Toronto Jazz Festival

TO Jazz Fest Review: KC and The Sunshine Band, June 24, Nathan Phillips Square

Posted on by Paul in Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment


“I’m 65. What the hell happened? I can’t even remember if that’s the way I like it,” joked Harry Wayne “KC” Casey near the beginning of their set. “Some of you young people may not even know me. I was your mother’s N Sync. This is what Justin Timberlake will look like in 30 years.” Apparently in 30 years time, Justin may end up looking like James Gandolfini gone Vegas. But I digress.

So yes, KC is old, but for a man his age, his voice is still there, he’s still got some pretty sweet dance moves and he definitely puts on a show. At times, the show got a little too glitzy and showbizzy for my taste, but it’s pretty hard to deny songs like “(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty,” “I’m Your Boogie Man,” and “Get Down Tonight.” Those are some crowd pleasers right there and KC certainly aimed to please, leading his band through all the hits and getting the people moving. And if the crowd wasn’t shaking their booties as much as KC may have hoped for, there were a couple of dancers onstage to make up for it, literally shaking some booty throughout the night – yes, there was twerking involved.

Alongside the big hits, they played a few songs from their latest, a collection of ’60s covers, as well as a few that I didn’t even realize were by KC and The Sunshine Band, including “Please Don’t Go,” “Yes, I’m Ready” and George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby,” which KC explained was the first big hit that he wrote, adding that it inspired ABBA to write “Dancing Queen” and John Lennon to write “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night.” It seemed a bit like KC was tooting his own horn at that point, but whatever. If I wrote a song that inspired ABBA and one of the Beatles, I’d probably be telling everyone too.

Toronto JazzFest Review: Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, June 21st

Posted on by Ricky in Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment


Few things are certain during the month of June in Toronto

a) people complain that it’s too cold, then people complain it’s too hot.
b) everyone talks themselves into going to Yonge-Dundas square for that free rock show, but then regret it because of all the people there
c) people ask why Luminato, NXNE, Taste of Little Italy, Father’s Day and MMVA’s all happen on the weekend
d) the opening night of the Toronto Jazz Festival features a kick-ass show.

It is no lie, my friends. The Toronto Jazz Festival likes to kick things off with a bang. I guess in a month where people’s calendars fill up quickly, it is important to announce your presence in a clear, loud tone. Check out the opening night headliner the previous few years:

2012: Janelle Monae
2011: Aretha Franklin
2010: Maceo Parker

This year it was no different. This year’s opening night features two Motown legends – Martha and the Vandellas and Smokey Robinson. Needless to say, the tent at Nathan Phillips Square was filled to capacity with people of all ages when I got to the venue at 8. More impressive was the absurdly large crowd hanging out just outside the tent, stretching all the way to the second level of the square.

At a spry age of 71 and only a few years removed from a term on the Detroit city council, Martha Reeves took to the stage with an energetic vigor. Her band, Martha and the Vandellas were responsible for hits such as Heatwave and Dancing in the Street back in the 60’s and though it has been a long time since those days, Martha and her band still put on a hell of a show. In between the booming voice and the chart topping hits, Martha (probably while catching her breath) would enlighten us with stories from the old days. There’s just something about banter about the olden days that really appeals to me. Perhaps it’s nice to be reminded of a simpler time in the music industry, I don’t know. Tracks like Jimmy Mack finally got the crowd out of their seats and dancing and it would be an understatement to say that a good time was had by all.

Dressed in a a sparkly white suit and surrounded by a band of the same uniform, Smokey Robinson emerged from the back of the stage arm in arm with two dancers shortly after nine. What can you say about the man, he has a smooth voice. He also had really white teeth. Maybe it was just the spotlight, but those babies glistened on stage. At 73, Smokey is no spring chicken himself, but during the set would provide us with some of those classic motown dance moves that honestly, you would be embarrassed if your grandfather did it, but hey, it’s Smokey Robinson. As one would expect from a man who has been putting shows longer then I have been breathing, Smokey’s charisma radiates – he talks to the crowd like they are an old friend and his stories (which included a funny impression of his friend Stevie Wonder) seemed like stories he would tell to people sitting around the fireplace at his house. The set featured a string of his personal hits as well as songs he had written for other bands. My personal highlight – an unbelievable version of My Girl, was a song Smokey had written for the Temptations. It induced a crowd singalong and was definitely another memorable concert experience for me. I am sure I’m not the only one.

TO Jazz Review: Nellie McKay, Becca Stevens Band, June 30, Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment

Nellie McKay is one of those artists who I just haven’t paid enough attention to. I remember vaguely liking her 2004 album Get Away From Me, but even that never totally captured my attention. And then … I just sort of forgot about her. Yet, to my slight surprise, she’s been releasing albums pretty regularly since then, including a tribute to Doris Day(!) and has even created a musical based on the life of convicted murderer Barbara Graham. So she’s certainly no slouch in the work department. Perhaps she’s been off my radar a bit because of a self-imposed boycott of Canada due to the continuation of the seal hunt. However, as she noted, she’s not quite at the level of Paul McCartney or Morrissey and so perhaps her boycott wasn’t having quite the impact she’d hoped it would. Still, it’s great that she’s standing up for something.

McKay is nothing if not opinionated. She’s a quirky and charming performer, albeit one with a bit of a biting sense of humour and a definite political edge. So while she can do a cutesy song about her dog one minute, she can also turn a trio of British Invasion covers into a commentary on the role of women in society or introduce a song by cheerily announcing, “In honour of Canada Day, here’s a song about the tar sands!” There was a fair bit of satire on display throughout her set, most notably during the hilarious “Mother Of Pearl.” I also really enjoyed how, while singing a couple of a capella songs from a project about environmentalist Rachel Carson, she sort of skipped over parts of the songs, preferring instead to describe them rather than sing the whole thing. Also funny? Introducing her version of “Don’t Fence Me In” as “a song about illegal immigration.”

She ended her set with “Sari,” a song she said she wasn’t planning on playing, but decided to after a shouted request from fan in the back since she “asked so emphatically.” That song ended with her screaming at the top of her lungs, dropping the Judy Garland-esque persona from earlier in the set and suddenly channelling Sam Kinison. So yeah, Ms. McKay, you’ve got my attention again.

Also catching my attention was opener The Becca Stevens Band, who impressed with their blend of the jazzy and the folky. Stevens has a strong voice and a charming onstage demeanor. I feel like she was smiling throughout their set. The Brooklyn based band offered up a couple of memorable covers, namely Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me” and The Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.” They were down one man, having lost their accordion player at the border. “Not in a bad way,” clarified Stevens, “We just left him at a gas station at the border.” One presumes they left him there with his consent and didn’t just ditch him there, but it would be funny if they just drove away on him, laughing and pointing as they did so. Or maybe that’s only funny to me. Who knows. Still, they impressed me (in some ways, I enjoyed their performance more than McKay’s) and I’d be interested in seeing what they can do with the full band configuration.

TO Jazz review: Trombone Shorty, June 27, Nathan Phillips

Posted on by Paul in Concerts, Toronto Jazz Festival | Leave a comment


After wandering around the immediate vicinity of Nathan Phillips Square searching in vain for a desperately needed coffee, I entered the tented area after Trombone Shorty and his band had already started their set. As I entered, I was greeted by the sounds of a heavy guitar riff that sounded like it was lifted straight from some mid ’90s rap-rock tune. That combined with the horns had me wondering, had I accidentally walked into a Dog Eat Dog reunion or something? In fact at one point I’m certain they played the riff from RATM’s Bulls On Parade (it may have even been a full cover, I was too busy settling myself in to be paying full attention at that point). So yeah, this was a bit heavier than I expected it to be and probably the closest thing the jazzfest had all week to a full on rock show. My fellow PM writer Mark described the band as “badass trombone rock” and while I found that description to be somewhat ridiculous, it was also a fairly apt one.

Along with the aforementioned RATM shoutout, the band also covered “On The Sunny Side Of The Street” and The Guess Who’s “American Woman.” The band was pretty impressive to watch with Shorty switching between trombone and trumpet and often lifting both of them triumphantly as he gestured to the crowd. Trombone Shorty’s got alot of swagger onstage. Although I have to ask, what’s with all the trumpet playing anyways? Your name is TROMBONE Shorty, not Trumpet Shorty. False advertising! Though the whole band was talented, the highlight for me was watching the bassist play. I’m pretty convinced this guy must have played in some kind of funk metal band or something back in the day. He had the moves, he had the chops, this guy was rocking out.

And the crowd was totally digging these guys. Many in the packed house did their best to get funky … with mixed results. The oddest display of affection for the band I saw was one woman who had opened up her umbrella and was enthusiastically waving it in the air during their set. She would close it at times, then open it up again. I’m not sure what that was all about, but she was definitely enjoying herself. So were many others in the crowd. And from the looks of things, so were Trombone Shorty and his band.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ... 15 16   Next »