The Art of the Sonic Facelift

Remastering: The Art of the Sonic Facelift

June 02, 2014

Nick Krewen

GRAMMY.com

 

When aging actors and actresses need a sip from the fountain of youth to sustain their Hollywood dreams, they call their plastic surgeons for a little nip n’ tuck.

But when record companies or artists need to revitalize a classic album and freshen up its sound, it’s the mastering engineer who is the expert on their speed-dial, specifically for remastering purposes.

It’s a popular practice, highlighted over the past year with the re-release of the nine-album Led Zeppelin catalogue, overseen by Jimmy Page, as well as both vintage and contemporary titles revived and rejuvenated by the 75th anniversary of Manhattan’s Blue Note Records.

Jimmy Page photo by Avda via Creative Commons

In fact, anniversaries seem to be as good excuse as any to revisit some old classics: those undergoing the sonic knife over the past 15 months include Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road; Soundgarden’s Superunknown; Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto’s Getz/Gilberto; Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Not Fragile; Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One In Every Crowd and E.C. Was Here; The Who’s Tommy; Prince’s Purple Rain, Bryan AdamsReckless and Bon Jovi’s New Jersey.

The retooling process also extends to catalogues as well, as noted by last year’s 16-disc compilation Joe Satriani, The Complete Recordings and the ongoing Blue Note series presided over by label president Don Was that commenced almost a year ago with the March 25, 2014 reissues of Art Blakey’s Free For All, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch and Larry Young’s Unity.

Some of those key titles not only arguably sound better, but are enhanced by such bonus fare as previously unreleased material, alternate takes, live performances and other extras designed to make fans salivate and hopefully reach into their wallets to buy an album they already have in one, two or three configurations.

But first and foremost, it’s about better sound for today’s technology. With advances in both the music industry and recording fields, ranging from studio equipment to the evolution of formats that began with vinyl and analog tape and have shifted to digital options that include the MP3, MP4, AAC, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and DSD/DFF, as well as bit-rates that have jumped from 16 to 24, via computer and Internet, it’s no wonder Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page felt compelled to revisit his band’s 200-million-plus selling discography.

“It (mastering) was done for vinyl, back in the ’60s and ’70s, and then 20 years ago it was redone and remastered for CD,” explained Page at the New York press conference last May to promote the revamped catalogue.

“Now we’ve got so many different formats out there that it made sense to revisit the studio albums and do those.”

Page, who personally remastered each of his band’s nine studio albums and converted them into 24-bit hi-definition files, says he wasn’t thrilled with previous remasters.

“CDs were put out of that material from copy tapes, and they weren’t very good, to be honest with you, so that’s why the original master tapes were brought back out again and remastered,” says Page, 71.

“That was 20 years ago, so [now] you’ve got all the new digital formats that there are. The process has changed as far as mastering because now you’ve got other areas and elements to fill. Even with the remastering and cutting on vinyl, there have been so many steps and progressions to improve the overall (sound), if you like.”

Even before they get started, engineers can face daunting obstacles – missing, misplaced or destroyed tapes; some types of audiotape where they’ve become worn or decayed over the years, forcing engineers to try to physically repair the original master.

Ironically, while sourcing through materials that are over 45 years old, tape degradation was the one thing Jimmy Page didn’t have to worry about.

“The condition of it was absolutely magnificent, “ Page enthuses. “I didn’t have to do any sort of restoration work on that, apart from maybe a little edit might come out and you’d replace the editing tape. However, the In Through The Out Door album had been recorded on this new format tape — and you’ve probably heard about tape shredding and all of that, which means the oxide comes off and you have to bake them– so fortunately there wasn’t a lot of work that needed to be done past In Through The Out Door.”

Arguably, some titles have had their sound spruced up to the point of overkill – take Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side Of The Moon, for example; a work which has undergone the process no less than a handful of times.

Why?

“Record companies remaster to try to get more money out of the catalogue to turn the catalogue, and thus, the artist as well,” surmises veteran mastering engineer Bob Ludwig, a seven-time GRAMMY winner who has won for his work with Daft Punk and Mumford & Sons on 2013’s and 2012’s Album of the Year, Random Access Memories and Babel, respectively. “I don’t think there’s that many titles where the fans are begging the artist to redo it.”

Bob Ludwig
photo credit – Peter Leuhr

But Ludwig, who is based in Portland, Maine, owns Gateway Mastering, and counts such multi-million sellers as Led Zeppelin II and Houses Of The Holy; Dire StraitsMoney For Nothing and AC/DC’s Back In Black as some of the 1300-plus titles he’s mastered since 1969, allows for exceptions.

“I’ve just remastered most of the early Bruce Springsteen catalogue for iTunes, and the first two titles, Greetings From Asbury Park and The Wild. The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle, fans had been asking for those for quite awhile.

“Those were originally done when CDs first came out – I did the original U.S. masters of those CDs in ’84, but they were made in Japan and done from the analog cassette copy masters.”

Ludwig says improved technology has made remastering more appealing.

“The quality of (analog-to-digital) converters that we use now is so much better than the early digital converters,” states Ludwig. “And there’s so much gear that’s been invented.”

In turn, better equipment, both at the source end and what you hear through the speakers, promotes a greater accuracy in the mix.

“When you create the final master, the idea is to make it sound as good as it can possibly be sounding over an excellent system,” says Ludwig. “The more accurate you make it, and the more accurate it sounds on an excellent system, the better it sounds on a wider range of things out there in the world.”

Another reason for aurally revisiting a catalogue may be artist preference, says John Cuniberti, who spent two years remastering the 16-disc set Joe Satriani: The Complete Studio Recordings. He says sometimes it’s just the benefit of hindsight that serves as a remastering catalyst.

“A lot of times the artist might wish the mastering might have been done differently,” says Cuniberti, a Grammy winner who has mastered albums for Dave Matthews, Aerosmith, Tracy Chapman and The Grateful Dead. “Sometimes when you lead a mixing project and it goes right to master because you have a deadline to meet, it’s really hard sometimes to be objective about the mastering process. You’re pretty burned out on it. You don’t even want to hear it, generally. “

He chuckles.

“In fact, that’s one of the reasons why you turn it over to a mastering engineer is a good idea after you’ve spent weeks or months mixing so they can provide that service. It’s so they will have an objective ear. So if you’ve lived with your record for 10 years, you might go, ‘maybe we can try something different.’”

In Satriani’s case, where different mastering engineers handled his albums over the years, Cuniberti says the timing to offer one cohesive sonic overview was never better.

”When we first started having the conversation about remastering, I said, ‘We have an opportunity here that we’re not ever going to have again: to present the entire catalogue and remaster it as one whole piece rather than just giving people the already mastered discs in a box,’” Cuniberti recalls.

“We can create a consistency in level and quality right from the first record.”

Cuniberti says Satriani’s recorded career overview was also a chance to rectify an embarrassing development in the history of remastered recordings: The Loudness Wars.

“Over the past 15-20 years, the  (44.1/16-bit) CD has been getting louder and louder,” Cuniberti explains. “This has been largely due to the necessity to stand out amongst the crowd. Originally, the record companies were encouraging it.  The artists, maybe their egos got in the way, and they wanted their record to be at least as loud as so-and-so’s, and so-and-so needed to make their record a little louder, and it produced what we call the ‘Loudness Wars.’

“The audio quality and the sound of the mix ultimately would suffer from that process.

“Now we have the opportunity to go and back off some of the limiting and processing that was taking place to fight that war, and really look at the album more aesthetically.”

Gavin Lurssen of Hollywood-based Lurssen Mastering notes that delivering the right sense of nostalgia as a remastering engineer is something that should also be taken into account, as it takes great skill.

“When you’re living in 2014, we have mobile devices and electronic billboards and all kinds of crazy information entering our brains at light speed,” says Lurssen, who mastered 2001 Album of the Year GRAMMY winner O Brother Where Art Thou?  and 2008’s similarly rewarded Raising Sand by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. “But there’s always, as in the case in human nature, an ability and a desire to reminisce.

Gavin Lurssen

“So when you present something to somebody that was once a part of their lives, in some kind of cleaned-up fashion, you have to present it to them in a way that makes it feel like it felt back at that time, and combine it also to some degree — dependent on the vintage of the project — with the standards of today in order to create that feeling.

“Generally there is a lot more dynamic range on older recordings so it is important to respect that and thus the level wars are less of an issue in this line of work, “ Lurssen adds. “I’ve even seen cases in which this approach has helped pull current artists out of the overall level push when they see what can come of it.  It’s all about being exposed to it, which is among the good reasons the labels are doing it.”

Barak Moffitt, Universal Music’s Head Of Strategic Operations, and the executive who oversees Capitol Studios and Mastering, says the respect that Lurssen mentions is tantamount to the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Remastering project.

Barak Moffitt

“We’re trying to get a balance between what’s directly on the tape and what happened in that room, and the emotional connection that people found in that original vinyl release, where the public sentiment and the original sentiment around the music was attached,” he explains.

“And again, now that studio technology has hi-definition capabilities, we’re taking care to maintain as much information that’s in the original material as possible, while maintaining as much of the emotional connection to the original release as possible.”

Moffitt says that also involved preserving the integrity of the original masters wherever possible; a task the label took extremely seriously.

“Our first concern was to respect our responsibility as stewards of these original masters,” Moffitt explains. “So we developed what we call sort of these white-glove protocols around our tape-handling procedures, and how we manage the actual physical assets in and out of the vaults.

“We also wanted to make sure that throughout the two-stage process –retrieving the actual analogue assets from the vault, and then transferring them into the digital world in hi-definition for historical preservation – we took great care to preserve as much information that’s in the analog domain in the digital space as possible, given current studio technologies.

“We also took great care to engineer our signal processing chain, all the way from what kind of power cables we were using to what analog-to-digital converters we were using to the tape machines, the kind of software we were using, again with sort of the aim of maintaining the highest fidelity possible given today’s studio technology capabilities in the transfer from analog into the digital domain.”

From there, Moffitt says the results were then placed in the very capable hands of Bernie Grundman and his staff of Scott Sedillo and Beno May for both digital and vinyl purposes.

Of course, before an album can be remastered, it has to be mastered, a process that three-time GRAMMY winner and Blue Note Records president Don Was describes as “frosting on the cake.”

Don Was

“Musicians and engineers spend a whole lot of time getting the cake right, but most people don’t want to be served cake without the frosting on it,” he laughs. “But it’s a question of degrees of the frosting. You’ve got to have a light hand, basically.

“If you have something that’s badly recorded and mixed, a mastering engineer can come in and give it shape and dimension and depth by adding EQ and compression and other mojo to it, making sure the levels work and the spacing between songs is right — and then getting it into the medium from which it can be manufactured.”

Was maintains that like every musician and producer that works on an album, the mastering engineer leaves his unique fingerprint on the recording as well.

“Every mastering engineer has got their own gear and set-up, and that set-up has a sound to it.”

And that introduces another challenge: maintaining the integrity of the original mastering engineer’s work.

“Let’s take the Blue Note remasters for example: Rudy Van Gelder, the legendary engineer who recorded most of the classic Blue Note Records, mixed directly to stereo on quarter-inch tape,” Was explains. “There was no multi-track tape, so he mixed live. So the music went down and it came out mono or stereo and that was it – there was no going back to remix it.

Blue Note Records’ Rudy Van Gelder

“He also mastered, and the way he mastered that day has a certain quality to it and it’s definitely different from when you hear what’s on the master tape.”

When it came to the initial listens of remastered works that had been converted to hi-def and transferred to digital at the 96k/24-bit and 192 k/24-bit rates, Was noticed that the music felt different than how he remembered it.

Was says Van Gelder pre-emptively mastered the record for vinyl to ensure there would be no technical glitches when consumers played them on their home audio equipment.

“Rudy mastered for vinyl: he added some and some EQ, just so the phonograph needle wouldn’t skip and certain sonic peaks wouldn’t mess with the needle,” says Was.

“In doing that, he altered the sound and that’s the sound everybody knows and loves.”

When it came to updating Van Gelder’s work for today’s format, Was says the label was placed in “a moral and ethical quandary.”

“Who are we to editorialize on this stuff, 50 years after the fact?” said Was. “What is the standard by which you remaster to? And we decided that the original vinyl was the standard: that’s what everybody decided who was involved – (Blue Note co-founder) Alfred Lyon, the musicians we decided to put out into the world: that’s what people bought and that’s what people loved. So we tried as closely as we could to master with the goal of returning to the original sound of the first pressings.”

Double GRAMMY winner Bernie Grundman (Album of the Year for OutKast’s 2003 gem Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and 2007’s Herbie Hancock’s star-studded tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters), tasked with remastering the majority of Blue Note titles, confirms that vinyl sets up its own challenges.

“Vinyl doesn’t sound like the lacquer that goes to the factory,” he notes. “The medium itself changes it, and the processes it goes through when you’re making the vinyl actually changes the sound. It’s not the same as making a tape copy because that’s a re-recording process. With the vinyl, it’s not re-recorded, but it is transferred to metal through electroplating, and that actually affects the sound. So a vinyl disc does not sound like the tape or the lacquer. Once it comes back from the factory, you can tell the difference: It is warmer and it tends to take on a ‘bassier’ sound.”

Bernie Grundman

For the Blue Note project, Grundman built his own console.

“It’s a simplified, more straightforward board, with the functions we needed to simulate a lot of the things they did on the Blue Note albums.” says Grundman, who started his Bernie Grundman Mastering business in Hollywood and has since expanded to Tokyo. “So it bypasses completely our normal chain and toes right from the tape machine through very simplified electronics right to the computer.”

Oh, and Grundman, who is making Blue Note archived copies rated at 96/24 and 192/24, also built – or, in his terms, “hot-rodded” – the computer.

“It may be the cleanest-sounding computer in the industry, “ declares Grundman, who estimates he’s worked on over 70 Blue Note 75th Anniversary titles. “I don’t know if anything could match it, because I don’t think anyone has ever gone inside a computer and done some of the things we did.”

Virtually all remastering gurus agreed that when it comes to adjusting their approach for today’s formats, most don’t.

However, Bob Ludwig contends that digital remastering for iTunes is a slightly different beast.

“It’s not an equalization or compression thing, “Ludwig explains. “It’s a process of lowering the level into the encoder for the AAC file, and by lowering the level into the encoder, Apple has showed us that it creates much less distortion and can make a much more accurate encode to the point where a well made mastered-for-iTunes file sounds closer to the 24-bit master, than the 16-bit compact disc does.“

Mastering engineers spend a lot of time sifting through source material, sometimes contending with lost masters, studying copious notes made at the time of the recording, but in the end, if the job is done right, it’s worth it.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page says that when you get remastering right, it unlocks a door to the past and provides historical perspective.

“When you’ve got a chance to really listen to all of it, it gives a window — it’s like a portal — into that time capsule of when each album was recorded, “ he says. “And that gives you a really good taste. It works all the way right through the catalog.”

Blue Note’s Don Was says his exercise is one of passing it forward, to hopefully garner the music an introduction to some younger fans.

“At age 62, I find the music still means a lot to me.,” says Don Was. “This is what I listen to, to recharge myself, to feel good. I read this interview with Bob Dylan where he said that the job of the artist is not to tell you how they feel, but to put you in touch with your own feelings. And that line really stuck with me, because that’s what the Blue Note music does to me.

“I hope that in doing the reissues in this way, that there are some new fans of the music who will be able to enjoy the same experience and carry this music with them for another 50 years.”

 

 

 

 

The Sweet Smell of Success

The Sweet Smell Of Success
October 22, 2009

Recording artists bottle their success

GRAMMY.com
Nick Krewen

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have not only experienced the sweet smell of success, they’ve bottled it.

Country music’s first couple has a couple of new scents on the market — Faith Hill Parfums is her first and Southern Blend is his second — and they are just two of the music celebrities that have been tapped by Coty Inc., the world’s largest fragrance manufacturer with annual net sales of approximately $4 billion.

The list of artists sporting one or more of their own perfume or cologne brands run from the obvious (Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani) to the enterprising (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jay-Z and Usher) to the unexpected (rapper Daddy Yankee, guitar shaman Carlos Santana and cosmetic rockers KISS).

The fragrance industry also seems to be impartial to genre, with American soprano Renée Fleming, pop/punk princess Avril Lavigne, hip-hop icon Queen Latifah and influential innovator Prince all offering aromatic toiletries for public consumption.

Why are stars so keen to extend their aural appeal to the nasal? Well, there’s the obvious answer: money. Fashion newspaper Women’s Wear Daily speculates that Beyoncé‘s upcoming Coty fragrance will be one of 2010’s most-anticipated spring debuts and could earn her $20 million over three years.

Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst for the NPD Group, says helping to create a representative scent can be another expressive outlet.

“Sometimes celebrities say, ‘We’re not just about making another record,’ so being associated with a fragrance is a statement saying, ‘We’re an artist. We’re looking at this as an expression of our artistic talent.’

“It’s a great way to earn huge recognition across the country. And fans, who may not have the new album, can have a little piece of that celebrity as well.”

In many cases, it’s an affordable piece of celebrity. A 1.7-ounce bottle of McGraw’s Southern Blend — described as “a vibrant burst of grapefruit, star anise, and bergamot” that also incorporate touches of lavender, violet leaves, whiskey accord, vetiver, fresh amber, and tobacco to “create the ideal fragrance for the true Southern gentleman” — can be purchased in department stores or online for a suggested retail price of $30.

As Grant notes, this can be very appealing to fans. “If you’re a huge Britney follower, you’d want the scent as well as the albums,” she says.

It was Spears — along with Lopez and her fragrance Glow — who accelerated the trend of companies recruiting contemporary music stars to invent and introduce new fragrances when she entered the market in 2004 with the Elizabeth Arden brand Curious, which earned $100 million in sales within weeks of its release.

“Those two were such huge hits, really, that they helped to ignite this whole trend of associating the musician with these fragrances,” Grant explains. “So I think that’s when both the musicians as well as the manufacturers began to look and say, ‘This seems like it could be a winning lineup.'”

And it’s certainly been victorious for Spears. Women’s Wear Daily reports that more than 10 million bottles of Curious, Fantasy and In Control have been sold since 2005, and Spears has expanded her franchise this year with the additions of Circus Fantasy and Hidden Fantasy.

Since then, approximately 40 artists from Shania Twain to Hilary Duff have taken the plunge, with hit fragrances — like music — tracked weekly by Nielsen SoundScan.

So how do pop and rock stars come to release fragrances?

Steve Mormoris, senior vice president of global marketing at Coty Beauty (whose musical clients besides Hill and McGraw include Celine Dion, Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Stefani, and Twain), says his company approaches artists based on a number of criteria, including role model potential, someone who “holds high values” and how much they embody the essence of femininity or masculinity.

In all cases, he says Coty is looking for a long-term relationship and an artist “who wants to become involved with the fragrance” from development through execution.

With estimated launch costs of “not less than $2 million,” on the line, Mormoris says extensive market research is conducted before a brand is launched. “We don’t put out a fragrance until we’re absolutely certain it’s going to be a success,” he explains, adding that celebrities are usually paid on a royalty basis as opposed to a flat fee as an incentive, “ensuring that artists are involved for the life of the product.”

Mormoris says hits are determined by sales-generated value and market share percentage, rather than number of units sold, and that the average celebrity scent has a shelf life of five to 10 years.

“The exceptions are Stetson and Elizabeth Taylor‘s White Diamonds, which has been the no. 1 fragrance for the past 20 years,” notes Mormoris. “They’re exceptions to the rule.”

While celebrity popularity can drive fragrance sales, packaging also plays a crucial role.

“As new celebrity fragrances come out and they encompass novelty in design and fun, they still do well,” says Grant. “For example, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers collection was among the best sellers in 2008.

“We do see that younger consumers do tend to resonate with packaging more as well. Since these celebrity fragrances do tend to be more popular with the younger consumer, it’s usually a pretty winning formula.”

Still, there are signs that the celebrity fragrance market may be waning. NPD Group recently reported a 10 percent drop in prestige fragrance retail sales for the first half of 2009.

If sales are flagging, Mormoris hasn’t noticed.

“I keep hearing about it,” laughs Mormoris, who names the Dion and Minogue fragrance lines as two of Coty’s best performers. “But I haven’t seen it.”

(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board’s music industry documentary Dream Machine.)

Iris DeMent wants songs to be worth the wait

The last time Grammy-nominated, Americana music siren Iris DeMent released an album of original songs, Lisa Marie Presley had divorced Michael Jackson; Diana, Princess of Wales was still among the living and social media was restricted to email.

Not that it matters to the DeMent faithful who will pack Hugh’s Room to the rafters this weekend for a pair of shows to hear the latest reality-twanged gems from the Arkansas-born, Southern California-raised U.S. songstress, 16 years in the making.

They’re just happy to have some new music, lovingly brewed from the 51-year-old’s creative carafe of unwavering honesty, infused with the emotion of love, life and loss, stirred from the grinds of folk and country and serenaded with DeMent’s wholesome, fragrant Southern drawl, a voice that evokes Carter Family influence, is equally at home in coffeehouses and honky tonks, and is steeped in hope, melancholy, defiance, and magnolias.

“Out of all the songs I wrote over the last 15 years, I wrote 11 that I felt some folks would be the better for hearing,” DeMent says down the line from the Iowa home she shares with her husband, fellow songwriter Greg Brown, explaining the gap between 1996’s The Way I Should and her brand new Sing the Delta. (A 2004 album, Lifelines, was primarily gospel covers.)

“You know, I’m not interested in making records just for the sake of making records. I have other things I enjoy doing that entertain me, stimulate me. I’d rather go make an amazing pie and please five people than put out a record that doesn’t speak to anybody’s heart.”

The youngest of 14 children in a Pentecostal household, she decided when she was only 7 or 8 that songwriting would be her vocation. “When I was a kid, I remember being outside and making up a song about a rose bush and a light bulb went off in my head. I have this vivid memory of this amazing sense coming over me, that I was looking at this thing in front of me, having a feeling about it, and realizing I was expressing something about it that no one else ever had.

“I remember feeling really excited about that. I think I always wanted to write songs (but) for and I always struggled trying to write songs. For some reason, they didn’t come easy for me and I didn’t actually complete a song that I felt good about until I was 25.

“It was slow coming to me, but when I wrote ‘Our Town,’ I knew, OK, this is really what I’m going to do. The door’s been opened for me. I got my call that day, and it hasn’t gone away.”

The piano-driven numbers on Sing the Delta are consistent. Whether it’s the bereavement rendered in “The Night I Learned How Not to Pray,” or “Mama Was Always Tellin’ Her Truth,” a loving but complicated ode to her late mother, consistently tug at the heart strings, stemming from a world so confidential that DeMent doesn’t even play them for her husband.

“I don’t play them for anybody first,” she reveals. “I just go out and play them. I have never done that. If I can’t believe in the song and feel it in my body and in my heart, then it doesn’t matter if somebody else says it’s great or it sucks. What difference does it make?

“There’s just that little voice in me, that, once I have faith in something, I have faith in something – and it doesn’t generally waver much. I’ve always been very private — that’s kind of my secret world, writing, and I’ve never been inclined to share that with anybody, to tell the truth, until the songs are done and I’m out there singing them for somebody.”

Although she’s happy to tour whenever she gets the chance, she restricts her performances to weekends, having a daughter in school. “I have a daughter in school and I waited a long time to have my child, and I’m really not interested in missing out on too much of it.” But that means DeMent can’t afford to hire a band.

“You’ll have to do just do with me. I’ll stomp my feet extra loud or something as the drummer.”

 

Iris DeMent wants songs to be worth the wait | Toronto Star

Madonna in Toronto for most ambitious tour yet: review

 

Charismatic singer, 57, puts on physically intense, highly theatrical two-hour show at Air Canada Centre Monday night that shows age is just a number

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Tue Oct 06 2015

Madonna
AIr Canada Centre. Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.

At 57, Madonna is still wears her Rebel Heart on her sleeve.

The provocative Miss Ciccone, who has made a career out of pushing buttons and boundaries, continued to do so during a physically intense, highly theatrical two-hour-and-15-minute show at the Air Canada Centre Monday night.

For the first of two sell-out concerts in front of an adoring crowd of 14,000, the just-christened nominee for the Songwriters Hall of Fame did what she does best — entertain and titillate, with some stunning visuals and a coterie of 20 dancers who often performed breathtaking moves.

After descending from a cage in a costume that resembled an ancient Samurai master for “Iconic,” one of several new tracks showcased from Rebel Heart, her purest pop album in ages, Madonna ultimately transformed into the sassy chameleon that has charmed music fans and concertgoers for over three decades.

With a stage layout that included a portion of the stage that tilted at a 45-degree angle, and a sword-shaped catwalk that extended three-quarters into the venue, with its “hilt” stretching into the wings, Madonna literally transformed herself from warrior, surrounding herself with armour-clad dancers, to rock star — strumming a guitar during a molten re-working of her very first album’s “Burning Up” — to stripping down to a corset and blurring the lines of sex and religion with “Holy Water.”

As female dancers, dressed in nun’s habits, gyrated around sword-shaped poles — including one that balanced the singer on her back in an incredible feat of strength — and later, transformed the famous Last Supper picture into something of an orgy, you could almost feel Pope Francis looking on with disapproval.

But Madonna has never apologized for being naughty and she wasn’t about to do so in Toronto.

After being groped by a dancer throughout “Body Shop” — on a set that resembled an auto body shop, Madonna brought out her ukulele and strummed out an acoustic version of her chaste pop classic “True Blue.”

At one point, she asked the crowd if they were on anti-depressants.

“I have some anti-depressants for you,” she chimed. “Sing and dance. Dance and sing. There are your anti-depressants.”

Madonna also doesn’t settle for simply serving up the hits in an expected manner. Wearing a matador’s costume for “Living For Love,” she kept the flamenco theme going for “La Isla Bonita” and “Dress You Up” (which incorporated brief forays into “Dress You Up” and “Into The Groove”), turning the party into a fiesta where mini-shots of Jose Cuervo were launched into the crowd.

Her fans, some older, some costumed members of the LGBT community, lapped it all up.

No matter what she did, the charismatic singer, songwriter and dancer constantly proved that she has lost none of her edge — even performing a rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.”

The show wasn’t perfect: the dance she performed during “Like a Virgin” was a bit goofy and unintentionally comical, and there were moments throughout the show where she sang a little flat.

But considering she bookended the Toronto appearances by another pop queen — Taylor Swift — and staged a performance that physically ran circles around her younger competitors, age ain’t nothing but a number as far as Madonna’s concerned.

This is probably the blonde’s most ambitious tour yet, and maybe even her most rewarding.

Madonna in Toronto for most ambitious tour yet: review | Toronto Star

Postscript:  The special guest that Madonna brought to the stage for their “spanking” was Nelly Furtado.

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

Foo Fighters keep fans and moms on their feet: review

Dave Grohl makes the most of a leg injury, even playing guitar with his cast.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Jul 09 2015

Foo Fighters
3.5 stars
July 8 at the Molson Amphitheatre.

Dave Grohl isn’t going to let little things like a severely broken leg and ankle stop him from rocking the night away.

Lesser musicians would have thrown in the towel and taken the requisite time to heal, but not the Foo Fighters’ founding front man: there he was on stage at the Molson Amphitheatre on Wednesday night for the first of two shows, sitting — with his right leg elevated in a full cast on a contraption that was inspired one part by Game Of Thrones and one part by Dr. Who and The Daleks — flailing away on guitar and singing at the top of his lungs as the first chords of “Everlong” filled the air.

“I haven’t given up yet!” he screamed to the crowd in between verses of the song, the first of 23 that would keep the 16,000 in attendance standing on their feet for the next three hours: “You’re getting a show, motherf—-s!”

And did he deliver on his promise, compensating for his immobility since the June 12 accident in Sweden with an adrenaline-fueled concert that featured extended workouts of Foo Fighters hits like “Learn To Fly” and “The Best Of You,” his five-piece support — guitarists Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear, bassist Nate Mandel, drummer Taylor Hawkins and Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee — as taut and disciplined as one would imagine.

They also rocked some classic covers — David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Rod Stewart and The Faces’ “Stay With Me,” and Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” (Geddy Lee’s mom was sitting side stage next to Dave’s mom, the singer happily pointed out.)

Although he was forced to spend most of the concert in the chair — there was a brief acoustic set of “My Hero” and “Times Like These” where Grohl hobbled up to the front of the stage on crutches, which he broke and threw into the crowd — one of the most frequent visions of the singer was the top of his head bouncing to the rhythm, his long hair obscuring his instrument, as he was strumming along to his band’s aggressive, melodic rock, his “good” leg swinging violently as the group picked up the pace, with “Monkey Wrench” and “All My Life” performed with particular gusto.

He also told some great stories, and brought along film and photos of the accident and subsequent hospital stay. In fact, let it be said that not only does Dave Grohl have a great sense of humour, but also a spirited entrepreneurial reflex. The North American leg of this Sonic Highways tour has been unofficially re-christened the “Break A Leg” tour; the backstage laminates feature a wheelchair illustration and at least two $30 t-shirts are emblazoned with an accident reference, with one sporting the X-ray of Grohl’s injured limb.

During “This is a Call,” Grohl turned his cast into an instrument, rubbing his guitar against it during an extended solo. He even adjusted the first verse of “These Days” accordingly, hilariously singing, “One of these days you’re going to jump off the stage and break your ankle.”

Despite the physical setback, Grohl and the rest of the Foos gave the audience a healthy reminder of what real rock ’n’ roll is: a relentless combination of fury and zeal performed with unbridled passion.

The only negative: a handful of songs — especially the few that drummer Hawkins sang — were so severely under-mixed to the point where they were rendered unintelligible, as the band’s music drowned out the vocals.

Otherwise, Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters did a superb job of raising the bar of professionalism for their peers: personal injury no longer has a leg to stand on as a viable excuse for canceling tours.

Foo Fighters keep fans and moms on their feet: review | Toronto Star

Elle King delivers music and comedy chops: concert review

In a magnetic performance, the soulful singer proved she is indeed the daughter of comedian Rob Schneider.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Jun 04 2015

Elle King
At the Drake Underground, June 3.

The great aspect of seeing an act in concert is that albums sometimes only reveal so much.

If you picked up Elle King’s Love Stuff, for instance — even if it’s only because you were impressed by her radio airplay earworm “Ex’s and Oh’s” for its bouncy yesteryear rhythm, King’s soulful rasp and the song’s catchy refrain — you’d be getting less than half the picture.

As she proved at her Toronto debut at the Drake Underground on Wednesday night, King is so, so much more than what you hear on record: she’s a ribald spitfire whose performances are brimming with so much personality that you wish she could bottle it and dispense amongst the crowd.

Part of the attraction is that King has a flair for comedy, a natural part of her DNA due to the fact that her father is ex-Saturday Night Live comedian Rob Schneider. Some of the physical mannerisms she displayed in common with her dad — a head bob here, a smirk there — proved that she is indeed her father’s daughter.

But that’s where the comparisons end: King has a much filthier mouth and more of an unrepentant, devil-may-care attitude than her father, and both are as charming as they are charismatic.

Taking to the Underground stage with her incredibly disciplined four-piece band, King introduced her opening song as being about “an idiot” who dumped her, and immediately endeared herself to the packed house of about 400 as she tore into “I Told You I Was Mean.”

She described her next song as a result of “an idiot who told me he was in love with me the first night we met” and performed the hilarious “Good To Be A Man,” from her 2012 eponymous EP, singing her heart out with an electricity that hasn’t been captured by her in the studio.

Then she switched her guitar for banjo, and started to get into some of the more incisive numbers that speak of the pains and woes of romance and the vulnerabilities therein, softer songs like “Song of Sorrow” and “Make You Smile.”

But when the pace picked up, she went for the throat with each song she sang, her voice filling the hall with a might force that again has yet to be captured by a studio. “Where the Devil Don’t Go” and “Under the Influence” were burning, passionate numbers that shook the Drake’s foundation, and the first of two cover songs, “Oh Darling,” found her wandering into the audience, hamming it up and adding a torchy aspect to the song that transformed it into her very own.

The second cover was song was saved for the encore: a raunchy Khia number about oral sex called “My Back My Neck” that had the women in the audience howling with glee.

Make no mistake: Elle King is not a choirgirl, nor does she pretend to be, and that’s what makes her so mesmerizing — she could care less what people think of her.

Elle King returns to Toronto for Edgefest on a shared bill supporting Milky Chance, but trust me, you’ll want to get there early enough to catch her set.

She’s going to be the life of the party.

 

Elle King delivers music and comedy chops: concert 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

Bob Dylan and The Band’s complete Basement Tapes resurface at last

Toronto duo largely responsible for lifting the veil off “the most sought after and mysterious recordings from the post-nuclear, pre-digital era.”

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Nov 05 2014

 

Sitting at Johnny Rockets, a ’50s-style burger joint in Yonge-Dundas Square, my dining companion pulls out a cardboard envelope and hands it over.

“Open it up and have a look. Have a little whiff,” he insists.

Inside is a box containing a reel of recording tape, inscribed in marker with the following song titles in order: “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” “Any Day Now — I Shall Be Released,” “If Your Memory Serves You Well,” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (Take 2 is written beside it in pencil), “I Shall Be Released” and two separate takes of “Too Much of Nothing.”

It takes a moment to sink in and realize what I’m actually holding: an original Basement Tape, one of the more than 20 reels recorded by Bob Dylan and the majority of Toronto legends The Band when Dylan was convalescing in Woodstock, N.Y., following a 1966 motorcycle accident.

How do I know it’s an original?

Because my dining companion is Toronto’s Jan Haust, Canadian music archivist, current curator of the Dylan-driven collection, and primarily responsible for the release earlier this week of The Basement Tapes Complete, a lavish six-CD set issued by Sony’s Legacy that finally lifts the veil off what Haust calls “the most sought after and mysterious recordings from the post-nuclear, pre-digital era.”

He’s not kidding. Music fans have been waiting nearly half a century to hear these recordings: 138 takes of 115 songs, all of them recorded informally throughout 1967 by The Band’s Garth Hudson, mostly in the cramped Woodstock-area basement of the abode known as Big Pink.

Jan Haust with Garth Hudson

Every note of such future Dylan-penned classics as “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” “I Shall Be Released,” “This Wheel’s On Fire” and “The Mighty Quinn;” covers of well known and obscure songs like Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and Johnny Cash’s “Belshazzar” has been lovingly restored and digitally remastered in Toronto by Haust and renowned Cowboy Junkies engineer and producer Peter J. Moore.

Prior to this week’s releases (there’s also a two-disc Sony edition of highlights called The Basement Tapes Raw), fans had received a limited taste of the Big Pink sessions, including the official 24-song The Basement Tapes and a few tracks that have surfaced since, mostly notably “I’m Not There” from the 2007 Todd Haynes film of the same name.

The Basement Tapes sessions were significant for a number of reasons.

First, the relaxed atmosphere of everyone crammed into an intimate space allowed Dylan (who performs at the Sony Centre on Nov. 17 and 18) to explore another songwriting direction, which was a little more laidback and humorous.

“What was going on for the most part, pretty basic,” recalls Hudson, who set up the basement with microphones, a recorder and a mixer, in a separate phone interview.

“He (Bob) would write the song upstairs, couch and coffee table, then take it down and we would play it, and usually, not even run through it once. We’d do the introduction and then a bit of the song and then I would put the machine on record.”

Some argue it may have been the birth of alt-country, but a bigger significance is that it completed a musical coming of age.

“It’s where it all ended up coming together,” notes Haust. “And that’s the fascinating component here. The basement is the incubator of what became The Band.”

The Band

For Haust, the release of The Basement Tapes Complete marks the end of a 12-year journey for him and Moore, the engineer. The duo first heard the tapes, through an arrangement via Haust’s friendship with Hudson, when Robbie Robertson was assembling 2005’s The Band box set A Musical History.

“Some of the tapes were in rough shape, through no fault of Garth Hudson’s and through no fault of anyone’s,” Haust recalls.

Several reels were mouldy and Moore had to delicately unwind and re-spool some 1,800 feet of “very, very thin” reel-to-reel tape by hand on a few others to “flatten them out.”

There was also a bigger challenge: all the songs were recorded on a rare quarter-track machine with such poor quality tape that Moore didn’t have the equipment for proper playback, let alone restoration.

“These tapes were never meant to be heard by the public,” said Moore in a separate interview. “These were sketches — the jotting down of ideas. So the tape’s speed was 7½ inches per second, where most of your quality pro recordings are at 30 or 15 inches per second. I told Jan, there’s no such thing as a professional quarter-track machine.”

So Moore had to get a playback tape head custom made for his own equipment and found a New Jersey manufacturer who had the expertise to make it. The request was so rare that the manufacturer, Jim French, had only built one prior to Moore’s request.

The buyer? Neil Young, known for being quite persnickety when it comes to technical recording tools.

“Once I heard that, I knew I was following the right logic,” Moore says.

When Dylan’s manager Jeff Rosen and Sony Music finally commissioned Haust and Moore to assemble The Basement Tapes Complete, the duo huddled in Moore’s studio from March through September, deciding to follow Garth Hudson’s original lead and sonically restore what was going on in the basement.

“We kept the integrity of what Garth envisioned,” says Moore. “I didn’t add reverb or anything to these tapes. I’m phase correcting — not changing the picture, just realigning the lens.

“But when you realign the lens, all of a sudden you have that much more depth of field. I phase corrected a lot of the tapes and suddenly the bass appears. You’re actually hearing the bass for the first time — Rick (Danko) and his lovely melodic glissandos and everything he’s doing on that bass.

“Whereas on the bootlegs, there’s no top end, no bottom end, just more of a whiny mid-range. I’m bringing it into focus.”

The sound is immaculate, even impressing the man who commandeered the original tape recorder, Garth Hudson.

“I remember the sounds very well, the background sounds and the instruments,” Hudson says. “What we have now is clarity. It was a lot of work on Jan’s part and Peter Moore with his incredible talent. The voice is more alive. It’s clearer. And Peter has also assembled and revived tape that has been crinkled, stretched. So it’s been a big process.”

Now that The Basement Tapes Complete has finally seen the light of day, Haust and Moore have one more ambitious project in mind: an eight-CD, DVD and book box set chronicling Levon and The Hawks, dating back to their individual pre-Ronnie Hawkins musical pursuits in the late ’50s.

In the meantime, Haust will savour the arrival of The Basement Tapes Complete.

“I’m pleased as punch that we were able to put it together,” says Haust.
“This is the first time ever that a Bob Dylan project was produced in Toronto. That’s very significant. It’s four Canadian rock ’n’ rollers and an American folksinger. Now we’ve set the record straight. . . .

“We have cleaned up these recordings. We have repaired the damaged tape. We have treated these 47-year-old recordings like the archaeological gems that they are.

“This isn’t the Mona Lisa. These are the sketches.”

Sony executive Steve Berkowitz, Jan Haust and Peter J. Moore receiving a Grammy for their compilation and restoration work on Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes Complete

 

Bob Dylan and The Band’s complete Basement Tapes resurface at last | 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.