KatyCats.

Perry’s Prismatic World Tour opened with a sequence worthy of The Lion King: spear-chucking Day-Glo clad Ninja warrior dancers with spiky Mohawk-type headgear flew through the air and stalked the triangular stage that extended three-quarters into the audience (several hundred enjoyed a special vantage inside the “pit” that was surrounded by platform) as Perry, wearing her hair in a ponytail with glowing rainbow bead extensions, launched in “Roar.”

That was just the introductory number: Teenage Dream’s “Part Of Me” and “Wide Awake” followed as Perry and her elaborately-garbed troupe shimmied down the treadmill-laden catwalk, giving everyone in the audience a pretty good vantage point.

By the time the “This Moment/Love Me” medley had been performed 20 minutes in, Perry had out Gaga-d Gaga and out Pinked-Pink, as her dancers performed aerial gymnastics high above the crowd and even the singer herself being hoisted into the air from a triangular “cage” and singing from a respectable altitude.

However, she was just getting started: again, taking a page from Lion King costume puppetry, Perry emerged from below the stage dressed as Cleopatra and riding a golden stallion for “Dark Horse.”

It wasn’t all serious show: as Perry yelled out “this is the song that put me on the map,” she launched into “I Kissed A Girl” and a bevy of pneumatic female “mummies” with exaggerated parts of their anatomies offered some hilarious twerking moves.

“Hot N Cold” and “International Smile” found “Kitty Purry” and her accompanying felines (perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber should check the Cats closet for missing wardrobes) taking to the catwalk and stroking their tails.

As one might guess, except for an acoustic-driven set midway through the show, subtlety would be playing a minor role in the proceedings. Perry’s seven-piece band pumped the volume up to take advantage of the music’s throbbing dance beats as the superstar continued to engage in her theatrics, songs about love, self-image and vulnerability continually wielded with the impact of a sonic hammer.

The kitchen-sink approach with props and effects reached over-saturation a few times, and bordered on ridiculous when Perry brought her sunflower “garden” to the front of the triangle just prior to “The One That Got Away/Thinking Of You,” watered it and a pepperoni pizza box appeared. For some reason, a speech on how she was allergic to gluten followed as she invited a young fan on stage to relieve her of the pizza.

At another point, she implored fans to lift a finger and promise “to never break up with me,” that was a little creepy, to be honest, as it smacked a little of desperation from the ultra-confident Perry.

There were many moments, however, that were spot-on in terms of excitement and delivery, with butterflies, inflatable cars, balloons and Perry “flying” around the arena, and by the time “Firework” came around to end the 20-song evening, her followers were pumped up enough to drown her out with their leather-lunged enthusiasm.

Whether it was the constant costume changes (some humourous, some provocative), the green, rainbow-hued or black wigs, or the sense of playfulness that permeated the show, the audience lapped up the big-budget display as Perry proved herself to be a visually astute and entertaining performer.

Colour them impressed.

Katy Perry is pure spectacle at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre | Toronto Star

Broken/Pavement concert reveals hometown edge

Saturday’s concert at Olympic Island had an enviable conclusion, and some unfortunate openers.

Nick Krewen
 Special to the Star,
Published on Mon Jun 21 2010

Playing to the hometown crowd has its advantages.

While Saturday’s Olympic Island Festival 2010 concert marathon headlined by Pavement may have marked the return of the influential New York lo-fi cult legends to Canada, there was no mistaking that this was Broken Social Scene’s party.

Despite the fact that from the very first notes and falsetto harmony hook of “Cut My Hair” — a song that singer and guitarist Stephen Malkmus played while sandwiching a beach ball between his axe and his torso — Pavement was in very fine form, the Toronto collective led by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning couldn’t be matched in terms of sheer exuberance.

It didn’t help Pavement’s cause that the Broken Social Scenesters brought an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to their set, marked by a parade of cameo appearances that’s an alt-music lover’s wet dream: a partial list included Leslie Feist, Emily Haines (wearing a daring black dress that barely covered her back), Sebastien Grainger, Pavement’s own Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg and Tortoise’s John McEntire.

And if the headliner was enjoying a good night — even the slightly grating background “screams” of percussionist Bob Nastanovich seemed to add to, rather than distract from, Pavement’s overall solid cohesion on numbers like “In The Mouth Of A Desert” and “Trigger Cut” — the BSS boys and girls kept the momentum, at a relentless and feverish pitch that kept the sold-out crowd surrounded by the lush Olympic Island parklands as heated as the sweltering sunny day that graced them.

Opening with “World Sick” as a six-piece from their new Forgiveness Rock Record and a wall of guitars, BSS quickly segued into “Stars And Sons” and expanded the lineup accordingly. It seemed that every time you glanced at the stage, a new member would step forward to add a harmony or a layer of keyboard to bolster the sound. Julie Penner and Timber Timbre’s Mika Posen would add violins; Charles Spearin led a six-piece horn section, and numbers like “Art House Director” and “Sentimental X’s” would become full-blown epics, fuelled to greater intensity by guitarist Andrew Whiteman’s brilliant flashes of sonic lightning.

The crowd couldn’t be more into BSS, and by the time the pre-encore finale of “Meet Me In The Basement” ended in a joyful cacophony of symphonic bliss, Pavement clearly had their work cut out for them. The Pavement and BSS combo capped a solid day of great music, although openers — the so-called Toronto Revue, consisting of Flash Lightnin’, The Beauties and Zeus — received the short end of the stick. Hearts particularly bled for Flash Lightnin’, whose worthy and aggressive kickoff was witnessed by approximately 60 people, mainly because the crowd wasn’t allowed into the venue until after singer/guitarist Darren Glover began wailing away with Led Zeppelin-like power.

Timber Timbre, frankly, were a bit dull with their bluesy dirges, and Baltimore’s Beach House was solid, if unspectacular. The concert truly kicked into high gear with Seattle’s Band Of Horses, whose disciplined folk-country sound — fronted by the sweet tenor of Ben Bridwell and reminiscent of the Jayhawks — bodes well for a major mainstream breakthrough.

Broken/Pavement concert reveals hometown edge | Toronto Star

With Jann Arden, the jokes are as good as the songs

Celebrity bitch-fight, eh Jann?

Jann Arden performs at Massey Hall on Jan. 27, 2010.

Nick Krewen 
Special to the Star,
Published on Thu Jan 28 2010

Celebrity bitch-fight, eh Jann?

It was during the Q&A portion of her opening four-night residency at Massey Hall when someone in the audience asked Alberta songbird Jann Arden if she would be appearing on this year’s revival of Lilith Fair, the all-female concert tour founded by Sarah McLachlan.

“Not that I’m aware of,” replied the hostess, “I’m in the middle of a bitch-fight with McLachlan.”

Arden then proceeded to picture herself as a bitch-right foe against a “celebrity Canadian chanteuse lineup” consisting of McLachlan, Shania Twain, Céline Dion and Anne Murray.

” I could take Sarah,” she deadpanned, “And I could kick Shania’s ass. And Céline hasn’t eaten since March.”

However, Anne Murray was a different story, Arden conceded.

“Anne Murray would kick my ass!” she said, as gales of laughter from the willingly partisan crowd ricocheted throughout the building.

The improvised monologue might have felt awkward or out of place with another performer, but when you’re in for an evening with Jann Arden, you’re not just getting a talented singer and songwriter who is satisfied with parading her proven hits: you’re getting a raconteur, a hilarious comedienne and an earthy gal pal that you would feel privileged to hang out with.

Of course, there’s also the music, and the eight-time Juno winner (she should be awarded a ninth just for being able to keep her balance in those knee-high stiletto boots) delivered on well-chosen selections from 10 albums worth of material that offered few surprises, much to the delight of her extended family.

Fronting a six-piece band that included Bryan Adams‘ right-hand guitarist Keith Scott, respected bass player Maury LaFoy and violinist/singer Alison Cornell, Arden bounced between intimate acoustic renditions of “Insensitive” and “I Would Die for You” to spirited peaks like “A Million Miles Away” and “Where No One Knows Me.”

The ballad-heavy set also included the usual mixture of love and lament from a woman who knows how to deliver melancholy mellowness when it comes to matters of the heart, although the occasions in which she punched it up with unexpected power and passion proved to be some of the most rewarding moments of the two-hour-and-15-minute set.

Unfortunately, there were also too many pitch-challenged wavers, that usually occurred during the show’s softer moments, particularly noticeable during Arden’s tender cover of Janis Ian‘s “At Seventeen.”

Not that anyone particularly cared or noticed: they were just happy to be sharing the same space with the side-splitting lass.

Just don’t bring Céline if you know what’s good for you.