Marina and the Diamonds / Young the Giants
Opera House, Toronto ON September 8
By Whitney Tam
Marina and the Diamonds (she is Marina Diamandis and her fans are the “diamonds”) has already established herself as an up-and-coming pop artist in her native UK, selling out shows and garnering a nomination for this year’s coveted BRIT Critic’s Choice award. With her first gig in Canada and her only stop in the country this tour at Toronto’s Opera House, Marina showcased the best The Family Jewels had to offer.
It would be easy to say that California’s Young the Giant are your typical indie rock band, but their lush arrangements, catchy guitar licks, and infectious energy were right on point to get the crowd hyped for Marina and the Diamond’s set.
The stunning raven-haired Brit sauntered on stage with a deadpan stare, shades, and an air of mystique that immediately commanded the full attention of the audience. She and her four-piece band opened the show with the appropriate “you-think-you-know-me-but-you-really-don’t” track, “The Outsider,” a sort of invitation to fans to really get to know Marina during the stretch of the show. Fan favourites like “I Am Not A Robot” and “Shampain” had the usually stiff Toronto crowd of 20-somethings jumping up and down and singing along word for word, while solo, piano-accompanied performances of “Numb” and “Obsessions” highlighted her unique brand of vocals (which are now stronger, steadier, and much improved).
Midway through the set, the band jammed to an instrumental build-up until Marina reappeared decked out in the infamous all-American letter jacket, dollar-sign glasses, and two (stuffed toy) burgers, signalling the jump into “Hollywood”―a humorous take on the starry-eyed, tabloid-obsessed society that is America.
Drilling through 12 of the 13 witty, radio-friendly tracks off her debut release, The Family Jewels, the show ended with a fitting two-song encore that summed up what separates Marina and the Diamonds from the never-ending crop of pop artists: her ability to flip pop culture on its head and create something new, honest, and unexpected. Stripped down to only a simple piano melody, she transformed 3OH!3′s raunchy “Starstrukk” lyrics into a subdued ballad (that if not executed properly could have been disastrous; luckily it wasn’t) and ended the night with chirpy “Mowgli’s Road,” the first single off her debut.
A true performer in all respects, Marina and the Diamonds put on a show that kept the audience captivated from start to finish, questionable dance moves and all. The entire set was laced with her distinct falsetto and signature high-pitched howls, yelps, wails, and cuckoos, and proved that she isn’t afraid to be quirky. Like she said in “Hollywood,” she isn’t Shakira or Catharine Zeta; she’s Marina. And her Diamonds were sparkling with her all night long.
This review was originally published on Exclaim.ca.
Thursday night at the El Mocambo was Holly Miranda’s second visit to Toronto in the past 9 months and her first headlining show in support of her debut solo album “The Magicians Private Library”; and the young up and coming artist not disappoint.
Having it been my first time at the local iconic venue, which has hosted The Rolling Stones and Stevie Ray Vaughn, I was pleasantly surprised by it’s clean open space and good sight lines. My only gripe would have to be its muddy sound system that seemed be more of a problem for opening band, Braids. Luckily sound issues got sorted out by the time Holly Miranda was in to her second song.
Canadian act Braids seemed a good match to open for Miranda as their music has the same layered ethereal sounds and textures and haunting vocals. Although they played to quite an empty venue, those who gathered near the front of the stage were engaged–including Holly. And the band seemed unfazed by the small size of the crowd and content on playing their hearts out for whatever number of ears were in the building.
The audience had grown by the time Holly hit the stage at around 11, but the Elmo still wasn’t at what you would call full capacity. Regardless, her set was full of heart and passion, and that was evident in the way she sang her words and the way she closed her eyes as she lost herself in the music. Her songs were were sonically lush and thick in texture and reminiscent of a humid summers night, perfectly mirroring the weather that night, but there is something else in her music–a sort of wide-eyed wonder, if you will–that seems to be ingrained in the melodies. In-between songs, the man beside me turned to me and said, “I’ve never heard of her before, but she’s amazing!” The late-night concertgoers were clearly into the music as they swayed with the music, beer in hand. Highlights of Holly Miranda’s performance were “Waves,” her cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “Pelican Rapids”–her new song about how ‘everyone should be allowed to marry whoever the f–k they want’. If there’s one thing I was a bit disappointed in, it was the lack of banter; but then again, it’s really all about the music in the end, isn’t it? The girl was a sweetheart, the music was good, and it didn’t hurt that she was easy on the eyes as well.
Check out Holly’s previous musical outfit, The Jealous Girlfriends.
I hate Centennial Hall – with its dingy, cramped balcony seating offering horrible views, its overpriced beer, and its less than stellar sound system.
Yet in spite of it all, Metric put on a spectacular show Friday night at London, Ontario venue.
Set openers, The Stills, played to a less than half-filled hall who didn’t seem too interested. They failed to impress the audience with their typical-sounding indie-rock. All their songs seemed to mesh together and none of them were even that catchy, except one which featured ‘nice’ harmonies. Needless to say, I was less than impressed and ready for the real show.
Metric hit the stage full of energy and opened with “Twilight Galaxy”. However, the Centennial Hall’s sorely lacking sound system prevented Emily Haines’ true vocal ability from being fully showcased. (The vocals, especially in the beginning, were hazy when she pronounced s’s and t’s, but got better towards the end). Haines rocked out with her signature dance-moves, her body twitching from side to side, as the crowd cheered her on. The show was sold out, but for some reason the back half of the bottom floor (general admission) was scattered with only a few people; Centennial Hall was definitely not at full capacity, but Metric didn’t seem to mind. Haines, ever the enigmatic front-woman, coaxed the crowd – from general admission to either sides of the balcony – to “stand up at some point” because it wasn’t a baseball game (or something to that effect).
Since the release of their fourth studio album, Metric has gained a much more mainstream following, which probably explains the crowd last night peppered with aging men and their wives all they way down to seven-year-olds with their parents. I guess anyone can appreciate a little Metric in their lives. The band on was on their A-game last night. Haines kept up the energy all night long with with manic dance skills and shaking her head (because “it’s empty”), and the rest of the band followed suit with a contagious energy of their own.
The played every track – except for “Front Row” - off their latest album, Fantasies, as well as scattered fan-favourites from their entire catalog, like “Combat Baby”, “Monster Hospital”, “Poster of a Girl”. Standout performances were definitely “Stadium Love”, “Satellite Mind” as well as the acoustic encore of “Combat Baby”, which allowed for Haine’s soft vocals to envelope the entire hall.
If you haven’t caught Metric live, yet. I suggest you save up and buy a ticket to their next concert in your area. And if there are seated tickets – don’t even think about it – go for general admission because their energy-filled set list will have you on your feet the whole night. No more seated balcony tickets for me; I’ve learned my lesson!
Embarking on her first headlining tour to Canada, Pennsylvania’s own Priscilla Ahn (now rooted L.A.) stopped by Toronto’s Drake Hotel to give our ears some much needed lovin’. And it seems that her music has reached many satisfied ears as her concert was sold-out – although that might not be all that difficult to do considering Drake Underground’s capacity is 200. However, considering Ahn gets no radio-play or promotion in Toronto, that’s quite a feat for an up-and-comer.
Currently on tour with Ahn was fellow L.A. artist Robert Francis, who I’m guessing with relatively unknown to the crowd. He was a little awkward and seemed uncomfortable on stage and had little to say when he tried. I suppose he wanted his music to speak for itself. Or he was just nervous. I’m leaning towards the latter. Francis’ music, however, did leave an impression. His guitar melodies were incredibly catchy and he playing was reminiscent of John Mayer (even including his ‘O’ faces), and you could tell his was completely sincere and fully “there” in his performance, but his singing seemed forced and unstable at some points. All in all his performance was very enjoyable. Francis’ rough and raw vocal style was an interesting juxtaposition to Ahn’s silky-smooth tunes and made for a tantalizing appetizer before Ahn’s main dish.
Priscilla Ahn came on at around 10 PM to a crowd excitedly anticipating her angelic voice. When she opened with “Dream” and you could literally hear a pin drop. The crowd was silently listening in awe as her quiet, yet powerful, voice enveloped the room in a lush fairytale of her making. One of the best things about the show were her little introductions and stories before each song. From talking about boobs, parties in the Hollywood Hills, getting high, being afraid of getting beat up by animals, and living in a tree, Ahn was anything but boring. I think I looked forward to her stage banter almost as much as her singing, because she was just so personable and her laugh was just about the cutest, most endearing thing ever!
What’s special about Ahn is how organic her music is. She uses just the right amount of instruments in a live setting: her and her guitar, harmonica, kazoo with just a backing base player and a keyboard/bell (?) player. Ahn strips down her instrumentation to the simple bare essentials of old-style folk, following in the humble footseps of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Her voice is really the only instrument she needs as it carries her pieces. Sometimes she didn’t even need words – just “oohs” and “aahs” on a loop was enough to carry the song and convey emotion. Her loops pedal was a key part of her performances, allowing her to create beautifully crafted layers of harmonies.
Standout performances of the night were the hilarious (and true!) “Boobs Song”, “In A Tree” (a personal favourite of mine), “Wallflower”, and a cover of Frank Sinatra’s “I’ll Never Smile Again” that left Ahn standing without her guitar, completely vulnerable and nervous, as she had kept reiterating to the crowd (apparently she got a message that the writer’s son might be in audience). Priscilla Ahn’s soothing melodies and delicate, crystal clear vocals are enough to lull any person into sweet dreams (in a good way!). And her voice is so clear and sincere that it’s almost inhuman. But it’s her human qualities – her personality, her storytelling, her lyrics, and her vocal chops – that make her so unbelievable…and well, believably human.
Canada’s own Gentleman Reg opened to a tightly packed Horseshoe Tavern late Saturday night. Having heard of them, but not actually listened to any of their music, I was pleasantly surprised. Reg Vermue’s distinctive vocals and upbeat indie-folk tunes made for a lively opener. I enjoyed them so much I picked up their newest album, “Jet Black”, and I can say that they are so much better live than on their recordings. The onstage band added an entirely different layer and the background female vocals and harmonies made the music just that much better. Plus – it didn’t hurt that they had a female drummer (how rare is that)! Gentleman Reg definitely impressed – but really, that was to be expected since they’re signed to the always on-the-mark Arts & Crafts label.
The switch between opener to headliner seemed excruciating on account that the that the venue didn’t seem to have any air conditioning; it was also an unusually long wait (St. Vincent didn’t come on ’till about 12 am).
You can’t help but notice Annie Clark’s ethereal beauty (and famous double-mic set-up) when St. Vincent first steps on stage – in fact it’s probably the first thing you that draws you in. But don’t let her fairytale good looks, complete with dark curls, doe eyes, and skin “so fair it’s not fair” (ha ha!), fool you into prejudging her musical style or performance ability. That girl can seriously shred a guitar.
Clark chose to start off softly, opening with “Marry Me”, the title song off her 2007 debut. The remainder of her set was filled mostly with songs off her new album, “Actor”, which seems a lot darker and more gritty than its predecessor. All her new songs require a very versatile three-piece backing band which included percussion, strings, woodwinds. It’s obvious that Annie Clark decided to go all out with her artistic vision this time around, holding nothing back and just letting her creativity take her wherever it wanted her to go. Better album? I don’t know. Different – for sure. Definitely more elaborate, ornate. I’m just not sure if her more eccentric pieces translate as well live as they did on the recording. Some parts were just a little too much (but maybe that’s just me). There were, of course, more delicate pieces like “The Bed” and “Just the Same but Brand New” which really showcased her airy but sensual vocals and were in my opinion the more powerful live pieces. She played seesaw on both ends of the spectrum, but all in all it was a pretty even performance. Spot on vocals and insane guitar work. If there’s one thing she needs to work on it’s her lack of stage banter. She tried – I’ll give her that – but when she did it came off just a little awkward (but adorable nonetheless).
How to describe St. Vincent? There really is no one to compare her too, because she’s in a element of her own. Her gnarly, gritty, and almost gross guitar sounds are in stark contrast to her soft, smooth vocals, but somehow they just seem to go together perfectly. Girl can play guitar like no other, jam on the keys, pen lyrics that make you think, and sing with the best of the. Annie Clark isn’t just another pretty face – she is the epitome of what an artist should really be.
Despite Scottish singer, Paolo Nutini, not being as well known here as he is across the pond, the Opera House opened to a surprisingly sold out crowd. His demographic seems to be college-age girls and middle-aged women (who also dragged along husbands and boyfriends). I guess that goes to show that a handsome musician with an accent will make just about any girl swoon at any age.
To open the show was Matt Hires, a singer-songwriter with boyish good looks and a good voice. But “good” is nothing too special. The best song he performed wasn’t even written by him, but a cover of MGMT’s “Kids”.
Erin McCarley, most known for her songs featured on TV shows like One Tree Hill and Grey’s Anatomy, was the second opening artist. She was alot better live than I expected and played a half hour set which included her popular songs “Pony (It’s Okay)” and “Love, Save the Empty”. But then again, popular is a relative term as many people in the venue didn’t seem to know or care who she was – talking through her entire set.
Therefore, a little tip: If you’re an artist who wants to get noticed, Paolo Nutini might not be the best artist to open for – his fans don’t seem very receptive.
At around 10 PM, Paolo Nutini finally took to the stage to perform to a crowd of restless and seemingly sexually frustrated bra-throwing girls. He immediately commanded the stage with his soul-gutting performances and powerful vocals, but his stage banter was seriously lacking – and when he did attempt a little conversation, his accent was so thick us Canadians had no way of understanding. However, that didn’t seem to bother his lovestruck audience who beamed from ear to ear, not even trying to hide their silly little schoolgirl crushes. Nutini had the crowd hanging on his every word and singing along with every song, not missing a beat. So, if you’re not too familiar with his lyrics – study up, my friend – or you’ll be the only one left standing there all shifty-eyed clapping along and pretending to sing along all the while hoping he never holds the mic up to your lips. There’s no denying that Nutini knows how to put on one hell of a show, but it’s his off-stage persona that really leave a bad taste in your mouth. You would think that after a sold-out concert, he would want to stay a while to thank his fans. But no – instead he make a run for his tour bus and slams the door without even a second look leaving many girls broken-hearted. If you go to a Paolo Nutini concert expecting a show – one energy-charged charged show you’ll get – but if you’re expecting to get a little meet and greet with your favourite artist, you can expect to leave disappointed.
Paolo Nutini fans are hardcore. Devout followers; there is rarely ever an in-between (in my experience). If however, you just happen to fall into the latter, be prepared to fight your way though an obnoxiously rude crowd. Oh, and apparently smoking is a prerequisite. I guess someone forgot to send me the memo.