Kelly Clarkson pleased that new album shows off her soul

Meaning of Life is a departure for the American Idol winner — one she’s been waiting for.

Nick Krewen

Music Mon., Oct 30, 2017

“Character, sass and attitude.”

Powerhouse singer, American Idol alum and current The Voice judge Kelly Clarkson nails a description of her new Meaning of Life album, just released, in just four words as she sits across her from her interviewer, resplendent in a black dress.

 

While she might be succinct with her summary of her eighth album, the 35-year-old Texas native has been long in patience, telling the Star during a recent Toronto visit that this 13-song effort is the one she always wanted to make.

But shouldn’t a superstar who has topped the charts with such hits as “Since U Been Gone,” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” “My Life Would Suck Without You” and “A Moment Like This” — selling more than 24 million albums and 36 million singles in the wake of three Grammy Awards — be enough of a proven commodity that she’d be able to dictate the terms of her output?

“Well, I just got out of my Idol contract,” Clarkson admits, citing a 15-year relationship with RCA Records due to winning the reality TV music show’s very first season.

“It was an arranged marriage — and a very successful one — but I fulfilled a particular lane for that label. Luckily, it wasn’t that I hated my life. I like pop/rock and I like a lot of genres, but I sang soulful pop on Idol the entire time, so I don’t think (Meaning) is going to be a shock for my fans.”

That particular RCA lane didn’t include what Atlantic Records saw in her when she started the search for a new label home.

“Whenever I went to meetings with Atlantic and asked them what they wanted to do with me, they were like, ‘Man, we’d love to make an album like if Aretha (Franklin) were coming out now in 2017, what would that sound like?’

“And I asked, ‘Where do I sign?’ ”

Clarkson then played them the song “Meaning of Life,” a gospel-tinged, rafter-booming soul anthem co-written by Jesse Shatkin (Sia’s “Chandelier”) and U.K. artist James Morrison that she had been holding for consideration since her final RCA album, 2015’s Piece by Piece — and was buoyed by Atlantic’s response.

‘They flipped out on it and said, ‘This is perfect, because it’s hard to switch gears with people that have heard you for 15 years singing ‘Because of You,’ ‘Already Gone’ and ‘Stronger,’ etc.’ It was a nice song to be able to set the bar for the album.”

In terms of Kelly Clarkson albums, Meaning of Life is a bit more brazen, with barn-burning soulful blasts like “Love So Soft,” “Whole Lotta Woman,” “Didn’t I” and “I Don’t Think About You” providing plenty of grit and sweat.

Which brings us to the overall reason Clarkson — who performs at the Air Canada Centre on Dec. 9 as part of the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball — was eager to produce an album like Meaning of Life.

“Really, my goal was to showcase my vocals so people will stop telling me, ‘My God! I didn’t know you could sing!’” she laughs.

“That’s the entire reason I made this album. Because a lot of times I’d get mildly offended because I’d perform and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, you can sing!’ And I’d be like,’ What?!’

“It was perplexing me, but then I get it, because when you sing a lot of pop/rock stuff it comes off almost like jingles. A lot of artists can do that. So with this album, I focused on making an album that maybe not everyone could sing, just the strength of my performance. Because that’s my part in my art: I don’t really fly or dance in concert . . . I love writing, I love singing and I really wanted this album to sound solid.”

Either way, the mother of four (two by husband/manager Brandon Blackstock and two from his previous marriage) views this new work as a fresh start.

“I know it’s funny but, 15 years later, I feel like a first-time artist,” she admits. “It’s my first time to pick my label; the first time to pick my entire team and like really go for it. And it’s awesome to be at that point in your career, where if it does well awesome and if it doesn’t, still awesome. I’ve been dying to make this for so long that I don’t care either way. I’m just very happy.”

On the horizon for Clarkson, beside a world tour to support the new album, is a spring 2018 appearance as a coach on The Voice, one of the myriad reality TV music competition shows that seem to be in vogue at the moment.

Clarkson, of course, is the original winner of American Idol, which ended its Fox Network run in 2016 only to be resurrected by ABC for 2018. The Nashville resident says she was approached to be a judge for the new show but had already committed to The Voice.

“I’m like, well, if I have to choose between my husband, who manages Blake Shelton and has to leave us, and our family can all be in the same place, I’m obviously going to choose that,” Clarkson explains. “Honestly, I’ve given 15 years of my life to Idol; I’ve gone back every season pretty much and I’m so proud of my start, but I’m also pretty excited about sitting in a chair and not seeing or worrying about the esthetic appeal of someone, and just listening.

“Because I love music. I grew up without MTV. I loved artists because I listened to them, which is what I feel like music should be.”

With the reality TV music scene seemingly heating up again — besides Voice and Idol, Canada is preparing its own program The Launch and NBC has green-lighted another one called The Stream — is there a chance all these programs may suffer from audience fatigue?

“Well, when are y’all going to stop watching them? “she retorts. “And the other question is, why aren’t people more famous from them? And that’s because there’s a frickin’ plethora of them now.”

Clarkson agrees that music is often the last concern with viewers.

“I’m going to be honest with you right now: I am 99 per cent of the time told that it wasn’t even my singing that drew them to me. People are like, ‘Oh, I loved your personality.’ It wasn’t always about the singing, it’s about the selling. But if you think about it, that’s also what happens in the industry. That’s why some people make it and some people don’t, because people gravitate toward them as a person as well. Like country music, for instance, the whole genre is based on lifestyle.

“I will say you’re lucky when you get to do it the way I did, because you have all this leverage. You have all these millions of people that already like you, though it’s like, what are you going to put out? They’re excited, they want something. A new artist doesn’t have that. They don’t even know you. You have to work for everything.

“There’s always going to be a different door and it’s whichever door comes in front of you.”

Kelly Clarkson pleased that new album shows off her soul | Toronto Star

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre

At 73 years old, the Beatles co-founder delivered a set that would leave younger musicians reaching for their water bottles.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sun Oct 18 2015

 

Paul McCartney, 73, churned out an impressive 41 songs during a three-hour marathon at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, with nary a water bottle in sight.

To put this in perspective, most artists play between 18 and 25 songs over an evening concert. Sometimes, for extra-lengthy shows, the number may reach 32 to 34. And these artists often take sips from nearby water bottles, understandably, while performing under hot spotlights.

The co-founder of the Beatles, the most influential group in pop history, needed no refreshments, even after a fireball-laden rendition of the James Bond theme “Live And Let Die,” where there was so much pyrotechnic mayhem during the instrumental chaos that even the audience could easily feel the heat.

Actually, if anything, McCartney — backed by a stellar band that included guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bass player Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens and the spectacular Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums — seemed more invigorated as the show progressed.

In a much chattier mood than the last time he was in Toronto, a jovial McCartney told a few interesting and amusing tales between numbers, joking around with the estimated 18,000 in attendance.

Playing his signature Hohner bass and launching with the Beatles classic “Eight Days A Week,” McCartney offered a fine selection of hits from both the Fab Four and the Wings as well as some obscurities and songs from his latest album, the aptly-named New.

Along with the expected favourites like “The Long And Winding Road,” “Lady Madonna” and “Let It Be” — each adhering to the original arrangements loved and cherished by so many — came a few surprises: “Let Me Roll It,” (which included an instrumental coda of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”) and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” from the Wings’ watershed Band On The Run, “One After 909,” “Another Girl” and “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles, and he dusted off “Mull of Kintyre” for all the Scots in the house complete with pipes and drums from the Paris-Port Dover pipe band.

If that wasn’t enough, McCartney, who still sings gloriously and is as adept on guitar and piano as he is on bass, performed the first half of George Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele in tribute to his fallen comrade. He also paid tribute to John Lennon during “Here Today” (after a poignant version of “Blackbird”), calling the number written after Lennon’s assassination “the conversation I wished we had.”

And to show he’s still fresh and vital creatively, McCartney performed his recent Rihanna-Kanye West collaboration “FourFiveSeconds.”
“Here’s a song I wrote with Kanye West,” he announced, adding the slightly sarcastic quip, “That was fun.”

The highlights were many: the tender “My Valentine” he dedicated to his wife Nancy; “Maybe I’m Amazed,” dedicated to his late first wife Linda; the rocking party atmospheres of “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” and “Back In the U.S.S.R,” and even a false start on the newer “Temporary Secretary” were rendered with McCartney charm and precision.

By the time one of the most influential architects of pop music performed the sing-a-long “Hey Jude,” the concert had become an unabashed love-in between performer and audience.

In a week where Toronto is being spoiled by appearances by the two surviving Beatles — Ringo Starr is at Massey Hall on Tuesday — it is McCartney, concluding his show with the words “see you next time,” who will be the one to produce a concert five years from now as potent and as powerful as the spectacle just witnessed.

Nobody else can keep up with him.

 

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre | 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

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

Nickelback powers down the pyrotechnics: concert review

The band’s return to the ACC finds the usual frenetic energy somewhat lacking, owing to less anthem-y new songs and a very chatty Chad Kroeger, though the execution of the set was technically flawless.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Feb 23 2015

Nickelback
2.5 stars
At the Air Canada Centre, Feb. 22.

Nickelback has changed its performance tactic.

Once a combo that used all the bells and whistles available at its disposal with somewhat reckless abandon, the B.C.-based hard rock quartet showed unexpected restraint with the special effects at its Air Canada Centre performance Sunday night.

Explosions? Not a one.

Flashpots? Zilch.

Fire . . . okay, there was some pyro, but its inclusion seemed more of an afterthought to the three or four songs for which it was employed.

Switch them on.

Switch them off.

Woo-hoo!

No, the Chad Kroeger-fronted foursome (occasionally boosted by one member with the sporadic appearance of third guitarist Tim Hay), performing in front of a half circle-shaped projection screen and a light show that wasn’t anything to write home about, decided instead to focus on two traits: personality (Kroeger’s) and music.

And I never thought I’d say this about a Nickelback concert, but I missed the bombast.

Perhaps the thunderous detonations and unexpected bursts of flame added an illusion of intensity and energy to the proceedings in previous tours — this is my third go round with the rockers — but the razor edge that gives the band that additional power boost seemed a little dulled without them.

Some of the lack of dynamism might also be the result of a few developments: firstly, the band’s eighth album, No Fixed Address, finds songwriting genius Kroeger misplacing the Midas Touch that has sold over 50 million albums as he stretches into new territory: the political “Edge of a Revolution,” with its calls for change, and “She Keeps Me Up,” a funky, almost disco-ish number.

While he should be applauded for trying to expand his horizons — Nickelback detractors often accuse him of repeatedly writing “the same song” over again — these songs don’t offer the same staying power as the naughty “Something in Your Mouth” or the country-flavoured ballad “Photograph,” both which drew wild cheering and applause from the estimated 15,000 in attendance.

The other change is front man Kroeger’s comfort level with his audience. Talk about casual: Kroeger was a regular chatterbox.

“It’s so great to be playing a rock ’n’ roll show on Canadian soil,” he bellowed after the opener, “A Million Miles an Hour,” a song noted for the disciplined rhythms dispatched by the anchoring tandem of bassist Mike Kroeger and drummer Daniel Adair.

“It’s fr*#$% cold Canadian soil, but we can handle the weather.”

The disarmingly frank and funny Chad Kroeger dialogue didn’t disperse after the first few numbers; it carried on for the entire show.

“Since this is a Nickelback show, there will be vulgarity,” he joked at another point, projecting an earthy persona that the audience just lapped up.

The relaxed informality again translated into a subtle loss of energy, although the execution of the show’s 19 songs — Silver Side Up’s “Too Bad” and a somewhat listless “How You Remind Me,” All the Right Reasons’ “Rock Star” and Dark Horse’s driving “Burn It to the Ground,” a solid choice for encore if there ever was one and one of the evening standouts — was technically flawless.

So yeah, it was a regular campfire gathering, even with a handful of covers thrown in, including an Eagles sing-along for “Take It Easy” and the first verse and chorus of “Hotel California.”

For all the Nickelback hits that could have been included — “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” “Never Again” and “Lullaby” among them — it made you wonder why precious concert time was given to meaningless covers like Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” or Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” the latter sung by Ryan Peake.

Oh, there was one constant from the old Nickelback days: beer.

The old tradition of flinging quarter cups of beer into the audience still gives Nickelback that blue-collar aura that it does so well.

Maybe that’s the secret . . . the drunker one gets, the faster they sound.

Either way, fans in general were thrilled to the point of delirium with how Nickelback reminded them that rock ’n’ roll in general is one big, escapist celebration — even without the explosions.

Nickelback powers down the pyrotechnics: concert review | Toronto Star

Ed Sheeran delivers an A+ show at the ACC

Ed Sheeran performs as if every show is his last, injecting his songs with an elevating jolt above what is heard in his recordings.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Sep 19 2014

Ed Sheeran
Air Canada Centre
Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

The singer and songwriter of “The A-Team” brought his A-Game to the Air Canada Centre on Thursday night.

British ginger-haired dynamo Ed Sheeran is unlike any other contemporary pop performer who has amassed a giant mainstream following: He entertains solo, largely relying on his acoustic guitar, a few looping pedals, a couple of microphones, and an occasional lapse into rap to deliver his melodically riveting love songs.

In an era when slick choreography and expensive bells-and-whistles production is now pretty much commonplace, Sheeran doesn’t depend on flying through the air while strapped to a harness or unleashing fireworks to deliver his thrills.

Aside from a few panels hanging over the stage to bring some visual aids to a few of his songs, as well as projections of him doing his thing, Sheeran’s concerts are refreshingly free of artifice.

He simply strolls up to the microphone, straps on his guitar, and unleashes his passion, ordering his audience – in this case, a 13,000-strong alchemy of 90 per cent teenage-to-post-secondary-aged female to 10 per cent male – to sing along if they know the words, “make them up if you don’t,” and sing like there’s no tomorrow.

Which is no surprise, considering that this lone wolf performs as if every show is his last, injecting his songs with an elevating jolt above what is heard in his recordings.

In fact, he could almost trademark his performance style as “Sheeran intensity,” a trait that was marked from the kick-off of “I’m A Mess” from his sophomore album X (interpreted as “Multiply,” just as his first North American release + stands for “Plus”).

What began as a wistful number about longing suddenly leapt in potency as Sheeran ferociously strummed his guitar, used it as a beatbox and looped the rhythms to build the song to a thunderous climax.

This was a repeated practice throughout the nearly two-hour, 18-song show, as Sheeran, master manipulator that he is, worked the pedals and guitars to his advantage to accompany himself and feed the power of he moment.

Yes, there’s a little trickery involved: For songs like “Thinking Out Loud” or even his more popular “Give Me Love,” there were sounds coming out of the speaker that could have only been pre-recorded, whether they were harmonies or maybe the occasional acoustic guitar, although he tried to create them live and incorporate them into his arrangements wherever possible.

But it’s one thing to deceive the audience through a lip sync and another to actually use effects as more of an embellishment to an arrangement when you don’t have the personnel to add to the sound. To his credit, Sheeran resorted to this device so sparingly that it seemed more necessity than contrivance.

Not that the audience seemed to mind. They happily enjoyed their role as the call-and-response choir, filling the cavernous ACC with their soprano voices and serenading Sheeran almost as often as he was serenading them.

Whether it was the intimacy of “One,” heightened by Sheeran’s soft falsetto, and the quiet romanticism of “Kiss Me” (the only time during the show when you could have heard a pin drop at the ACC) or storming through the boisterously aggressive “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” – and here, much of Sheeran’s machine-gun rap delivery was lost in the ether – there was always the sense that this was a man in full control of the moment.

It may have led to a lack of spontaneity, but this seemed to be a plus, or +, for the Ed Sheeran army.

For a performer who employs math symbols for his album titles, he leaves no house divided.

Ed Sheeran delivers an A+ solo show at the ACC | Toronto Star

 

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

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

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Jul 19 2014

Now, that was colourful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour them impressed.

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