Daily Archives: April 9, 2018

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Concert Review: The Marias @ L’Astral

It isn’t often that an opening act warrants attention apart from who they are supporting, but this was certainly the case when The Marías took the stage before Albert Hammond Jr. this past Monday, April 2nd. Nostalgia is one of the immediate reactions to the band’s music and image: the cover photo for their debut EP Superclean, Vol. I is front-woman María’s legs, highlighted by flash as they rest upon red velvet-upholstered theatre seats faded with the dim haze of Hollywood’s golden years. Their music draws from old-school funk, soul and psychedelia, but instead of wallowing in all this 60’s/70’s reminiscence as they easily could, the group coats their tunes in a distinctly modern sheen with María’s sometimes-Spanish lyrics and drummer Josh Conway’s sleek production.

Lead vocalist María does indeed have a last name, but leaves it offstage as many icons have before her. Any aloofness this move might imply, however, was immediately eliminated by her humble stage presence and an outfit that could have been as much her everyday style as performance-ready getup. Matching the colours of the EP album artwork, the flowing white fabric of satin palazzo pants breezily followed María’s rhythmic swaying, paired with a matching bandeau concealed by a scarlet matador-inspired jacket. The rest of the band loosely coordinated their outfits to match this palette, with tones of red, black, and white tying up their aesthetic into one clean, focused package.

The pulsing beat of “I Like It,” the first song of the set, helped introduced the crowd to the band’s polished sound. María traded and shared vocals with Conway, their soothing croons blending for an effect reminiscent of a Serge Gainsbourg duet. After this warm-up, María’s vocals came into focus, bringing in the chilled-out groove of “Only in My Dreams.” The synchronized strums of (Canadian-born) Josh Conway’s bass foundation and Jesse Perlman’s glossy guitar overcoat combined to access the space between wakefulness and dreaming, a strange balance which could be the band’s brand.

The synth squiggles in the background of “Superclean,” contributed by Edward James, were followed by an affectionate version of J-Lo’s “Cariño” and an unreleased song: “Ruthless.” The second of these was accompanied by a surprise appearance from Busty & the Bass trumpeter Scott Bevins, who added a crowd-pleasing jazzy texture that would return later during “Basta Ya.” Before his reappearance, the band kept up the brass-fueled energy by playing personal favourite “I Don’t Know You.” Conway propelled the tune forward with a funky bass-line tempered by straightforward chords from Perlman to again achieve the group’s soporific-yet-snappy signature. Before their closing song, The Marías paid tribute to their influences with another cover, this time of Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl,” keeping all the soul of the original while replacing some of its 80’s glare with their own sound.

After kindly giving Albert Hammond Jr. a second shoutout, María referenced her Puerto-Rican roots one last time with “Déjate Llevar” for a more up-tempo finish. Though The Marías make great use of guitar, they are not initially an intuitive complement to Albert Hammond Jr.’s frenetic riff-laden energy. Watching their set, however, it became clear that their appeal is a subtler and no less remarkable kind of gravity, sizzling just below the surface like their deceptively catchy music.

While addressing the audience at one point during the set, María confessed to the audience that it was the band’s first time in Canada. It might already be clear by virtue of their role supporting a former Stroke, but something about the Marías’ quiet confidence and refined image tells me that it won’t be their last.

~review by Dylan Lai

Concert Review: Hanna Benn, Sinkane & Son Lux @ Theatre Fairmount

Paradoxically, one of the best ways to characterize the music of Son Lux is that it’s difficult to do so. The genre-resistant group was originally the solo project of Ryan Lott until 2015, and his proclivity for out-of-the-box musical exploration has drawn comparison to (and a collaborative project with) Sufjan Stevens. Personally, his unique vocal timbre is reminiscent of James Blake. This affinity for the unusual also apparently extends to Son Lux’s choice of touring partners, as openers Sinkane and Hanna Benn blended their own selection of sounds to give audience members a taste of what was to come. As I entered the Fairmount this past Monday to catch the end of Hanna Benn, the already substantial crowd was a clear indicator of the magnetic power and intrigue of ambiguity.

Benn’s crystalline vocals, which also made an appearance on Son Lux’s 2016 EP Stranger Forms, floated over compositions influenced by her eclectic classical and gospel training. Sinkane, up next, mixed the music of his Sudanese roots with jazz and funk elements for an energizing set that showcased the talents of the group’s members. The guitarist got a few improvisational solos in, and the harmonies of keyboardist/vocalist Elenna Canlas backing up frontman Ahmed Gallab’s soothing tenor transformed to lead vocals for the majority of the band’s final two songs.

Before long, Lott’s faux-hawk appeared under the dim stage lights. He was joined by guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang, and the trio introduced themselves with the first few chilling verses of “Forty Screams,” then the opening song from their latest album Brighter Wounds. The project is the second to include Bhatia and Chang as official band members after 2015’s Bones, though the group has been performing together since 2013. Though the most recent album is sonically more accessible than the last, Lott hasn’t lightened his hand lyrically. It’s an intimate reflection on his alternating hope and uncertainty for the future spurred by the recent birth of his son. His trembling falsetto, sounding always as if he might be moments away from tears, lends itself to expressing the raw content of the music. Varyingly passed through filters and paired with his eclectic production, full of instrumental samples and effects with a distorted yet organic feel, it can be hard to be sure he’s emitting the sounds you’re hearing or if they originate from some otherworldly source.

Though Son Lux is Lott’s brainchild, the group’s writing process is reportedly highly collaborative. Accordingly, the musicianship of the of the other members was given ample time to shine, with the band adapting their recordings for the stage to highlight their skill. Bhatia had a few solos and covered string parts by adjusting his tone, and for “Stolen,” Chang broke into an extended drum break to finish off the song. Building off this energy, Lott later showcased his usually restrained voice by belting out the resplendent chorus of “Dream State.” Digging into the keyboard unconventionally angled away from him, it seemed like he was holding on against a musical fervor that would otherwise sweep him away.

As he approached the end of the set, Lott joked with the audience, playing on the traditional faux exit and encore by telling the audience, “the song after this is our last…but not really. Just pretend it is.” The crowd happily obeyed, keeping energy levels high. When the band got to their “last song,” they requested that the people in the venue participate, instructing the crowd and cueing them in to sing a melody adapted from one of the string parts in the song. The tune in question, “All Directions,” was befitting of the impromptu choir, since a similar effect is applied in the final refrain of the recording. The lyrics, “And weren’t we the beautiful ones/I promise we were,” also stir up a collective impression of loss and redemption that was easy to feel part of.

As promised, Son Lux exited the stage before re-entering and delivering a smoldering performance of “Aquatic.” To spark things up again for their (actual) last song, they treated everyone to their most popular tune, “Lost it to Trying,” getting the audience to join in once again – this time without any request needed.

~ review by Dylan Lai