Taylor Swift delivers flawless performance in Toronto

 

During 1989 tour stop at Rogers Centre Swift gives shout out to the Jays, sings with guest Keith Urban.

 

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 03 2015

When it comes to giving stellar performances, Taylor Swift is in a league of her own.

The 25-year-old singer and songwriter delivered another flawless gem of a concert at Rogers Centre Friday for the first of two sold-out nights, a little more than two years after she gave a flawless gem of a concert at the same venue.

Since 2013, only her musical direction has changed: back then, with the Red tour, Swift was still considered a country music emissary.

For her current 1989 tour, as the opening strains of “Welcome To New York” filled the stadium, Swift declared her new symbolic transformation into pop ingenue by stylishly emerging from the stage in a sparkling jacket, black bustier, short red skirt, a pair of shades and with a dozen male dancers.

For the next two hours, the leggy, willowy blond, who struts down the long catwalk leading to a small stage midway through the stadium like a high-paid model, focused mainly on glittery production numbers from her electronic-driven, multi-million-selling pop album 1989.

These were not mere retreads of the records: “I Knew You Were Trouble” started off slow and sensual, eventually building into a steamy, synth-laden number that bore little resemblance to the uptempo 1989 rendition. On “Blank Space,” she created a vocal loop with the words “Blue Jays” and sang the bridge over it.

There were a few nods to the past — a simply guitar-only accompaniment of “You Belong To Me;” a synth-driven rendition of “Love Story” — both from 2008’s Fearless, and a pair from 2012’s Red, including the catchy “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.”

Otherwise, it was all 1989 and the bells and whistles you’d expect at a Taylor Swift show: the giant whirling catwalk, surreal Freudian film clips, colourful dance routines, fireworks — and this show’s special guest, Keith Urban, performing his hits “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Somebody Like You,” with the hostess chiming in occasionally on vocal.

But what separates Swift from every other performer is her ability to connect with her audience outside the music. She doesn’t talk at her fans, she talks with them, and the lengthy observations about emotions she’s experienced seem to stem from sincerity, bringing people into the Pennsylvania native’s world on a level far more personal than most entertainers manage.

It’s a trait that spills into her music and it may just be Taylor Swift’s greatest talent: the world’s most relatable pop superstar.

If opening act Shawn Mendes was even the slightest bit daunted about playing in front of 45,000 people with his acoustic guitar as his only crutch, the Pickering resident didn’t show it.

Going the Ed Sheeran route seems to agree with him, as the Vine-discovered star quickly cajoled the predominantly female crowd to sing along with him on “Life Of The Party,” “Something Big” and his current radio hit, “Stitches.”

Handling himself with great poise, confidence and humility, Mendes has a long, healthy career in front of him.

 

Taylor Swift delivers flawless performance in Toronto | Toronto Star

Emm Gryner – musical multi-tasker

 

Between her new solo album, her bands Trent Severn and Trapper, and her family, singer stays busy but focused.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Oct 12 2015

 

Emm Gryner has become quite the proficient juggler.

A couple of weeks ago, the Juno-nominated, Sarnia-born singer and songwriter released her 16th studio album, 21st Century Ballads.

On Oct. 9, Trillium — the sophomore effort from Trent Severn, Gryner’s hoser folk collaboration with fellow songwriters Dayna Manning and Laura C. Bates — hit the streets.

Gryner’s hosting a songwriting workshop at Sheridan College in Oakville during the Oct. 17 weekend and concurrently hops over to the annual Folk Music Ontario Conference in Toronto.

Throw in the occasional appearance with astronaut Chris Hadfield (Gryner guested on his space station-recorded cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”); the writing and recording of an album with Trapper, the hard-rock quartet Gryner formed with guitarist Sean Kelly, her brother Frank, bass player Jordan Kern and drummer Tim Timleck; the running of her boutique label Dead Daisy Records and last, but certainly not least, family life (she’s the married mother of two). It makes you wonder: where does Gryner find the time?
“I just started a spreadsheet calendar,” she replied over the phone from Calgary, the day after a Trent Severn show.

“It’s been about the only way I can keep track of stuff. I have a really hard time organizing my time.”

Finding and maintaining a life/art balance has been foremost on Gryner’s mind lately, a theme that permeates “The Race,” the opening track of 21st Century Ballads, and refers to the late 1999-2000 period she spent on the road playing keyboards with Bowie.

But the tune is actually about Lawrence Gowan, the Toronto-based artist whose solo career spawned hits like “A Criminal Mind” and “Moonlight Desires” before he replaced Dennis DeYoung in Styx as lead singer and keyboardist.

“It was the first song I wrote for the album because I joined his (Gowan’s) band for a week last year,” recalls Gryner, a multi-instrumentalist. “It was the most life-changing event for me.

“But what really inspired me is that I’m at a place in my life where I’m just amazed at anyone who’s a successful musician and who has kept their family together. Gowan is a total family man. It was really interesting to see the choices he’s made in his career to keep music and family. That’s what that song is really about.”

At 40, Gryner has been doing quite a bit of reflection herself and the voice-and-piano driven 21st Century Ballads is partially the result.

“Trying to find a balance as a woman in this stage of my life has been a challenge for me,” she admits. “So there are a lot of songs that I wrote to heal myself.

“I really wanted to write lyrics that are not watered down and you water things down when you start censoring yourself. I just tried to make sure that I put on the record what was happening in my life at the time the songs were written. I feel really good about it.”

Not all of the songs are personal.

“‘The Wild Weight of Earth’ was inspired by some of the stories of female teenagers committing suicide, which I think is so heartbreaking,” she explains.

“‘Duped’ is learning about someone you know being accused of criminal activity. The last one, ‘Visiting Hours’ is sort of a tribute to a fan of mine who passed away from cancer.

“They sound like a lot of depressing themes, but I think there’s a beautiful outcome from some of the sadness that we endure. I’m aware that this stuff goes on and I’m trying to focus on the light in the world.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the plaid-adorned Trent Severn, which — with harmony-honed, fiddle-laced folk tunes “Stealin’ Syrup,” “Haliburton High” and “King of the Background,” a tribute to late Band keyboardist Richard Manuel — sound more Canadian than back bacon, a toque and hockey put together.

“We want to highlight our shared experiences,” Gryner says on behalf of the band, booked for a Dec. 3 date at Hugh’s Room for a Trillium CD release party.
“It’s about the things that we all share: we all shovel our driveway . . . we all go to Tim Hortons once in awhile. Without going into novelty territory, which would be easy to do, we just try to think of the things that we love about Canada.”

Again, getting organized — especially after having kids — forced Gryner to sort out her priorities and to start compartmentalizing her sound to a degree.
“Having more projects keeps me focused on each one of them,” Gryner explains.

“With my solo stuff there was always a touch of country in them and a little bit of rock. I considered my previous albums to be stylistically schizophrenic.

“Once I got to put all the roots, country and folk style into Trent Severn, I was really able to focus on the classical element of my pop solo career. And then the Trapper thing, which is more of a fun thing, came along, but I’ve always loved rock music.

“It may seem that I’m really busy, and I guess that I am, but I take fewer gigs now and they seem to be more meaningful. I’m not getting on a plane to go play some little place that’s far, far away . . . I’m keeping it close to home.”

Emm Gryner, musical multi-tasker | Toronto Star

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review

One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with a multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect. Make that nearly perfect.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Aug 20 2015

One Direction
3 stars
At the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Aug. 20

When you consider it, One Direction is the anti-boy-band boy band.

Stack them up against the earlier progenitors of poster pop pablum, whether it’s reaching as far back as the ’60s for the Osmonds and the Jackson 5, or as recently as the late ’90s watermarks Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC, and the one thing they don’t do that all the others did is . . . dance.

But the absence of slick, relentless choreography is something the 40,000 mainly female fans who packed Rogers Centre on Thursday night didn’t seem to mind, since they were sharing the same source of oxygen as their singing idols, Harry Styles, soon-to-be-baby-daddy Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and guitar-strumming Niall Horan.

In its first Toronto appearance since the fifth singer Zayn Malik abandoned ship, One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect.

Make that nearly perfect.

There were some flat notes on “No Control” and “Diana” and a few other spots, especially by Tomlinson, but it’s not like the fans noticed or held them accountable for it.

Instead, they cheered their heroes as they sang each song faithfully, beginning with a fireworks-blasting “Clouds” and following it up with a streamer-shooting “Steal My Girl,” both from the group’s latest album, Four, and screamed at the tops of their lungs whenever they were asked to scream.

If there is a formula to pop music, One Direction and its group of management overseers, which includes American Idol’s Simon Cowell, have perfected it: hire a bunch of influential Swedish writers to craft tuneful three-to-four minute ditties about love, love and more love (with the occasional creative input from 1D themselves).

Then ensure that every singer in the band shares the lead and backs the rest of his pals on harmonies when he’s not singing lead and, while performing, have them walk around the stage just being themselves, with no pre-rehearsed banter, save for the occasional positioning onstage to spread the One Direction love.

Oh and the other pièce de résistance? Every time a different One Direction member grabs the microphone, have them thank their audience often and profusely, because, really, what else is there to talk about when you’re entertaining a bunch of screaming fans?

It’s this anti-approach that’s been a stroke of genius since the band first appeared at the ACC four years ago and usurped where-are-they-now headliners Big Time Rush with their humble, wide-eyed charm.

Five years later and brimming with confidence, One Direction hasn’t really refined their act as much as just become more comfortable with their talent

.
Roaming up and down a T-shaped stage that stretched halfway into the venue, the boys spent the better part of two hours concentrating on their past two albums, only dipping into their first for the upbeat “What Makes You Beautiful,” their second for “Little Things” and “Kiss You,” and their new single “Drag You Down” from the inevitable fifth album that will crash the charts in November.

The songs varied in pacing from power pop to ballads, with Styles, who draped himself with the Canadian flag a couple of times during the evening, seemingly taxed with the more challenging vocal motifs.

The spontaneity came mainly from onstage action: water gun fights between Payne and Tomlinson, a happy birthday serenade to 15-year-old blue-haired Jean, a Payne hug to a gobsmacked fan, Styles’ brief wander into the crowd and Horan’s sloppily improvised Riverdance during the playful Celtic romp “Act My Age.”

It all added up to keeping the disciples pretty giddy and somewhat satiated after 25 songs.

It’s inevitable that time and the fickle tastes of the public will eventually catch up and doom One Direction, but judging by the Rogers Centre audience, that moment seems far, far away.

For 40,000 fans, at least, the band is still heading in the right direction.

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review | Toronto Star

 

The Weeknd proves he’s Toronto’s next superstar: concert review

R&B crooner Abel Tesfaye, aka the Weeknd, treated crowd at Mod Club to a sort of preview of new album Beauty Behind the Madness.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Aug 26 2015

The Weeknd
At the Mod Club, Aug. 25

He’s earned it all right.

The climatic moment in the Weeknd’s recent video for his chart-topping hit “Can’t Feel My Face” occurs when the singer is set on fire by an audience member while performing. He finishes the song “Human Torch” style, his skin unblemished as the flames engulf him.

The metaphor expressed in the video applied to the hottest ticket in town on Tuesday night, when alt R&B crooner Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd, treated a capacity crowd at the Mod Club to a preview of sorts of his new album out Friday, Beauty Behind the Madness.

With a crowd of 620 onlookers that included artists Francesco Yates and Kardinal Offishall, new Bell Media entertainment production president Randy Lennox and his Universal Music Canada replacement Jeffrey Remedios, several hundred Virgin Radio contest winners and those lucky enough to grab $9.99 tickets, Tesfaye and his three-piece band zigzagged from past to present during an exuberant hour-long set that signaled the arrival of Canada’s — nay, Toronto’s — next international superstar.

Yeah, you could argue that the Weeknd, who will kick off his world tour with a Nov. 3 Air Canada Centre date (tickets are on sale Friday), has already reached that pinnacle — especially since he owns two of the five top-selling songs on Billboard this week — but one got the feeling with this concert that Tesfaye is only beginning to come into his own.

Starting with “Losers,” an aggressive new up-tempo Beauty track, the man with the gravity-defying hair and equally buoyant falsetto bounced around the stage like he had something to prove, and spun through a quick succession of three more soon-to-be-R&B classics — “Tell Your Friends,” “Acquainted” and “In the Morning” — before he returned, as he put it, “to 2011” for House of Balloons’ “High for This.”

At that point, the show became more of a communal event, with the crowd serenading Tesfaye with the lyrics from “Often” and “Glass Table Girls” as he echoed their words.

The crowd lost it when he briefly detoured with Drake’s “Crew Love” (which he initially contributed vocals to) and sang along intensely to his hit ballad

“Earned It” from the film Fifty Shades of Grey, Tesfaye’s impressive falsetto effortlessly gliding into stratospheric octaves.

The funky “Can’t Feel My Face” got the whole joint jumping to the point you could feel the floor move under your feet, and Tesfaye cajoled the audience to “go motherf—ing crazy” for “The Hills,” before returning for an acoustic-driven, slightly accelerated version of “Wicked Games” to close out the set.

In a club that hosted the Weeknd’s very first gig and one he keeps coming back to, it was an evening his fans won’t soon forget.

The Weeknd proves he’s Toronto’s next superstar: concert review | Toronto Star

Tobias Jesso Jr. captivates crowd in solo show: review

The young performer has plenty of room to grow, but the charisma he exudes is certainly half the battle in advancing his career.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Mar 23 2015

Tobias Jesso Jr.
3 stars
At the Drake Hotel Underground, Sunday, March 22.

Tobias Jesso Jr. knows how to charm his audience.

About a half-hour prior to Sunday’s show at the Drake Underground, the 29-year-old Vancouver-born piano balladeer wasn’t holed up in a change room somewhere, fighting butterflies or playing whatever mental games performers use to psych themselves up to take to the stage.

No, the former bass player of The Sessions was out mingling with the sold-out audience who had paid to see him: shaking hands, offering hugs, signing copies of his acclaimed debut album Goon and talking about his music.

His 55-minute set, consisting largely of material from that album, was pretty similar in nature, save for the shaking hands and offering hugs bit, as he proved to be an adept conversationalist with a decent sense of humour, and one who wasn’t afraid to publically fess up his flaws, considering — his trio of appearances at SXSW this past week included — that this is his first tour and these are some of his first ever solo shows.

“I just got back from SXSW where I screwed up a song five times,” he told the partisan crowd of hipsters near the start of his 10 p.m. performance. “You guys will be getting better than that tonight, at least.”

Later he identified “True Love” as the culprit just prior to its performance, and yes, he performed it flawlessly.

But his predilection for spontaneity was first evident in his opening number, the John Lennon-esque “Can We Still Be Friends.”

Midway through the song, Jesso played a chord progression familiar to fans of the TV show Cheers.

“This is the ‘Cheers’ theme cameo; I swear I didn’t know that when I wrote it,” he joked, then continued with the singing.

Another sample of his deadpan humour: “My ex-girlfriend and her new husband are in the audience tonight. Excuse me while I write a song.”

While he may have a flair for stand-up comedy, Jesso’s music has been the magnet that has attracted the attention of such luminaries as Adele, Girls’ Chet “JR” White and The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney for collaboration or praise.

Jesso’s songs are as straightforward and as simple as they come: very basic melodies that have no subtext or hidden meaning beyond what the singer and songwriter is expressing. Whether they’re exceptional songs is a matter of opinion, but what’s undeniable is the additional soulfulness Jesso brings as a performer.

Using his electric grand piano as his palette (he also switched to guitar for a couple of numbers, including “The Wait”), Jesso sang with added intensity and urgency when it was called for, and the crowd response of rapt attention was so impressive you could have heard a pin drop.

The Adele favourite “How Could You Babe,” “Just a Dream” and “Without You” all jumped out with stronger force than the song before it, relying on Jesso’s confidence and focus as the propellant, thus building the show’s momentum to its eventual apex with “Hollywood,” a rare tune in the Tobias Jesso Jr. catalogue that had little to do with romance.

It’s obvious that Jesso has plenty of room to grow as a writer, performer and showman, but the charisma he exudes is certainly half the battle in advancing his career.

Whether the informal atmosphere of his current show continues as he eventually graduates to bigger venues and hires a band remains to be seen, but there will probably be a day in the not-too-distant future where patrons who attended the concert will reminisce nostalgically, sigh, and perhaps boast a little, in declaring, “We saw Tobias Jesso Jr. back before he was…”

Tobias Jesso Jr. captivates crowd in solo show: review | Toronto Star

Ariana Grande takes flight at the ACC: concert review

The young “Problem” singer proves she’s got longevity, with a surprisingly under-utilized voice and a large, smartly G-rated production.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Mar 09 2015

 

Ariana Grande
3 stars
At the Air Canada Centre, March 8

Merchandisers did brisk business on plastic glow-in-the-dark cat ears Sunday night at the Air Canada Centre.

The significance?

At least a couple thousand girls — the audience was probably 90 percent female, ranging from 5 to 45 — wore the headbands as both a sign of allegiance and a nod of respect to headliner Ariana Grande and her prior career as a TV actress, portraying the character Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon shows Victorious and Sam and Cat.

That was before, of course, Grande decided to go the route of so many Disney-era teen actors, and stake a domain in pop music.

And although she’s only been at it a relatively short time — Yours Truly in 2013 followed by My Everything in 2014 are her only full-length releases to date, along with a bevy of guest slots on other collaborations — the 21-year-old exhibits enough drawing power to fill the Air Canada Centre with approximately 14,000 screaming fans, indicating she’ll probably be around for a good, long run.

As the charismatic, pony-tailed Grande — also sporting the cat ears accoutrement for a generous portion of her 90-minute set — proved repeatedly throughout the evening, she certainly has the performance thing down pat, exuding both the calm and confidence, poise and professionalism that are expected of today’s millennial pop stars.

It’s almost as though there’s a list of seven commandments that they all subscribe to:

1. Thou shalt employ a large team of impressive dancers to exercise some meaningless, forgettable choreography.
2. Thou shalt have a large band supplemented with a DJ and a (in this case, a three-piece) string section.
3. Thou shalt include canned harmonies.
4. Thou shalt pull out all the bells and whistles one would expect in a top-flight production: fireworks, confetti, dry ice, lasers, video, more fireworks, more confetti, and at least one explosion.
5. Thou shalt employ the use of hydraulics to hover above the crowd at least once, nay twice, during any concert tour.
6. Thou shalt have a video cameo of any high-profile guest (usually rap) collaborator to insert where appropriate. Grande’s boyfriend Big Sean appeared on screen during “Best Mistake” and “Right There,” unlike Saturday’s show in Detroit, where he appeared in person.
7. Thou shalt have a minimum of five or six costume changes because, well, you’re hot.

Ariana Grande fulfilled this particular manifesto, using the fourth commandment to the best of her abilities: all that stuff happened in the opening high-octane number “Bang Bang.” The hydraulics came as the singer hovered above the stage on a cloud and, almost immediately afterwards, a giant chandelier.

But this Grandestanding is not what separated Ariana from the rest of the TV-weaned pack. In fact, there was a trio of characteristics that, in this scribe’s opinion, bodes well for her future.

The first is that amazing, almost underutilized voice of hers: she sounds like Mariah Carey with restraint (and believe me, that’s a compliment). There were times when her band overpowered her — and some of that could have been due to the cold she said she was suffering from — but when she took a solo spotlight, as on “Honeymoon Avenue,” there was a lot of soul and believability. You can’t say that about many of today’s TV ingénue converts.

The second is that Grande gave her audience a G-rated show — when was the last time you witnessed a tap-dancing DJ? — and was mindful that her audience contained a lot of young impressionable girls who obviously idolize her. She was sexy and romantic in songs like “Hands on Me,” but not overtly so, and of course, blatantly aware of her cuteness enough to play it up through video intros.

But the biggest promise she showed also happened to be probably the most boring part of the show. During one of the many costume breaks, Imogen Heap — one of Grande’s influences — appeared on screen to talk about this dull new invention she concocted: computerized gloves that allow her to manipulate her voice live in performance.

To her credit, Grande tried them, sounding like a Vocoder experiment that Neil Young pulled off during his Trans era as she harmonized with herself.

It was a pointless exercise that probably baffled her fans more than it entertained them, but the fact that Grande is open enough to experiment reveals an imagination that will elevate her game with subsequent releases, indicating she’s not going to be satisfied with simply being famous for fame’s sake.

As she saved the best for last — an energetic take on “Problem” and the blood-rushing burst of “One Last Time” — Grande left her fans happily buzzing about a well-consummated production, and with the anticipation that the so-called “Honeymoon Tour” was just a taste of what’s to come.

One quibble: if you happened to be in the first row, your sight lines were obstructed by monitors that prevented you from seeing everything that was happening on stage, despite the presence of video screens.

Not cool, but thank god for the catwalk.

Ariana Grande takes flight at the ACC: concert review | Toronto Star

Siblings Jill and Matthew Barber play Massey Hall Nov. 15

Jill will showcase material from Fool’s Gold, while Matthew has new album Big Romance

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Nov 14 2014

 

Jill Barber has been waiting for this.

When the 34-year-old singer and songwriter takes to the Massey Hall stage on Saturday night as headliner, it will be the crowning achievement thus far of a career that has taken the Port Credit native through numerous styles, seven albums and three continents.

“It’s huge,” said Barber of her appearance at the 120-year-old venue.

“On Saturday night, there will be three big events in my life that are standouts: getting married, having my baby and performing my own show at Massey Hall. It is beyond my wildest dreams, which is an incredible feeling. I really think, when I was a teenager growing up in Port Credit, of being a musician, that playing the Rivoli felt like that would be the pinnacle, so to be invited to play onstage of Massey Hall is a great honour and I really feel it. I feel it a lot.”

Making the occasion even more special will be her warm-up act, her older brother Matthew Barber, a potent singer and songwriter in his own right who has eight albums to his credit, and the one who inspired her to follow her musical dreams.

“It’s totally a dream come true,” says Jill, who will perform material from her latest collection, Fool’s Gold. “My parents, who will be in the audience, what a big night it is for them. It’s a family celebration, obviously with my family, my parents, my brother and I, also with my musical family: my band, the label and all of the people that I work with on a daily basis. It’s a celebration for everybody. It’s not the size of the room, it’s the prestige and the fact that we all got here together is something that we’re all celebrating.”

Matthew, who’s pushing his own new album, Big Romance, has previously experienced the awe factor of the Massey stage.

“I’ve played there as a drummer with Doug Paisley when we opened for Jim Cuddy once and I know that when you’re up there the time flies rather quickly. You’ve got to take a minute to stop and savour the moment, so I’ll do that.”

Produced by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, Big Romance offers more of Matthew’s predilection for strong, pop-hooked melodies that are both personal and potent; something he felt was strengthened by Louris’s presence.

“I was aiming for a classic sounding album,” says Matthew. “I’m a huge fan of Gary’s songwriting and the Jayhawks, and I wanted to bring him in to help us craft an album that’s interesting from beginning to end but has classic sensibilities and also some hooks. There’s really no more of a conceptual angle than that.”

Aside from “On the 505,” which is a song concerning the Sammy Yatim streetcar shooting last summer, and “Magic Greg,” an ode to one of Matthew’s late friends, Barber says the remaining eight songs on Big Romance are deal with “existential issues that I’m always interested in, or issues of science and nature and making sense of the world, or just issues of the heart and the emotions that go along with love and relationship. That’s my usual terrain for songwriting.”

But not his only terrain: Barber will also provide the music for the new John Patrick Shanley play A Woman Is a Secret, premiering at Toronto’s Theatre Centre on March 20.

It’s not the first time Barber’s dabbled in theatre; he finds scoring for plays refreshes him when it comes to penning material for his records.

“It’s a nice diversion. I think it’s kind of a breath of fresh air to keep the songwriting wheels turning, but having these set parameters to contend with where you’re writing for a particular show or writing for particular characters is a nice, different way to work. So when I come back to writing my own material for my next record, it’s fresh.”

He also revealed he’ll be cutting a duets album next year with Jill, whom he calls “amazing.”

“I’m very proud of and inspired by her,” says Matthew. “She’s really crafted her own sound and her own esthetic package, for sure. She experimented with some sounds and has found a style that really works for her.”

Central to that sound is Jill’s plush, torchy voice, described by the authoritative All Music Guide website as a “mid-century blend of little-girl timbre and orotund vowels,” and suited to the jazz-influenced songs that she’s written for Fool’s Gold, some of which sound like a throwback to yesteryear.

It’s been a journey of stylistic twists and turns for Vancouver-based Jill, who began her career with more of a folk esthetic on her first two EPs and 2006’s For All Time before switching directions and being embraced by the jazz community for 2008’s Chances.

Barber said her writing style evolved accordingly once she left her guitar out of the process.

“The way I write songs most of the time these days is a cappella,” says the bilingual Jill, who also released a collection of French-language covers last year called Chansons.

“So it’s really just my voice. I’ll take a little demo recording of me singing a cappella to one of my band mates and they will help me create the music underneath it, so my vocal melody is always the first thing that is written, along with the lyric.

“Back in the day I wrote with my guitar at the same time. But because I’m not the world’s greatest guitar player, I started to find as I started to explore jazzier vocal stylings it became harder for me to accompany myself. So when I put down my guitar, I could sing any melody and was free to let my voice lead the way.”

Jill says she’s always felt a deeper connection to older music.

“Back in university, I would go to the local record shop and thumb through the old dusty records. I would essentially pick out the records that I thought had cool record covers, and I’d take them home and I’d listen to them. There was something about this old jazz, these old standards, and the way these men and women delivered these songs that, to me, instantly felt like a soundtrack: this beautiful, whimsical, romantic experience.

“So I think that when I’m writing, it doesn’t matter what style I’m writing in, I’m trying to write music that is timeless, that might be old but hasn’t aged.”

Massey Hall concertgoers will receive a generous taste of these contemporary “vintage” originals, as Jill says she’s employed a three-piece string section, a three-piece horn section, backing singers and hired a special lightning designer for the show.

“We’re gonna go to town!” she declares. “My two Fool’s Gold producers — Drew Jurecka and Les Cooper — have been working tirelessly on arrangements just to put this show over the top. We’re pulling out all the stops that we know how to pull out and it’s going to be really special.”

Siblings Jill and Matthew Barber play Massey Hall Nov. 15 | Toronto Star

Sinéad O’Connor gives audience what they want

Controversial Irish singer delivers a mostly solid set of old and new favourites to adoring Toronto fans.

 

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 25 2014

Sinéad O’ Connor at Massey Hall
3 stars

Boy, have they missed her.

The moment the diminutive Sinéad O’Connor stepped on the Massey Hall stage on Friday night, she was greeted with a standing ovation so thunderous, she literally couldn’t start the show until the screams and applause died down a few minutes later.

Beaming at the unexpected reception, the controversial, head-shaved Irish singer and songwriter issued a few short curtsies and then gestured for the near-capacity crowd to settle down.

Then, with her five-piece band standing at attention, the 47-year-old O’Connor endeared herself even further by performing a solo, instrument-free version of “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” dedicated to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the Hamilton army reservist mercilessly gunned down on Capitol Hill earlier this week.

photo of Sinéad O’Connor performing at the Hague via Creative Commons and Leah Pritchard

Her performance of the I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got classic she first recorded in 1990 revealed the full range of O’Connor’s extraordinary vocal abilities: her wide-ranging voice oscillated between loud intensity and breathless whisper, often within the same phrase, with enough gripping, dramatic effect that your ears were unable to resist being drawn in to catch every syllable.

“I Am Stretched On Your Grave” was a preview of what was to encapsulate the 75-minute show’s best moments: an enviable dynamic range that seemed to work best the more O’Connor was isolated from her bandmates.

Not that there was anything wrong with her accompanying lineup that included guitarist Brooke Supple, bassist Clare Kenny, keyboardist Graham Henderson: au contraire, they were technically strong, united, in sync.

From this reviewer’s vantage point on the first row of the lower balcony, the frustration came from O’Connor’s sound staff: her vocals were so under-mixed that whenever the band played full-tilt, the singer became the weakest link … not so great when O’Connor’s fans are paying good money to hear that inimitable voice.

And especially when the songs O’Connor chose to perform following the sarcastic “Queen Of Denmark,” “4th and Vine,” “Take Me To Church” — her moving declaration of independence — and “8 Good Reasons,” — scattered between her last two albums — I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss and How About I Be Me (And You Be You) — are lyrically intriguing.

O’Connor seemed to be aware of the problem, continuously fidgeting with her monitor control and conferring with her side stage sound man to the point of distraction (and one she apologized to the crowd for) and ultimately subtracted from the overall potency of her showmanship.

So, the barefoot O’Connor, dressed in her cleric collar (she’s an ordained minister), a Catholic cross necklace, a hybrid black/leopard spotted shirt and leather pants, was most effective when she accompanied herself on acoustic for her extraordinarily hypnotic and pensive ballad “Black Boys On Mopeds;” the a cappella “In This Heart,” which she dedicated to her mother, started solo and eventually had the whole band add their voices to; and the first encore of “Streetcars,” softly sung with even softer keyboard accompaniment by Henderson.

But she rocked out as well, with the audience particularly responding to the unleashed aggression of the pair of Do Not Want main set finishers — “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” — with more standing ovations.

If there was a disadvantage for O’Connor, it was that her audience seems to be aging with her: the majority of the crowd represented the late 30-through-50 age demographic.

It’s a shame that today’s youth are either unaware of her or ignoring her: still integral as an artist, songwriter, lyricist and performer, the outspoken O’Connor could teach them a thing or two.

Sinéad O’Connor gives audience what they want | Toronto Star

Chrissie Hynde turns back the clock: review

In concert at Massey Hall on Thursday, The Pretenders founder seemingly hasn’t aged a day since 1978.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Oct 31 2014

Chrissie Hynde
3 stars
At Massey Hall, Oct. 30

 

Dorian Gray, eat your heart out.

Anyone attending the opening night of Chrissie Hynde’s Stockholm tour at Massey Hall on Thursday night could be forgiven for doing a double take and wondering where exactly she’s hiding the painting: The Pretenders founder’s birth certificate may read 62 years, but it’s clear the Akron, Ohio, native hasn’t aged a day since she first kicked out the jams back in 1978.

“You’re so hot!” yelled an admirer from one of the upper balconies early into her 90-minute set, and you really couldn’t belabour his point: the incredibly svelte Hynde stood centre stage, decked out in full rock ’n’ roll regalia of blue necktie, black vest, jeans and a pair of leather boots that stretched to just above her knees, beaming as she surveyed the adoring crowd.

And if rock ’n’ roll has indeed proven to be the source of her fountain of youth, that ageless glow that illuminated Hynde’s skin also extended to her classic Pretenders songs and her husky voice, as both rung with authority and vitality. Joined by a four-piece band that included the current Pretenders lineup of guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson, Hynde turned back the hands of time with a performance that ensured she has lost none of her wallop.

But it did take her a while to get there.

After the lights dimmed, Hynde stepped out on stage and started out with “Don’t Lose Faith,” a snorer of a ballad from her new solo album Stockholm, before veering into a lukewarm blues number called “Biker.” Maybe they’re actually better tunes, but the sound technician was still twiddling knobs and adjusting levels as the guitars blared and drowned much of Hynde’s initial vocals, so you’ll have to pick up the new album to find out.

The first four songs, all new ones, were blasé enough to make one wonder if this was going to be a long night.

But that all changed once the first Pretenders song emerged — an edgy “Talk of the Town” that revealed a nicely gelling chemistry between all five musicians — as Hynde and her band shifted out of neutral gear and the momentum began to swell.

The real turning point came with a gritty rendition of “My City Was Gone,” as the gifted Walbourne’s sinewy handiwork on guitar in terms of handling both solos and complementing Hynde’s strum jacked up the song to a new level of intensity.

This happened again with “Night in My Veins,” another thrilling number that spirited Hynde and her gang into peak form, with a good portion of the crowd on their feet and dancing in their seats as old favourites like “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “Back on the Chain Gang” continued to maintain the flow of high energy.

It should be noted that there were only two tragic occurrences.

The first is that there were way too many empty seats for a woman who is one of rock’s most astute songwriters, an artisan whose topics, even when it comes to love or urban decay, have always offered a provocative and profound perspective. The Massey crowd still delivered a healthy showing of around 1,800-1,900 music lovers, but the place should have been packed.

The other tragedy? That although Hynde and company pulled practically every Pretenders number one might want to hear — including “Precious” and the Kinks’ “I Go to Sleep,” the one she omitted was the biggest of them all: “Brass in Pocket.”

So everyone was left hanging, receiving the cake without the icing, leading one to hope that if she comes this way again, Chrissie Hynde will right the wrong and make sure she plays all the hits next time . . . Hyndesight being 20/20 and all.

 

Postscript:  During the show, Hynde told the crowd how much she loved Toronto and pleaded with them to stop building so many condos, noting the skyline had changed abruptly since her last visit.