Concert Review: Storm Large, December 9, 6th and I

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“If you can’t be a good influence, be a good cautionary tale.”

Words of wisdom from Storm Large, lead vocalist of Pink Martini, dazzling human being, and teller of tales extraordinaire.

Emerging from the back of the crowded synagogue at 6th and I, Storm Large sauntered her way to the front of the audience, highlighting her plunging blue ball gown and the “LOVER” tattoo blazing forth from her exposed back, and spent the next two hours guiding us through her Holiday Ordeal.

A yearly tradition for Storm, every year she puts on a bawdy holiday show for her traveling family, as she calls her audience, bringing people together into an intimate environment and sharing her holiday spirit with a lucky few. This night’s ordeal, presented by Washington Performing Arts, definitely brought that spirit.

These Holiday Ordeals involve songs and tales, all in the spirit of the holidays (even if they’re not directly Christmas-related). She started things out with a couple of classics, including “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as well as Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me” and then a song about Mary and Joseph – Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” (small town girl meets city boy…). In between, Storm told us about some of her favorite Christmas miracles, one of which included an incredible story about how when she was a little girl she befriended a nice man she met who was living out of his white van on the beach. Through happy coincidence she found him again after forty years and learned that he’d followed her career and she’d made a huge impact on his life (an impossibly happy ending, especially considering the fact that it included a white van.) She finished up the first half of the set with an original song about hooking up with a stranger on Christmas eve which included the lyrics, “Come all ye faithful”, “Let’s make a joyful noise together” and “When Santa comes you can go.”

Coming back from a quick intermission, Storm dazzled in an exquisitely sequined, green, floor length gown that made her look like a glittering Christmas tree lit up in all its glory. Working her way through “Sock It To Me Santa,” “Hallelujah” and “Forever Young,” she ramped up the energy in the synagogue until finally she had everyone, from child to octogenarian, on their feet bellowing “Won’t you find me somebody tooooooooooooo loooooooooooooooooove” right along with her. In between she told stories about her childhood, growing up with a mom who had a mental illness, and all the people who filled her unconventional childhood with love and happy memories.

More than a religious experience or a concert or a night out on the town, it felt like this warm and open and wonderful woman inviting us all into her house for a holiday celebration.

Concert Review: LCD Soundsystem, Dec 3, ACC

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LCD Soundsystem is awesome live. This was my assessment of them before their show on Sunday and nothing has changed about that since.

Returning to Toronto for the first time since their “retirement”, expectations were high. The ACC was an interesting choice for a band which finds themselves at the point in their careers where they are too big for small indie venues but not big enough to fill out an arena. As a result the upper level was tarped off and the general admission area had plenty of space. I guess I was at the front on the floors so that is how I experienced the show.

Taking a hint from the title of their documentary, LCD Soundsystem more or less “shut up and play the hits” and it was great. Much like all their other albums, American Dream popped out live. All the songs you had doubts about on that album just made sense with a live band. Assessing LCD Soundsystem just by listening to their album doesn’t serve the band right. In concert, everything just sounds … right. The pounding percussion, the bass lines, the dabs of synth … It all just melds together into something that makes you want to dance. Of course it’s all led by James Murphy, tightly holding the mic and spitting out lyrics that sound intimate despite being in a cavernous arena.

It’s a testament to the band that they can skip songs like “Daft Punk,” “Losing My Edge,” “Drunk Girls” and “New York” and it didn’t really affect my feelings about the night. Every song sounds like a hit under the helm of the group and that fact actually makes you appreciate their music more.

Having said that, when those first notes of “All My Friends” hits, I still get goosebumps. It’s a euphoric song, and one of the best set closers you can have. When the chorus hits, and the entire crowd is dancing and singing along, I really do wonder where all my friends are because I think they all deserve to see a LCD Soundsystem show once in their life. It’s that great.

Concert Review: Alex Lahey, November 22, Drake Hotel

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by Melody Lau

It’s always neat to see what touring musicians are most excited about when they first touch down in Canada. For Australian Alex Lahey, her immediate thoughts upon entering the country for the first time may or may not have been inspired by the name of the venue she was playing at on Wednesday night, the Drake Hotel. “Drake and I house-swapped,” she eagerly told the crowd, noting that our “6 God” was in her hometown that same night and perhaps even staying at Lahey’s parents’ home. And while the rapper might’ve missed out on welcoming Lahey to his city, many eager fans were there to greet her.

Lahey has had a very busy year. To kick off 2017, she opened for Tegan and Sara in Europe, which was a great pairing of acts and, actually, an ideal gateway into the world of Lahey’s music. Lahey’s breakneck pop melodies recall the Canadian sister duo’s more guitar-driven anthems (think So Jealous’ “Speak Slow” or The Con’s “Hop a Plane”) and while Tegan and Sara have shifted to a more synth-focused sound nowadays, Lahey proves that a mean riff can still deliver a powerful sing-along earworm.

All of that is encapsulated on Lahey’s debut full-length, I Love You Like A Brother, which came out in October. It’s a confident collection of songs about not being entirely confident in yourself. From financial woes to failed romances, I Love You Like A Brother paints a messy portrait of a 20-something, but distilling these characteristics into infectious pop gems that dare us to celebrate instead of dwell on these missteps and flaws.

Live, she rips through songs with such speed and precision that dwelling is never an option. Instead, all you can do is bop and dance along as Lahey shreds through album opener, “Every Day’s The Weekend,” or highlight, “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself.” It’s a fun show that almost feels like she’s breezing through a greatest hits set, except she’s only got one EP and one LP to her name.

At one point in the evening, Lahey pointed out that she and her band (a drummer, guitar and bassist round out her live act) elect an MVP at each show. She gave examples of previous winners on tour such as a man who told his girlfriend he loved her for the first time after “I Want U” (“He definitely got laid that night,” she added) or a woman who attended her show hours after a surgery. Perhaps she forgot due to her excitement of listing off her favourite Canadians (among them are Shania Twain and Tegan and Sara tour mate Ria Mae), but Lahey never named an MVP on Wednesday night. To which I’ll just go ahead and say, on behalf of the Toronto audience, that Lahey was the true MVP of the night.

Concert Review: Dua Lipa, November 26, Aragon Ballroom

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Any woman who chooses the tongue-stick-out as her cover look is going to be memorable, right? Far from hiding her personality, her ambition, her talent, her strengths or her tongue, Dua Lipa lets it all hang out in the best of ways. The uber-talented English-Albanian wonderwoman proved herself strong as ever in her awesome performance at Aragon Ballroom on Sunday. Dua graced the Chicago venue as part of her “Self-Titled Tour” (again – love how she owns her own fame and talent) and gave the audience the show they were hoping for. And WHAT an audience. You know you’re in good company when you have men in bathrobes, women in “If you’re under him/You’re not getting over him” T-shirts, and more men in bathrobes (most also wearing high heels) out for an epic Sunday Funday with their favorite diva.

First (and very importantly for the 30+ crowd like yours truly), Dua was extremely punctual. Love it. The woman sent her three bandmates out on stage to rev up the crowd with headbanging … intro music … a life-size screen of her … and BAM: the woman herself. Dua took the stage at 8:30 sharp and didn’t waste a moment from that second on. She dominated the scene in fabulous yellow wide-leg pants and a super sexy top, complemented (of course) with her signature amazing Pantene-ProV-commercial-quality hair. Her hips hypnotized, her twirls titillated, and her voice thrilled. Dua’s pipes are amazing live – to the point that I heard scandalized members of her fan base wonder aloud if she was lip syncing … only to be hastily and angrily hushed by bystanders.

Second, her banter to song ratio was great. A woman of few words, she gave Chicago the shout out it was craving, urged the audience to sing along, but otherwise kept the focus on the music. I have loved this artist for a long time just for her big hit, “New Rules”, but she really blew me out of the water with her range and diversity. She hit the crowd with a great selection of tracks, my new favorites being “Hotter Than Hell,” “Dreams,” and “Garden.” Although she’s been compared to other sultry-voiced female artists (think Sia, P!nk, Charli XCX) Dua really brings something unique to the table that you can only see live. Bottom line: Go see her. Like now. This woman is going places fast – you’d better catch her before she’s too big for intimate, memorable shows like this one.

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